92: Lessons from the Israeli Air Force: Fostering a Culture of Honesty, Accountability, and Improvement with Ofir Paldi

ep92 Lessons from Israeli Air Force with Ofir Paldi on TalentGrow Show with Halelly Azulay

By implementing a unique culture and methodology, the Israeli Air Force became one of the best in the world in terms of quality, safety, and training, effectively cutting accidents by 95%. According to businessman, social entrepreneur and former Israeli fighter pilot Ofir Paldi, there are lessons that every leader can learn from their proven success. In this episode of The TalentGrow Show, Ofir and I discuss the unconventional aspects of the Israeli Air Force training program that Ofir helps business leaders to incorporate in their workplace. With an emphasis on encouraging honesty and productive discussion around our mistakes, this program engenders accountability and high performance. Learn the secret behind the Israeli Air Force’s brilliant out-performance of their competitors and how you can leverage their methodology to improve your own leadership and workplace culture. Listen and share with other leaders in your network!

ABOUT OFIR PALDI

Ofir Paldi is the CEO & Founder of Shamaym, which teaches organizations how to be learning organizations. Shamaym helps other organizations learn from mistakes, both on the individual level and the organization as a whole. Ofir brings his experience as an entrepreneur and as a former pilot with the Israeli Air Force (IAF).  

He earned his MBA from Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University and is a graduate of the Maoz Program for Leadership in the Public Sector and in the Third Sector, including an Executive MBA leadership program from Harvard Business school.

WHAT YOU’LL LEARN:

  • How Ofir identified one of the biggest challenges that businesses face today: creating a culture of continuous improvement (4:48)
  • Research shows that we spend 95% of our time performing, and only 5% of our time learning (5:35)
  • Ofir talks about the tendency of our culture today discourage speaking honestly about our mistakes, and what he set out to do about it (5:52)
  • Why all leaders could learn something about culture and methodology from the Israeli Air Force (7:05)
  • Ofir shares a scene from inside the Israeli Air Force that highlights its unique culture (9:20)
  • How leaders can take more responsibility for their team (10:46)
  • Don’t stop to learn only when something bad happens (12:00)
  • Ofir gives listeners an overview of the basic principles of his methodology (12:28)
  • The importance of focusing on very specific, actionable solutions to problems rather than vague generalities of what could be done better next time (12:51)
  • Halelly and Ofir dig into the specifics of how leaders can implement Ofir’s methodology to enact cultural change (13:42)
  • “Always start by debriefing yourself.” (16:22)
  • When you start to change your own mindset about speaking about your mistakes, start with small mistakes (16:50)
  • Ofir’s suggestion for keeping yourself accountable when you start changing your personal mindset and culture (19:30)
  • What is the best method for actually talking about mistakes in the workplace? (21:26)
  • How Ofir recommends carrying out the debriefing process (22:19)
  • Never say “this is what I think you should have done” (24:15)
  • Separating the person from the problem (25:25)
  • Ofir explains the valuable tool that he calls the “collaborate brief” (26:02)
  • What’s new and exciting on Ofir’s horizon (27:19)
  • One action listeners can take improve your performance and maximize your potential based on Ofir’s methodology (28:10)

RESOURCES:

Transcript:

Episode 92 Ofir Paldi

TEASER CLIP: Ofir: It really is both a culture and a process, and you have to get them both together. Always start with the culture. I always bring the story that you can see 50 pilots sitting together in the same room, which is maybe the place with the most ego in the world, and you still see day by day, the youngest pilots end up in front of everyone and speak about the mistakes they did today. Right after, they stand up, the commander, like the CEO, the most experienced pilot, and say, “Today we failed a mission because of mistakes I did, and this is what I’m going to do to change it.” Really it’s a culture where everyone stands up everyday and speaks about their mistakes, it actually sometimes gets to a place where you can sit down, three or four people together and you can really argue about whose mistake it was, because each one of the people is sure it was his mistake.

