‘What does your ship look like?’ (Or how to help you and your people be more efficient)

Summary – if you want to avoid waste and rework in your office or business, have a motivated team who you praise more whilst wowing your customers read on.


In previous blogs I’ve written about how to become a better manager and leader, and this starts with giving your team and their work purpose (or giving them the ‘Why’).


Once you’ve given the team their purpose, be it through your business vision, or company culture, or goals and aspirations, you need to get to the ‘nitty gritty’ of what ‘good’ looks like for each individual. Now for most bosses, this involves this conversation:


Boss – “I want (insert piece of work) by this time – any questions?”

Staff member – (not wishing to seem silly or be embarrassed) “No, that’s fine.”


The staff member goes off and does the piece of work as they believe it should be done, presents it back to their boss having worked very hard to be greeted with “that’s not what I wanted….”. They then settle into a cycle of rework where, at best, the staff member gets it close enough for the boss to be happy. Or at worse the boss thinks the staff member is incompetent, takes over and does it themselves.


This results in frustration for both parties along with a huge waste of time and effort (and eroding motivation). All of this impacts productivity and ultimately costs money.


To illustrate this point, when I work with leaders I use an exercise called ‘What does my boat look like’. You can do this with a group or individuals and all you do is ask them to draw a boat (simple!). You then give the audience 30 seconds to draw their boat and then get them to share their drawing. For a group you’ll see different pictures (and for an individual it will be different to what you intended. I usually am looking for ‘Pirates of the Caribbean!).


So, what goes wrong? For communication to be effective it must be ‘transmitted, received, understood and actioned’


In most instances the message is transmitted and received, but the understanding part is usually overlooked. This creates the issue – the boat exercise illustrates that people see things differently, based on experience and preferences. And the need to be on the same page is vital for any role or piece of work to be completed efficiently and to the level required.


What does ‘understood’ look like?  It is where the recipient of the message is given the opportunity to ask questions and play back the message and requirements in their words. Any gaps or misunderstandings can then be addressed, so that everyone is on the same page.


For the leaders I work with I use a simple model which helps tasks get completed right first time, to the level required and where you can utter the words that every member of staff longs for – “well done, nice piece of work”.


The secret for any good boss is using a process called ‘The Success Triangle’. For each new task or role, the boss goes through these areas (in this order):


  • Making what is required CLEAR (what needs to be done, when, and to what level)
  • Ensuring their staff member has the correct TOOLS (skills, physical equipment, support, time)
  • That they have the MOTIVATION (potential recognition, pay grade, developing skills for next role)


This simple process works for new tasks and roles, and for addressing underperformance. In my experience most leaders put underperformance down to a lack of motivation. Or look to coach the staff member believing it’s a skills issue. In more cases than not, the underperformance is due to the staff member not being clear about what’s required.


How can you check the staff members’ understanding? Simple – ask them questions or ask them to “play back what is required in your own words”. You can then fill in any gaps.


If you’d like to discuss the contents of this blog or any other staff or business challenges you’re experiencing please contact me.


Jim Gorrie

Director & Business Mentor

Kent & Surrounding Areas



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