Preface: Just this past week, in a training seminar, I heard the leader say: “I’d like to be the one to steer the ship.” The context was regarding being in charge of things in a business.
It grates on my nerves, knowing it has its place to connect the analogy with business, but as part of the day’s instruction, the discussion of moving from the “one person band level” to being the one who conducts was an important message. “Steering the Ship” is about being in total control, ergo, my view is it puts you mentally right back into the “one person band arena.”
For readers who have upper level management experience, this won’t be a good read, unless you’re trying to help someone that works with you get on board, and you haven’t found the way to get the light bulb turned on in their head.
For those without the life experience, and are intent on not being their business (you’re it!) forever, yet creating a structure that operates well under all circumstances, I hope this will gives you some understanding, ideas, or just plain coping skills to be the one not “steering the ship,” but being in charge of that process effectively.
I got involved in teaching in 1972, and have done it extensively in one-on-one environments, and also with up to 200 people in the room. Along the way, I found the understanding of training psychology (I’m no degreed expert, but I’ve been taught some and self-studied more, as well as practiced it) accelerates the process of a student reaching understanding, and in most all cases, finding a connecting, effective analogy turbo-charges the situation. Caveat: You need to have a comprehension of both ends of that analogy you put into play, where they come from and the one you are using to connect the dots.
Having also sat on the other side of the instruction/training equation, and finding how it helps me quickly grasp the topic makes it one of my “go to” techniques in most cases.
I can document 9 years of professional experience as assigned to sea duty on vessels where there is a person steering the ship. Across 20 years, I worked for, or evaluated Captains, or trained Captains and their crews. This is my hands on, in the trenches view of “steering the ship.” Hint: It’s not the Captain.
This will be presented in a series of posts, connecting the dots on the players involved, so you can see how it applies.
On to the main message:
If you delve into looking to comprehend the story of a ship as a valid the analogy of building a business where more than one person is involved in the running of it, there are plenty of lessons there in how that process runs. Make sure you get the best understanding by understanding things you can know about life aboard ship, so you may properly apply them to your personal plans and methods.
At a top level, a vessel at sea has some great applications to a business. It gets there, but it is way slower than a jet and has circumstances that change along the way, over days, if not months. It relies on internal and external equipment, communications and collaboration. That involves relationships with people, more importantly the “command climate” that is the over-arching philosophy which determines the decision making and attitudes of those involved.
Of course, it all begins with the Captain directing that a voyage occurs, but I’ll begin with by discussing a vital position that makes this all occur.
On the way to the destination, you need to plan the route. That route will almost never be a straight line, and it has to be carefully constructed, with deliberate effort to ensure you avoid the shoal water and other hazards that lay between you and your destination and which “aids to navigation” that will be used to tell you where you are, so you can get where you plan to go.
Who is assigned to do this? Your Navigator (I did that for a three and a half years, directly, as well as it being a professional skill necessary across the time in the career). Think of this as human in the analogy your set of plans: Your business and marketing ones specifically.
The Navigator is responsible to the Captain to gather the most current charts, port data (departing and arriving ports), tide and current data for the days when you will be leaving and arriving. In addition, the Navigator is the one who gets the weather forecasts together for the anticipated days of the journey.
While the port data is, for all practical purposes, a fixed value, and the charts, if they are in fact, updated with the most current information, are solid facts to make plans on, the tides and currents inject some uncertainty, but are generally accurate, having been analyzed by harbor pilots over the ages. The largest uncertainty, will be the weather.
The type of weather, and importantly, the size and type of your “vessel,” will determine the parameters of “acceptable” when discussing the weather you will face. Consider this determination much like the size of your business within your market place, what you must do to get to your destination, and the ability to forecast the actions and operations of the competitors, as well as supporting businesses (they are there now, but will they be tomorrow or next week?). What’s that “climate” on any given day, let alone what can you count on for tomorrow to be like? So, in this commentary, it is much like the weather, which you can make some reasonable determinations on to help improve the chances for success.
The Navigator then plots out the course on the chart, creates a voyage plan, which has some specific times to make turns, change speed and courses to get you where you want to go.
If you consider the proper construction of your business plan (and marketing as a separate one, if it’s not an embedded part of the business plan) there you have the concept: Plan it out in advance. This is your virtual Navigator.
I know you know this, but, have you ever just rushed out, thinking your mentally constructed, not written down plan was all you needed? Yes, some mariners have done that, too, and you can google up many, many stories on maritime disasters and investigations that tell the grim story of the unfortunate outcome, complete with the quotes of regret “I know I should have spent more time studying and planning this!’ being very common. It’s not to say it can’t happen and everything will be from “fine” to “AWESOME!” but you can’t count on it. A plan for your voyage give you a better idea by beginning with a destination (worthy of going to!), the milestones along the path that get you there safely, and a far more likely outcome of repeated success.
As in business, a voyage plan never ends like it was laid out to be. How much differently it will look like at your destination is somewhat under your control but some of it is not. If you are armed with this understanding, then you can have “pre-planned responses” for two things:
- How to keep a measurement system in place so you see you’re leaving the planned voyage route right away;
- A structured method to update the plan and implement the corrective measures.
What can change your plan? The open ocean currents and weather shift and are not affecting you as you planned. Might be a head wind, and strong current when crossing the Gulf Stream you maybe didn’t make a detailed enough plan for in the computations (or you did and it’s not what the forecasts predicted). You may get an S.O.S. message, or see another vessel you pass which needs assistance, and all of this either slows you down, or pushes you off track, to a small of large extent. How do you react?
If you realize you are off track early (because you have a cracker jack bridge watch team (to be discussed later in the series), using the required “best practices” to help you know this quickly, then you have a small correction to make. It may be as simple as speeding up (maybe even slowing down…) a bit to compensate for the next time frame (in your real life, that may be you stay up and write the catch up words for your KPI Million Word Challenge commitment). It may be a full blown re-evaluation of the plan you began with.
Like in all endeavors, the subtleties and nuances of what really happens is in the details. Navigating across large expanses of an environment require thoughtful effort to reduce the chances for mistakes, or failure to the minimal amount. Your plan causes you to lay out what you want to do and know where your strengths and weaknesses are, so you can plan accordingly, be in in resourcing, or measuring, or employing more help, internally or externally, for the support necessary to get to the destination.
And, to wrap it all up: The Navigator, as told by the Captain, has to know where the end point is that needs to be reached, and, if there are port visits along the voyage, or special considerations (VIP guests will embark for the trip, you won’t get paid unless a certain cargo is delivered be a certain date, etc), This is my entreaty to make you think of the end destination, before you plan to sail beyond the mouth of the harbor, and actually, not even leaving the pier without a plan and what’s necessary arranged is in place, and understood by those who will accompany you, or be supporting the journey.
And neither the Captain nor the Navigator “steer the ship.” Stay tuned!