It's Your Ship: Management Techniques from the Best Damn Ship in the Navy Capt. D. Michael AbrashoffWarner Books, 2002 Author's Page Captain D. Michael Abrashoff is a graduate of the U. S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, MD, and was a military assistant to the former secretary of defense, Dr.
William J. Perry. He served as Commander of 310 men and women aboard the USS Benfold in the Pacific Fleet. Abrashoff left the Navy in 2001 and became the founder and CEO of Grassroots Leadership, Inc.
, in Boston. web Books Get Your Ship Together, 2005 Ship Happens, Coming 2006 It's Your Ship Table of Contents Introduction 1 Ch. 1 Take Command 11 Ch. 2 Lead by Example 32 Ch. 3 Listen Aggressively 43 Ch.
4 Communicate Purpose and Meaning 54 Ch. 5 Create A Climate of Trust 63 Ch. 6 Look for Results, Not Salutes 82 Ch. 7 Take Calculated Risks 104 Ch. 8 Go Beyond Standard Procedure 118 Ch. 9 Build Up Your People 140 Ch.
10 Generate Unity 168 Ch. 11 Improve Your People's Quality of Life 186 Ch. 12 Life After Benfold 199 Epilogue Beyond Benfold 208 Acknowledgements 211 Book Review Table of Contents Title Page 1 Author's Page 2 It's Your Ship Table of Contents 3 Book Review Table of Contents 4 Executive Summary 5 Introduction 6 Take Command 6 Lead By Example 7 Listen Aggressively 8 Communicate Purpose and Meaning 9 Create a Climate of Trust 10 Look For Results, Not Salutes 10 Take Calculated Risks 11 Go Beyond Standard Procedure 12 Build Up Your People 13 Generate Unity 15 Improve Your People's Quality of Life 15 Conclusion 17 Evaluation 18 Executive Summary It's Your Ship, by Capt. D.
Michael Abrashoff is good read on understanding the basics of what he calls grassroots leadership he developed while a Commander in the Navy. He takes the reader through the journey of having a cutting-edge ship handed over him, while finding his own leadership lacking his expectations. While defying conventional Navy leadership tactics, Abrashoff created "a crew of confident and inspired problem-solvers eager to take the initiative and responsibility for their actions." He ultimately succeeded in turning the USS Benfold into the "best damn ship in the Navy" in a matter of months. Within two years his ship became legendary inside and outside the Navy. Abrashoff shares the valuable management skills he developed and effectively illustrates examples of how one can translate the same success in today's businesses. Highlighting key concepts such as: see the ship through the eyes of the crew, communicate purpose and meaning, lead by example, and build up your people.
The vivid examples he uses from his naval history make the reading interesting while educational. It's Your Ship is a great book for any manager wanting to learn more on effective ways to better manage his employees. Introduction Abrashoff begins the book by informing the reader of how his story begins; when he is given command of the USS Benfold. The Benfold was the Navy's most advanced guided missile destroyer the Navy had in 1997 and its command was to be one of the Navy's top innovators. Unfortunately, Abrashoff points out some flaws with the Navy's personnel management that I found to be shocking. First, was that "nearly 35 percent of the people who joined the military annually, wouldn't complete their enlistment contracts." (p.
2) Such turnover can be understood by many business managers in the service industry, but unlike the quick and cheap training process for them, the cost for the military (taxpayers) is astounding. Abrashoff estimates that it cost roughly "$35, 000 to recruit a trainee and tens of thousands more in additional training costs to get new personnel to the basic level of proficiency." (p. 2) Curbing this trend on his own ship and eventually helping to achieve a decrease overall in the military is one of Abrashoff's greatest contributions. Take Command This chapter follows his first observations as Commander and the immediate actions he sought to implement. He notes that the crew seemed relieved by the departing Commander and realized that he must come up with a new leadership model to reach his crew. As he noted in the introduction that high percentage of turnover among crew bothered him and he notes some trends in society that contribute to this problem.
The long economic boom had made most people unafraid of losing their jobs, or finding new ones. Thus he believed it manager's challenge to retain them by motivating them to "work with passion, energy, and enthusiasm." (p. 12) By reading over the exit surveys he assumed as many that low pay was a main reason for people leaving, but was shocked when it was in fact 5 th. The top four are strikingly similar to the slide we studied in class on "What Associates Want from Their Job" in wanting appreciation, ability to make impact, not being listened to, and more responsibility. This helped him understand his crew better and try to "see the ship through the eyes of the crew." (p. 13) He encouraged his crew to challenge the way in which they carried out their jobs by asking, "Is there a better way to do what you do?" If so, then he wanted them to take the responsibility one their own to implement the change, unless it involved major implications.
