Steven KellyBy Steven Kelly, CPT, ISPI Director

Just before Christmas, my wife and I decided to travel back Stateside for our holiday visit using a traditional form of Atlantic transport–ship. Departing from Casablanca, we made a 6-day transit across the Atlantic, en route to Florida. An incident occurred during the crossing that focused my attention on high-demand performance in the arena of high stakes–where there is little room for error.

Several days off the African coast, the ship received a late-evening SOS notice from a U.K.-based communication facility. The ship was notified that a small 26’ rowing craft had capsized about 120 miles southeast of us. Although the warning was based only on the activation of an emergency beacon, it was soon known that two young European men were aboard, involved in the Atlantic Challenge Event, a charity event, from Africa to the Caribbean. As the closest ship to the mishap, the captain responded immediately and the 1,000 passenger liner departed course and spent the next 8 hours at full speed pressing toward the coordinates provided from the emergency beacon. About 6:00 am the following morning, the 69,000 ton ship located the rubber raft flare in 10 foot waves and 25 knot winds. In a true display of expertise, the captain maneuvered the 12 deck ship alongside the raft and the two young men were pulled into an open hatch from the lurching seas.

I had the occasion to speak with these men later. Elite rowers with extensive background, they had been hit by a true rogue wave while changing positions in their row boat at night (after 8 uneventful days at sea). Due to the position of the overturned craft, they were in the Atlantic for over an hour while they tried to release the 80-lb life raft. Their rehearsal training and confident psychology pushed them forward to stay alive and prepare for an anticipated rescue–despite absolutely no radio contact after the accident.

Hearing this exciting story from both sides–the ship’s captain and the rescued rowers–it really got me thinking about the true nature of performance. Despite my many years of experience with both business and government, it is rare such a display of skill and knowledge plays out in front of spectators (except for occasional sporting events) in a matter of hours. Although a number of passengers spoke of the “good luck” of these young lads, it became apparent as one looked closer that in fact the rescue was successful only because of fully-trained, and frequently-practiced people, with well-defined procedures in several separate team locations.

The overall rescue network is based on a systemic structure of monitoring constantly shifting locations and players. Despite the fact that none of the teams had ever met, a virtual partnership was created on-the-spot with a very clearly defined end result. Both on the ship and in the rubber raft, procedures were executed in a systematic way to analyze the situation, select alternatives, and execute the solution. The rescue was successful because of ongoing efforts to continue to improve the execution of performance by all the teams within all dimensions–individual as well as environmental.

This was no accident. The ship (Crystal Serenity) has been recognized for decades as the most hospitable at sea. Crystal Line’s passion for taking care of guests in an inviting environment has earned the company more “World’s Best” awards than any other cruise line, resort, or hotel in history. Oh and by the way, after all this” interruption”, we still arrived at the next port on schedule!

As a performance professional, one can only step back in awe when people and processes work in perfect unison to achieve the intended, seemingly miraculous, outcome. Our performance improvement skills and technology, whether celebrated or often hidden in the background, are an ongoing basis for much continuing progress in this modern world.

I speak for the Board when I say how much we at ISPI appreciate the ongoing efforts of our membership for promoting the progress of human endeavors through increased performance. We wish everyone success and prosperity in the upcoming year of 2012.