It's Your Ship: Management Techniques from the Best Damn Ship in the Navy, 10th Anniversary Edition
D. Michael Abrashoff
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The story of Captain D. Michael Abrashoff and his command of USS Benfold has become legendary inside and outside the Navy. Now Abrashoff offers this fascinating tale of top-down change for anyone trying to navigate today's uncertain business seas. When Captain Abrashoff took over as commander of USS Benfold, a ship armed with every cutting-edge system available, it was like a business that had all the latest technology but only some of the productivity. Knowing that responsibility for improving performance rested with him, he realized he had to improve his own leadership skills before he could improve his ship. Within months he created a crew of confident and inspired problem-solvers eager to take the initiative and take responsibility for their actions. The slogan on board became "It's your ship," and Benfold was soon recognized far and wide as a model of naval efficiency. How did Abrashoff do it? Against the backdrop of today's United States Navy-Benfold was a key player in our Persian Gulf fleet-Abrashoff shares his secrets of successful management including:
- See the ship through the eyes of the crew: By soliciting a sailor's suggestions, Abrashoff drastically reduced tedious chores that provided little additional value.
- Communicate, communicate, communicate: The more Abrashoff communicated the plan, the better the crew's performance. His crew would eventually call him "Megaphone Mike," since they heard from him so often.
- Create discipline by focusing on purpose: Discipline skyrocketed when Abrashoff's crew believed that what they were doing was important.
- Listen aggressively: After learning that many sailors wanted to use the GI Bill, Abrashoff brought a test official aboard the ship-and held the SATs forty miles off the Iraqi coast. From achieving amazing cost savings to winning the highest gunnery score in the Pacific Fleet, Captain Abrashoff's extraordinary campaign sent shock waves through the U.S. Navy. It can help you change the course of your ship, no matter where your business battles are fought.
that officers don’t. It seemed to me only prudent for the captain to work hard at seeing the ship through the crew’s eyes. My first step was trying to learn the names of everyone aboard. It wasn’t easy. Try attaching 310 names to 310 faces in one month. At two o’clock one morning, I woke up suddenly and said to myself, “The only way I can create the right climate is to tell every sailor, in person, that this is the climate I want to create.” I decided to interview each crew member on the ship so
leak with a Navy Achievement Medal right away. Though I should have gone through the bureaucracy for approval, I thought it was more important to make it clear that anyone performing a service for the ship would be recognized immediately. If you wait for the bureaucracy to act, people will forget why they’re being recognized in the first place. This kid saved our ship, and I wanted to celebrate him while it was still fresh and made a difference. This brings up an important point: When do you
that his wife of forty-seven years had just died, and he was very lonely. I invited him to join us for dinner. We have been good friends ever since. In 1997, when I was back in San Diego getting ready to take command of Benfold, Irv and I went out to dinner once or twice a month. He owned a repair shop with about seventy-five employees. The company did repairs on Navy ships as well as some commercial work on pumps, motors, circuit breakers, and the like. It was a very successful specialty shop.
organization, for that matter—waste because those in charge don’t recognize the full potential hiding at the low end of the hierarchy? If we stopped pinning labels on people and stopped treating them as if they were stupid, they would perform better. Why not instead assume that everyone is inherently talented, and then spur them to live up to those expectations? Too idealistic? On the contrary, that’s exactly how Benfold became the best damn ship in the U.S. Navy. It is also the way leaders in
the other ships to precede me into Pearl when my sailors could enjoy a whole day’s liberty ashore if we left early. With my crew again listening on the party line, I radioed the other captains and asked if they might want to ask permission to go in early. Nothing doing, they said. Stick to plan. Don’t stir up trouble, which is exactly what I did when I called the commodore, over their objections, and asked to go in early. His tone wasn’t friendly; he, too, had been listening to my conversations