Turn the Ship Around! is the true story of how the USS Santa Fe skyrocketed from worst to first in the fleet by challenging the U.S. Navy's traditional leader-follower approach. No matter your business or position, you can apply Marquet's radical guidelines to turn your own ship around. The payoff: a workplace where everyone around you is taking responsibility for their actions, where people are healthier and happier, where everyone is a leader.
These are my reading notes from this book. All errors, omissions, and representations are mine.
Worker satisfaction is now at an all-time low. Employees start each new job full of ideas and eager to offer their whole intellectual capacity, only to be told to follow instructions and not rock the boat. Their creativity and innovation go unappreciated, and eventually they just stop trying and just do the bare minimum to get by
Bosses are frustrated as well – they see a lack of passion and ownership in their workforce, and attempts to encourage them to make decisions fall flat, with most workers seeming more comfortable just doing what they are told. Managers feel like they have to babysit employees to get anything done, and are often disappointed at the results anyway.
The issues lies with our current leadership model: dividing the world into leaders and followers, with the former controlling the latter. This model had worked successfully for thousands of years, and is particularly adept at extracting physical work from humans – but in the modern world, the most important work we do is cognitive, not physical, and here the model starts to break down:
- Followers with limited decision-making authority have limited incentive to give the utmost of their intellect, energy, and passion; they run at half-speed, under-utilizing their imagination and initiative.
- As organizational performance is closely tied to the ability of the leader to harness their followers, it incentivizes personality-driven leadership and short-term performance, and when these leaders depart, the organization's performance can suffer significantly.
We initiate empowerment programs and use tricks to "inspire and empower" our teams, but they all suffer a fatal contradiction between their message and method – if it takes me to empower you, it fundamentally just disempowers you.
The solution is the leader-leader structure – which at its core contains a belief that we can all be leaders, and it's best when we all are leaders. We all need to use our leadership abilities in every aspect of our work.
Leader-leader organizations see great improvements in effectiveness, which are more resilient and enduring as they are decoupled from the leader's presence. They continue to spawn additional leaders throughout the organization, creating a long-lasting, virtuous cycle that cannot be stopped.
This book is organized into four parts: Part I, letting go of old ideas, and Parts II, III, and IV, which describe the bridge to leader-leader and its supporting pillars. We will learn to divest control to others in our organization while keeping responsibility, and supporting this transition with enhanced technical competence and organizational clarity. The goal is a world where we all find satisfaction in our work, one in which every human being is intellectually engaged, motivated, and self-inspired.
Part I: Starting Over
To begin exploring this new way of leadership and organizational structure, we must first clear any preconceptions we have in our minds – our greatest struggle is within ourselves.
A constant tension pervaded the USS Will Rogers, a nuclear ballistic missile submarine operating in the 1980s – a tension between doing things right and meeting deadlines, a tension exacerbated by the captain's micromanagement of all tasks (engine room, control, sonar, torpedo room) and felt by every member of the crew.
Marquet was at the time engineer officer on the ship, and instituted a plan to give control, rather than orders, to his engineering department. Instead of giving specific lists of tasks to his division officers, he gave broad guidance and told them to prepare the task lists. Rather than telling everyone what to do, he asked questions about how they thought the problem should be approached. Rather than being the central line of communication between divisions, he told them to talk to each other directly.
Things went horribly. He ended up having to bark lists of orders anyway, people complained that they missed the old engineer who would just tell them what to do, and giving decision-making control to his people only produced many maintenance and engineering errors, embarrassing him and his department.
During his time off, he went through a post-mortem of his time on the Will Rogers and came across three contradictions:
He liked the idea of empowerment, but didn't understand why empowerment was needed. Humans are naturally empowered, and empowerment programs seemed to be a reaction to having actively disempowered people. Also the whole idea of such programs was inherently contradictory – power needed to come from within, not from one's boss.
The way he was told to manage others wasn't the way he wanted to be managed – he was at his best when given specific goals but broad latitude in how to accomplish them, but was expected to instead give a bunch of tasks to his people.
He was disturbed by the close coupling of the technical competence of the leader with the performance of the organization – ships with a "good" commanding officer did well; ones without a good CO didn't do well. If a new CO came on board, a good ship could become a bad one overnight – the captain would make a mistake, and the crew would, like lemmings, follow him.
He realized that he was trying to run an empowerment program within a leader-follower structure – one where the message was "Do what you are told". Just saying "Do what you are told, but..." would have never worked.
Business as Usual
To promote long-term success, you must ignore short-term reward systems.
In the Navy, captains are graded on how well their ships perform during their tour and their tour alone – there were no rewards for long-term thinking. Leadership effectiveness wasn't judged on how well your unit performed after you left or how often your people got promoted in the following years. When the performance of a unit went down after an officer left, it was because he was a good leader, not because he hadn't trained his people properly.
The top-down, leader-follower structure has excellent results in the short term – subordinates become comfortable with not having to do the hard work of thinking, making decisions, being responsible and accountable. However, over time, the same people who are treated as followers in turn treat other as followers when it's their time to lead, and ultimately it results in a system with vastly untapped human potential.
Change of Course
Marquet was unexpectedly assigned to take command of the Santa Fe, to turn it around – then a laughingstock of the Navy: the ship that had trouble getting under way on time, the ship with the worst retention in the submarine force.
Although he was given an untested, unempowered, uninspired crew with the worst performance in the whole fleet, Marquet ended up firing no one – an important action in retrospect, as it sent the message to each crew member that he wasn't screwed up; only the leadership was.
Marquet was given a specific goal – to have Santa Fe ready for deployment – but was not told how to do it. He focused on the only thing that could be changed: how the crew and leadership acted and interacted – and without micromanagement, he saw it as his chance to do something different, to set the crew free from top-down leadership.
Are you curious, or just "questioning"?
