February 1, 2010

A Happy and Efficient Ship – A Lesson from Noel Coward

Are there special components that great managers need to have when they want the best from their teams? How many are there; what are they and how on earth can you implement them.

Or is it much simpler than that.

In the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, London, England, there are many wonderful exhibits. None less so than the half a floor or so that is devoted to the Atlantic battles that took place during World War 2.

The exhibits are enhanced by explanations and multimedia that explain what happened, as well as the character of the nation that was able to withstand the threat and provide magnificent men and women who were able to succeed on the open seas of the North Atlantic.

One of the exhibits shows a small – and highly relevant, even today – extract from the famous wartime movie, “In Which We Serve”, starring (and written and directed by!) Noel Coward.

Upon taking up his command, he seeks advice from his new crew, what sort of ship would be needed for the forthcoming voyage.

One wag in the crowd pipes up, ‘A happy ship, Captain.’

…and quickly another, ‘An efficient ship, Sir.’

Coward repeats these two qualities back to them.

“A happy ship and an efficient ship. In my experience, you can’t have one without the other.”

Despite all of our modern naval (my apologies!) gazing, could it be that management is really that simple? Could it be that there is little else of importance than these two qualities?

Of course Coward is not discussing management today, yet he is idealizing the values that are required to make a successful voyage in very difficult circumstances.

Can you have a happy ship, without efficiency?

Well, if you try, my guess is that happiness evaporates as your people get annoyed and frustrated with the inefficiencies of others.

An efficient ship, without it being happy – is this possible? Well, maybe, for a while. As time goes on, the lack of happiness – which in itself is a symptom of a malaise – will lead to conflict. And that is no ingredient to have in the efficiency cake.

With efficiency and happiness, together, is this enough for a successful venture?

Well, in themselves, perhaps not – yet, when they are there, it’s more than likely that there is enough of a base for every other quality to drive success to be enabled too.

Being efficient and happy at the same time will surely underpin any other values that the team needs for success.

Truth is, where you have both of these in place, you are much more likely to reap positive rewards. Not least because whilst you are focusing on just two things, your life as a manager becomes that much more easy.

Filed under Blog, Building the Future, Developing Your People, Managing Me by Martin

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Workplace Relationship Building – Creating A Better Understanding

There are many opportunities for misunderstandings when we work in organizations. The most common reason is the way we fail to communicate properly.

The relationships we have with our people can easily change that.

Managers who have a vested interest in the success of their teams, have a role to play to ensure that communication is right. Simply expecting that what gets said is interpreted the way intended just does not always work.

By getting to know their people well, there will always be signs to help ensure that understanding is a priority. Employees have ways of showing when they aren’t sure and a closer relationship will make sure that you see that too.

Only by being close enough to their people, will a manager have the ability to use their sense of intuition to recognize these signs. Sometimes it will be blatantly obvious when something has not been clear. On other occasions, it will be some small and almost insignificant sign – especially to the untrained eye and ear.

That’s why making the smallest of investments in time, of getting to know people well enough, is vital. And that goes both ways too, where their better awareness of you is critical to understand your nuances too.

When we lead teams, it’s not enough to view them as a team alone. Communications don’t work when we try to do things that appeal only to a mass. By spending time in easy conversation with each of our people, we will build our own awareness of them, whilst also showing them that we are interested enough to make that investment in them too.

The truth is, where we want to understand our people better, we have to make the effort to talk to them and even more importantly listen to them hard. It’s not effective enough to pay lip-service to our people these days. Listening hard means really understanding what they say and how they say it – even expending to appreciating what’s not been said too.

The effective relationships we build will always help to make sure that we are understood as well as possible. As in the great adage from Stephen Covey in ‘7 Habits of Highly Effective People’, we must always ‘seek first to understand and (only) then, be understood’.

The prerequisite to our expectations of being understood is that we take the time to understand fully our people first.

By making efforts in getting these one-to-one relationships working right in the first place, we always have the much better chance to make sure that the understanding between both sides is working to its full potential.

And that’s a value for everyone involved, leading to success being that much more likely.

Filed under Blog, Building the Future, Developing Your People, Management Basics by Martin

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