A major flaw in our system of government, and even in industry, is the latitude allowed to do less than is necessary. – Admiral Hyman G. Rickover, father of the nuclear U.S. Navy
Most of us realize it takes a special kind of person to be a submariner, confined for months at a time deep beneath the ocean with about 140 other people. The up-close-and personal nature of living and working in such tight quarters is not the only challenge: every person’s life depends on the other crew members.
If work isn’t done right every single time, it could lead to dangers that someone in a cubicle might never face. That’s why the submarine environment provides such a good example of how to get things right, says Matthew Digeronimo, co-author of “Extreme Operational Excellence: Applying the U.S. Nuclear Submarine Culture to Your Organization.”
Digeronimo and co-author Bob Koonce are both former submariners who now use their talents to help private industries succeed.
In their book, they quote Hyman G. Rickover in a 1981 speech at Columbia University. In that address, Rickover provided some insight into the “seeds” of the nuclear U.S. Navy’s “journey toward operational excellence,” they write.
Some insights from Rickover:
- “Human experience shows that people, not organizations or management systems, get things done. For this reason, subordinates must be given authority and responsibility early in their careers.”
- “Too often officials are willing to accept and adapt to situations they know to be wrong.”
- “Unless the individual truly responsible can be identified when something goes wrong, no one has really been responsible.”
- “When details are ignored, the project fails. No infusion of policy or lofty ideals can then correct the situation.”
- Digeronimo says Rickover’s words need to be heeded by more companies, especially as businesses race to make changes they hope will make them more competitive.“I do think some unsuccessful businesses are changing just to change, and they really make things worse than before,” he says. “The plan may look good on PowerPoint or in the boardroom, but it doesn’t translate well.”The authors say there are several ways that companies can adopt a submarine culture on dry land that will lead to operational excellence. Among their suggestions:Continuous learningThe nuclear submarine community is comprised of those who volunteer for the duty. They have to meet tough academic standards, survive boot camp and then go through months and months of intense training. Even after graduating from Nuclear Power School, academic training continues and everyone on board a submarine is actively working on a qualification to prepare for the next level of responsibility.While civilian operations are not likely to need as robust of a training and education program, it does point to the need for knowledge to be the underpinning of operational excellence, the authors say. Training programs should prevent “knowledge decay” and “push the bounds of each member’s (read more here)