Lord Nelson and Successful Customer Outcomes (SCO)

Horatio Nelson is one of the greatest heros in British history, an honor he earned by defeating Napoleon’s fleet in the 1805 Battle of Trafalgar. Horatio_Nelson.jpgHis victory at sea over the French fleet ultimately proved to be the start of the end of the Napoleon era, which finished with another famous battle at Waterloo in 1815.

So what has Lord Nelson got to do with SCO’s? To answer that question we need to understand how an  out gunned, out manned and apparently demoralized British fleet could turn the tide of war.

Battles at sea had until Nelsons leadership been conducted by Admirals and Commanders often ashore dispensing orders as if playing a game of chess. Move from here to there and engage that ship. The signals from the command were conveyed by flag wavers, strategically placed across the battle front to provide a visual instruction to ships captains.
Sea battles tended to be well planned and predictable affairs with naturally the fleet with greater resources usually victorious. And so it seemed would be the case as the two largest sea going battle fleets in the world approached a pivotal conflict.

Nelson who was more than familiar with hardship both physical from earlier war wounds  (blind in one eye with a crippled arm) and the burdensome politics of the Admiralty brought his captains together to review the battle plans…. Clearly understanding the dilemma he articulated an approach “sink the French fleet at all costs” which in retrospect seems a statement of the blindingly obvious, however tactics and strategy was the domain of the Admirals, not the captains who simply acted out orders provided by flag wavers. Asking the captains what would that involve brought forward the idea of individual ships acting ‘in the moment’ to take advantage of the slower moving, albeit more powerful French ships. If the British ships could ‘get alongside’, rather than waiting for extended orders there was a chance for victory.

And so it was that the flag wavers remained ashore and the captains, seeking to align everything they did to achieve the successful outcome “sink the French fleet” acted in unison and yet with discretion to strike boldly. The rules of the game where changed forever when the British fleet attacked the French in the dead of night. The incredulous French were taken unawares as sea battles traditionally stopped for the night because no one could see the flags….

We can encapsulate Nelsons commitment as just before the battle of Trafalgar Nelson sent a famous signal to his fleet: “England expects every man will do his duty and sink the French fleet“… Nelson’s own last words were “Thank God I have done my duty”… Because of the distance from Trafalgar to England, Nelson’s body was placed in a cask of brandy to preserve it for the trip.
So there we have it. A clear articulation of the successful outcome (think outside of the box). An understanding and actioned desire to make that happen through the technology, people and processes.

It literally changes the rules of the game – forever.

So how much flag waving goes on in your organization? Have you truly articulated the SCO and is everyone and everything aligned to achieving it?

About the Author

Steve Towers, Co-founder and Chair of BP Group (www.bpgroup.org), is an expert on process and performance transformation. Steve founded the first community focused on business process management in 1992.

Steve has bases in Europe (UK), and Colorado.