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Taking the Helm: People don’t leave jobs; people leave people

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Taking the Helm: by Capt. Paul Ferdais

When the “I’m leaving” conversation happens with the captain, there always seems to be some extenuating circumstance: “I’m off to take courses for my license,” or “My boyfriend and I are going to go to the rainforest,” or whatever. It’s rare when the true reason for leaving is discussed.

And yes, it’s true that there are courses people go off to take or other life stuff happens. That’s all real. At the same time, if a crew member leaves one boat to go to another boat to do the exact same job for the same pay in roughly the same conditions, there was something that drove the crew member to leave. 

It’s true that the yachting industry is small, so no one wants to burn bridges or live in fear of being blacklisted when word gets out as to why they actually left. Unfortunately, if the real reason isn’t brought to our attention, things stay the same and good people continually leave.

From a leadership perspective, it’s critical to know why someone wants to leave and what can be done to possibly keep them around. Only then can we bring about meaningful change in the workplace. 

When multiple people who all did the same job leave your boat, don’t look to the people who left – look at the supervisor of that job. If multiple bosuns come and go from the boat, look at what the first mate does as a supervisor of the bosun. 

If the immediate supervisor isn’t the issue, broaden the examination to include not only the people, but the culture or rules on the boat.

Here are a few issues to consider when it comes to retaining your talented crew:

1. There are a lot of stupid rules the crew must follow. Of course, every boat needs to have rules: what the working hours are, when meals are served, who can and can’t drive the rental cars, etc. But policies that are viewed as ridiculous will be ignored or mocked. On one boat I worked on, instead of having the crew wear white work T-shirts with the vessel logo when there were no guests or owner on board, the captain instituted a policy similar to that of being on charter, where the crew were to wear different colored shirts on different days of the week. The end result was annoyance and anger towards the captain. Unnecessary rules can drive people crazy. 

2. Everyone is treated equally. In grade school, everyone is equal. The real world is different. Some people really are faster, stronger and smarter than others. Treating top performers the same as the weakest team members just brings top performers down – it doesn’t raise the others up.

3. Poor performance is tolerated. A team is only as good as its worst member. When we permit weak team members to stay in their role without coaching and training, we bring everyone else down. If we continually fail in the eyes of guests because of the weak link, top people will leave. 

4. Individuals are not recognized for the good work they do. Recognizing individual accomplishments shows that you, the leader, are paying attention. Additionally, recognize that good work in public, in front of peers, and take someone aside in private to talk about deficiencies. 

5. Leaders don’t care about the crew. More than half the people who leave their jobs do so because of their boss. Smart leaders know how to balance being professional with being human. Leaders who fail to really care will always have high turnover rates. It’s impossible to work for someone on a yacht when they aren’t personally involved and don’t care about anything other than your output. Be human.

In short, captains tend to blame their turnover problems on everything under the sun while ignoring the crux of the matter: People don’t leave jobs; people leave people. Do everything in your power to bring change to the organization one step at a time.

Capt. Paul Ferdais, skipper of a motor yacht, has a master’s degree in leadership and previously ran a leadership training company for yacht crew. Comments are welcome below.

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