Making The Business ‘Boat’ Go Faster

Doug Killick

How Sailing Has Relevant Lessons For Business & Transformation Leaders.

While some events may trigger rapid changes, most progress in business is achieved through calculated strategies and incremental gain. This movement is driven by action, but it is often hard to determine what actions are material and meaningful to progress. And with decision-making in enterprise companies often hindered by bureaucracy, indecisiveness, and circular processes, there is often too much conversation, not enough action.

In this article, we explore lessons from the world of sailing, a topic close to the Portera team, to draw parallels with our experience in enterprise organisations, and help businesses to chart a course towards success.

Lesson 1: Define Your Destination

“If a person knows not to which port they sail, no wind is favorable” – Seneca

Just as sailing requires a clear destination, businesses must have a well-defined strategy. Acting without a strategic direction may give the illusion of progress, but if it steers the organization in the wrong direction, it becomes counterproductive.

Therefore, businesses must invest time in crafting a compelling vision and setting concrete goals that guide their actions. By aligning every endeavor with the desired outcomes, organizations can ensure that every decision contributes to propelling the boat forward.

Lesson 2: Accelerating Business Success through Laser-Like Efficiency

In sailing, the key to success lies in focusing solely on what makes the boat go faster. Similarly, in business, it is crucial to ruthlessly eliminate non-essential tasks and distractions. Busy-ness does not equate to progress if it is not directed towards impactful actions. By identifying the tasks that truly drive positive outcomes, businesses can streamline their efforts and avoid wasting valuable resources on irrelevant endeavors. This laser-like focus on what fundamentally matters allows organizations to make significant strides towards their goals.

Lesson 3: Harnessing Business Forces

To navigate the complexities of business, it is essential to break down the forces at play and build strategies around them. Sailing teaches us to analyze the specific components that influence performance. These include power and trust, which encompass areas such as sales, commercial data, R&D investment, and product innovation. Additionally, businesses must address drag and friction caused by internal processes, miscommunication, governance issues, biases, and ego. External influences, such as market forces and competition, should also be considered. Finally, enablers like strategic partnerships, technology tools, and effective change management play a critical role. By understanding and addressing each component, organizations can optimize their performance.

Lesson 4: Set Milestones and Track Progress

“To measure is to know” – Lord Kalvin

Successful sailing teams utilize milestone planning and outcome-sharing sessions. In business, adopting similar practices can drive progress and keep the team focused. By setting mini-goals and defining clear milestones for each phase of a project, businesses can ensure that progress is measured and shared regularly.

Objective and Key Results (OKRs) provide a framework for evaluating success at each milestone. This transparent approach promotes accountability and helps the organization stay on course.

Lesson 5: Embrace Setbacks with Resilience

In sailing, setbacks are an inherent part of the journey. Similarly, in business, challenges and obstacles are inevitable. However, the key lies in managing setbacks with a “closed box” mindset. Instead of dwelling on failures or setbacks, capture the situation, the challenge, and the outcome in the moment. Document them and set them aside to be revisited later. By embracing a resilient attitude and focusing on moving forward, businesses can learn from setbacks and keep their eyes on the horizon.

Lesson 6: Manage the Human Element

Successful sailing requires effective management of the human element, encompassing emotions, motivation, and team dynamics. In business, this translates to establishing a clear RACI (Responsible, Accountable, Consulted, Informed) model, limiting working groups to streamline decision-making, organizing regular stakeholder meetings, and ensuring senior stakeholders’ active involvement. Active change management strategies help navigate the complexities of human dynamics and keep the team aligned and motivated.

Lesson 7: Business Communication – The Wind in Your Sails

Just as wind fills the sails of a boat, effective communication propels businesses forward. Open and transparent communication channels facilitate collaboration, foster innovation, and ensure everyone is on the same page. Regular communication updates, active listening, and clear dissemination of information throughout the organization are essential to maintain a shared vision and drive collective progress.

Lesson 8: Cultivating a Technology-Driven Culture for Success

In sailing, as in business, culture and attitude are critical drivers of success. Even with the best strategies, technology, and equipment, a negative or stagnant culture can impede progress. Building a positive team culture, fostering innovation, and remaining responsive to external factors are vital. It requires dedication, hard work, and a willingness to adapt. Ultimately, success hinges on the people within the organization, who can either enable innovation or become blockers to progress.

Directing Business with the Immediate Impact of Sailing Lessons

Sailing has relevant allegories to business, with one key difference. In sailing the feedback is often immediate – a drop of wind in the sales rapidly decreases speed. In business it is often harder to tell, and action (or inaction) does not have quite such a direct impact on the outcomes.

It is for that reason that we ask you once more to consider the Lessons above, but in the context of immediate impact. The lessons are likely ones you are already aware of… but what if the results were immediately felt. Is your destination absolutely clear? Are you completely focused only on what matters? Is there too much conversation, and not enough action?

By defining clear goals, focusing on impactful actions, breaking down the forces at play, setting milestones, embracing setbacks with resilience, managing the human element, prioritizing communication, and fostering a positive culture, businesses can navigate the ever-changing waters of competition. By applying these lessons from sailing, organizations can make their business boat sail faster, increasing their chances of achieving sustainable success in the vast ocean of business.

Ready To Set Your Business On a Course To Success?

If you have a project or business line that feels stagnant or stuck in the waters of competition, reach out to Doug Killick for a comprehensive business strategy review. Our expert team will help you align your resources, harness agility and anticipation, leverage data intelligence, and establish frictionless communications to make your business boat sail faster than ever before. Don’t let your competitors leave you behind – contact us today to unlock your business’s true potential.