Abrashoff continues to give examples of instances where low level crew members given the opportunity to speak up with their own ideas, come up with time and cost efficient improvements. Also he points out that there is no way he is capable of making every decision and wanted to train his people to think and make judgments on their own. The only time they needed to consult him was if the "consequences of a decision had the potential to kill or injure someone, waste taxpayers' money, or damage the ship." (p. 29) This idea not only empowered and motivate his crew, but created a learning environment he was striving to establish to better train his people. Towards the end of the chapter Abrashoff isn't shy to note his success on curbing the retention rate of two key personnel positions, petty officers and long-term specialists, from 28 percent to 100 percent. Lead By Example This is especially true for a leader in a military setting, but he points out that this rings true in the business world also.
He points out that one should "never forget your effect on people," (p. 35) that your attitude and tone are infectious to your employees. If the manager comes in with bad attitude it will negatively affect the work environment and make your people less likely to come to you with problems that may need immediate action. A good point he makes is to send the message to your people of how important they are to you, not the other way around. He wraps up this chapter by talking of how effective managers / leaders know how to be held accountable. By not trying to spin the blame on the people below you, they will respect you and take blame personally themselves.
This ultimately will lead to your people gaining valuable knowledge of their mistakes by taking responsibility for them and finding way to correct them. Listen Aggressively While this chapter was relatively short, Abrashoff points out one key area most managers need to focus on. The best way to for him to manage his crew was to "see the ship through the crew's eyes." (p. 44) The first step towards this was personally getting to know every member of his crew. In order to achieve this he went out of his way to interview five crew members a day and ask them personal questions such as, "Where they were from?" information about their families, "What they liked the most about being a part of the ship? What they could change if they could?" This ultimately led him to respect his crew and become more motivated to help them improve themselves. One interesting story was when a young crew member stated that he didn't understand why they had to paint the ship six times a year.
When asked how to solve this the young man said that the bolts used should be changed to stainless steel to prevent the rust marks from running down the hull, causing an eye soar that had to be repainted. Abrashoff was unable to find stainless steel bolts from the Navy supply store, so instead purchased them from Home Depot. Once the new bolts were installed, the crew only had to paint the ship once a year, and eventually the stainless steel bolts were adopted by all Navy ships. He notes that there are many small actions that are overlooked by management that can lead to big results, if managers just take the time to talk to their employees. Communicate Purpose and Meaning Communication on ship with many different levels of authority often made getting messages from top to bottom or vise versa very complicated. He found that most of crew felt as if they were left out of the overall picture of their jobs as a whole.
First thing he did was establishing a clear vision so everyone felt as if the job they were doing was making a difference. He wanted them to think, "We can do anything." (p. 53) He took it upon himself to personally praise people and utilized the ships PA to publicly praise good works. Abrashoff is a firm believer in that positive reinforcement needs to be used more than negative criticism. He also goes on to bash what he called "managerial silence" (p. 54) as to often used by management today.
Also talks of the importance of consulting the crew before implementing any policy change in order to reduce the resistance to change. He found that the more people knew what the goals were; the more receptive they were and in the end achieved better results. He wraps up the chapter by talking about his adoption of an Army procedure called After Action Review, or AAR. It involves analyzing and documenting the results after every major decision and brainstorming how they could improve the process.
The Army uses to analyze their results after any conflict, but Abrashoff saw the potential to incorporate this into more of a management model. He noted that all involved must check their egos at the door and be open to criticism to achieve maximum success. Create a Climate of Trust An example he uses in the beginning of this chapter is of internal bickering and conflict among commanding officers / senior managers causing adversarial relationships. This is from the fact that most believe they are competing against each other for promotion and recognition instead of working together for the good of the whole. In order to stop this problem from infecting his own officers, he made sure they understood that their promotions would be evaluated as a whole. Together they would sink or swim together based on the results of the entire ship, including him.
In the end all his officers either gained a ship of their own or moved up in the military ranks due to their overwhelming success. A good analogy he made was, "Trust is like a bank account-you have got to keep making deposits if you want it to grow. On occasion, things will go wrong, and you will have to make a withdrawal. Meanwhile, it is sitting in the bank earning interest. When the entire organization wins, everyone in it wins." This quote was one of his best points I found in the book, and is what every manager should strive instill in his employees. Look For Results, Not Salutes In this chapter Abrashoff takes a radical approach that strayed from what was perceived by naval code one in his position should take.
