Imagine working in a job where the very nature of it requires being away from family, friends, in a foreign country, and different time zone; requiring long hours, physically demanding conditions, in a pressure cooker environment; and all the while, being expected to perform at better than your best, and delivering the best conceivable service to the World’s most discerning clients. Does that sound familiar?
With any and all of these factors coming into play, it is hardly a surprise that crew members can be overcome, resulting in reduced productivity and a dip in performance. As managers, our job is to spot the signs, ascertain the causes and work together with the crew member in question to rectify the issues contributing to under performance.
Here are my tips on how to effectively prevent and conquer the potential causes of underperformance:
1. Formulate your Mission Statement
Establish clear objectives and make sure the crew member understands the aim of the project. Whether you’re about to pick up guests, go into a yard period, or begin the pre-season preparations, make sure they understand their part and their role within the team. It is much easier to achieve good outcomes when the team begins with all players on the same page.
It is also important that they understand your expectations of them in all areas of yacht life, whether in terms of work ethic, attitude, honesty, safety practices, or courtesy to other crew members. This helps to provide a good starting position in terms of performance, but moreover, gives an excellent reference point to return to and remind the crew member of if they behave in a way which contradicts any of those values.
2. Don't assume (“Everything is always about something else.”)
It’s all too easy - especially when under a lot of pressure – to assume that underperformance is a direct result of laziness or indifference. Every one of us has a personal life, and often when a crew member is underperforming it could be due to problems at home, illness or death within the family, or relationship trouble. It could be caused by burn- out, feelings of anxiety or poor mental health. Perhaps they are struggling with bullying or harassment on board or have a physical injury and they need to see a doctor.
Whatever the situation, crew are often reluctant to be open because they do not wish to appear unprofessional, “get in trouble” or add to your load - so they withdraw, become isolated, and so the problem escalates. As managers we are not therapists, however we are in a position to create a culture of open communication and compassion. We can offer assistance with sourcing outside support, or simply some understanding and guidance. Above all else, the response should never be the dismissive, “WELL, WELCOME TO YACHTING!”.
3. Make time for regular performance appraisals
Performance appraisals are a great way to acknowledge hard work and positive achievements. They’re also a valuable tool which can be used to shine a light on problem areas in a formal yet unpressured setting. They should be thoroughly considered, prepared, and can be conducted at important intervals (i.e. after a probation period, at the beginning and end of seasons) or as often as necessary.
In my experience, sitting down with a crew member, having taken time and effort to prepare a documented account of their triumphs, achievements, areas to work on or even dissatisfactory actions results in that crew member feeling appreciated, invested-in and valued. Appraisals outline clear actions to be taken to improve performance and provide a record of progress which can be easily monitored.
4. Work for wisdom
If a crew member has been performing at a sub-par level, am I going to reward them by spending extra time developing their knowledge in the bridge or helping them study for a course? The answer is probably not.
However, I can schedule a meeting with the crew member to discuss and concur that if the problem is resolved to an agreed upon standard, I will devote time to providing training in an area of their choosing.
If we understand the professional goals of each member of our team, we can provide development through active mentoring, which in-and-of-itself achieves improved morale and increased output. This culture can be utilised further when a crew member is underperforming, if the issue is that they feel as though their progression is stunted, and some extra attentiveness to their goals can work wonders.
Occasionally, despite every effort, unfortunately it does not work out with some underperforming crew and regrettably, the decision may be made to let them go. However, in a lot of cases there are tools we can use to bring out their best, reignite their passion or help them overcome difficulties which might be affecting the outcomes of their work.
About Chief Officer Angharad Waldron:
Chief Officer Angharad Waldron has made a name for herself as a compassionate and empowering leader in the yachting industry. With her roots in the Cornish coastline, Angharad has always had a deep connection with the sea. Throughout her career, she has honed her management style, focusing on crew empowerment and empathetic leadership to ensure her team works cohesively and to their full potential.
Angharad is passionate about nurturing and motivating her crew, recognizing the importance of understanding each individual's strengths and weaknesses. In addition to her strong leadership skills, she is a firm believer in continuous learning and the importance of sharing knowledge with junior crew members.
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