“Brace for impact!”
These were the terrifying words Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger delivered to the 150 passengers aboard the Airbus A320 on January 15, 2009, only minutes after taking off from New York’s LaGuardia Airport. The seasoned pilot of the now famous USAIR flight 1549 had just lifted off for a routine flight to Charlotte, North Carolina, when he struck a flock of geese flying directly through his flight path. Improbably, the collision with the geese damaged both engines severely.
With one engine on fire and the other one shutting down, he had only one option: ditching the plane in the frigid waters of New York Harbor. It took every bit of his 29 years of experience, but Captain Sully performed a textbook water landing in the harbor, saving the lives of all the passengers and crew.
Clearly, Captain Sullenberger is an extraordinary performer. Imagine if we could replicate his capabilities in other pilots—to handle even the most difficult and stressful circumstances.
The case of this high-performing pilot illustrates the two most important lessons we have gleaned from our work with dozens of organizations of all types.
- Variation in results between stars and average performers is radically underestimated.
- Organizations do not typically capture and leverage the potential organizational benefits of their exemplary performers.
These factors have proven nearly constant across all organizations. Whether it’s performing an emergency landing on water, taking a risky spacewalk to repair the perspective-changing Hubble telescope, or exceeding sales quotas by 100 percent, we must wonder what do these star performers have in common and, whatever it is, can an organization bottle it for the rest of its team?
The good news is that there is a path to increasing the number of people who drive results: exemplary performance systems (EPS) model. EPS enables organizations to leverage—in a systematic way—the insights and mental models that have been developed and proven successful by their existing exemplary performers.