[MUSIC] Announcer: Welcome to the TalentGrow Show, where you can get actionable results-oriented insight and advice on how to take your leadership, communication and people skills to the next level and become the kind of leader people want to follow. And now, your host and leadership development strategist, Halelly Azulay.

Halelly: Hey, hey, TalentGrowers. Welcome back to another episode of the TalentGrow Show. I’m Halelly Azulay, your leadership development strategist and this week I’m really glad to bring to you someone who can teach you to have amazing results in your business, on your team, with a shift in culture and a methodology that helps you leverage mistakes for learning. What if I told you that an organization cut the standard training time in half, and became one of the top organizations in the world, and reduced mistakes by 95 percent? Would you be interested in hearing more about how they did it? What if I told you that this organization did so by having everyone talk about their mistakes, and learn from them? Well, this is exactly what we have on this show today. I have a former Israeli jet fighter pilot who is taking the methodology that’s helped the Israeli Air Force become one of the best Air Forces in the world and bring it to businesses all over the world. Can’t wait to share this episode with you, with Ofir Paldi my guest, on the TalentGrow Show.

Okay, TalentGrowers, I’m excited today. I have a pretty unusual guest because he is not only a businessman, and a social entrepreneur, but also a jet fighter in the IDF reserves. Ofir Paldi, founder and CEO of a company called Shamaym, which specializes in implementing a culture of excellence and improving organizational performance through debrief-based learning methods taken from the Israeli Air Force pilot school program. Shamaym is a social business that combines the promotion of social goals as a part of business activity. Ofir, welcome to the TalentGrow Show.

Ofir: Hi Halelly. Thank you for inviting me.

Halelly: I’m glad that you came, and I look forward to sharing some of your interesting and unique perspective with our listeners. But before we get into that, we always ask our guests to introduce themselves and give us a very brief overview of their professional journey. Where did you start and how did you get to where you are today?

Ofir: I was, like you said, a pilot in the Air Force for a few years. This is where I learned most of what I’m doing today, all this culture and the brief-based learning methodology. When I graduated in the Air Force, or when I left the Air Force, I had my executive MBA from Northwestern University and actually had another very unusual problem and experience at Harvard Business School. I established two organizations, one business and one social, and after doing all of this, I decided that I needed to have a social business of mine own that takes everything I learned in the Air Force, the learning routines and the debriefs, and to bring it to organizations.

Halelly: I’m really looking forward to talking about your methodology a little bit today, and to learning more about why it is that you’re trying to do that. Because a lot of us think, “That works in the Air Force. That’s necessary in the Air Force. But what’s the connection to business?” I know that you’re trying to help bring something of value from the Air Force into businesses. So, tell us a little more about what it is that you’re doing with your business, with Shamaym, and why do you think it’s important for businesses to learn this?

Ofir: We can talk again about the journey. When I left the Air Force and started working for businesses and with businesses, I saw that one of the biggest challenges that organizations have today is the ability to create a culture of continuous movement. To always learn and improve on the line of work. They actually have few very good reasons for it. First of all, we live today in a very intense world. We just don’t have time to do anything. We always have another task and another email and another meeting, and actually there is research that shows we spend 95-percent of our time in our performance zone, and only five percent in the learning zone, because we don’t have time. If you take also the fact that most organizations, we don’t have a culture that allows people to speak about mistakes, their mistakes, to share their mistakes, and this is why most of the management routines and the tools we to share knowledge don’t help us to create a learning organization.

Halelly: This is one of the reasons why we had crises like the Enron situation and many other stories, where people who had mistakes or knew about mistakes were hiding them. Why do you think that people do that?

Ofir: It really is a very big challenge. It’s a culture challenge, a cultural change you need to do to be able to do it. We saw a lot of teams, and it really, really was no matter who is the leader and who is the team and [inaudible 00:06:45], it’s always for us, in the human nature, to speak about the mistakes and share it. Immediately I said that maybe what I learned in the Air Force can do something different. Because the Air Force uses a very unique culture and methodology that allowed him to become one of the best in the world, although it’s very small, to train his cadets in half – about half – of the world average time, and to reduce 95-percent of the annual accident rates. So both quality, safety and training in the same culture, which is kind of the dream of every leader and every organization.

