Watchstanding Principles Part 1: Focus on the Basics.

At 18-years-old, I had no clue what watchstanding was, let alone watchstanding principles.

My only work experience before joining the Navy?

Working at the drive-thru at McDonald’s.

The extent of my equipment knowledge?

Helping my dad tinker with a 1979 Pontiac Trans Am.

The closest I got to anything engineering related?

Failing precalculus in high school.

I was far from prepared for a career in Naval Nuclear Power.

Watchstanding Principles?

As was true for me, many people entering the power generation field have no idea what a centrifugal pump is, how a refrigeration plant works, or what a PLC does. The easiest part to learn about nuclear power is the nuclear part. It took me the better part of a decade to really understand the plant.

What is the Navy’s secret to such a great track record given recruits are sometimes clueless kids like I was, and the average career is less than 20 years?

Watchstanding Principles are simple pillars of thinking that are taught to each nuclear plant recruit from day one: Integrity, Ownership, Formality, Level of Knowledge, Questioning Attitude, Procedural Compliance, and Forceful Backup.

An ideal so effective, the entire Navy has begun adopting these same principles, and you should too.

Unlocking the secret

In Rick Cragg’s 2018 blog, he outlines a summary of Watchstanding Principles. Over the next few editions, I’m going to open the door to these principles. Furthermore, I’m going to apply them to your organization.

Which principle, in my opinion, is the key to success when all others fail?


In my experience, you can make up for a lot of shortcomings by instilling ownership in your watchstanders. An employee with ownership, who may not have the knowledge or experience, will feel personally responsible for their role in the success of the company.  If something goes wrong, the principle of ownership causes them to stop and say “What did I do incorrectly?” and “How do I fix it?”. Ownership also drives people to get better at their job because they WANT to, not because you’re MAKING them.

The Challenge of Ownership.

Some folks are born and bred with a deep-rooted sense of personal responsibility. Some are not. Regardless, it has to be maintained, and it has to be the standard. Management must show ownership in processes and enforcing company standards. How does your management handle reported mistakes? Do they fly off the handle, yelling and screaming? Do they try to fire every employee who makes a mistake? Or do they take ownership for their part, get to the root of the issue, and make corrections?

What is management’s essential role in establishing and maintaining a culture of ownership?

The initial and continued training of employees. The way mistakes are handled and employees are held responsible for their actions; either re-trained or let go.

The way mistakes are handled and employees are held responsible for their actions; either re-trained or let go.

When thinking of ownership, Admiral Rickover, father of the Naval Nuclear Power Program said “When doing a job, any job, one must feel that he owns it, and act as though he will remain in that job forever.”

Take a moment to ask yourself the next time you walk through your facility:

Do I OWN this process?

Are my employees OWNING their piece of the company?

Can WE feel PERSONALLY RESPONSIBLE for the successes and failures of our organization?

If you can’t answer yes to these questions, start looking at the issues you’re facing. Unplanned equipment failures? Poor employee retention? Failure to meet or maintain standards or goals? I would be willing to bet at least one if not all three apply. Time to take a look at your mental model, and those of your team.

Tying the watchstanding principles together.

The watchstanding principle of ownership allows the next principle we will discuss to flourish. If people do not feel like they are responsible for the success or failure of the organization, then Forceful Backup is nearly impossible. Forceful back up is how one person can save you from costly mistakes. I will be discussing Forceful Backup among other watching standing principles in future articles.

For more information on how Fossil Consulting Services can help improve your programs and processes, visit our website at