Book Cover

Part III: Competence

One of the two pillars that support Marquet’s concept of control is confidence. Confidence requires people to be technically competent to make the decision effectively. While this sounds pretty obvious, the classic leader-follower leverages the premise that followers do not have the competence needed to make decisions. Part III focuses on the mechanisms Marquet used to establish and strengthen technical competence.

Chapter 16: Mistakes Just Happen

The framing question that opens this chapter is: “Are you content with the reason “well mistakes just happen“ when it comes to managing your business?” The simple answer should be no! In this chapter (and the following) Marquet lays out a stirring rejection of the idea that mistakes are inevitable.  Every organization and team must strive to find a way to be better by avoiding mistakes (and defects) to begin with!

The story of the problem cutting over to pier power continued in Chapter 16 with an overview of the critique meeting. Typical naval discipline would have brought the petty office that made the mistake in front of the “Captain’s Mast” for punishment. The petty officer admitted to the mistake showing a great deal of candor. He had just not thought when he pushed the red tag out of the way before cutting the power over.  Marquet believed that he needed to find a way to balance holding people accountable with the compassion for their honest efforts. In this case, Marquet adjourned the critique after 30 minutes asking the officers, supervisors, and auditors to stay and discuss how they could prevent the same (and similar) problems from happening again.

Mechanism: Take deliberate action.

The discussion of a solution began with common culprits such as training (we will come back to training in the next chapter) and enhanced oversight. As with most problem-solving events, the first wave of suggestions is often the chaff. Participants identify the chaff and then put aside so that the participants can get to the root cause. During the discussion as Marquet pushed the team to get closer to the root of the problem. The frustration of the group surfaced the statement that mistakes just happen.  The casual acceptance that mistakes are inevitable set the scene for Marquet’s push the idea that they could actually reduce mistakes rather than making gestures and then punishing those who continue to mess up.

In the case of the wayward petty office, the team needed to find a way to help the officers and crew to engage their brains before executing a procedure. This might sound silly, but almost every process improvement training teaches the need for some muscle memory that kicks in before a person has time to think through the process.  Deliberate thought takes aim at that act before thinking mentality. The concept of deliberate action disrupts that muscle memory. Deliberate action basically states that prior to taking any action, the operator will pause, vocalize and/or gesture toward what he was about to do, and only after taking a deliberate pause execute the activity. Many leaders perceive this technique as only for repetitive or manual actions; however, I have found the technique valuable to reduce errors in a wide variety of decisions and actions. In order to slow things down (and to get more done), use deliberate action .

Deliberate action increases the engagement by making sure people think before doing.  The process acts a form of peer review that helps make everyone be more responsible for their actions. Deliberate action improves the resilience of the organization by improving decision-making capabilities.

Chapter 17: We Learn

The opening question for Chapter 17 is “Have you tried to divest control without first making sure your organization is competent to handle more decision-making authority?”

New decision makers must be technically competent if an organization or leader is going to delegate control.  When you are being told what to do and when to do it, you need far less in-depth knowledge of a specific activity. Being able to make decisions about the execution of a process increase the need for knowledge compared to just doing what you are told. For example, a tester that has the discretion to modify a test plan based on risk must have more knowledge of testing than someone that executes scenarios without discretion.

The mechanism in this chapter summarizes the creed that Marquet and his officers developed as they explored their mission and goals.

Mechanism: We learn (everywhere, all the time).

Learning increases technical competence, making it possible to delegate decision-making. Delegation increases engagement, motivation, and initiative which is the holy grail of leadership. Getting there requires actively identifying and facilitating learning within an organization. Many organizations don’t believe they have an obligation or role in learning (for example, firms that leverage contract help rather than internal people)  therefore have to adopt management models like the leader-follower model.

The chapter ends with a great exercise to help a leadership team to build a lean training plan (use the exercise at any level of an organization).

Remember to buy a copy of the book and re-along: Turn the Ship Around! (buy a copy and read along!)

Previous Installments

Week 1: Game Plan

Week 2: Forward and Introduction

Week 3: Pain and Business as Usual

Week 4: Change of Course and Frustration

Week 5: Call to Action and Whatever They Tell Me To Do!

Week 6: I Relieve You

Week 7: Change, In a Word and Welcome Aboard Santa Fe

Week 8: Underway on Nuclear Power and “I Intend to . . .”

Week 9: Up Scope! and ”A New Ship”

Week 10: A New Ship and We Have A Problem