Halelly: Definitely. This is the statistics you were mentioning, about the Israeli Air Force?

Ofir: Yes it is, and this is what happened. If you look at and challenge an organization to build an organization and to reduce repeated errors, you always look for ways to do it. After a few years, we tried to really do the adaptation to business. We started to see what it does for team, what it does for leaders, and we decided to just focus on it and try to expand it as much as possible.

Halelly: I want to learn more about, or have our listeners also learn more about the methodology that you use. Like how actually do you reduce errors and create this kind of a learning organization? Basically what you’re saying is, it’s a culture shift, where talking about mistakes is not taboo. Mistakes are not something to be hidden, but to be learned from. Somehow I think the key is, of course, for leaders to learn not only about how to be transparent about their own mistakes, because a lot of people are very busy covering their behind and thinking about if they made a mistake and people find out, then it’s going to limit their career. But also, how they react to mistakes on their team, it really teaches people about whether it’s okay or not okay to make mistakes, first, and also to talk about them.

Ofir: Yes. So it really is both a culture and a process, and you have to get them both together. But always start with the culture. I always bring the story that you can see 50 pilots sitting together in the same room, which is maybe the place with the most ego in the world, and you still see day by day, the youngest pilots end up in front of everyone and speak about the mistakes they did today. Right after, they stand up, the commander, like the CEO, the most experienced pilot, and say, “Today we failed a mission because of mistakes I did, and this is what I’m going to do to change it.” Really it’s a culture where everyone stands up everyday and speaks about their mistakes. It actually sometimes gets to a place where you can sit down, three or four people together and you can really argue about whose mistake it was, because each one of the people is sure it was his mistake. So if most organizations, you can see everybody sitting down and blaming each other, here you can see them argue because everybody shows that it was their mistake. It really is a culture change, to bring people to a place that they can speak about their mistakes, like they are drinking water. Like it’s the most daily thing they’re doing. And to bring them to speak always in an accountability-based learning. Always what I could have done better, even if let’s say I’m a leader, the manager, and my employees did a mistake. 99 percent of the mistake is his and only one percent was mine, for instance, I will still debrief myself. What is my part? Because I’m the one that wants to be better. Only then I will go to speak with him.

This is the cultural change, but next to the cultural change, you also want the process change. Process change, what we’re trying to bring, is a methodology or process that helps you learn in an environment with lack of time. We always say that when you are flying, you are in a very intense, fast place. You don’t have time to do anything. Still, you will always find 10 seconds every few minutes to say what is the one thing you need to do better for next time, and to do it. This is what we are teaching. How you can, in three minutes, everyday, find the one thing you want to improve, and do it. Don’t only stop to learn when something bad happens, is what most of us are doing. Try to understand what is your main activity, main daily mission that you want to improve on, and debrief it every time, even if it’s good, even if it’s bad. Always try to do what you can do different or what you need to do the same for next time.

Halelly: Obviously it’ll take way longer to really learn your methodology than we have time here, but let’s give people a quick overview of the basic principles.

Ofir: The basic principles are to build a new culture, or a new language, which is as I said before accountability based. Speaking about mistakes and very actionable. Because, again, we don’t have time. They won’t say at the end of the debrief, “What is the thing we’re going to do differently next time?” We just won’t say it later too. It’s not enough to say, “My podcast is too long. Next time I will do it shorter.” You need to say, “My podcast is 35 minutes. Next time I will do it in 28 minutes, and I will do it by reducing two questions and asking only four questions.” Now you are very, very actionable and you know exactly what you can do for next time.

