Are you ready for battle?
I’m re-reading the book, Battleship at War, by Ivan Musicant. It’s the story of the USS Washington and its exploits during World War Two.
One fascinating episode is how the ship changes from a peacetime footing to a wartime footing. It happens quickly and quite by accident. But, it was a critical change, one that probably saved many lives on-board ship.
You see, there’s a peacetime way of doing business and there’s a wartime way and the two are nothing alike. The peacetime way is inefficient and cumbersome. The wartime way is generally the most efficient. In wartime — in battle — you’re in it to win it. There’s no substitute for victory. The only alternative is defeat. And, defeat could very well mean the sinking of your ship and death.
The change from a peacetime footing to a wartime footing came while the Washington was sailing the icy seas of the Atlantic. The captain announced over the ship’s loudspeaker, “The German battleship Tirpitz is at sea.” To test the crew, he ordered general quarters (GQ) sending the sailors scrambling to ‘man battle-stations.’ The GQ order was only an exercise, but the captain kept that part to himself. He wanted to see how the crew would react, how they would respond if it was the real thing.
The captain got his answer in record time. The crew responded brilliantly. One by one battle stations called out, ‘ready.’ Only one problem … they were too fast, how was it possible? Previously, the quickest time to man all battle stations was eight minutes. This time all battle stations called ‘ready’ in only three and a half minutes. The crew smashed the previous record. Battle station were manned and ready in half the time. ‘How is that possible?’ the captain wondered.
Here’s how the crew cut the previous best time by fifty percent — they completely disregarded regulations; completely abandoned the peacetime way of doing business. The regulation called for ‘the gunner’ to sign out the keys from the captain’s safe and then bring them all to the armory. The gunner would then distribute the keys to gunner’s mate. The gunner’s mates would then run to their battle stations and open the magazines (ammunition storage area). Once the magazines were opened and the battle station crew ready to fire, the “ready” call went out to the bridge.
Well, for this exercise, the crew skipped a few steps. Instead of sending the gunner’s mate to the armory, the battle station crews used dog wrenches to break open the magazine locks. Apparently, it took about three and a half minutes to rip the locks off. Once the locks were off, they were ready. The battle stations were manned.
Did the captain get upset? Thank God I can tell you … no. Instead he gladly adopted the new procedure.
The change was complete. The Washington was now on a war footing; no longer hampered by an inefficient peacetime regulation. The Washington was battle ready.
I love this story because it makes me think … how much regulation is out there that’s utterly useless and hampers people from getting the job done efficiently and effectively? People have an inborn sense of what makes sense and what doesn’t. Are we listening to the people doing the work; doing the job?
I remember my days in the military and working with government. I remember the red tape, the regulations, the frustration of having to do one-hundred-and-one non-value adding things before I could start the “real” work.
This wartime story from the battleship Washington is a testimony to common sense. It says change — positive change — can happen in an instant. It doesn’t have to take years. It doesn’t have to take one hundred meetings. It doesn’t have to be approved by eighty two managers. It can happen quickly if someone makes a decision.
The gunner’s mates made their decision. The captain made his. He agreed with the gunner’s mates and the change was made.
The Washington was now ready for battle.
Am I ready for battle? Have I looked at my way of conducting business with an eye for getting rid of unnecessary rules, regulation and red tape?
Now over to you. Are you ready for battle?
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This article was originally published on ivesguy.com.