The crew of the Santa Fe knew that they were the worst ship in the submarine force, and acted like it. But due to his unfamiliarity with the sub's technical details, Marquet engaged the crew as soon as he got on board – he walked around, asked questions about their equipment and what they were working on, focusing on understanding the people and their interactions and starting to rely on the crew much more than he normally would have. He asked questions like the following:
- What are the things you are hoping I don't change?
- What are the things you secretly hope I do change?
- What are the good things here we should build on?
- If you were me what would you do first?
- Why isn't this ship doing better?
- What are your personal goals for your time here?
- What impediments do you have to doing your job?
- What will be your biggest challenge to getting Santa Fe ready for deployment?
- What are your biggest frustrations about how things are currently run?
- What is the best thing I can do for you?
When you walk around your organization talking to people, be as curious as possible. Hold off on questioning or being critical until after you've established trust.
Call to Action
When was the last time you walked around your organization to hear about the good, the bad, and the ugly of top-down management?
Marquet spent his first two weeks walking around talking to people, instead of reviewing all the records on the ship. From this (and from his staff meetings) he found very driven and gifted officers who were frustrated that their ideas weren't being considered, who would eventually become some of the greatest engines for change. He spent time with junior crew as well, helping them with their bureaucracy-inflicted issues and worries.
Marquet then began observing the ship's routines, and found a trend of top-down micromanagement – the captain leaving his fingerprints everywhere, telling people what to do + exactly how and when to do it. The captain got good marks for being very involved, but he took away any decision-making opportunities his crew would have had.
Finding out daily how the crew's time was being wasted and their talents ignored provided a tremendous call to action for Marquet – an eagerness to turn everything on its head.
"Whatever They Tell Me to Do!"
What happens in your workplace every day that reinforces the notion that the guys at the top are the leaders and everyone else is simply to follow?
The attitude of "Whatever they tell me to do" was pervasive on the Santa Fe. Department heads were expected to go over what was still "owed" at the end of the day with their reports – essentially becoming responsible for their employees' jobs.
The pervasiveness of top-down leadership resulted in a ship of 135 men but only 5 fully engaged in observing, analyzing, and problem-solving, with the rest of the crew seemingly sitting idle, lacking initiative, waiting for others, being paralyzed in decision making.
"I Relieve You!"
Is your organization spending more energy trying to avoid errors than achieving excellence?
In the Navy, everything that happens under your command is attributed to you; everything that happens after you leave is attributed to the next guy. This led to short term thinking and a focus on just not messing your own command, on avoiding errors at all costs.
As he took official command of the Santa Fe, Marquet thought through a few things they had going for them:
- The crew wanted change, even if they didn't know how to do it.
- They had a very supportive chain of command – it was very outcome focused; they didn't care or need to know the specifics of what was actually done.
- His reliance on his crew for the specifics of how the boat operated prevented him from falling into old leader-follower habits.
- It was clear the crew was in a downward spiral: poor practices resulted mistakes which resulted in poor morale which resulted in avoiding initiative and doing only what was necessary.
Marquet realized he needed to shift the focus, their primary goal, from avoiding errors to achieving excellence.
Focusing on errors is helpful to understand the mechanics of procedures and detecting major problems before they occur, but is debilitating when it's adopted as the objective of an organization – it takes your focus away from being truly exceptional. You will never have zero errors, and so you will always feel bad about yourselves. On the Santa Fe, instead of openly tracking, reporting, and discussing errors to identify causes, the culture was one where mistakes were avoided at all costs – and the easiest way to not make errors was to just not make any decisions.
It's crucial for everyone to see the ultimate, noble purpose of the organization for them to do anything to support the mission – instead of coming to work with only the hope of not screwing up.
Part II: Control
Marquet's primary focus when he assumed command was to divest control and distribute it to the officers and crew: to push down decision-making authority (for both how they were going to work, and toward what end) to where the information lived. Don't move information to authority; move authority to the information.
Change, in a Word
It's actually pretty easy to change decision-making authority in your organization, once you commit to changing.
Marquet was tired of sitting through lectures about how they should "work together" or "take initiative" – they were never backed up with mechanisms that enabled or rewarded those behaviors. Instead, he decided to just start acting differently, with the hope that new thinking would follow.
He brought together his chiefs (the highest ranked non-officers; several steps below his department heads) and talked with them honestly what running the submarine would actually mean, with the sole output as concrete mechanisms for change:
- He gave his chiefs sole responsibility for the performance of their divisions, by giving them final approval over leave, on-call responsibilities, training enrollment, qualification schedules – eliminating six steps of the approval process above the chiefs.
- Since this reduced his XO's decision making power, he then gave his own final approval powers for officer leave, etc. to the XO.
Marquet's ultimate worry was that interests of command wouldn't be maintained by bringing decision making downward, but this fear ended up never materializing.
Mechanism: Find the genetic code for control and rewrite it.
The ultimate goal is to change the genetic code, not just institute "programs" or "initiatives" that say "empowerment" but do it in a way that is disempowering. Search for the specific organizational practices and procedures (even unwritten ones) that need to be changed to make this happen.
Delegate control, or decision-making authority, to as much as is comfortable, and then add a pinch more.
Identify decisions that can be pushed down to the next lower level in the organization, then ask the people who had the decision making authority to list all of their worries about delegating the decision. Generally the worries will fall under two categories, both of which can be resolved:
- Issues of competence: they lack the technical competence about the subject
- Issues of clarity: they don't understand what the organization is trying to accomplish
Marquet also made it clear that whenever something happened on the submarine, that some chief was responsible for making sure it came out right. Focusing on who was put in charge was more important than trying to evaluate all the ways the event could go wrong.
Finally, distributing control by itself wasn't enough – the new decision makers were now required to have a higher level of technical knowledge and sense of organizational purpose than before.
"Welcome Aboard Santa Fe!"