Halelly: Super measurable and specific like that,

Ofir: Exactly. So first thing is to build the new language. The second thing is to build a process. We use methodologies that we call, “What is your flight?” The reason the Air Force was able to implement this culture is because we had a very specific, repeatable and measureable activity, which is flight. You debrief after every flight and during the flight. We always ask leaders to try and define, “What is your flight?” For example, if you are a sales leader, so probably every sales meeting with a customer is a flight. If you are customer service leader, so every escalation could be a flight. If you are an R&D manager, you can say that every desk is a flight, or every screen in agile is a flight. This is how we try to do it, and we usually suggest the leaders to try and find something that happens between once a day to once a week. Because if it’s more than one a day it’s usually too much and you won’t be able to do it for a long time, and if it’s less than once a week it’s too little and you can’t create a culture. After you define the flight, try to see what you want as a personal learning from each one. And from team perspective, what is the team learning that you’re doing? After you have the process, now you need to train your leaders in the organization, and to help them lead the change, because as most of you know, to change is a very big challenge.

Halelly: Okay, so first you start with the culture and you define what is your flight and you create a process around that. And then you train people in the organization to create the change?

Ofir: Exactly.

Halelly: Okay, good. So, what are some of the ways that, as we’re thinking about this here, what are some of the specific methodologies that you suggest to people? Let’s just say someone listening to this is going to think about how to create organizational culture change. Obviously that’s a much bigger undertaking than just changing how they are as a professional, and certainly as a leader and maybe making a change in the team. So what would be something they could do, maybe on a small scale, that could help them implement your methodology into their team? You said that they need to define what is their flight. Let’s just say the did that – now what should they do?

Ofir: A few things. My first step is always start by debriefing yourself. You’re the leader. Start to debrief yourself. Share your mistakes, share your lessons, with your employees, with your peers, with your managers. It’s not easy at the beginning, most places, but do it, be comfortable, and you’ll see the change. The second thing is don’t start, when you try to implement with your team, don’t start with the biggest mistakes, okay? You can start with the small things, daily things. Try to get each one to speak about one little thing he learned today from the activity. Only from there, after you see they are into it and they are speaking about it, only then speak about really big mistakes or a big project that went wrong.

Halelly: This probably creates a sense of safety, right? If people are a little bit unsure or worried about sharing a mistake, it’s easier to share a smaller mistake. It’s sort of easier on your ego because it’s less dangerous for you or your career to have made a small mistake and to talk about it.

Ofir: Exactly. Another thing is that usually the stronger people feel convenient to speak about their mistakes. So after you debrief yourself, the next time, ask the leaders on the team, the veteran employees – the ones that everybody looks at – ask them to be the first, and it will help you to implement it.

Halelly: Makes sense. Okay, good. It sounds like be kind of, model the way by starting first and sharing your own mistakes, and then help the stronger people be the models for the ones that are a little more timid?

Ofir: I would also suggest to try to bring content for what you’re doing. When we are coming, and we start to speak about the Air Force and how you did when you’re flying in a very competitive way, changes something in people’s mind and it helps them to do the change. Try to think about something like this. You can use our story, you can use, I guess there are a lot of different stories, but try to bring something that will change their mind, that will help them really understand why you want to do it, and how you want to do it, and make them understand that it’s not again, me as a manager, ask you to speak about mistakes and do blaming for each other, but you’re bringing something else. You want a different kind of mindset. This is the example I can bring you. This is me, debriefing myself, and now it’s a start.

Halelly: Is there a part in your methodology where you come back to follow up? You talked about accountability and you talked about how to try and make your goals for change very specific and measurable. What then happens? Is there a way that you’re supposed to follow up on things, to see if they actually happened, or people reporting about their own at the next meeting? I mean, tell us more about that.

Ofir: I will speak about the business side and the team. So, about the personal size, I really suggest to have a notebook or on your iPhone, a place that you write your debriefs. Then, every few weeks, you can stop, go back, read everything, and take the highlights or make sure you did it. The team level, you really want to create an ecosystem that will allow the learning and the improvement to be, so you want to share in your debrief so everyone can learn from each other. You want as a manager to take action items out of the briefs. If you read the debrief in front of your teammates and you think there is something very valuable there, and improve everything you’re doing, and don’t be shy, take it, assign it as an action item to one of the team members, and make sure you are always improving. Of course if you have technologies that can help you with that, it’s much easier, but you can also do it alone.

