Straightforward Success On “The Best Damn Ship In The Navy”

Straightforward Success
Having your physical, mental, and emotional needs in a particular situation
satisfied, setting you up to succeed through your own efforts

This is post #1 of 5 USS Benfold posts to help you understand
how one type of success sparks other types of success.

Captain D. Michael Abrashoff turned the world of Navy guided missile destroyer USS Benfold upside down. Instead of demanding that his crew set aside their physical, mental, and emotional needs for the sake of the Navy, Captain Abrashoff satisfied the physical, mental, and emotional needs of his crew for the sake of the Navy. Satisfying the three basic needs together releases their power together, the power of 3 satisfactions.

Satisfying Physical Needs

First, Captain Abrashoff talked to every crew member involved with food on the ship to find out why the food was terrible. Then he made sure everyone was doing their best to improve it. After talking to the cooks, Captain Abrashoff began visiting the galley regularly to tell the cooks he appreciated their “hard work”.

Second, Captain Abrashoff then gave the cooks the opportunity to make even better food. The Navy used to require ships to first get bids from companies that sold food in bulk and then buy from the lowest bidder. Sailors ate “nameless peanut butter” and “mystery meat”. After Secretary of Defense William Perry convinced Congress to pass the Federal Acquisition Reform Act, ships could buy food on the open market. Captain Abrashoff made sure Benfold‘s supply officer took full advantage of that law. They saved so much money paying civilian prices for high quality food that Captain Abrashoff sent several Benfold cooks to culinary school.

Third, the Navy issued ugly bad weather jackets that did not keep sailors warm and dry. A Benfold sailor found a civilian jacket that was much better and told Captain Abrashoff about it. Captain Abrashoff replaced the standard Navy jackets with the civilian jacket. It cost less, kept sailors warm and dry, came with built in flotation devices and reflective stripes, saved money, and looked cool. Captain Abrashoff’s squadron commander made sure the other five ships under his command received the same jackets. All jackets had the ships’ names stenciled on the back.

Satisfying Mental Needs

First, Captain Abrashoff gave his crew the freedom to “dream up better ways to do their jobs”.

Second, Captain Abrashoff had an SAT administrator brought to the ship so sailors could take the test.

Third, Captain Abrashoff made a Navy program of math-refresher courses, college-prep English courses, and college courses on CD-ROM available to any interested sailor.

Satisfying Emotional Needs

In his effort to understand how to help less-talented people ”transcend their limitations”, Captain Abrashoff read military exit surveys. He wanted to learn why sailors left the Navy. Through those surveys and further research, Captain Abrashoff discovered people leave the Navy for the same reason people leave civilian jobs.

Not being treated with respect or dignity

Being prevented from making an impact on the organization

Not being listened to

Not being rewarded with responsibility

For both military personnel and civilians, low pay came in fifth in the list of complaints.

Abrashoff decided to directly address the sailors’ top four gripes.

First, Captain Abrashoff listened to the ideas of individual crew members and took appropriate ideas to his senior officers

Second, Captain Abrashoff created the Running Mates program. Veteran sailors met new sailors at the airport, brought them to the captain’s cabin to call home, and spent five days showing them around the ship and around Benfold‘s home port of San Diego

Third, Captain Abrashoff made sure the crew knew that their efforts were making a difference and that they were capable of anything

Fourth, Captain Abrashoff met with each new sailor within their first 48 hours on ship for a “get-to-know-each-other talk”.

Fifth, Captain Abrashoff rewarded his crew with responsibility by freeing the crew to fulfill their talents.

Sixth, Captain Abrashoff corrected junior officers’ mistakes without berating them.

Seventh, Captain Abrashoff extended respect and dignity to the sailors’ families sending birthday cards to spouses and by sending letters to parents of sailors from “hard-scrabble backgrounds” expressing honest praise.

Eighth, Captain Abrashoff went out of his way to promote fun experiences for the entire crew. The fun thought up and created by Benfold‘s crew included:

Music videos projected on an angled superstructure of the ship

Pumpkin carving contests

Jazz & Cigar Nights on the flight deck

Alcohol free happy nights (Fridays) with steamship round, buffalo wings, shrimp, and karaoke

Music played over a huge stereo system while the crew did mundane, repetitive jobs

Saturday Night at the Drive-In with double features, popcorn, beach chairs, blankets, and pillows

Speedboat races

Laser light shows

Changing from the Navy requirement for sightseeing in Dubai in 66 passenger buses to sightseeing in 10 passenger vans

Assigning two officers and two chief petty officers fulltime responsibilities as “fun coordinators” in Dubai

A live concert with a crew member impersonating Elvis Presley

Kite flying contest

Among other things, Benfold‘s crew needed
good food, mental challenges, and fun experiences.
Captain Abrashoff satisfied those needs, setting his crew up
to be successful through their own efforts in other ways.

The 2nd USS Benfold post will explain Captain Abrashoff’s ingredients for serendipitous success.

It’s Your Ship: Management Techniques from the Best Damn Ship in the Navy
Captain D. Michael Abrashoff
Time Warner Books Group, New York: 2002
Quotes on 13, 28, 142, 151, 191


Paula M. Kramer
© 2015 to the present
All rights reserved.

Posts on this blog alternate with posts at the link below. Posts for both blogs are published on Wednesdays as they are ready to be published. Time between posts could be weeks or months.

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