Don't like something about the "culture" in your organization and want to change it?
Giving new authority to the chiefs had an immediate effect on their commitment and engagement, as well as that of the sailors reporting to them. But there were still skeptics among the crew, driven by both a fear of doing things different as well as a fear of the cost of failure.
Marquet decided he needed to not only have an initiative for the chiefs, but something for the entire ship. How do you raise morale quickly? It was obvious what the output of good morale would be – bragging about their ship, wearing ship swag, looking visitors in the eye – but less obvious how to create a work environment to encourage people to get there.
On the Santa Fe, some attributed low morale to the long hours – Marquet felt that it had to do instead with focusing on reducing errors instead of accomplishing something great, and the resulting feeling of ineffectiveness that permeated. Instead of being proactive movers, the crew were only passive reactors – a feeling of victimhood, blaming what was happening on outside influences and factors.
So instead, Marquet created a new rule for all the crew: when greeting any visitors, to always use three names: "Good morning, Commodore Kenny, my name is Petty Officer Jones, welcome aboard Santa Fe." This was the start to getting rid of the sense of being victim to circumstances, to start letting each sailor on board take charge of their own destiny.
Mechanism: Act Your Way to New Thinking
How do you embed a cultural change in your organization? Have a brainstorm to find answers to the following sentence:
"I'd know we achieved [this cultural change] if I saw employees..."
Encourage answers to be specific and measurable, e.g. "Employees submit at least one idea a quarter, and all ideas are posted and voted on." Then sort and prioritize then answers, and discuss how to code the behavior into the organization's practices.
To change employees' behaviors, you can either change your own thinking and hope this leads to new behavior, or change your behavior and hope it leads to new thinking. On the Santa Fe, they did the latter: acting their way to new thinking.
Under Way on Nuclear Power
Do you play "bring me a rock" in your organization, where vague understanding of the goal results in wasted time?
Preparing accurate, up-to-date nautical charts is extremely important to nuclear submarine operation, and has an equally laborious review process to go with it, with steps added (and rarely removed) in response to navigational problems that occur – steps that often just involve additional inspection at the end of a process, extra work without making anything better.
The charts for the Santa Fe's first route had this element of pressure, plus a common desire of subordinates to present their boss with a "perfect" product the first time – and so they were delivered just 48 hours before underway, perfect in terms of compliance but outlining the wrong route.
With only 48 hours left, Marquet decided that for now, at each phase in the review process, the navigator or assistant navigator would have a brief conversation with Marquet himself – a trade-off that was worthwhile early on to get all levels of the chain of command to work towards accomplishing operational excellence.
Mechanism: Short, Early Conversations Make Efficient Work
These are not conversations where employees are told what to do, but instead conversations for them to get early feedback on how they are tackling problems while retaining control of the situation. They provide great clarity: even thirty-second conversations can save hours of time. And although a boss's attention and time are no doubt highly valuable for your organization, weighing that against the potential inefficiencies of everyone else can often make these conversations worthwhile.
Supervisors also need to recognize that the demand for perfect products the first time they see them results in significant waste and frustration – well-meaning yet erroneous translations of intent can lead to significant wastes of resources if not caught early.
It's important to note the difference between trust, the faith that the subordinate believes they are making the right decision, and the actual merit and tactical value of that decision compared to other decisions.
"I Intend To..."
How proactive are senior managers and employees in your organization?
During a drill, Marquet gave an order which was accordingly passed down the chain of command, even though every level below him knew that it didn't make any sense at all. He realized then a major peril in the top-down model in something as complicated as a submarine: what happens when the leader is wrong? Everyone goes off the cliff.
Marquet then made a vow to never again give any order. Instead, officers would state their intentions with "I intend to...", and optimally he would say, "Very well", and each man would execute his plan.
Of course, many times, Marquet would have to ask a bunch of follow up questions to make sure the plan was sound. He then set a goal for his officers: to give a sufficiently complete report so that he would have no questions, and all he had to do was to give a simple approval. This encouraged them to outline their complete thought process and rationale for what they were about to do, forcing them to think at the next higher level, and so on down the line.
This had the side effect of being a leadership development program in itself – by putting themselves always in the next higher level's shoes, they were already thinking the right way to be promoted.
Just having a strong personality as leader doesn't make for good leadership – you need your followers to be just as independent, energetic, emotionally committed, and engaged. Giving orders is seductive to the leaders, but is debilitating and energy-sapping for their followers.
Mechanism: Use "I Intend to..." to Turn Passive Followers into Active Leaders
Passive followers will use these "disempowered phrases":
- Request permission to...
- I would like to...
- What should I do about...
- Do you think we should...
- Could we....
Active doers, on the other hand, use these "empowered phrases":
- I intend to...
- I plan on...
- I will...
- We will...
Do you like to help your people come to the right answers? It is more likely to make things worse.
Giving specific direction without the underlying thought processes just doesn't work in the complex and unpredictable world we are in – there are no shortcuts. Especially as control is divested, it's increasingly important that the team is aligned with the organization's goal.
Just giving your employees the solution deprives them of the opportunity and obligation to think – sometimes, it's best to ask for another solution and keep quiet.
Mechanism: Resist the Urge to Provide Solutions
Emergency situations do require snap decision making and clear orders – but the vast majority of situations don't require immediate decisions. Let your team chew on it; give them time to react to the situation as well. Create a space for open decision by the entire team. Of course, this is harder on you as it requires you to anticipate decisions and alert your team to the need for an upcoming one.
If you are seeing frequent issues come up that require short notice decisions, chances are you have a reactive organization locked in a downward spiral: issues aren't foreseen, your team doesn't get time to think about them, you have to make a quick decision, your team isn't trained to think for the future, etc.
How do you get your team to think for themselves?
- If the decision needs to be made urgently, make it, then have your team evaluate your decision after the fact.
