Crew don’t ‘just know’; offer clear expectations as guidance

Jul 14, 2015 by Paul Ferdais

People work to the expectations of their leader. Does your crew clearly know what’s expected of them? Let’s face it, no one comes to work to do a bad job.

When leaders encounter a situation where the crew hasn’t lived up to their expectations, they must look at how they contributed to the crew’s lack of success. Was the leader clear in his or her communication about what needed to be done and how? Clear expectations may be the issue behind the lack of success, rather than a crew member being lazy or stupid.

Expectations are the clear and unambiguous requirements for a task, explained in advance, for someone to achieve. When leaders set clear expectations for the people they work with, you eliminate misunderstandings, disappointment and conflict before they happen.

For example, perhaps a captain hires a new first officer. Maybe the captain assumes she knows everything she needs to know about the job, which means the captain doesn’t take the time to explain or train. Because of this assumption, problems may arise as the first officer tries her best to do her job, but still may not meet the captain’s expectations.

If the captain feels frustrated that the new mate isn’t working as expected, then he should stop and revisit his own communication. Was he clear in his expectations?

Even when an experienced crew member joins a vessel, setting expectations and training to those expectations is still necessary. This experienced crew person knows how to do their tasks generally, but do they know what is specifically expected of them on this new vessel?

Captains must communicate with department heads, too, so all the yacht’s leaders are on the same page. Each leader’s expectations could be different; you can imagine the conflict that creates in individual crew members.

As a leader — and especially as the captain — it is essential to make expectations and special circumstances clear right up front.

I was once hired as a chief mate. The captain and I reviewed all my responsibilities and I felt I clearly understood what was expected. A couple of months later, as we walked through the galley, we passed the open garburator. I noticed it was full but didn’t give it much thought as we were on our way to deal with a duty.

Suddenly, the captain shouted that I was walking past the full garbage without stopping to take it out. I stopped and did as he asked. Later, I mentioned it to the chief engineer who laughed and said most everyone had had the same experience.

The next day, I spoke to the captain, who said he expected his crew to take out the garbage when they saw it full. I explained that the reason crew didn’t was because no one had instructed them to. His response was that people should just know. I pointed out that he was suggesting his crew should be able to read his mind.

I discussed this expectation with the crew and laid out the captain’s expectation. We never had another issue with the garbage again.

Expectations make it clear up front what people are expected to do. The odd thing is that many leaders generally think they provide clear, specific goals. However, when crew members fail to perform as expected, it’s normally because they haven’t understood what was expected of them. This can lead to frustration for all parties. Leaders are frustrated because the work isn’t getting done the way they want. Crew become frustrated because they think they’ve been doing a good job, when in fact they’ve been wasting their time.

Follow these steps to make sure your expectations as a leader are clear. The benefit, of course, is that crew members can now be held accountable for not achieving tasks. If a leader isn’t clear in the beginning, crew members are set up for failure.

  1. Ensure that all crew members clearly understand what is expected of them, both in their formal role as well as any expectations beyond their specific job.
  2. Train your crew and provide the support necessary so they can achieve whatever you expect from them.
  3. Make sure your crew know what tasks are a priority.
  4. For each task your crew will do, set specific goals that include the following criteria: quality of the work, quantity of the work, resources available, and time frame. Team members must be clear regarding each of these expectations.
  5. When you’ve set clear expectations and have provided adequate training, team members can be held accountable for achieving their objectives.

Always start by making sure that the individual understands the expectations, knows why they are important, and has the required skills. Your crew should receive continual, on-going coaching and support.

If expectations have been clearly laid out and understood, yet the crew member is still unable to achieve what’s expected of them, the leader can focus on other reasons why.

Set clear expectations from the interview stage and watch your team perform to the level you expect.


Paul Ferdais is founder and CEO of The Marine Leadership Group ( delivering leadership training workshops and coaching. He holds a master’s degree in leadership and spent years working his way up from deckhand, to first officer on yachts. Comments are welcome at