Jose Mourinho in the recent Amazon All or Nothing series noted astutely that building a successful football team that is capable of match winning performance was a matter of getting the correct pieces of a puzzle to fit together.
Running a successful marine operation is in many ways quite similar. In a career of managing marine operations, either at sea or ashore, I can suggest that from my point of view, the key to ensuring a successful marine operation is all about performance management.
Performance management is something that sounds good, we like it, but what does it actually entail and how do we achieve best in class performance management?
Well, being a simple sailor, I always try to distill things into the core elements, and I also draw on a model we all as marine professionals are very familiar with : the concept of the fire triangle. We all know that from our first basic training that a fire needs three sides of the fire triangle to exists – take one away and it stops the fire. So Oxygen, heat, and fuel.
Using the triangle analogy, what are the core elements of performance management that we need to have in place, all at once, that equally would fail should one part be removed?
Safety, reliability and capability.
Anyone involved in industry, especially the various sectors of the marine industry (I include here the energy sectors) know from day 1 that the most important, and entry ticket requirement of performance is of course safety. The best known and probably most truthful statement often quoted is ‘’if you think safety is expensive, try having an accident’’ has never been more relevant.
Safety is the bedrock of performance management of marine operations. The way to illustrate this best is to imagine the opposite state – being unsafe. An unsafe operation is not sustainable. That which is not sustainable shall not be sustained. Simple.
So we put safety at the base of our performance triangle – because in every way the other two elements depend upon that to be the foundation of the enterprise.
Okay, so we understand we have to be safe – and that really is stage one - but how do we improve our performance to stage 2? The next essential element of performance management is reliability.
All operations teams have been there. The call from the vessel at (usually) Saturday evening - just when you thought it was safe to crack open a cold beer in the garden – It’s the [delete as appropriate] Captain/Chief Engineer/Agent, and the [delete as appropriate] crane/main engine/ROV/DP system…etc etc has thrown a wobbler and the job has stopped.
Cue emails and calls from upset clients, senior management, etc etc. Put that beer back in the fridge….get the meeting/conference call organized and start planning how to fix it.
We call it firefighting, right? As any firefighter will tell you the best way to fight fires, is to stop having fires in the first place.
One or two of these stoppages, infrequently, can be managed, and in fact the reaction to these (hopefully rare) incidents is also another part of performance management.
However, if they are happening more than that and become your modus operandii, then you can kick that ‘’reliability’’ reputation out of the window. The second leg of the triangle falls away and you are now no longer performing. Cue loss of contract, cue recriminations and probably job losses. Not a good look.
So we have to safe, and we have to be reliable. Okay – but isn’t there something else, something maybe slightly more elusive? Correct. The third element, or leg of the performance triangle, is really more nuanced, but nonetheless it’s actually just as important and again – without it, sustainable long term performance is not possible.
For this element you have to imagine you are running an operation – safe – reliable – the client is happy – steady away. Seems great. However when the contract renewal comes around, and you put your renewed bid in – maybe put inflation on the pricing for the next few years – maybe tinker around the edges on a few things, your competitor goes and brings something out of leftfield – innovation. Capability, innovation, new ways of thinking, - these all bring a competitive advantage that is fundamental to performance management in marine operations
It might be a new type of equipment – something that does whatever you used to do in a fraction of the time, with maybe less people needed to operate it. It may be a new way of working, simpler processes, better logistics, better supply chain management.
Lack of capability and innovation is a performance killer.
Whatever it is - you have been left behind. Cue loss of contract, cue recriminations, job losses etc etc.
So to get into stage 3 of performance management, to make up the solid triangle, you also need capability.
Putting them together, we have a simple and enduring model for managing marine operations performance. Seems simple, in theory, and in practice it takes effort and brain power to get right. More on that in the next post.
Meanwhile – given the trouble at Spurs at the moment, it’s clear that even for the best, performance management is not just rinse and repeat, Jose really did not get those pieces of the puzzle quite right…maybe he should have thought in terms of triangles…