The Submarine Leadership Tour- Seventh Stop: Battery Well!Dave Forman
Our last stop was Berthing, where we discussed how good leaders view their team members as “ people” and not mere “employees.” When appropriate, good leaders support their team in and out of the workplace.
To get to the Battery Well from Berthing, we backtrack to the forward compartment, head down one deck and enter the auxiliary machinery room, where we can then peek down in the Battery Well. We call it the “well” because it’s at the bottom of the sub.
This is an old submarine battery in a storage building, but you can get an idea of the size. It’d easily fill a large U-Haul truck!
Even though we have a powerful nuclear reactor that reliably provides all the energy we need, warships must be ready to survive in a variety of unpredictable situations, and the battery gives us a buffer of response time.
The battery doesn’t store enough energy to get us home from sea, either the reactor or our diesel engine can do that, but the battery ensures the lights never go out while we transition between the two.
You want to see what “dark” really is? Be on a submarine when all the lights go out!
Of course, because the battery is so important, we test it often. We verify it has the necessary capacity and we ensure our Sailors know how to use it properly.
Organizations need a battery equivalent. When the unexpected occurs, and the normal company processes trip offline, what will ensure the team has enough time to adapt before the “lights” go out?
An easy example is the current pandemic.
It was certainly unexpected, and for many businesses, revenue streams dried up nearly overnight. Two or three months of savings could have served as a “battery backup” to keep the lights on (literally and figuratively), and that buffer could give company leadership the necessary time to shift to a pandemic-informed sustainable business model.
Having a “Battery Backup” ensures the lights stay on!
Sometimes the unexpected changes are in your customer base, but they can also be in your workforce.
Sea Story: During my time as Captain and in earlier assignments, we occasionally had “unplanned losses.” That’s when an officer or enlisted Sailor can’t stay assigned to the submarine, and with little to no warning.
A couple times we lost relatively senior people, and their loss created large holes that needed to be filled immediately, but it can take months for the permanent replacement to arrive.
Thankfully we have a plan for these eventualities. We call it the “1301 Notice,” but it’s simply a primary and collateral duty list. For each major position onboard, this notice specifies a primary and alternate by name.
If the primary is unavailable for any reason, then “tag, you’re it!” The alternate may only know a small fraction of the responsibilities they are temporarily fulfilling, but they are only serving a “battery backup.” They only need to do well enough to keep things moving, even if at a greatly reduced pace.
Knowing these assignments in advance is important because it gives the crew time to take mental notes and ask questions about the jobs they may need to fulfill on short notice. This process is not perfect, but it’s far better than having no plan at all.
How much thought has your team given to “emergency backup” roles, and do the people in those backup roles ever get a chance to try it out before “showtime?”
Sea Story: Many submarine operations require a higher level of Captain involvement and oversight than others, but these operations happen 24/7, and the Captain has to get some sleep eventually.
The solution here is called the “Command Duty Officer.” It’s a special, temporary role that authorizes the person (usually the Executive Officer) to approve certain activities usually reserved for the Captain only.
On one occasion, when one of my department heads was on his last deployment with us, his proficiency and our current mission aligned to where I felt comfortable assigning him as the Command Duty Officer.
Even though my department head had dealt with our Executive Officer in the role of Command Duty Officer several times already, actually being the Command Duty Officer was a different story.
Talking about a leadership role and performing in a leadership role will always have a gap, and sometimes significantly.
Giving my department head the opportunity to practice at this level enabled essential leadership experiences that got him a little closer to being ready for his future role as Executive Officer.
It also helped him experience the submarine at the “command” level, which also adjusted his own views of his role as a department head (for the better).
The Navy has an advantage over many civilian organizations in this area because we have fixed timelines for promotions. We know it’s coming, so it’s easy to train for it.
Civilian organizations may not know when people will promote, and they don’t know when they’ll lose a critical team member either. For both of these reasons, successful companies need backup assignments for all critical roles, and occasionally they need to exercise those alternates. You never know when you’ll need that “battery backup” to kick in!
“Batteries” come in all shapes and sizes and capacities. The concept is that you need a “battery” to last just long enough for you to adjust to unexpected circumstances.
And that concludes our time in the Battery Well! To recap, organizations need something equivalent to a battery backup for when improbable events occur and disrupt the normal company processes. This “battery” is developed through deliberate assignment of alternates for all key positions and affording them at least some experience with those responsibilities before it’s actually needed.
The Missile Control Center is up next week! On a ballistic missile submarine, mission clarity is never an issue. We exist for one purpose, and one purpose only: maintain our capability to keep strategic deterrence credible. How much clarity do you and your team have on your organization’s purpose?.