The Captain Of The Ship.
(people who know me will have heard this, probably, but I've never put it in writing as a tip before, so here it is...)
Imagine that you are going on a cruise. As you walk up the gangplank and onto the luxury liner the Captain is there to welcome you aboard. He greets you personally by name, as he does all the other passengers. How does he do this? He has memorised everyone's face and name from their passport, because he cares about his customers. I bet you are impressed.
You go down to your cabin, and you notice on your bed there is a little folded cardboard sign, which says "This bed was personally made for you by the Captain, because he cares about Quality". You think to yourself "Weird!" but you think no more of it and you get unpacked and change for dinner.
Upon entering the dining room you notice that one of the waiters look familiar. Surely that's not the Captain serving out the soup? Yes it is! Because he cares about his team and he wants to be in touch with what the ordinary job is really like. Is he a good captain, do you think?
You are starting to worry about this Captain now. Surely he can't do everything. You wonder who is steering the ship! So after your dinner you decide to go up to the Bridge and have a look. Maybe it will be the bed-maker or a waiter?
On your way up the back stairs to the Bridge you pass the Engine Room, and there, shovelling in the coal, you can just make out, in the steam and glowing orange light from the flaming furnace, no surely it can't be, but yes it is....The Captain! Because he's not afraid to get stuck in and get his hands dirty when there's a tough job to do!
Do you still think he's a good Captain??
You arrive at the Bridge, and there is nobody there. The ship is drifting, out of control, with icebergs everywhere! As the ship approaches a huge jagged berg you decide to steer it away from danger - but which way should you turn the wheel? Just as you are about to have a go, the Captain (looking a little dishevelled from his exertions in the engine room) comes rushing out of the stairwell, grabs the wheel, and just manages to save the ship and the lives of everyone on it.
"Wow, that was exciting! I just LOVE this job! Never a dull moment!" he says.
Let's face it. He's a rubbish Captain. We don't want a Captain like this. OK, we want one who cares about customers and quality and the team and gets involved, but not like this. We want a Captain who stands quietly on the Bridge saying things like "OK Number One?" and his first lieutenant says "Yes Sir, everything is under control". We want the Captain to be doing almost nothing, or that's how it appears.
So what does a Captain do?
The answer is that he does three very important things:
1. Vision: he provides the vision of where the ship is going.
This requires thinking, listening, planning, knowledge, experience, analysis, etc. and the future of everyone on board depends on his getting it right. He may gather information and opinions from the crew, but he makes the decision. He must not be distracted from this by daily details or problems. Otherwise there's no point in having the ship in the first place.
2. Systems: he makes sure that the systems are right, in order that the ship can get to its destination.
There should be a system to ensure that the beds are made correctly. Maybe someone will check five at random once a week and record the results on a log sheet, to be checked by someone more senior once a month. Having set the system up, the Captain does not get involved. In fact, he may have a system for setting up systems, so he may not do any systems-designing himself. Making sure there is a system could be the job of one of his team.
Similarly there will be a system to make sure that there is always someone available to stoke the boilers. If there is no one, the Captain won't pick up the shovel, he will ask why. In an emergency he will allocate the job of shovelling to someone, and then ask why. If he discovers that there was no rota he will ask why. If he discovers that the computer that prints the rota is broken, he will ask why there was no back-up. He will keep asking why until he finds the root cause, and will make sure that it is put right so the problem cannot happen again.
How many of the problems that you get at your workplace have happened before? 90%? This is why it is so important to get to the root cause, not in a blaming way but in a positive way, in order to improve the system for next time.
If there is absolutely nobody else who can pick up the shovel, the Captain must do it. But he should be thinking to himself "I'm having to do this because I have FAILED". I didn't bring in a good enough system. Next time I will plan better.
Part of the Captain's planned system might be to stay in touch with his team, by doing their job occasionally. This is an excellent plan. When the ship is running well, and a trained person is steering it, he could serve the soup or stoke the boilers for a shift, in order to stay in touch. Great! But he is choosing to do it. He chooses when he does it. He is in control.
3. People: the third vital role of the Captain is to look after his team.
This means motivating and developing them. This could involve spending time with them to coach them and teach them, or could involve consulting them, or delegating increasingly challenging projects to them. It could involve just talking with them to get to know them better. Most of this book is about this aspect of the Captain's role.
If the Captain gets the systems and the people right, the ship will run itself. This is why, if the ship runs aground, the Captain is the one who gets court-martialled. Even if he was asleep. Even if he was ill! Even if he was unconscious!! Even if he was dead!!! (OK, maybe not that, but nearly...). The point is that the Captain should have trained his people and set up a system of working.
So once the Captain has set up the systems and gets the people performing, do we need him any more?
The answer is yes, because the task changes. The ship is constantly being given new directions, changing size and shape, coming under enemy fire, and developing unexpected new problems. The systems have to be adapted all the time, and the people need to be learning new skills and changing their roles constantly. And even if the task didn't change the people would - some would be leaving, new ones arriving, and the existing ones getting bored and needing a change. The Captain has to organise this. Or organise the organising. That's what Management is
A great quote from Roger Ward of Tulip UK: "I'm not in charge of the Accounts Department, I'm in charge of the people who run the Accounts Department"
"But is it enough, to keep me occupied?" I hear you cry. "Vision, Systems and People doesn't sound enough to fill my working day. And surely it will look as if I'm not really getting in there, doing the job, looking busy. Can't I make the occasional operational decision, just to show that I care?" No!! If you really care you'll work on the big things which keep the ship afloat and on course, and you'll let the others get on with what they are paid for and what they are good at.
The Message: Don't try to do it all yourself! In fact, don't do any of the detail unless you really have to. It's not what you're there for.
onwards and upwards
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