I was on the beach the other day watching my twelve-year-old son crawl into a sunfish and sail out to sea with a teenager and his brother. Before allowing him to sail, I asked if someone was qualified to take the boat out. I was reassured that the older boy was qualified to sail. Within three minutes it became clear that six sailing lessons years ago does not make a sailor. The boys were heading out to sea without a captain and the “experienced” sailor was hanging onto the side of the boat, struggling to get back in. Two parents quickly swam out to rescue the crew.
As the boys were being towed back to land, I began to think about the similarities between this event and life in the corporate world. Here are my observations:
Are you letting the winds set your course? There was not one person on board that sunfish who could set those sails straight. The wind carried the boat out to sea because no one was steering the ship. Is your organization floating along without any leadership? Are you heading for a shipwreck?
Is anyone in charge? I get very frustrated when I ask to speak with a supervisor only to be told there is no supervisor. I’m all for equality, but not when it means there is no one authorized to help me sail upwind from a policy that does not make sense for a long-term customer. There were three people on that boat and not one of them was in charge. This won’t happen again on my dime, but it may happen on yours.
Does a few hours of training really qualify your employees to excel at their jobs? A busboy may only need an hour of training to be able to safely do his job, but most positions require more time than that. Are your people fully trained or have they participated in a few hours of training here and there? Six hours of sailing school over a three year period is hardly what I would call training. Yet one parent thought that was enough to qualify her son to take charge of an entire crew of inexperienced passengers. Next time I’ll be sure to see the captain’s license before I put my child in his hands.
Rescue teams will cost your company a heck of a lot more money than if you did things right from the start. It costs a lot more money to fix a problem than it does to prevent a problem. We were lucky that we didn’t have to hire a rescue team to bring our people back. Now imagine what it’s going to cost you to bring in a team of people to get your company moving back in the right direction.
I’m not here to take the winds out of your sail. I’m here to help you navigate through some choppy waters ahead. I hope you will heed my advice.
Roberta Chinsky Matuson is the President of Human Resource Solutions and author of the forthcoming book, Suddenly in Charge! Managing Up, Managing Down, Succeeding All Around (Nicholas Brealey, January 2011). Visit Roberta’s Blog on the Generations at Work or her Linked-in Group Suddenly in Charge! Sign up to receive a complimentary subscription to Roberta’s monthly newsletter, HR Matters.