Get in the F**king Boat

When I took over a project, outage or plant, I had a certain je ne sais quoi best illustrated by the phrase “Sit down, shut up and do what I say.”

Needless to say, not everybody was happy with working for me, but hey that’s life in the big city. When people aren’t happy they act out in all kinds of manners of passive aggressive behavior. I had the “Oh, I didn’t understand you” the “Oh ….ahh I know that what you said but, I thought this would be better” and my favorite “I didn’t want to bother you” or it’s redheaded cousin “I couldn’t get in touch with you”.

In all of my experience I have NEVER had any of my direct reports ever directly disobey me so when It happened, I was…..confused. I didn’t know that move was even an available option. The scene I describe in “Why don’t you make them listen to your tapes” is an absolute true story. I had no idea what to do with the staff of this plant, Fire them all? A bit extreme, but like I said, not doing as I command was so foreign to me that I had no idea what to do

Would I really fire all the management of the plant?  No. Would I create a situation that they would all leave? Absolutely. If not for my son’s idea it would have gotten ugly.

When I showed up with the first tape and told everyone that would have to listen to it, it was clearly a statement of “get in the f**king boat or else!” Although it probably did not look like that at all.

What happened when we started to listen to the tapes was that everyone did get in the boat. It gave the team a common language and let them hear what I was trying to tell them without their need to resist me because I said it.

When it was all said and done we listened to four tapes and at the end of those 4 weeks we all got along swimmingly. The plant, that just a year before was the worst plant in the company, broke every production & safety record at the same time, with the same team.

Here are the tapes that we listened to with a brief description of what I think the best points of each tape is

By Tom Peters

For me this tape should be the start of any new initiative. It has a great line “change happens in an instant” and it’s a true. So many people talk about how difficult change is and how long it takes, but in reality you can change anything instantly. It’s maintaining the change that takes effort. I have used so many of the lessons of this book that 10 plus years later I still use gems like “dougnuting”, “spring cleaning” and “the bump into principle” on a daily bases. I personally resonate with Tom Peters and love all his works. I highly recommend him to any and all management in our industry. Please visit his website , or click on the picture to find him on Amazon.

By Dr. Wess Roberts

The tape is recorded like Attila is sitting around a camp fire just instructing his Huns. Every vignette of Attila speaking to his Huns is a gem. An example, directly from one page of the book:

On Tolerance

  • Every Hun has a value- even if to serve as a bad example
  • The error in appointing an incompetent chieftain is in leaving him in a position of authority over other Huns
  • To experience the strength of chieftains we tolerate some of their weaknesses
  • Suffer long for the mediocre but loyal Huns. Suffer not for competent but disloyal Huns.

The magic of this tape is that it establishes a code of conduct that everyone in the plant starts to follow. So as things happen in the plant we would discuss what Attila would say about this or that and then the group, not me, would decide the fate of a particular decision.

The tape is great; I fell in love with it all over again preparing for this. The biggest point behind all of this is a plant is a collection of people and their habits. If a plant is not doing well it is always because of the habits of the personnel of the plant. Here is where 99% of managers go wrong, they try and get the personnel to stop their bad habits. You can’t stop doing something; you can only start doing something else. Attila’s entire lesson’s for his Huns are the habits of a successful plant. Just start doing them.

By Dr. David Schwartz

There is a basic principle I live my life by - if you can dream it you can achieve it. I may have gotten that little gem from this or any of the hundred other self-improvement tapes. The point is you have to imagine what you want before you can go out and create it. From Mathew 7:7 “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.” To do this you have to ask for something and that’s where the imagination comes in.

The Magic of Thinking Big got everyone on the team to imagine something new. We lamped up the plant for holidays like the Empire State Building. We designed a new safety program called “Common Sense Safety” that had toys in meetings, which received acknowledgement from OSHA. None of these things could have been done without first “Thinking Big.”

By Marcus Buckingham & Dr. Donald Clifton

I suck at spelling, grammar and punctuation. I spell so bad, I stump spell check. Spelling and writing are not strengths of mine, however, communication is. Supposedly 85% of communication is nonverbal and I agree. So what’s a girl to do? Do I burn the midnight oil and practice my spelling in hopes to be mediocre at some point (Here’s a hint….HELL NO!) I do what I’m great at, and get somebody who is great at spelling and grammar to go through what I write. (So when you read a blog and there are misspelling and grammar issues all over the place you should know that I was most likely pressed for time and posted it myself, my secret is now out) Thank you to all that help me.