- If the decision needs to be made reasonably soon, ask for team input (even briefly), then make the decision.
- If the decision can be delayed, then force the team to provide inputs. Don't force them into consensus, which whitewashes differences; instead, cherish the dissension. If everyone thinks like you, you don't need them.
Are you inadvertently sending a message that erodes ownership and responsibility among subordinates?
Marquet had a system (a binder, in this case, called the tickler) that was focused on understanding the status, instead of actually getting the work done. They would have weekly meetings where department chiefs and heads would go through the tickler, cataloguing what they were supposed to do and what they were delinquent on. This sucked up a lot of valuable time, both in maintaining the tickler and having the supervisory meetings.
Using the tickler process sent a message: we will keep track of and monitor you and your job performance, and we will enforce (somehow) the proper performance of your job. This erodes a more powerful message: you are responsible for your job.
Marquet decided to eliminate the tickler, and instead transferred responsibility for whatever was due to his department heads and chiefs.
Mechanism: Eliminate Top-Down Monitoring Systems
Supervisors often bemoan "lack of ownership" among their employees, but at the same time have practices that defeat attempts to build ownership.
Don't preach and hope for ownership; implement mechanisms that actually give ownership. Eliminating top-down monitoring systems is an example of that – systems where senior personnel can easily micromanaging their juniors. The idea of "We are checking up on you" has a highly detrimental effect on initiative, vitality, and passion.
With processes, adherence to (and avoiding errors in) the process becomes the objective, rather than achieving the objective that was the reason for the process in the first place. Efforts to improve process will make your organization more efficient, while efforts to monitor the process will make your organization less efficient.
"A New Ship"
How comfortable are you with showing your gut feelings to your staff? Do you have language to express doubt, ambiguity, or uncertainty?
Although their inspection went well, Marquet still felt like he had to frequently run around to solve crises – he was still too personally involved. He and his department heads pinned it on a few causes:
- The crew lost perspective about what was important.
- There was an absence of informal communication, of "thinking out loud". As Captain, Marquet needed to think out loud about where they needed to be and why; everyone else needed to think out loud with worries, concerns, and thoughts. The level of buzz that developed actually became a good gauge of how well the ship was running, whether everyone was sharing information.
Mechanism: Think Out Loud
When you hear what your subordinates are thinking, it makes it easier for you to keep your mouth shut and let them execute their plans – it's generally when they're quiet that you feel the urge to step in.
And when you as captain thinks out loud, you're imparting important context and experience to your subordinates, teaching them that lack of certainty is strength and certainty is arrogance.
"We Have a Problem"
Who are your company's inspectors, and how can you use them to best advantage?
When the Santa Fe violated an important electrical docking procedure, Marquet could have tried to handle it just "in-house" to avoid future additional oversight and procedures – but instead, chose to be as transparent as possible to all outside inspectors, scheduling a meeting with everyone to discuss the violation.
Mechanism: Embrace the Inspectors
The purpose of this mechanism was to show the crew of Santa Fe that they were responsible for Santa Fe. Inspectors for areas they were good at were viewed as advocates to share good practices with; inspectors for areas they were doing poorly at were viewed as sources of information and solutions. This resulted in an atmosphere of learning and curiosity among the crew, instead of one of defensiveness.
Part III: Competence
People need to be technically competent to make the decisions they make.
"Mistakes Just Happen!"
Are you content with the reason "Well, mistakes just happen" when it comes to managing your business? Or do you reject the inevitability of mistakes and come up with ways to reduce them?
The violation meeting ended up being 8 hours long, much of which was spent discussing how to prevent it from happening again:
- Refresher training? But clearly it wasn't a knowledge deficiency.
- Supervision? But there was already significant supervision; how would adding one more layer help?
- Mistakes just happen? But how do you reduce mistakes, especially those made unconsciously?
- More attention to detail? But telling someone to pay attention hadn't worked in the past.
They concluded that the mechanism should be to "take deliberate action": prior to any action, having the operator pause, vocalize, and gesture toward what he was about to do – even if no one was there to see.
Mechanism: Take Deliberate Action
As the importance of doing things right increases, so does the need to act deliberately. This is even more important when things must be done quickly – you don't have time to "undo" something that's wrong.
Taking deliberate action not only ended up reducing errors; it also allowed nearby operators to hear and correct mistakes, and helped monitors intervene better during drills when incorrect actions were performed. This created a resilient organization, one where error propagation is stopped with good teamwork at its source.
Deliberate action has an additional benefit as well: it becomes a critical aspect of teamwork as it allows other team members to signal anticipation and help draw attention to the right thought process and right decision.
What if an error happens anyway? You must balance the courage to hold people accountable for their actions, and your compassion for their honest efforts.
Have you tried to divest control without first making sure your organization is competent to handle more decision-making authority? Control without competence is chaos.
If all you need to do is what you're told, then you don't need to understand what you're doing – but when you are given more power to make decisions, you need intimate technical knowledge on which to make those decisions.
As a result, on the Santa Fe, Marquet codified the idea of "We learn" into the creed:
- "Instead of looking at each task as just a chore, look at it as an opportunity to learn more about the equipment, the procedure, or if nothing else, about how to delegate or accomplish tasks."
- "Training is a subset of learning, which in turn is a subset of personal growth. We strive to grow each day."
- "Our vision of our command is a learning and competence factory... each of you is both a product of the factory (when you learn) and a machine in the factory (when you help others learn)."
Mechanism: We Learn (Everywhere, All the Time)
How do you build a training program that employees will want to go to?
- The purpose of training needs to be to increase technical competence.
- The result of increased technical competence is the ability to delegate increased decision making to employees.
- Increased decision making will result in greater engagement, motivation, and initiative.
