The Single Most Important Word in Aviation


I was recently asked what I thought was the most important word in aviation. Interesting question with lots of options.

Fortunately, this one was pretty easy for me to answer. One word immediately came to mind –


Culture is certainly not the easiest to define though.  If we look at a basic definition, it might sound something like this – “the behaviors, beliefs and values that are accepted without thinking of them”

It seems straightforward, but what it really mean and how do I know I have it?

There really is no middle ground when it comes to having a positive organizational culture. Either you have it or you don’t. More than likely, most of us are not quite there but we are diligently working towards it.


A quick analogy

I’m a little embarrassed to admit it but I’m a Cincinnati Bengals fan. The chance in the Bengals hoisting the Lombardi Trophy is slim to none. The reason is culture.  They simply don’t have it.  Draft all the high priced players you want, it’s not going to change the lack of expectations, lack of team unity and lack of common focus towards a single goal. Until the culture of the organization changes, success will be elusive.

Aviation is no different.

In football, we win the game. In flying, we fly safe day after day and retain our talent.


The basic question

So back to the basic question. What does culture mean?

My simple definition of culture is this“knowing the way things should be done and acting on it”.  If everyone in the organization does this, positive culture just happens.

If only it was that easy, right?

Positive culture takes two things – commitment from the top everyday and time. The first item can be started today or continued.  The second item takes measuring but trust me, you will know it when you see it. Keep working towards the common goal.

Some clues that a positive culture exists-


  • Employee retention
  • A lack of employee cliques
  • Expectations followed by evidence (no one is surprised that five safety reports came in this week)
  • Employees talk positively about the company
  • Consistent positive reminders exist in company policies, SOP’s, etc.


An Important Point

Individual employees cannot create culture.

Every organization has employees that go above and beyond, those that often think of doing the right things and those that do the minimum or less. As much as you hope your “A” students alone can override weaknesses, they cannot create a positive culture for your company.

I would rather be an organization that goes 5-11 but has their eyes on the prize and a plan in place than the organization that constantly goes 8-8.

It goes without saying that the benefits to having a positive culture cannot be overstated.  There is nothing more important to an aviation organization than reputation, safety and retention of talent.