The rather sombre words uttered by Jack Swiggart, Command Module Pilot, Apollo 13, at 21:08 April 13. 1970 shortly after Oxygen tank No. 2 blew up, causing No.1 tank to fail. A catastrophe which left the shuttle and its crew stranded: No electricity, lights, or water; 200,000 miles away from earth, with no way to power the engine to “begin an immediate return to earth”
Thankfully, due to the expertise, courage and sheer blooded determination of the shuttle and ground crews this story ended – as James A. Lovell writes in his book Apollo Expeditions to the Moon, CHAPTER 13.1, Houston, we’ve had a problem, – not as a tragedy but “a successful failure”
How many businesses can say the same thing? You’ve launched successfully and are powering along, nose to the grindstone moving towards your chosen destination. Your dashboard says you are on track – profit is growing, you’ve moved into bigger offices, are hiring new staff. Okay, like Apollo 13 you’ve had a few minor surprises – your top performer quit to join a competitor, you’ve had a few performance issues, all minor trembles but you’re growing and your dashboard says profit is up so you keep going. And then
You find yourself in a space with no resources: you lose your most experienced people through performance and churn issues, leaving you with ‘newbies’ who are going to take at least 6 months to start contributing. The problem as you investigate further is that the newbies are actually not performing, or being as productive as you thought nor are they anywhere near where they should be in terms of abilities.
You desperately need to do something and do it quickly or you and the shuttle might not make it out of orbit.
Luckily in most cases, much like Apollo 13, business owners have the courage, determination and sheer bloody-mindedness to push harder – get training for the ‘newbies’ put in a better performance management system, change the recruitment process and hire more people and slowly the shuttle rights itself and carries on towards its intended destination with nothing more than a stress headache.
Only, it’s slower with a lot of clunking that you hadn’t noticed before and pretty soon you have another…Bang
For those of you out there who have experienced this, I am sorry and hope that you don’t go through this again. If you haven’t been through this yet, lucky you :0)
In either case: How do you (as mush as possible) prevent this from happening and if it does, then ensure that instead of a catastrophe you turn it into a “successful failure”
- Identify the warning signs – There are always signs of impending problems, the earlier you recognise and acknowledge them the easier it is to minimise the chance of them occurring
- Take appropriate action to correct the warning signs – As with the Apollo mission there were many things that should have been challenged and changed. Unfortunately, time and cost pressures often put a stop to these happening Two very important words around action:a) Take – Action needs to be taken, which because of change can be harder to dob) Appropriate – The right action needs to be taken, it’s no use putting a bandage on a headache.
- Recognise that you need help in taking the appropriate action: (Think symptoms vs cause) Most often actions take place which rectifies the symptoms. the problem here is that it looks good at the time but only wears down further later on. True change/ transformation is a complex business with many facets. As a leader/owner, you are a critical part of the change, however, because of your position and vested interest in the success of the business help should be sought in moving this forward.
Identify the warning signs
Sometimes its hard to see the ‘cracks’ – warning signs that although nothing is obviously wrong, if action isn’t taken quickly and efficiently you should expect a bang. I’ve created a short questionnaire which you can complete. The questionnaire is a short, informal, non-scientific tool I designed from years doing this work.
Want to identify if your business is a “Houston, we’…. candidate” complete this short questionnaire Click on this link
I understand the challenges leaders go through, I’ve been in the business of organisational performance a long time. Leadership in Motion was formed to help organisations flourish by developing their people into strong, confident leaders: Leaders who recognise their purpose and authority; and who have the tools and means to equip, enable and empower others to realise their full potential. Find out more