“It’s Your Ship”
Peter A Hunter, author of Breaking the Mould, reviews a new and unlikely management book by US Naval Captain D Michael Abrashoff.
Captain Abrashoff has written a phenomenal book about the journey he made with his ship the USS Benfold, a guided missile destroyer, from a vessel that was failing on all counts, into the best ship in the US Navy at a time of active conflict in the Persian Gulf.
You could be forgiven for assuming that this was another book about a Gung Ho great guy who dragged his crew kicking and screaming up to standard through his sheer force of will and amazing personality.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
Captain Abrashoff realised that the only way to achieve the best for his ship was for his crew to want to achieve the best.
He knew that telling his crew to be the best would not make a blind bit of difference, he knew he had to create the environment in which they would want to become the best and he did that by allowing them to become proud of what they did.
This book tells the stories of what he did, and how the crew responded, to change this crew from a collection of losers into the tight knit crew of the most effective ship in the Pacific fleet.
Captain Abrashoff ‘s efforts were always about the way his crews felt about what they did. By changing the environment that they worked in he changed the way that they felt about what they did and the result was their phenomenal performance.
As he said, “Given the right environment there are few limits to what people can achieve.”
In this book Captain Abrashoff shows us what happens when we do receive the suggestions from below, not only the hard financial value that occurs when we do something in a different way as a result of listening to the needs of the workforce but also the change in the way that we make the workforce feel about what they do as a result of the fact that someone has listened to them
Normal behaviour is to ignore the junior.
One of his crew, David Lauer, had been ignored in his last job before being transferred to USS Benfold.
He had ended up on a charge of insubordination and had been transferred as a last resort.
By listening to his ideas and giving him the authority to act on them Captain Abrashoff allowed him to become the imaginative independent thinker that he always had been instead of the insubordinate ne’er-do-well he had been forced to become because nobody would listen to his ideas.
In one environment David had been ignored, the result was his dysfunctional behaviour.
On USS Benfold he was listened to and as a result became Captain Abrashoff’s personal assistant bypassing on the way five more senior people.
The fault was not his, it was the environment that had been created for him on his previous ship where nobody had listened.
Captain Abrashoff understood that the way people behave is the result of the environment that the manager creates for them. He was the manager of his ship and he deliberately set out to create the environment in his ship that allowed his crew to take pride in what they did.
The performance improvement that resulted for his ship, and in some cases for the entire Navy, were phenomenal.
The stories that Captain Abrashoff tells in this book are not however about the Navy.
These are stories about people and how there are two ways to manage people.
The first is the traditional command and control that Captain Abrashoff found so destructive when he first arrived on the USS Benfold.
The second is the supportive recognition driven environment that Captain Abrashoff created.
The way he did this, the stories and the strategies he used, translate into almost any working environment on this planet because the performance improvement he created was not about the Navy or process.
The performance improvement on USS Benfold was about people and an understanding that the way they are treated has a direct affect on their ability to perform.
The manager is responsible for performance, but most managers drive performance down by shouting and telling people what to do.
Captain Abrashoff discovered how to drive performance up by listening to what his crew needed to do a good job, then he gave them it.
As he said: “The more I thanked them for their hard work, the harder they worked.”
Any manager reading this book will recognise problems and performance that they see on a daily basis in their own organisation.
Unlike most management books, Captain Abrashoff does not suggest academic solutions or strategies that might work.
He tells simple stories of what actually happened, what did work and can be repeated in any organisation.
Captain Abrashoff’s philosophy is simple and the results are stunning.
If you don’t read this book, when you start to lose your market share, consider seriously if it might be because your competitors have read it.
Peter A Hunter
Author – Breaking the Mould