Turn the Ship Around – Culture lessons from a Nuclear Submariner

If you’re looking for real world case studies of how to deliver people from the evils of Command & Control, this part memoir, part manual by an ex-Nuclear Submarine commander is bursting at the seams with hard won wisdom and practical applications and winning a lot of praise from lean thinkers like Mark Rosenthal.

Turn the Ship Around! A True Story of Building Leaders by Breaking the Rules was written by L.David Marquet and details his experiences shifting teams and people from the debilitating, inevitable consequences of absolute command & control to an emancipated culture based on devolved control decision making, elevated competence and shared clarity.

Marquet describes how he observed all sorts of poor performance, errors and low morale created as a direct result of the command & control culture. Working to targets rather than beyond, silly mistakes and errors that were inside the process but outside commons sense. Continue reading →

Here’s a great mantra courtesy of Paul Akers at Fastcap LLC for a culture dedicated to continuous improvement:

“Leave everything better than you find it”

More of Paul in lean loo action below and on his website :

“If the why is big enough, the how becomes easy.”

This is from a Quora answer by Rizwan Asseem on reasons why people fail in their promises to themselves, but the sentiment is equally applicable to generating drive in any endeavour.

Rizwan makes the case that people fail to take steps towards getting things done not because there was anything wrong in their planning, but because they haven’t connected their results to ‘Why you want to achieve them’. If the Why isn’t powerful enough it’s too easy for other stuff to get in the way, to appear more important.

His answer? Find bigger reasons why you want to do something. The minute you find a bigger reason to do the things that you want to do, actually doing them will become so much easier.

Do it for love, not prestige, do it for the meaning, not the metrics.

Leadership and taking things personally

I spent over 13 years working at Rightmove.co.uk, one of the UK’s most successful digital businesses, building products, people and teams.

We started out as a few people around a table and over the next decade grew to nearly 400 people spread around the UK. Along the way I stumbled into becoming a coach, leading Rightmove’s management training and induction programmes which were instrumental in creating and sustaining Rightmove’s small company culture.

In time, I became a manager and, with experience, a leader. I became a manager by being in the right place at the right time but I really only became a leader when I began to discover how powerful it was to take things personally.

Now it’s hard to talk about leadership without offering some sort of definition. The one that works for me is to think of leadership as what happens once you move beyond administering processes and people, when you start creating an environment for that activity to take place: when you move from What to How.

Most managers are really only administrators. The clue is in the name : they manage the flow of resources towards given objectives. They are engaged with ensuring things are done right, not whether the right things are done in the first place.

What ‘the right things’ are, most people can figure out with sufficient insight, a dash of creativity and sometimes luck. How you operate and execute your What, the manner in which you and your team behave is where taking things personally really starts to make a difference.

For me, taking things personally marks the line between
leading and simply managing.

Early on in my career I’d taken over the management of a sales team. At my first monthly sales meeting I was nervous about facing a room full of sales beasts, particularly as they were nursing grievances about their commission scheme. The legacy scheme was clunky to operate, complicated to calculate and forecast, didn’t suit business objectives and didn’t allow for differences between sales territories.

Not realising quite how emotional they were about this clunky commision structure, I kicked off the meeting with a series of necessary changes to the business model and pricing – which were almost instantly met with a wall of objections and obstructions. A little ‘five whys’ later, the commission elephant in the room was revealed in all its stinking clunky glory.

This is where it gets personal. Continue reading →

The best way to measure employee engagement

A chap over on Quora posted a question asking what the best method to gauge employee engagement was. In answering I took a slightly different perspective because I believe engagement itself is pretty hard to quantify with a method. Engagement is a state of mind, by nature something that cannot be absolutely observed or determined externally. In lab conditions I’m sure certain sets of answers correspond with a model described level of engagement, but in the real world you’re contending with all sorts of human filters that will introduce bias as people do (or don’t) give the answers they think they should.

If a survey comes out from the boss or HR, are employees really going to be honest about an answer that might cost them their job? At the very least, a sense of duty or loyalty to the team and company will probably inhibit ‘pure’ responses.

It’s much easier and instructive to look at the signs and symptoms  – the behaviours expressed that will show the lack or presence of engagement. By looking at actual behaviours, rather than trying to determine state of mind, instinct and experience tells me that they are likely to be a more accurate predictor of engagement. Continue reading →