[Post by Chuck Krugh, May 15, 2023]
I wanted to take a break from the blog themes on leadership, pride in your work and commitment and write about a topic that a BIW worker sent me a note about a several weeks ago. The person suggested that I write a blog about Shipyard Etiquette, and he gave me several examples to consider. After considering his suggestions, I thought that this week I would take a slightly different approach while still hitting on his basic principle.
When I arrived last June (almost a year ago), I was surprised by some of my initial observations of how people in the yard interacted. I distinctly remember a lot of people – not everyone – walking with their heads down and not making much eye contact with anyone. This was a new experience for me. At first, I wasn’t really sure how to take it. Coming from Missouri, which is in the southern Midwest, I was used to people being more open, friendly and always willing to say hello.
Having grown up in Pittsburgh, I had been exposed to what you could call the stereotype of reserved people in the Northeast. Over the years as I moved further southwest, however, I noticed and became used to people opening up more. I spent most of my career in the South and Midwest, so I became less reserved myself and a little more friendly. I may have also been influenced by my wife – who never meets a stranger – everyone is just a friend she hasn’t met yet.
When I arrived at BIW, I only knew one way to get to know people: start saying hello to everyone I passed. Sometimes it felt like I was forcing the greeting, but I was determined. Only in a few instances did the person I spoke to not respond with at least a ‘good morning’ or ‘good afternoon.’ Most people offered a friendly reply, which – as you might imagine – just encouraged me more.
Since then, I’ve really come to enjoy the interactions I have each day with as many of you as I can. There is nothing better than a quick conversation about this, that, or the other thing. An exchange of pleasantries and a story is not only fun, but helps me feel less stressed. As a matter of fact, on days when I’m feeling the pressure of the job, I go for a short walk to talk with you. As I chat with people in the shipyard, I feel reinvigorated.
Therefore, as I was considering the suggestion to write about shipyard etiquette, I remembered that I had put a slide together back in the day about “It costs nothing…” to do some different things. It was actually in the same expectations presentation that included the “Your empowerment” slide from “Do You Own It?” last month.
The suggestions listed on the slide (shown here) are pretty simple actions and all completely under our personal control. Let’s look at each of them in a little detail.
Have a positive attitude – smile. No one can control your attitude but you. Others can attempt to influence your attitude, but no one can change it unless you let them. We all have things in our lives that can affect our attitude (like family situations, car trouble, etc.), but the degree to which we let those issues affect our attitude is our own choice. Speaking personally, I try my best to leave my own issues that could affect my attitude at the gate when I come to work each day.
Give the other person the benefit of the doubt. This is one action that I believe we as a society have been doing less and less of over the past few years, but, in practice, it can help avoid a lot of conflict, tension and bad feelings. It seems to me that our patience for trusting, believing and respecting one another gets tested faster than ever before. We could probably debate this one for days, but I would ask you to think about this as you interact with your coworkers. We don’t have to agree, but we should be respectful of our brothers and sisters.
Be an ambassador of change. This is one of my favorites. It seems so hard for us to change – yet every day we are changing. I know that I don’t look anything like the guy I was at 25. Change has happened all around me and to me. At work, change can seem overwhelming, scary and hard, but it’s been my experience that in the rearview mirror, the change wasn’t all that bad (or at least not as bad as it seemed at the time). Be a little adventuresome and open your mind to change. I don’t think it will hurt!
To spread the right message. The facts really help me understand what is going on in both my personal life and in business. Without the facts, it’s hard to stay grounded. As I spend time on the deckplates, I get to hear all kinds of stories and get asked lots of questions. I like it when people ask questions because it gives me the opportunity to set the story straight – convey the facts. My hope is that if I do it, others will be able to spread the factual –the right – message. It’s important to me that you have the facts so you can understand as well!
To listen for understanding. Many people listen with their mouths and not their ears. To me, it seems like our society thinks we always need to say something. The skill of listening has diminished. Think about it – in the last conversation you were in, were you formulating your response while the other person was talking? If so, you weren’t listening for understanding. Really listen and you might be surprised by what you hear!
Do the job right the first time. I won’t spend much time on this since I have already written about it, but I will say that I personally hate to redo my work. I’m fairly certain you don’t like to either. It’s important to make every effort to avoid causing or doing rework!
Exploring shipyard etiquette was a good suggestion, and I have tried to hit that target while adding my own thoughts. My intent in expanding it has been to suggest a few key actions that, while they don’t cost anything, have the power to improve our work environment and our personal experience in the yard while also building better work relationships. After all, we spend a lot of time together at work, so why not make it as pleasant as possible!
See you on the deckplates!
Safely Execute High-Quality Work
President, General Dynamics Bath Iron Works
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