Operating effectively in a competitive environment

The trained crew, however, know exactly what to do and the captain at the helm of the ship is relaxed and confident. The decks and rails are littered with coiled ropes all with specific names and uses, and only the sailors know exactly which ones to use and when and how to use them. The sails are filling and the ship makes steady progress towards its destination.

Below decks sit the owner and his friends. The owner has (obviously) already told the captain when he wanted to start the voyage and (probably) where he wanted to head, and previously discussed what stores and equipment were necessary for the voyage. Periodically he checks on progress and then returns to the security of the cabin awaiting progress reports from the captain. All he now has to do is to wait for landfall and then issue further instructions.

Now, let’s imagine that the captain is the MD or CEO, the owner is the chairman and the sailing crew are the employees. The analogy begins to fall into place. Oddly though, while the complexity of sailing a large yacht is understood and respected as are the roles of the people on board, for some reason many companies are managed in a far less structured way, even though the needs are very much the same. If the workers lack proper training and equipment, if the inter-relationship between the jobs is not properly mapped and if there is little attempt at team-building, the lack of co-ordination will become evident.

In simple activities and in stable environments you may be able to get away with this. In difficult times in a tough competitive environment, you will not.

You may think the analogy between running a company and captaining a ship is a trivial one, but personally I believe it is very relevant. Any organisation or enterprise, whether it is one that sails or one that produces car components, is complex and involves the management and coordination of people and resources, and reaction to circumstances, often in quite difficult circumstances. People therefore need to know at all times exactly what is expected from them (job descriptions and targets), be skilled enough (trained at all levels including the CEO and chairman) to be able to deliver what is expected from them and given the freedom to act (delegation).

They also need to know with whom they have to react and what their roles are in that interaction. So, the provision of detailed job descriptions and targets is just the beginning. The chairman too needs to know the extent of his role, particularly in relation to his Board and the CEO. Given that his is the most powerful voice in the organisation or on board the ship, his intervention in the running of the company is by far the most sensitive and responsive.

On top of this, people need to be motivated, encouraged, praised and rewarded. Business processes need to be mapped and tested for responsiveness and effectiveness. Skills need to be assessed continuously and gaps filled by the appropriate means. Resources too have to be checked for adequacy and replaced or topped up if required.

If you get to grip with all of these, sailing a ship or running a company suddenly becomes a lot easier, safer and more predictable.

SOURCE: Muscat Daily