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Today's Feature


Readying for sea change is psychological problem for bureaucratised shipping sector


THERE is a great desire in business to have tomorrow to be as much like today - if today was reasonably tolerable and not fraught with crisis that disrupts routines and threatens standard operating procedures ashore or afloat.

To encourage such tranquility in the affairs of man, we have developed management tools, says Martin Shaw, managing director of Marine Operations and Assurance Management Solutions (MOAMS), writing in London's Tanker Operator.

When sailing with the wind at one's back, strict adherence to standard operating procedures is undoubtedly the best course, he says. Rather like a pleasant, repetitive Groundhog Day movie scenario, yesterday, today and tomorrow look much the same, ideally marked by barely perceptible incremental improvements that don't rock the boat.

Doing things this way brings the greatest efficiencies and profitability. No more bunker is burned than is needed to get from A to B at the designated time, all the fine tuning of corporate planners are carried out with exquisite exactitude. Such are the joys of central planning.

But  they are also illusory.  Mr Shaw points out is that these steady state conditions do not apply often enough today, and as greater volatility affects the world shipping, they apply even less.  

An example, he said, was the much vaunted performance management. Mr Shaw concedes performance indicators are of great value and there are some long established ones covering, for example, daily running costs, downtime, incident rates.

But too many key performance indicators (KPIs) have derivative goals and abstract measurements which, especially when tied to inappropriate bonus, can generate "cottage industries", when they achieved for no other reason than to reward high-scoring achievers, because the indicator has been overtaken by events and is no longer relevant.

An assumption that performance is linear can mean that enduring KPIs eventually suffer from the laws of diminishing returns. Knowing when to stop using a KPI is as important as starting it, Mr Shaw writes.

There are very few genuinely enduring KPIs. Another example is organisation structure. Specialisation and layers of management are required in all but the smallest companies. As an organisation gets bigger, more layers intrude and more specialisation is required. Politics and personality can also become a multiplier of complexity.

In a complex system, the unexpected happens. The nature of the system is that things happen at the sharp end, and that the front line staff are the ones who need to deal with the consequences.


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