When I was in college, I worked as a lifeguard on the beaches of Southern California. Lifeguarding in Southern California is grueling and fast paced. Surf often comes in taller than 12 feet, and the tide is extremely powerful. Sometimes your day would start with a green flag (calm, small surf and safe conditions) and escalate to a yellow flag (high surf and dangerous conditions). Although you may have seen that coming from weather reports, the general public often did not. No offense to those of you who may have worked on the beach on the East Coast - but the stress of West Coast surf conditions and crowds make the Jersey Shores look like the carnival they are set up to be.
It was not uncommon to have multiple rescues a day. This does not include the twenty or so swims you make into the break-zone to warn swimmers and board riders that they were in a dangerous rip current and should exit. Each day brought the prospect of what a guard calls a "906, Code 3." That meant you were probably dealing with a non-breather, multiple victim drowning in progress or a serious injury to the neck or body. Either way, you were not happy because your job was to do everything in your power to avoid these before they happen. While some instances were unavoidable, you never want to be stuck writing a report on a Code 3 and discussing how the situation occurred and your involvement in it.
The funny thing is, my training and experience as a lifeguard has had an amazing impact on my ability to be a good marketer, manager and executive. Lifeguards use fundamental principles of identifying and mitigating hazardous situations. This does not mean they eliminate risk. Surfing in 12 ft surf is extremely hazardous to your well being. Swimming out to save somebody in 12 ft surf is also a tad nuts. But, only those who are capable of entering the water in those conditions should be allowed to take part in the fun. The others need to find another beach or wait for calmer waters.
Through the years, I began to form the concept of the "Marketing Lifeguard." This can also be translated into the "Management Lifeguard." It is based on key fundamentals taught to every lifeguard. These fundamentals allow for a systematic approach to ensuring that things don't blow up on your watch, while also allowing everyone to have a great time in the surf that the day brings. Over the next few weeks, I will take you through lifeguard training and show how the rules of the sand and sea translate well to your everyday business life.
Spotting the victim BEFORE they enter the water: There are 3 types.
The first is the local. They have grown up in the water and would be in it even if you were not on duty. They carry minimum risk. They can be spotted quickly because you know their faces and sometimes their names by heart. They are tan, have the latest equipment and are more comfortable in the water than a seal or a fish. There is no need to stop them unless they plan to do something really stupid like jump off the cliff into the ocean.
This is the next great product, program or service for the company. There is no need to restrain them (or delay them) unless they are out of whack or have some serious red flags. They are built for success and profit. Your responsibility is to provide wide boundaries and general guidelines and then let them go. If you constrain them too much, they will get watered down and lackluster. You need them to succeed. They are the heart and soul of the company. They provide the action and passion that makes others want to come and work at your company too. This is the classic "star" that needs leadership more than management.
The second is the usual suspect. They live within an hour of the shoreline and come enough that they know their way around. They arrive later than the locals and usually come in mixed groups and may or may not be with parents. They have basic equipment and trendy clothes to make up for not being a local. You have to keep an eye on them as they tend to push their limits without realizing it. They are experienced just enough to be dangerous to their own well being at times. Try to pick out those who may seem weaker up front. Perhaps a lack of tan, poor or lacking equipment (a boogie board but no swim fins), a small body frame, or a tendency to follow their friends into the water reluctantly. Those all spell trouble. A casual drive by in the jeep and a chat about the water conditions and things to watch out for usually helps keep things in line.
This is your average project that makes up most of your queue requests. They tend to be predictable. Why? The business case is not fully developed, or the strategy is half-baked or off course. They may have been in the queue for a few weeks. It may be important to combine them with another project or send them back to the owner to make them more robust. There are some potential studs in this category, but it will take some work to figure out which is which. The key is to provide more guidance, advice and structure up front. Favor management versus leadership and then keep an eye on things.
The third is the out-of-towner. This group is almost a dead ringer for an experienced lifeguard. They have no tan, sometimes wear shorts or cut-off Levi's instead of a bathing suit, have no equipment or rental equipment from the local shop, and generally tend to stick out like a sore thumb on the beach. This group is how you earn your pay. Make sure you get the jeep or a fellow guard on break to stop by and have a good conversation with these folks. Get a feel for how comfortable they are with the water. Understand what they intend to do during the day. Point out key areas of concern on the beach and offer advice on what they should consider not doing depending on the surf conditions, etc. Make sure you let them know where you are, how to get your attention and what to do in case of an emergency. These tips will potentially help you avoid a disaster - and worse case help you manage it when it does occur.
This is the dreaded "doomed project". You may have inherited them or made the crazy mistake of approving them. Either way, you need to be careful because their liabilities most likely outweigh their assets. Rule number one is to stand back and take a deep look at the situation. Identify these guys early and often. Make sure they don't see the light of day because they will just waste resources, kill morale or get you in serious trouble. If you can't stop them because of situations beyond your control (it's a project from the owner's son who can't pour his own coffee without burning his hand), then get a firm understanding of the goals and objectives. Have open and honest dialog about risks, resources and priorities. Don't be afraid to say no. If for some political reason you can't stop the train from leaving the station, then be darn ready to rescue it when it flies off the tracks.
In the next post, I will cover the keys to spotting a drowning victim in the water before the victim knows they are even in trouble. One of these is watching their hair. Yes, their hair. If a swimmer is facing towards the shoreline and is swimming inward, but is not brushing their hair out of their face and eyes - then they are focused on just one thing - dry land. That my friend is the first sign of your next doomed project. And if they are dragging their elbows while swimming....you better start running with your rescue buoy really darn fast! We will then cover concepts like doing a Primary and Secondary Survey (check for breathing and a pulse before you worry about a broken arm), dangerous resuces and pesky critters like jellyfish and sting rays. You can only imagine what those may be in the everyday business life!