Complete the sentence: Our company would be more effective if [level] management could make decisions about [subject]. Fill in [level] and ask your staff to brainstorm about [subject]. Then, choosing a few subjects, brainstorm about what is necessary to know to make a decision about those subjects. You now have subjects for training as well as a direct link to the level of management for which to implement that training.
If you treat every opportunity as one to learn, you will be calm and even eager instead of always stressing about performance.
Under Way For San Diego
How do you get people to think "at the next level"?
A briefing (where one person drones on going through a plan of action) is passive activity for everyone except the debriefer – their only responsibility is to nod and say "ready" without intellectual engagement.
Marquet decided to do certifications instead of briefs – where the person in charge asks the team questions about the plan, and at the end, decides whether the team is ready or not to go. Responsibility for preparation shifts from the briefer to all participants. Knowing that they would be asked questions incentivizes people to prepare ahead of time, to think about what they will be required to do, and gives every individual responsibility for knowing his job.
Mechanism: Stop Briefing and Start Certifying in Your Business
When certifying, make it clear that it's a decision meeting – one that will result in a go/no go based on their readiness for the procedure. The costs of "We're not ready" are high, but not as high as messing up.
A good organizational measure of improving health is to ask your employees how many minutes a week they spend learning on their own – this is how you get ownership, or employee engagement.
All Present and Accounted For
Have you ever thought that people understood what you were talking about only to find out they didn't "get it" at all?
Giving privileges to senior employees or managers is often thought to give their juniors something to aspire to, but oftentimes it just alienates and demoralizes them. Things will deteriorate if your managers take care of themselves first, and their employees have to pay for it.
This happened on the Santa Fe – some chiefs took their increased authority and used it to make their lives better, missing their obligation towards their men. Marquet had a talk with them, reminded them of the responsibilities they agreed to take on – and instead of taking away their privileges, just laid some ground rules for fair distribution of work between the chiefs and their men.
Mechanism: Continually and Consistently Repeat the Message
In retrospect, Marquet realized what was missing. He needed a relentless, consistent repetition of his message: day after day, meeting after meeting, event after event.
Old habits die hard, and to many, your initial message may have just sounded like something they had heard before – they think they know what you mean, but they don't. They can't see in their imagination how this new culture will work, until you tell them enough times that something breaks through.
Do you believe that allowing initiative from the bottom won't work in a crisis? Even in emergencies, releasing control yields better results.
In the weeks leading up to deployment, Marquet turned many practices on their head:
- Fire drills were transformed from very specific protocols (this specific crew member on call needs to be the one to grab this hose, etc) to a single goal: to put the fire out as soon as possible. Crew members in the vicinity would attack with fire extinguishers, someone would announce the need for a hose which would be brought by whoever was closest, with constant chatter throughout.
- Loud noises in the submarine were no longer dealt with by a chief calling all the watchmen together to figure out where the noise came from (a top-down approach); instead, watchmen themselves were given responsibility to report if a loud noise occurred in their vicinity, all for the goal of keeping the ship stealthy.
Mechanism: Specify Goals, Not Methods
Once employees are freed from following a prescribed way of doing things, and instead are given a goal to find the best approach to something, they are likely to come up with many ingenious ways to make it happen.
Specifying goals is not only a mechanism for Competence, but also for Clarity – it prioritizes achieving excellence instead of avoiding errors.
Be sure not to specify the method along with the goal – it's tempting but will result in diminished control. Just provide your people with the objective, and let them figure out the method.
Part IV: Clarity
As more decision-making authority is pushed down the chain of command, it becomes even more important that everyone throughout the organization understands what the org is all about, what the org is trying to accomplish. If clarity of purpose is misunderstood, then decision-making criteria will be skewed, and suboptimal decisions will be made.
Under Way for Deployment
How can you take care of your people?
Upon deployment, Marquet gathered his chiefs and officers to discuss what they wanted to accomplish. They wanted to encourage each person to establish personal goals – take courses, read books, exercise, etc. – as well as the ship-wide goals of empowerment, efficiency, and tactical excellence. Marquet sent a message out to as broad an audience as possible, elaborating on his approach:
- "I intend to empower the crew to achieve their personal and professional goals..."
- "I intend to push authority and responsibility downward wherever practical to improve job satisfaction..."
- "I am working to establish measures of effectiveness for each of our goals."
Marquet also aligned things the crew cared about – e.g. promotion advancement – with the operations of the ship. He looked at what the biggest gaps in advancement exam performance were, explained the process better to the crew, and gave them tools to improve their performance.
Mechanism: Build Trust and Take Care of Your People
Taking care of your people extends beyond their work lives. And if you develop an extensive pool of talent via your leader-leader structure, you will have more wiggle room in giving people personal time when they need it most.
Doing his best to give his crew opportunities for advancement had another benefit: Marquet's crew was convinced that he was "on their team", and there were never any issues with negative responses to constructive criticism. It was never a "me versus you" issue. If your employees don't believe you are doing everything you can for them, it will be much harder when you need to ask them to work hard.
Taking care of your people doesn't mean protecting them from the consequences of their own behavior. It means giving them every available tool and advantage to achieve their aims in life, beyond the specifics of the job.
A Remembrance of War
Do you have a rich organizational legacy? Are you using it?
During emergency drills, Marquet watched the eyes of his watch officer: If they went down, to a written procedure, or looked unfocused, it was bad; if they were focused on the indications that would provide the necessary information for making the next decision, it was good.
Mechanism: Use Your Legacy for Inspiration
Many organizations have inspiring early starts and somehow "lose their way" at some later point. Try to tap into the sense of purpose and urgency that developed during those early days, and find real ways to keep those alive as the organization grows.
One easy way is to talk about them – embed them into your guiding principles; use those words in efficiency reports and personnel awards.
Leadership at Every Level
Do your guiding principles help people in your organization make decisions?
