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Lessons Learned From the Kursk

August 28, 2000
Related Topics: Corporate Culture, Change Management, Ethics, Featured Article
I am sure each of you have watched in horror over the last few weeks as the disaster around the Russian submarine Kursk unfolded.

First, just hearing that a submarine had gone down made those of us who are claustrophobic shudder. Second, we then heard all the different assumptions as to what caused the catastrophe. Finally, we watched as egos and pride delayed any chance of a successful rescue for the trapped sailors.

One can only imagine the lack of morale in the Russian Navy. Who wants to go out on maneuvers?

As the story unfolded, I could not help but wonder how many times that this type of situation is played out in our U.S. workforce. How many times do companies have an important situation regarding their most critical asset -- their people -- which never gets resolution due to political infighting, inflated egos, pride, etc.? I know for a fact it happens daily.

For example:

  • A company is being bought, people are nervous as to their future, but no communication is forthcoming because different departments are arguing as to who the communication should come from.
  • A great candidate eagerly awaits an offer, but now it seems "everyone and their brother" wants to give you their two cents. By the time the dust has settled, the next Bill Gates is elsewhere having grown weary of waiting.
  • A great solution to an old problem resides in the winds of a new set of outside advisors that have just left your offices. However, once they are mentioned to the "powers that be," they are quickly discarded for the old advisors due to their long-term relationship with "key people;" an advisory group that, by the way, has no solution to solve the problem.

Human death is a tragic situation and one not to be trivialized. Each one of those sailors had a family and loved ones that mourn for them now. Corporate death, on the other hand, although not so unforgiving, can take on a variety of forms -- none the least of which are caused by political infighting and oversized egos.

Remember though, like the Kursk situation, every mistake we make with our workforce that we do not rectify is a mistake that usually affects those close to them as well. Add to that the fact it often is a mistake that lingers and festers indefinitely in the minds of these key assets and you clearly can affect workforce psyche.

The morale of a company can vanish as a result. And one can only imagine the lack of morale in the Russian Navy. Who wants to go out on maneuvers? Well, ask yourself the same question about your workforce. Do you have an environment that is conducive to rectifying mistakes quickly? Are you open to outside solutions? Do you want your business to survive?

While you ponder the above, let our prayers and thoughts be with the families of those who found the answers to the above to be "no."

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