The people at Odyssey Marine Exploration Inc. are used to
navigating all over the globe, through seas both rough and calm.
But while the ships are out at sea, Mark Gordon is back at the
home office of the $4.3 million company in Tampa, doing his own navigating of the
business environment surrounding Odyssey.
Much like the captain of an oceangoing vessel, Gordon, the president
and chief operating officer of the company, has to keep his eyes fixed on the
horizon, looking for potential course adjustments that might need to be made.
And when the corporate ship does need to steer in another direction, Gordon
must know how to make the turn at just the right time not too quickly, not
To make that balance happen, you need stability from your
culture and a willingness on the part of your people to take risks.
Smart Business spoke
with Gordon about how you and your employees can work together to build and
sustain a business plan that is both stable and open to change.
How do you build maneuverability into a business plan?
We have this concept, what we call ‘our rocks,’ which are the
key objectives we’re trying to push up the hill each month. We pick no more
than three, so overall the company has no more than three major objectives or
rocks, and each department has only three. So going back to the question about
flexibility, we’re in sort of a triage process deciding whether those three
objectives at the corporate and department level are the most important at that
point in time, given what is happening around us. And we reserve the right to
replace an objective based on the circumstances of the situation.
What would you tell other business leaders about building a
business plan that is stable yet flexible?
Part of it is looking at the business process. You have to
think of it as being flexible when you start out. As simple as it sounds, I’ve
been a part of organizations in the past where they’re carving something into a
stone tablet when they make a decision. So acknowledging the fact that in this
dynamic world in which we now all operate, things are going to change. So you
have to bring that mindset into the business planning.
In terms of the process, the communication is key. Formulate
the plan from the outset so that it’s, as I call it, an agreement among
consenting adults so that everyone understands what we’re trying to achieve,
and that things can change.
And then that weekly tempo of having meetings and discussing
what has happened. Are our objectives still the objectives that we should have.
I think that’s critical. I’d highly recommend that once your plans are in
place, you are reviewing them at least weekly and some businesses do daily
How do you go over key objectives and figure out whether you
need to make course corrections in that huddle format?
It is confronting, each week, actual results and what is
happening in the world around you, then collaboratively agreeing along as many
levels of the organization as possible, even down to line employees as much as
you can. They might have visibility or sight of an issue as to what needs to
happen going forward.
My style is that I like to lead in a very democratic fashion,
but in reality, business leaders, especially if you’re betting the farm on a
decision and you have to make it immediately, sometimes have to go to a more
autocratic style of decision-making.
How do you ensure that employees are taking advantage of the
communication opportunities provided by management?
One thing we learned is that there is always an open-door
policy, so any day someone can walk into my office or their manager’s office,
and we encourage feedback. In a group setting, the town-hall setting is a
specific forum for Q&A and inputs. Although what we’ve learned over time is
that some people aren’t comfortable contributing through an open-door policy or
in a group setting town, so what we’re starting to increasingly see is, for
lack of a better word, a suggestion box. In other words, it is necessary to
give your employees a means to communicate thoughts in an anonymous manner. To
that extent, we’ve set up a vehicle where people can make a suggestion, comment
or logic question in anonymity. It’s those three prongs: open door, town hall
and suggestion box which means to simply provide some kind of anonymous
mechanism for communication.
Is that type of communication something you have to hammer
away on from the first day someone is on the job?
If that is not how the business was run prior, then there is
sort of a period of getting people comfortable with that style. What is most
gratifying for me is that people, especially line employees, are very
appreciative if you share that level of information. Most organizations won’t
do that. My opinion is the organizations who don’t do that, who don’t seek
input from their employees, are doing a disservice to themselves and to their
shareholders. But it does take some time to build that operational tempo where
people get comfortable, both higher up and the folks below me on the
organizational chart that have been exposed to it. You’re changing a paradigm.
How to reach: Odyssey Marine Exploration Inc., (813) 876-1776 or www.shipwreck.net