Halelly: And one other question – say that one of our listeners, hopefully many more, have decided to try this. We understand why it’s important, and we understand how in general, like you start with yourself, start with the strong people. We understand how to track it. Is there a meeting, a meeting that you create where there’s a reoccurring kind of agenda that’s just focused on this kind of debrief? Is it part of another meeting? Is it really just each one on his own that does this and shares it? What’s the best method for actually talking about the mistakes and the action plan?

Ofir: We talked before about the process, and said the process you need, one, to find your flight, two, to define what and when you want the debrief to be written from a personal perspective, and the third thing is to create your team routine. What is usually the team routines we think that works, the first one is that every debrief that someone writes is being sent immediately to all of his team members and they can comment on each other. Then you don’t need to stop, you don’t need to have meetings, don’t need anything. Every debrief is a team learning, and if it’s interesting, you’ll see a lot of comments.

Halelly: So let me just make sure I understood you – when you say debrief, you mean a person debriefs about himself? And then just shares it with others and they can comment, so that they’re not doing it at the same time face-to-face or all together?

Ofir: Exactly.

Halelly: On their own time.

Ofir: Exactly. We actually saw that for teams in the U.S., it’s very valuable, because a lot of the teams don’t sit together in the same room.

Halelly: Or even in the same country!

Ofir: Exactly. It’s a very valuable tool. The second thing is what we call Team Learning Forum. Team Learning Forum is the weekly meeting or the bi-weekly or whenever you think you need to do it, and usually the agenda is to choose one or two or three debriefs and let the one who wrote them debrief them, and then to share insights together and do a team learning. We also have a recommended methodology for the inform, and we always suggest the one who wrote the debrief will be the one that presents it. Then the leader needs to help them understand what is the goal of the debrief or what is the main subject that is in the debrief, and then you start the discussion where everybody can speak only about what they usually do in the same kind of event. You can never say, “Well, Halelly, I think you should have done…” No. You can always only say, “Halelly, when I have this kind of event, this is what I usually do.” This is the way that you really take a subject out of the debrief and do an effective team learning and don’t let the one who made the debrief to feel vulnerable. Because we don’t speak about you, Halelly, we only speak about the subject you had in the debrief. After all the insights of the team, this is the place for the leader to stand up and say what he thinks or wants you to do in this place, and we really hear from a lot of leaders that they just don’t have this opportunity in other places. It’s very valuable for them. In the end, always the one who made the debrief is the one who says what his conclusions are from the discussion, what he takes from the team learning form.

Halelly: So it’s almost like being in the hot seat, kind of, but you try to create it so that it’s not that nerve-racking.

Ofir: It’s actually not been, because you bring your debrief, but from the second you brought your debrief, you are not part of the issue anymore. No one speaks about you. You were only a tool for us in order to speak about a valuable subject for the team.

Halelly: Great. I love that. You’re separating the person from the problem or the issue.

Ofir: Exactly.

Halelly: Great.

Ofir: There’s another thing we didn’t speak about, but it’s a bit more complicated. We call it collaborating brief. Most of us don’t do our tasks alone. And a lot of the times, you have people from different teams doing the same mission and then you need to collaborate. So it is a very valuable issue I want to address in a minute, and say that even then, every one of the team, of the collaborators, need to debrief himself. If we had, I will take a high tech company where you have the product and R&D and sales and customer service and everything, and you had something you want to debrief together, each one of you makes the debrief about his part, what he could have done better. And when you sit down together, you try to think together if there is anything you could have done better as a team. Only after each part of the group took responsibility for his part.

Halelly: Great, I love it. I wish we had a lot more time to talk about this and I know that people are going to stay in touch and learn more from you. We’ll share that here before we stop. So, we always end with that actionable tip, but what’s new and exciting on your horizon, in a sentence or two?