He wanted his officers not to distance themselves from the rest of the crew and make them more approachable. Due to the rigid hierarchy of the military system, this looked to be a problem, but was solved with some small steps. One instance he pointed to was when he noticed how during the ship wide barbecue on Sundays, his officers would cut to the front of the line for food. After this they distanced themselves by eating on the above deck by themselves. This was just one of the common practices that were instilled as privileges for officers, but he noticed the negative impact of superiority it had on the crew below. He personally went to the end of the line and waiting his turn without saying anything.
He then sat down with the crew to eat his food to the officers' dismay. The next Sunday all the officers followed his lead and waiting their turn and ate with the crew. Without saying anything and leading by example he helped in est abl is hing the crew positive perception of their officers and gained valuable trust. He goes on the give examples of how managers or captains who are permitted to use climate of intimidation towards their workforce, lead to silencing useful warnings that could have curbed losses or distastes. He goes on the say, "Even when the reluctance to speak up from admiration for the commanding officer's skill and experience, a climate to question decisions must be created in order to foster double-checking." (p.
90) Yes-people, as he points out can be a cancer to any organization and hard to get rid of. He goes on to talk about how a manager should not reprimand someone for attempting to solve a problem or achieve a goal, and try to provide a climate for them to think autonomously. If properly motivated and in a conducive environment, an employee will be able to increase productivity with limited management involvement. Take Calculated Risks "Show me someone who has never made a mistake, and I will show you someone who is not doing anything to improve your organization." (p.
104) That statement by Abrashoff is a recurring theme he tries to convey over and over through the book. One of the main aspects of his grassroots leadership is to empower your employees to take risks that they know you would want them to. He goes on to talk about how wanted an entire ship of people not afraid to challenge the rules (to an extent). Also this chapter has some good examples of some of the risks he took early on as Commander of the Benfold in order to shake up the unsatisfactory climate on his ship. One exampled followed the credence of "If a Rule Doesn't Make Sense, Break It" (p. 111) in which a simple change in the type of transportation for his crew on shore leave.
At the time all the crew complained about stopping in Dubai because the Navy forced them to ride in 60 person buses with drivers who would not make individual stops along the way. Seeing the beauty and excitement of Dubai for himself, Abrashoff broke Navy regulation and instead rented 10 person shuttle vans for his entire crew. Not only did he believe his crew deserved to have the freedom to enjoy the city, but he also found another important reason to explain his action to his superiors. Due to security risks in the Middle East, having a large number of his irreplaceable crew together could be a potential target for terrorist attacks. Eventually, the admiral of the fleet found out, but after reading Abrashoff's five page report on the benefits he allowed vans to be hired instead of buses for his entire fleet. Go Beyond Standard Procedure Abrashoff starts off by pointed out that most managers only followed Standard Operating Procedure and therefore seldom get in trouble, but also rarely get outstanding results for the company.
One story in this chapter talks about how he was able to get the new innovative technology of satellite television on his ship, the first cruiser in the fleet to get it. The story begins in the years before he was Commander of the Benfold when he was working for Secretary of Defense Perry and pointed out the benefits of satellite television for all naval ships. This new expensive technology was limited to only the aircraft carriers at the time, and was not seen as feasible to implement for the rests of the Navy's ships. Nevertheless, Abrashoff went out of his way to construct a memo and send it to the Navy's budgeting office stating the effective motivation the information from the television can have on the sailors. Later on as captain of the Benfold, and currently stationed in the Persian Gulf; Abrashoff learned that three ships in the Pacific fleet would get the new satellite televisions, excluding the Benfold.
He called directly to the secretary of the Navy and stated who he was, and upon seeing that he had written the memo, the Benfold became the first non-carrier to receive the technology. Build Up Your People In this chapter he talks about how after establishing the right climate and proper respect from his crew. Abrashoff was able to instill in them the motivation to want to strive for the best. With constant practice, education, and innovation the Benfold would break naval assessment records under his command, and become the envy of the entire Navy. The main concept he tries to convey is that "praise is infinitely more productive than punishment." (p. 141) He wanted to personally show his crew that he trusted and believed in them through his actions, and felt that the practice of "tearing down" people was an ineffective way to manage.
One action he took to show his praise was to send letters to the parents of his younger sailors personally praising their achievements and overall good work aboard his ship. On crewman came and told him that his father had always thought of him as a failure and was very negative towards him all his life. He went on to say his father received the letter and called him to tell him how proud he was of him. The sailor said this was the first time in his life that his father had encouraged him. He also stresses that managers should do a better job in physically meeting with the employee when using positive reinforcement with their employees. It is true that in today's high tech society, many managers find it easier just to use e-mail or a phone call to show their appreciation.