Marquet's job as the commander was to tap into the existing energy of the command, discover the strengths, and remove barriers to further progress. When writing the Santa Fe's guiding principles, he would ask: if he were a crew member and faced with deciding between two courses of action, would the principles provide the right criteria against which to select the appropriate course of action? As guiding principles, they needed to provide guidance on decisions, not just hung on a wall somewhere.
The USS Santa Fe guiding principles were:
- Initiative: Taking action without direction from above to improve our knowledge, prepare the command for its mission, and come up with solutions to problems. Initiative is a key reason for success, and places an obligation on the chain of command not to stifle it.
- Innovation: Looking at new ways of doing the same thing. Knowing which areas are "above the waterline" and appropriate for innovation, having the courage to change, and tolerating failures.
- Intimate technical knowledge: We are responsible for learning our areas of responsibility, and we make decisions based on technical reasons, not hope. This requires diligent study as well as understanding of interrelationships of all the systems.
- Courage: We choose to do the right thing, even if it may be uncomfortable. Don't just do or say what subordinates, peers, or superiors want to see or hear. Admit mistakes, even if ugly.
- Commitment: We strive to be present when we come to work, and give it our best. We choose to be here.
- Continuous improvement: We continually seek ways to learn from processes and improve them and yourself. The chain of command has the obligation to develop and institute mechanisms to achieve this.
- Integrity: We tell the truth to each other and to ourselves. We have a grounded base of reality and see things as they are, not as we want them to be. We participate fully and allow improvements to be based on facts.
- Empowerment: We encourage those below us to take action and support them if they make mistakes. We explain what we want accomplished and allow flexibility in how it is accomplished.
- Teamwork: We work as a team, not undercutting each other. The chain of command is obligated to implement mechanisms that encourage and reward teamwork. We back each other up in a positive way.
- Openness: We exercise participative openness: freedom to speak our minds. We exercise reflective openness, which leads to looking inward. We challenge our own thinking. We avoid the trap of listening to refute.
- Timeliness: We do things on time – start work on time, start drills on time, get to meetings on time. We recognize that accomplishing most things faster is better, and working to reduce inherent delays results in a more effective organization.
- Leadership at every level!
Mechanism: Use Guiding Principles for Decision Criteria
It's easy to hang a list of guiding principles on the wall to display, but often they don't become part of the fabric of the organization.
Guiding principles have to accurately represent the principles of the real organization, not an imagined one. Falseness in what the org is about will cause problems when making decisions, as they won't be aligned with the org's goals.
Do things to reinforce the principles and make them real, e.g. when writing awards or evaluations, couch behaviors in the language of the principles. You also must adjust your behavior when it violates the principles.
A Dangerous Passage
Do you recognize your staff's achievements so long after the event that even they forget?
When one of Marquet's crew prevented a collision, he immediately grabbed a medal, went to the crew's mess, and pinned it on the crew member. He spoke words of appreciation and professionalism then, and also formally reported the exemplary service later as well.
Mechanism: Use Immediate Recognition to Reinforce Desired Behaviors
Don't let your administrative processes get in the way of prompt recognition: not thirty days, not thirty minutes, but immediate.
Do your awards pit some employees against others? That will result in competition at the lowest level and destroy collaboration.
Instead, have awards that are abundant, with no limit – that pits your team against the world. Have man-versus-nature instead of man-versus-man awards. All teams will then be collaborators working against a common external goal.
Sometimes a fixed objective is appropriate; sometimes relative grading is appropriate. But you can do both: assign the grade based on the fixed objective, and also provide data on how the team stacks up against other teams. Just providing this data results in a natural desire to improve.
Are you mired in short-term thinking?
Marquet started a series of one-on-ones with key supervisors where the rule was that they could only talk about long-term issues, primarily people issues. He found it useful to ask the others to write their performance evaluations or awards in the next year or the end of their tour – specific and measurable goals that you can plan against.
Mechanism: Begin with the End in Mind
It's crucial to establish specific, measurable goals. If your objectives are vague or hard-to-quantify like "do better in X", ask specific questions: "How would you know if X improved?", "Fewer bugs? How many fewer? How many did you have last year?" You will also begin to track the data that you need to track – hard data is much more meaningful than phrases like "significantly improved X".
How do you begin with the end in mind? Look for statements in your evaluations that express achievement, and create measuring systems to help you know the next time it happens. Then, ask your employees to write their own evaluations one, two, three years from now – their goals should cascade down from the organization's goals. Have conversations with them to make their desired achievements indisputable ("How would I know?") and measurable.
Finally, you as a mentor must establish that you're sincerely interested in the problems of the person you're mentoring.
Are you looking for resilience in your organization? Resilience and effectiveness sometimes means questioning orders.
Mechanism: Encourage a Questioning Attitude over Blind Obedience
When your subordinate is telling you you're wrong, they're overcoming their fear in doing so – stop, listen, think, and always appreciate that they went so far to do so.
Do you have the fortitude to go against the grain? There are significant benefits to thinking differently about leadership.
Junior crew members often looked to see what their chiefs did to get a sense of whether they wanted to stick around and have that job – and the chiefs on Santa Fe had an amazing job: direct power and responsibility over 135 sailors and a $2B warship. Not only was the tour extremely successful, retention numbers increased by an order of magnitude in just one year.
The crew tried to make every operation excellent, and arrived through trial and error at a body of practices and principles drastically different from the Navy's leader-follower model.
The Santa Fe also accomplished many other breakthroughs:
- Deliberate action had continuous benefits in reducing errors and signaling intent.
- They focused on intimate review of the people, instead of the work.
- They required fewer reports and inspection points.
- Marquet practiced less leadership, resulting in more leadership at every level of the command.
Instituting the Leader-Leader model
- Find the genetic code for control and rewrite it.
- Act your way to new thinking.
- Short, early conversations make efficient work.
- Use "I intend to..." to turn passive followers into active leaders.
- Resist the urge to provide solutions.
