Reshaping Shipping Excellence
“He who would learn to fly one day
must first learn to stand and walk and run and climb and dance;
one cannot fly into flying” Friedrich Nietzsche
A once-upon-a-time story reaches today’s challenges
For centuries man has been roaming the world’s oceans on various forms of ships and seafaring was a daring venture, undertaken by hard men with soft skills; men who had a clear vision, great courage and well-developed interpersonal skills that enabled them to successfully manage the journey and of course survive. This inner urge has been offering us, through time, an inexhaustible excitement as we achieve things we once thought could not be accomplished.
Shipping is rising to a new era where digital technology, human element and environmental awareness are called upon to remodel the world, creating opportunities leading to sustainable growth and innovation. The world is changing. It is a fact. And seamen are the first to feel the winds of change.
We refer to the term Smart Shipping which will gradually change the nature of traditional Shipping and will strongly influence its business model. We have incorrectly combined in our thinking the term smart shipping only with the technological factor. But technology and digitalization are not the only elements affecting smart shipping. Technology is neutral; with the involvement of the human factor and the environment, technology becomes a tool.
Introducing T.H.E model
I have shortened the terms, Technology-Human-Environment, to an abbreviation, T.H.E, that corresponds to a triad model of Excellence, as I, fancy, call. I truly believe that T.H.E model will be the structure of the ideal business model that will allow shipping to move into the new era in the most efficient, smooth and effective way.
Technology is a system created by people to serve people. It is a great challenge for Shipping to adopt such an operating system. However, it depends on how we perceive and respond to this challenge. In order to understand the presence of technology and digitization and to cultivate a SMART shipping industry with SMART resources, we must first understand the fact that technology in shipping management must be an integral part of the value chain in shipping itself. Technology, however, should not be regarded as a panacea. There are intelligent, well-trained, specialized and experienced seafarers who make serious mistakes, despite technological developments designed to ensure efficient and safer operating conditions. Human element remains a key factor in the function of technology, with all its advantages and disadvantages. People can cause a disaster but also prevent a disaster.
Τhe most proper definition of the human element as applied in shipping is recorded in IMO Resolution A.947(23), adopted on 27 November 2003: “The human element is a complex multi-dimensional issue that affects maritime safety, security and marine environmental protection.” The most interesting part is that IMO, recognizes the need of synergies among all relevant parties within the Shipping industry -seafarers, shore-based management, regulatory bodies, shipyards, legislators- in order to address human element issues effectively for responsible growth. People and human capacity is the cornerstone of the evolution to excellence.
I am a huge fan of the concept of ‘excellence’ and speaking about environmental excellence; we need to realize that in order to reach such an outstanding achievement we need to go above and beyond required environmental legislation. And the core of environmental excellence is the need to view each other as people – rather than objects. Unfortunately for the sake of ‘imposed’ environmental sustainability, organizations can indeed turn people into objects – statistics on record-keeping forms, signatures on policies, focusing on and targeting primarily the profitability of the business. However, environmentally aware and well-trained societies of people will be encouraged to develop an attitude that will enable them to regenerate their mindset and therefore behave in an environmentally responsible manner. Therefore, responsible actions can then lead to an optimum world, where we will no longer need to protect the environment, because we will have created a world where the environment does not need protection.
Introducing the UN 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs); 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development
In 2015, 193 countries adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).This Agenda calls for action by all countries to achieve sustainable development by 2030 world-wide – and the SDGs are seen as an opportunity to transform the world for the better and leave no one behind. As part of the United Nations family, IMO is actively working towards the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the associated SDGs. Indeed, most of the elements of the 2030 Agenda will only be realized with a sustainable transport sector supporting world trade and facilitating global economy.
The Common Factor among the 17 Sustainable Development Goals is the human factor. Everything starts and ends with people. Poverty, hunger, good health & well-being, quality education, gender equality, clean water and energy, decent work and economic growth, innovation, sustainable cities, responsible consumption and production, life below water and on land, climate action, peace and justice, partnerships for the goals. All goals come down to people; People are both the problem and the solution. And most importantly, nothing happens, nothing at all unless the key people involved, want to be part of the solution, they recognize the problem, their mind is awakened and they act consciously with fast and dynamic actions; they simply take a leap of faith with orientation to Excellence.
What we are simply asked to do -and I first have engaged myself to this task- is to get people prepared. Cultivate human excellence in any possible way we can and start acting as leaders! And good leaders should close gaps between plans, actions and results.
The 3 Gaps
In a stable, predictable environment it is possible to make good plans by gathering and analyzing information, set objectives, be aware of the effects, and measure the results until the outcomes we want to achieve. But what about unpredictable, unstable and critical environments such as Shipping is? This approach quickly falters. And it can get worse when this environment is mainly affected by the human element.
Shipping is a vital, interactive, competitive, highly dynamic, complex field grounded in individual and collective human behavior and activity. It is not determined. It is uncertain and evolutionary. Inevitably we have to deal with three crucial gaps:
- The Knowledge gap between plans and outcomes; it is the difference between what we would know in an ideal world and what we actually know. It practically means that we cannot create perfect plans
- The Alignment gap between plans and actions; it concerns the difference between what we would like people to do and what they actually do. It means that even if we encourage them to switch off their brains, we cannot know enough about them to program them perfectly.
- The Effects gap between actions and outcomes considers the difference between what we hope our actions will achieve and what they actually achieve. We can never fully predict how the environment will react to what we do nor can we have the ability to know in advance exactly what outcomes the actions of our people are going to create.
Closing Gaps; a step closer to Excellence
To close the three gaps we need to abandon multiple objectives and decide what we really want; we cannot create perfect plans, but we can cultivate capable and resilient people to manage environmental and technological changes. Through knowledge. Knowledge is power. Then, having worked out that people matter most, give them no responsibility for carrying out their part in the plan. Create the need for commitment through involvement. Tell your people in your company what to achieve and why and give them the freedom of action within defined boundaries which are broad enough to make decisions for themselves and act on them.
Let them stand on their feet, let them walk and let them run before they fly. Let your people become ambassadors of human excellence.
Aristotle wrote: “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” It is up to us to decide whether tomorrow will be another day in Shipping or the first day of a reshaped Shipping Excellence.