Ofir: I have two very exciting things today. First of all, in the last few months, we started working in the U.S. We have a lot of teams now on the West Coast and the East Coast and it’s very exciting for us. And the second thing is that we have really a product, a new product, that allows all of what we talked about today. It’s an ecosystem for team learning that allows you to debrief, to learn together as a team, the amazing challenge to change the culture and bring the process in one product, so we are really excited about it.

Halelly: Great. That should help a lot of people because it’ll take some of the work out of implementing a change like this, right? Make it a lot easier?

Ofir: Exactly.

Halelly: Awesome. I’m really glad we’ve spent time together. What’s one actionable tip that our listeners can take, an action they can take, either today, this week, that’s going to really help them ratchet up their own effectiveness as a leader and as an employee?

Ofir: My tip is maybe the basics for the business and the basics for my life since I was 18 and it’s always, always, in every situation, try to think what you can do better. It doesn’t mean that you don’t do things good. You can be an amazing leader, but always think what is the one thing you can do better, and if you want another small tip, after you did it, share it with your employees.

Halelly: I mean, I have a sense for why that’s important, but why do you suggest that?

Ofir: I think this is the way for excellence, to improve your performance and to maximize your potential in minimum time and minimum resources, and this is the basics.

Halelly: TalentGrowers, I know you were listening earlier, but I just want to repeat the statistics that Ofir shared. In the Israeli Air Force, when they use this methodology, they were able to cut the time to train pilots in half, versus the average in the rest of the world, and creating the kind of Air Force that is ranked among the best in the world, plus reducing accidents by 95 percent. This really did work in amazing ways there, and I know that Ofir has been working with a lot of companies, with a lot of business organizations that have been implementing this process and it’s been creating amazing changes and improvements there. So, Ofir, I really appreciate your time here today. A quick note about our connection, our friend Rewital, a mutual friend Rewital, introduced us, because we’re obviously doing a very similar thing that we’re trying to bring improvement to organizations, and so I’m super glad that we’ve connected. On a personal note, I think listeners don’t know this, my father was a pilot in the Israeli Air Force, so I feel a personal connection to this topic as well. So, it’s a pleasure to be able to bring someone with this kind of experience and to add to you, TalentGrowers. Ofir, if people want to stay in touch with you, which I imagine that they will, and learn more about your business, your methodology, the product that you’re producing and everything, what’s the best way to stay in touch and learn more?

Ofir: They can contact our website, which is Shamaym.com. By the way, Shamaym is sky, or our LinkedIn, also Shamaym, or my personal LinkedIn, Ofir Paldi.

Halelly: Which I will put links to all of that in the show notes, so that you can follow up. I really appreciate your time today. Thanks for sharing your insights with the TalentGrowers.

Ofir: Thank you for having me.

Halelly: My pleasure. I’m super glad you listened, TalentGrowers. I hope that you got lots of value out of this conversation, and that you will implement Ofir’s methodology, and most importantly, at least, that one suggestion that he gave at the end for your actionable tip. Talk about your mistakes, share them with others, and also think about what you can learn from each mistake so that you can continually improve and grow and of course here at TalentGrow, we believe in growing your talent and constantly improving. So, I would love to hear what you thought about it, and what you ended up doing. Leave me a note on the show notes page, over at TalentGrow.com/podcast/episode92, and as always, I’m always really interested in hearing your feedback, your comments, and your ideas. If you want to stay in touch, get my absolutely free guide called 10 Mistakes that Leaders Make and How to Avoid Them, and when you download that on the podcast page, you will also always been notified whenever we have a new episode out, plus get my insightful tips and very short newsletter that comes out every week. I really hope to stay in touch with you in that way, and I thank you for listening. I’m Halelly Azulay, your leadership development strategist here at TalentGrow. You’ve been listening to the TalentGrow Show, and until the next time, make today great.

Announcer: Thanks for listening to the TalentGrow Show, where we help you develop your talent to become the kind of leader that people want to follow. For more information, visit TalentGrow.com.


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