Air Cover and Extraction

This is a relative new (e.g. only a few years old) Phrankism for me.  During recent circumstances, I have found myself using the phrase ‘Air Cover’ more often.  As a result, it is probably time to define it and place it in its proper place in the ‘Phrankism-Hall-of-Fame’.

Official Definition(s)

The Free Dictionary: air cover, n (Military):

the use of aircraft to provide aerial protection for ground forces against enemy air attack

The Free Dictionary: Extraction, n (Military):

In military tactics, extraction (also exfiltration or exfil), is the process of removing personnel when it is considered imperative that they be immediately relocated out of a hostile environment and taken to a secure area. There are primarily two kinds of extraction:

  • Hostile: The subject involved is unwilling and is being moved by forceful coercion with the expectation of resistance. Essentially, it is kidnapping by military or intelligence forces.
  • Friendly: The subject involved is willing and is expected to cooperate with the personnel in the operation.

Oxford Dictionary, air cover, noun:

protection by aircraft for land-based or naval operations in war situations: ‘they provide air cover for United Nations convoys of relief supplies

Oxford Dictionary, extraction, noun:

the action of extracting something, especially using effort or force:

Phrank’s Definition

As a Phrankism, it is a military term borrowed to provide good imagery within an organization.  My current working definition (e.g. until someone comes up with a better one and I steal it) is:

The support of one’s superiors, organization and/or colleagues while undertaking an assigned task which involves some risk or need for unanticipated resources.  Generally any guarantees are provided in an informal and often verbal manner rather than via a formal organizational structure.

  • Employee: I have an idea (or the organization has an idea for the employee to completed), I don’t know exactly what resources I will need, how to proceed or what the organization (e.g. colleagues, peers, subordinates, other areas, customers, suppliers, etc.) will think of it, but it is important we try it.
  • Boss: I like the idea and I think it might work.  However because it is new to the organization and involves risk, we will do informally.  However, don’t worry because I will provide air cover and extraction if necessary from the project.  That is I will ensure that you will not be punished, reprimanded and will reasonably receive resources if you request them.

How, When to Use and the Success of Air Cover and/or Extraction

Air Cover and Extraction are based on trust; in particular trust at a personal level between a subordinate and the superior/organization. In this case, the trust includes:

  1. The superior has the resources to provide Air Cover and Extraction.
  2. The superior is willing to use them if/when the time comes.
  3. The employee will know when to and will call for them appropriately.
  4. Once extracted, the employee will not go back to the situation without authorization and thus require further Extraction or Air Cover.

The first two points of trust are top down.  They can also be used to mitigate organizational practices such as Drive By Management or Management through Magical Process.  A word of warning to organizations about trust; the late Steven Covey in his book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, explored the idea of an emotional bank account.  When meeting someone new, everyone starts with a small positive emotional account balance. They then make contributions or withdrawals based on their actions. The more one contributes, the higher the trust; the more withdrawals, the greater the suspicion and lack of trust. In other words, offering air cover and then leaving a subordinate to languish on the beachhead is a sure-fire way to start you down the road of a dysfunctional organization.

Points three and four are about trust going from the bottom up to the top. If your superior is expecting status reports, provide them! If your boss would have helped you out of a pickle – but you never asked – you have violated your trust relationship.

On the fourth point, a person going back into a situation without authorization, works in adventure movies but seldom in real life. Think about the action hero who violates a direct order and heads back to rescue the damsel or save the world. Some by the book superior is cursing him/her as they see the rocket ship/parachute/starship fly away. Nevertheless by the end of the movie, the hero saves the day/world/universe and all is forgiven and the superior is proven wrong.

In the real world, quit when you are ahead. An organization or a boss may rescue you once. Going back and trying again, without permission, is a sure-fire trust-busting activity.

Formal/Informal: When to Use and Over Use

Air Cover and Extraction can have a formal arrangement. For example, the structure of an organization is designed to delegate authority down and allowed a set of pre-approved decisions to be made by subordinates.

Informal Air Cover and Extraction is a tactical tool the organization can use in specific circumstances.  Like any good tool, its utility is understanding when it is not being used enough (e.g. an organization is stagnate, dysfunctional or moribund in bureaucracy) or too much (e.g. words such as cowboy, free-for-all, loose cannons or out of control are used to describe the organization… and hopefully not by the auditors or shareholders!).

The balance of just enough Air Cover is a sub-theme found in some previous blogs (see list below) and one which I hope to return to in future blogs. What are your thoughts on this?  Leave me a comment but please don’t ‘carpet-bomb’ my site!

Further OrgBio thoughts on the themes of Air Cover and Extraction are as follows… in order of relevance:

  1. Drive By Management
  2. The Propensity to Mediocrity
  3. Top 10 Ways to Guarantee Your Best People Will Quit
  4. Contra-Free Loading: Why Do People Want to Do Good Work?
  5. Collaboration – Not the Vichy Variety
  6. AIIM’s Collaboration Definition
  7. AIIM’s Life-Cycle Collaboration Model
  8. Three P’s and a G over T Collaboration Framework
  9. Collaboration – Is it Hard Wired?
  10. Paying Volunteers – Experience