- Eliminate top-down monitoring systems.
- Think out loud (both superiors and subordinates).
- Embrace the inspectors.
- Take deliberate action.
- We learn (everywhere, all the time).
- Don't brief, certify.
- Continually and consistently repeat the message.
- Specify goals, not methods.
- Achieve excellence, don't just avoid errors.
- Build trust and take care of your people.
- Use your legacy for inspiration.
- Use guiding principles for decision criteria.
- Use immediate recognition to reinforce desired behaviors.
- Begin with the end in mind
- Encourage a questioning attitude over blind obedience.
Identify where excellence is created in your company: your internal processes, or your interfaces with the customer and with the physical world. Figure out what decisions the people responsible for the interfaces need to make in order to achieve excellence, and finally, understand what it would take to get those employees to be able to make those decisions. Get them the right technical knowledge, understanding of your organization's goals, authority to make the decision, and responsibility for the consequences of the decisions made.
A New Method of Resupplying
Do you want empowered employees but find that empowerment programs don't help? Empowerment is not enough.
Mechanism: Don't Empower, Emancipate
Empowerment is needed to undo all the to-down, do-what-you're-told, be-a-team-player messages that result from leader-follower. But it's not enough: it doesn't work without competence and clarity, and fundamentally it's still a manifestation of leader-follower as it has as core the believe that the leader "empowers" the followers.
What we need instead is release, or emancipation – we recognize the inherent genius, energy, and creativity in all people, and allow those talents to emerge. Teams are given greater decision-making control and have both competence and clarity. Emancipated teams have no more need of empowerment – they no longer rely on you as a source of power.
On top of top performance and enduring excellence, the Santa Fe also developed additional leaders in wildly disproportionate numbers. Reject the impulse to take control and attract followers – instead, give control, create leaders, and you will have powerful and enduring success.
Questions to Consider
Part I: Starting Over
- Why do we need empowerment?
- Do you need someone else to empower you?
- How reliant is your organization on the decision making of one person, or a small group of people?
- What kind of leadership model does your business or organization use?
- When you think of movie images that depict leadership, who/what comes to mind?
- What assumptions are embedded in those images?
- How do these images influence how you think about yourself as a leader?
- To what extent do these images limit your growth as a leader?
Business as Usual
- In your organization, are people rewarded for what happens after they transfer?
- Are they rewarded for the success of their people?
- Do people want to be "missed" after they leave?
- When an organization does worse immediately after the departure of a leader, what does this say about that person's leadership? How does the organization view this situation?
- How does the perspective of time horizon affect our leadership actions?
- What can we do to incentivize long-term thinking?
Change of Course
- What are you willing to personally risk? (Caring/not caring: caring deeply about the people and mission, but not caring about the bureaucratic consequences to your personal career.)
- What must leaders overcome mentally and emotionally to give up control yet retain full responsibility?
- What's the hardest thing you experience in letting go of micromanaging, top-down leadership, or the cult of personality?
- How can you get your project teams interacting differently but still use the same resources?
- What can you as a subordinate do to get your boss to let you try a new way of handling a project?
- Do you give employees specific goals as well as the freedom to meet them in any way they choose?
- Are you asking questions to make sure you know or to make sure they know?
- Do you have to be the smartest person in your organization?
- To what degree does technical competence form the basis for leadership?
- Is that technical competence a personal competence or an organizational competence?
- How do you know what is going on "at the deck plate" in your organization?
Call to Action
- Is there a call to action in your organization?
- Do people want to change, or are they comfortable with the current level of performance?
- Are things too comfortable?
- Is there a feeling of complacency?
- Do people take action to protect themselves or to make the outcome better? Does leadership in your organization take control or give control?
"Whatever They Tell Me to Do!"
- Why is doing what you are told appealing to some?
- Do people really just want to do as they are told?
- If a snapshot of your business went viral on the Internet, what would it reveal about your workers?
- Do your procedures reinforce the leader-follower model?
- How would your middle managers react if you implemented a checkout system like the one described in this chapter?
"I Relieve You!"
- Are your people trying to achieve excellence or just to avoid making mistakes?
- Has your organization become action-averse because taking action sometimes results in errors?
- Have you let error-reduction programs sap the lifeblood out of initiative and risk taking?
- Do you spend more time critiquing errors than celebrating success?
- Are you able to identify the symptoms of avoiding errors in your workplace?
- When you ask people what their jobs are, do they answer in terms of reducing errors?
- When you investigate the criteria that went behind decisions, do you find that avoidance of negative outcomes far outweighs accomplishing positive outcomes? What is the primary motivation of the middle managers and rank and file (not what it says on the wall poster outside the boardroom)?
- How can you minimize errors but not make that the focus of your organization?
Part II: Control
Change, in a Word
- How can you prepare your mid-level managers to shift from holding a "position of privilege" to one of "accountability, responsibility, and work"?
- What procedure or process can you change with one word that will give your mid-level managers more decision-making authority?
- When thinking about delegating control, what do you worry about?
- What do you as a proponent of the leader-leader approach need to delegate to show you are willing to walk the talk?
"Welcome aboard *Santa Fe!"
- How do you respond when people in your workplace don't want to change from the way things have always been done?
- What are some of the costs associated with doing things differently in your industry?
- Do we act first, and think later? Or do we think first, and then change our actions?
Under Way on Nuclear Power
- How would you counter any reluctance on the part of your team to have early, quick discussions with you, the boss, to make sure projects are on course?
- To what degree is trust present in your organization?
- Is your staff spending time and money creating flawless charts and reports that are, simultaneously, irrelevant?
- What can you do in your organization to add "a little rudder far from the rocks" to prevent needing "a lot of rudder next to the rocks"?
- What commonplace facts can you leverage to make information more valuable and accessible to your employees?
