The View From Taft

With the strong urging of my strategic management professor, Dina Bernardo, I decided to try dragon boating one Sunday morning and brought my wife along with me. Quite frankly, I was just expecting a good workout, something I have not consistently had ever since I joined the corporate world 13 years ago. I got in touch with Manila Dragons, my professor’s club. I figured that if this club had helped produce a SEA games gold-medalist, then I should be in good hands.

On the day of the activity itself, we were immediately thrown into land training, which lasted for a good hour. This was followed by the much anticipated water training. As newbies, we did far less paddling than our boat mates. Instead, our coach patiently taught us basic commands such as “oars up,” “light row,” “longs,” “power longs,” and “easy.” We were also taught the correct form and technique of paddling. The coach initially asked us to sit back and observe how our 16 boat mates paddled as instructions were shouted out. The synchronized strokes of my boat mates were something to marvel at.

When my wife and I were finally allowed to join in, I realized how difficult paddling can be; after about 20 strokes, I found myself running out of gas. Having played a lot of sports, I had been confident that dragon boating would be a walk in the park. Well, was I wrong.

Throughout the whole activity, I struggled to catch my breath after every 10 strokes. The intensity of the training caught me off guard. Looking back, I realized I should have asked for more information about what to expect so that I could have prepared myself physically and mentally.

Upon reflecting on my experience, I realized that dragon boating and strategic management in an organization have a lot in common. The success of a dragon boat team or an organization depends on the same factors.

First, you have to have a good leader.

The leader in our dragon boating was the coach. He strategized how to achieve the goal, which was to win a race. The coach gave the final nod on who made up the roster that would compete as well as where each member was to be seated on the boat. He also taught and reminded the members of the proper form and technique when paddling so that they would not veer from the goal.

During the race itself, the drummer served as the leader as he issued commands to the crew through hand signals and voice calls while encouraging them to perform at their peak.

Similarly, the CEO of a company sets the vision, mission, and strategy, and then assigns responsibilities that he or she thinks are needed to achieve the organization’s objectives. He or she constantly motivates and monitors each department to ensure progress is being made and everyone is on track to reach milestones and ultimately achieve the vision.

Second, practice makes perfect.

I cannot count the number of times I moved that paddle incorrectly through the water during my first few tries. After much practice, I got the hang of it, but I still have a long way to go before perfecting the art. Similarly, the only way for an organization to develop core competencies is for employees to perform their respective functions well. However, employees will commit mistakes until they gain enough experience to become better at their craft. Through experience and constant practice, team members will truly understand their capabilities and develop competence.

Finally, people need to work well in teams.

Having each member of the dragon boat team paddle flawlessly on his or her own will not win a race. The members have to understand that to win the race, they should act as a team. They cannot compete with each other. Instructions coming from the coach or drummer should be well received and then well-executed together. A half-second lag by an uncoordinated member can cost the team the race.

In most organizations, departments have a silo mentality.

Departments usually refuse to share critical information, and focus on their own set of key result areas and key performance indicators, almost entirely forgetting that they all have the same objectives because they belong to the same company. Departmental rivalry is probably why most organizations fail to meet their objectives. Thus, the CEO needs to constantly remind each department that ultimately, everyone shares the same vision and only by working together can the organization achieve it.

Sometimes, strategic management is learned in the most unexpected venues, not just in the classroom and boardroom. I certainly got more than a good and long overdue workout that Sunday morning.


Dione Derrick G. Kocencio is an MBA student at De La Salle University. He is Head of Internal Audit at Metro Retail Stores Group, Inc.