The point is, do what your great at. Find someone else to do what you’re not great at. In so many plants I have seen so many people plotting along doing stuff because it’s their job. While it’s true that stuff needs to get done, it is also true if you let people do what they are naturally good at, you will get better performance with less management. So listen to the book, take that test, and get your personnel doing what they are great at. Your job will be easier and your performance will go up.

9 thoughts on “Get in the F**king Boat

  1. R.L. Holder

    Well, I guess there was at least one person who could think for themselves! Maybe you should have figured that one out when you were listening to you tapes

    1. jaysikora Post author

      Robert, I dont quite understand your comment. To clarify the point i was attemping to make with this post let me offer this. If a plant doesn’t perform people will be fired. At this time in my career if I showed up there was already a list of who was being fired and it was my job to either pull the trigger or give them a reprieve. The very same people whose jobs I was trying to save were the ones who were not listening. I knew they were, and are, good hard working people but I was at the end of my rope.The point is power plants are tough places to work and because of that tough people work in them and tough people tend to be “Hardheaded” (I consider myself King of this elite tribe)How many of these “tough” “Hardheaded” people do you know that would listen to these types of tapes. But that’s what worked, It makes for a good story and gives an example of what can happen when you think out of the box

  2. Charles

    Jay, This is my first time reading your posts. I recently took over a solid fuel plant and had the same issues you mentioned. We just completed the best year in the plants 23 year history. Could you please answer this question? Do you change your style depending on the situation/personalities of the people in the plant? Not everyone has the same drivers. A hard nosed boss willd drive away an independent thinker who adds real value. I put myself in that box. Sometimes these people (above case) have many years experience and would be a great loss to the plant. I had to let 3 people go but never pulled the “I’m in charge” card. The message got across very clearly though. Arriving early, staying late (not face time), data analyses for continuous improvement, delegation, team building, leading by example, and consistency of treatment of others was the key here. Thanks for the post. Any thoughts?

    1. jaysikora Post author

      First Charles thanks for your comment, please accept my apologies for my late reply

      Do I change my style depending on the situation?

      I had to think about for a while. Here’s my answer, My style is getting the job done as quickly and as well as possible. So if taking over a plant like you mention my first goal would be to determine the deliverable expected (Generally an EBITA number) then determine where the plants current performance is and then chart a course between the two. In doing this I find that it helps prioritize your focus, i.e. look at the million dollar problems first leave the 1000 dollar problems for later once the big stuff is working. Once I had ID’d the big moves (generally better operational performance, less downtime and lower outage costs) I would communicate that to the team

      Generally I have found that 95% of plant personnel are very good and loyal to the plant and its performance. The remaining 5% you should encourage to seek employment elsewhere by any means available to you.

      So now you have the team and have communicated the goals. The next thing is to get everybody on the team into a position that they love and do exceeding well. This takes some time effort and focus but a person in a position that they love, do well and brings value to the team is very easy to manage. The difficulty here is generally in getting stuck in operational rolls like “A maintenance supervisor does X”. People should do what they excel at and nothing else and its your job as a boss to knit them together from a skills and compensation standpoint always in line with the goals of the plant. In doing this follow one rule “do what works” leave the rest of the rules at the door for somebody else

      If there is one simple thought to leave you with its this
      Plant Profit = Revenue – Costs
      Every person in the plant should know what makes the plant revenue and at least the top 10 costs

      Hope this helped

      If you think I could be helpful Email me @ with anything

  3. Mike Grabill

    Years ago one of my mentors told me….today’s thinking won’t solve tomorrow’s problems because today’s thinking is what got us into today’s problems…and within every Project and/or Turnaround there will be one person who will be a detriment to the programme…find the person early and make the decision to remove from the team, early.
    Prior to that ensure the processes, requirements and expectations are clear…from this point you are only asking people to perform to a level they have committed to. With this in mind, the Turnaround Manager has to maintain credibility without compromise.
    Status, progress and risk sets the foundation to manage our deliverable…keep it simple, focus and deliver….bottom line!



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