- Have you ever uncovered a "reason why" that wasn't a reason at all – one that was chosen arbitrarily or just based on what was convenient at the time?
"I Intend To..."
- What causes us to take control when we should be giving control?
- Can you recall a recent incident where your subordinate followed your order because he or she thought you had learned secret information "for executives only"?
- What would be the most challenging obstacle to implementing "I intend to..." in your place of business?
- Could your mid-level managers think through and defend their plan of action for the company's next big project?
- How deeply is the top-down, leader-follower structure ingrained in how your business operates?
- Do you recognize situations in which you need to resist the urge to provide solutions?
- When problems occur, do you immediately think you just need to manage everything more carefully?
- What can you do at your next meeting with senior staff to create a space for open decision making by the entire team?
- Are you underutilizing the ideas, creativity, and passion of your mid-level managers who want to be responsible for their department's work product?
- Can you turn over your counterpart to Santa Fe's tickler to department heads and rid yourself of meetings in the process?
- How many top-down monitoring systems are in play within your organization?
- How can you eliminate them?
"A New Ship"
- Do you ever walk around your facility listening solely to what is being communicated through informal language?
- How comfortable are people in your organization with talking about their hunches and their gut feelings?
- How can you create an environment in which men and women freely express their uncertainties and fears as well as their innovative ideas and hopes?
- Are you willing to let your staff see that your lack of certainty is strength and certainty is arrogance?
- To what degree does trust factor in the above?
"We Have a Problem"
- How do you use outside groups, the public, social media comments, and government audits to improve your organization?
- What is the cost of being open about problems in your organization and what are the benefits?
- How can you leverage the knowledge of those inspectors to make your team smarter?
- How can you improve your team's cooperation with those inspectors?
- How can you "use" the inspectors to help your organization?
"Mistakes Just Happen!"
- How do you react when an employee admits to doing something on autopilot, without deliberately thinking about the action or its consequences?
- Do you think that by implementing a system of taking deliberate action you can eliminate errors in your company, or within certain departments in your company?
- Will employees in your workplace revert to acting hastily and automatically in a real-life situation?
- How effectively do you learn from mistakes?
- Are you aware of which areas in your business are marred by mistakes because the lower-level employees don't have enough technical competence to make good decisions?
- How could you implement a "we learn" policy among your junior and senior staff?
- Would you consider writing a creed for your organization?
- Are people eager to go on training?
Under Way For San Diego
- How do you shift responsibility for performance from the briefer to the participants?
- How much preparation do people do prior to an event or operation?
- When was the last time you had a briefing on a project? Did listeners tune out the procedures?
- What would it take to start certifying that your project teams know what the goals are and how they are to contribute to them?
- Are you ready to assume more responsibility within the leader-leader model to identify what near-term events will be accomplished and the role each team member will fulfill?
All Present and Accounted For
- Are any of your employees on the brink of going AWOL because they're overworked and underappreciated?
- When is it right for the leader to overturn protocol in the effort to rescue a single stressed-out subordinate?
- What messages do you need to keep repeating in your business to make sure your management team doesn't take care of themselves first, to the neglect of their teams?
- Have your processes become the master rather than the servant?
- How can you ensure adherence to procedure while at the same time ensuring that accomplishing the objective remains foremost in everyone's mind?
- Have you reviewed your operations manual lately to replace general terminology with clear, concise, specific directions?
- Are your staff complying with procedures to the neglect of accomplishing the company's overall objectives?
Part IV: Clarity
Under Way for Deployment
- What would you and your team like to accomplish?
- How can you as a leader help your people accomplish it?
- Are you doing everything you can to make tools available to your employees to achieve both professional and personal goals?
- Are you unintentionally protecting people from the consequences of their own behavior?
A Remembrance of War
- What is the legacy of your organization?
- How does that legacy shed light on your organization's purpose?
- What kind of actions can you take to bring this legacy alive for individuals in your organization?
Leadership at Every Level
- How can you simplify your guiding principles so that everyone in your organization understands them?
- How will you communicate your principles to others?
- Are your guiding principles referenced in evaluations and performance awards?
- Are your guiding principles useful to employees as decision-making criteria?
- Do your guiding principles serve as decision-making criteria for your people?
- Do you know your own guiding principles? Do others know them?
A Dangerous Passage
- Do you have a recognition and rewards system in place that allows you to immediately applaud top performers?
- How can you create scoring systems that immediately reward employees for the behaviors you want?
- Have you seen evidence of "gamification" in your workplace?
- For how far in the future are you optimizing your organization?
- Are you mentoring solely to instruct or also to learn?
- Will you know if you've accomplished your organizational and personal goals?
- Are you measuring the things you need to be?
- Have you assigned a team to write up the company's goals three to five years out?
- What will it take to redesign your management team's schedule so you can mentor one another?
- How can you reward staff members who attain their measurable goals?
- How do we create resilient organizations where errors are stopped as opposed to propagating through the system?
- Will your people follow an order that isn't correct?
- Do you want obedience or effectiveness?
- Have you built a culture that embraces a question attitude?
- Are you ready to take the first steps toward leader-leader?
- Are you ready to take the first steps toward an empowered and engaged workforce?
- Are you ready to embrace the changes that will unleash the intellectual and creative power of the people you work with?
- Do you have the stamina for long-term thinking?
A New Method of Resupplying
- Are you limiting your leadership to empowerment?
- What programs have you instituted to supplement control with competence and clarity?
- Have you divested yourself of the attitude that you, as a corporate leader, will empower your staff?
- Start with Why by Simon Sinek
- The Visual Display of Quantitative Information by Edward Tufte: Display conventions in efficient symbology and coloring taps a much larger body of knowledge in your brain, and allows easier instant recall and parsing.
- The 8th Habit by Stephen Covey: The value of empowering language
- Out of the Crisis by W. Edwards Deming: Total Quality Leadership, improving rather than just monitoring process