Do you remember the story of Harvey Cheyne in Rudyard Kipling’s Captains Courageous? Harvey is a 15 year old rich boy who is washed overboard while traveling on an ocean liner. He is rescued by fishermen on a schooner who are on a long sea voyage. He has no idea about the sea or what it takes to manage a seafaring vessel. But he is open to learning since the schooner will not dock for months. His nautical education includes being literally “shown the ropes”. By the time the trip is finished he has learned what he needs to know to be a good sailor and ultimately a captain.
As on a ship, there are certain fundamentals that need to be taken care of, certain things that need to be monitored on a consistent basis: fuel, supplies, weather conditions, water conditions, location, distance to port, etc. The same is true in business. You need to set a course with a strategy and a plan, then compare results to the plan. Depending on what you learn in doing your comparison, you will take actions designed to keep you on course with your plan.
Imagine if a ship’s captain prepared a travel plan for his vessel, then put it away and didn’t refer to it as events occurred. Reaching the target destination would be unlikely without checking to see that all actions were keeping the ship on course.
In business it’s the same thing: you need to not only plan you need to track how you’re doing against your plan so you can adjust your actions before they take you too far off course.
Grant had spent $5,000 to expand his market for wholesale prime meats to a new territory. But he didn’t keep track of inquiries, prospects and sales from this new territory. He only looked at the small increase in total sales and attributed the increase to the new marketing initiative. What had actually occurred was an active marketing effort by one of his major existing clients. When further evaluation was done he realized he had only received a few inquiries and no prospects from the new territory. This told him it was time to reassess his marketing efforts. He decided to visit potential prospects personally to try and learn exactly what they would most likely be able to sell. Six months later he had added another 14% to his business from the new territory and he knew why it had occurred.
Learning how to effectively monitor and manage your plan and actions is just one of the things you will need to know to be an effective captain. If you’re on the high seas of commerce, feeling like you’re off course, now is the time to make the decision to gain command of the situation.