Damn the Torpedoes, Full Speed Ahead!

Wendy Keneipp on September 15, 2011

Every company should have a plan. A plan of where the company is going. A plan for everyone in the organization to follow and rally around as enthusiastic supporters of a larger goal.

We all want to be working toward a higher purpose beyond the next task on our to-do list. What we come into work for every day needs to be connected to that larger goal that the whole team is working together to achieve.

Create a theme.

The company plan will likely be comprised of several large objectives to reach the Big Goal, but it should all be drawn together with a central theme. It should all tie back to the larger idea of WHY you’re working to achieve that Big Goal. Without the WHY clearly defined, it’s just a random set of goals.

Sometimes people want to reach a certain revenue number – which is fine if you’re the owner of the business and expect to reap the financial rewards of that number. But what incentive is that for your salaried team members to dig down deep and really put in the extra innovation to help you reach that goal? They need something larger to work toward that is going to motivate them intrinsically on a daily basis.

Here’s an example.

I worked for an organization where my boss made a pitch to re-organize separate corporate sales teams, which had come together through acquisitions, into one unified team. He was eventually given the go-ahead to do it, but was met with a very pessimistic attitude from all directions. The company was a little lost in it’s overall strategy, yet, as the sales team, it was our job to convince customers that we were a strong, unified, focused company.

He knew that we needed confidence and belief in what we were selling in order to make this successful. So, in his effort to help bolster the team spirit, we set about creating our own goals, team structure to meet the goals, and a culture to support the confidence and trust we needed in each other to achieve this impossible task. It was exciting because we were told it couldn’t be done; yet we had a leader who, at least publicly, had unwavering confidence in us that we could do it.

We all rallied around the goal and had team meetings on how we were going to do it. The structure started to come together, and as we worked through that, the culture started to become apparent and contagious. At one particularly defeating, yet exciting meeting, our fearless leader proclaimed emphatically, “Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!”

Well, that was it. That became the theme for our team and our rallying cry. All we had to say was that one line and everyone knew what it represented:

- confidence in ourselves and our team abilities
- belief that we were selling something of value to the clients
- the goals we had set
- our constant pursuit of improvement
- proving to everyone that the impossible CAN BE DONE.

One small phrase changed everything for the team. We created a logo and used it on our internal materials, created posters for everyone to hang at their desks, used it as the theme for our quarterly off-site training sessions. We had team jackets embroidered with the logo and wore them proudly. We carried the spirit of that idea everyday and used it as our constant reminder that we were working toward something larger than just a number. Yet all of our energy we poured into that “something larger” drove that number every day.

A few pivotal ideas and actions drove our success. And they’re the same key ideas for any successful company plan:

  1. We had a leader who had a very clear vision of what we needed to accomplish.
  2. Our leader communicated that vision regularly and with great enthusiasm about what we were doing.
  3. Team members got to participate in developing the strategic and tactical components of the plan – the parts we were responsible for executing. Since we developed it, we owned it!
  4. Even though we each had differing responsibilities, we knew that each of us was contributing in our own way to the larger goal. No one questioned what his/her role in that big picture was – it was clearly defined.
  5. There was a culture of expectation, which created natural accountability. No one wanted to be responsible for the ship going down.
    • Leadership provided guidance and ongoing training and support to make sure we could do our jobs to the best of our abilities.
    • We each performed our roles and worked as a team to achieve our individual goals, our sub-team goals, and the whole team Big Goal.

I look at this experience very, very fondly because it worked. It was a real life example of great leadership and teamwork making a difference and demonstrating success. It can be done anywhere. You just have to decide that you want to do it.

Topics: Leadership + Management, Agency Development, Team Development