One example was of an employee at a large bank, in which an employee saved the company thousands of dollars and was sent an e-mail from a top manager congratulating her on her outstanding work. At the end of the day he was riding next to that employee on the elevator and didn't even acknowledge her existence. Basically the manager gave a positive complement and then followed it with a negative one due to his silence. The employee went on to remember the lack of acknowledgement as being a stronger indicator of her performance than the e-mail. I believe this is a great example of how manager should strive not to be, and want that personal interaction with all their employees. In concluding the chapter Abrashoff states how honest continual counsel of his crew provided them with the criteria of what was expected of them.
He states one must set up clear guidelines as to what is expected of them, and then to discuss the ways in which the job could be fulfilled. He states that quarterly goals are necessary and vital, daily routine assessment of the work it key. Always be quick to notice improvement and to personally point it out the person. Also if the work done was not up to the standards, act on it quickly and don't wait until the evaluation period. He found that when confronting the bottom performers, asking them how they would rate their performance would lead to the person accurately see how they were not up to par. Also he followed the steps learned in class; "I'd bring them in, tell them what their problems were, what they needed to do to correct them, and provide training if they needed it.
I would give them a deadline by which I expected them to have their deficiencies corrected. If necessary, I would clearly lay out in advance what would happen if they didn't." (p. 162) This just reinforced the steps learned from the helping associates improve performance examples we had gone over in class. Generate Unity One of the main problems he believes still exists in the military climate is that of racism and gender discrimination. Abrashoff goes on to give an example of each on that he was forced to deal with during his time on the Benfold. Due to the diverse group of people that were aboard his ship, he believed in also training them for unity.
When talking to his crew personally, he went out of his way to ask about any prejudices or sexual harassment's aboard his ship. When an occurrence did come up, he is quick to note "I acted immediately. If you don't intend to act, then don't bother to ask if it going on. It will only make things worse." (p. 172) Abrashoff believed he was able to achieve this unity not by scolding sailors to change, but by providing the positive benefits of community and ultimately the person will want to change. Improve Your People's Quality of Life Some of the key concepts he wants to leave the reader with in this chapter is that people want to receive rewards and appreciation at their job.
In the Navy being at sea all the time basically makes your work your life. But this is also starting to become truer in our society today as people work longer hours and bring the office home with them. He points out that having fun at work can be achieved and will be appreciated by your employees. He says it is best to find ways to incorporate fun into boring, repetitive jobs to keep your people fresh and motivated. Another interesting story is when he challenged the rule about sailors not being able bringing friends aboard when docked abroad. Abrashoff knew he had a great crew and that they were proud of their work and of their ship, and should be able to show it to their new found friends.
He points out that most people dread their office so much they would never want to bring their friends into it. Instilling this pride into his crew and improving their lives is on of Abrashoff's proudest accomplishments as Commander of the Benfold. Conclusion Throughout the book Abrashoff's main theme is one of empowering your people in order to have "the best damn ship." Throughout each chapter he continued to show that people want to do their best if given the opportunity, but as managers today we have hindered this process. Even though Abrashoff lived in close quarters with his crew which made personal expression towards them easier and more frequent. Managers today must understand that their greatest asset is their people and should spend the most time on understanding what they want to achieve personally. Below are some of the key points that Abrashoff brings up in It's Your Ship.
High turnover rate is costly and detrimental to a company and can be curbed by good management. Empower and allow all employees to be able to speak up when they see a problem or have an idea. Never forget your affect on people, so an effective manager should always lead by example. "See the ship through the crew's eyes." Get to know your employees personally, listen aggressively, and ask for their input on improvements you can make for them. "Communicate, communicate, communicate." The more a manager communicates the plan to his employees, the better the results. Building trust is key to providing a positive work environment in which the organization can be effective.
"Praise is infinitely more productive than punishment." Management should focus on providing a four to one ratio of positive to negative reinforcement. One must take risks in order to achieve superior results. Evaluation It may seem that many have heard themes that Abrashoff's described in his book before. I believe he did a great job in translating the way in which the modern military functions almost in the same environment as today's business world.
Almost all the problems confronting Abrashoff are the same problems that managers outside the military are dealing with. By using vivid examples taken from his years in the naval service, he is able to put a fresh new spin on these management principals. Many believe that these new leadership tactics will not work in many of the old established corporate climates, but if anyone is resistant to change it is the military. By showing the steps in how he challenge the conventional wisdom in a job in which reprimand is quick and harsh, should give motivation for any manager to try. I personally found this book to be an excellent read, and while I haven't read to many business management books. I can feel safe to say that I think this one does an excellent job in conveying key management principals for today's workplace.
It also appealed to me due to my fascination with the way in which our military operates. I believe he did a great job of staying clear of getting too detailed in either is leadership model and military jargon. I would recommend this book to anyone who feels intimidated by management books that read more like a textbook, who want to learn but also enjoy the reading too.