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My HOD never listens to my ideas

Q: Becky, Stew, 24:

“I joined a new yacht as second stew 2 months ago, and I have all these great ideas to make the interior run even better. They’re mostly not my ideas, they’re things I’ve gathered from other yachts I’ve worked on—tips like not ironing sheets onto beds but using the ‘spray and stretch’ method. Lots of my ideas save time and actually look better than the way she does it, but the chief stew is so resistant to changing anything that I’m not able to do anything my way. She will happily shoot herself in the foot, rather than accept using one of my ideas. It’s driving me crazy. She’s in her forties and has been on the yacht forever – she thinks her way is the only way and gets angry and vindictive if I mention something. How do I get her to realise that I just want to help and make the yacht be even better?”

A: The Crew Coach:

I worked with a chief stew once who insisted on washing and ironing the sheets, then folding them back into their original (tiny) plastic packets to store under the beds, then unpacking them and ironing them back onto the beds… so yes, I feel your pain. She’d learnt that from her chief stew ‘back in the day’ and had taught it to her stews… and so the cycle of motivation crushing inefficiency continued. I finally got her to see the light, but it took some delicacy and a bit of time, believe me. I think the problem you’re facing is two-fold.

The first thing is that you’re new and full of ideas, which is fabulous, but may come across to a chief as being in a hurry to change things — or worse, that you’re making a negative judgement on how she’s been doing things up until now. By suggesting so many changes, you’re threatening to destabilise the way she’s been doing things for a decade or more. She obviously didn’t think there was anything wrong with the system, but here you are, almost brand new onboard, younger and more junior, and telling her that lots needs to change.

The second and related point is the fact she’s resisting your ideas so ferociously indicates she’s a bit close-minded, which often stems from insecurity. I see this sometimes in chief stews who have only been on one or two yachts in their whole career, or those who have been promoted rapidly and aren’t sure they’re doing things the way other yachts do. This can often undermine their sense of confidence and as a dynamic, free-thinking stew like yourself can be very hard to work under a chief like this.

One other thing that’s worth thinking about, of course, is that maybe (just maybe!) you are too new to know how the yacht could run better. If she’s been on the boat for a decade or more, there’s no question that she does have a huge amount of experience. To her, it may be a case of ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’. This is why I always give the advice to new crew to give the current system a good chance before gently suggesting an idea here and there to see how it’s received. You might find that before long you recognise the yacht actually already uses the right systems and processes, and what you learnt on your last yacht doesn’t really apply on this one.

Mind you, from what you say it sounds like she’s just closing the door on any idea you have out of habit. This is even more reason why you may need to put your great ideas on the backburner for now in order to keep the peace. As much as it might frustrate you (particularly if you’re wasting time!), you need to use this time to learn what you can from her, until she trusts you a little more and appreciates that you’re not trying to show her up or undermine the way she does things.

Don’t risk forgetting all your ideas though; when you join a boat you are at your most fresh, and often at your most perceptive. As time passes, you may start to become blind to the yacht’s inefficient systems, and you may forget about all those ideas for improvement you had at the beginning. You could also risk learning some bad habits in the meantime. So write all your ideas down now and revisit them in a few months when your relationship with the chief stew stabilises.

When she begins to trust you more, think about how you can phrase your suggestions in a way that she’ll react well to. Pick a good moment, and consider how your ideas might be best received. This might be mentioning that a certain chief stew she respects uses this particular method, or posing the idea in a way that answers a problem that the chief has. (For instance, if she’s having trouble scheduling the stew breaks roster because there are messy guests on board and cabins are taking forever, this might be the time to suggest the ‘spray and stretch’ technique – just for this charter. Wink wink.)

I’m interested in how you get on. If you find after a year or so onboard your ideas still aren’t being heard, it might be a good time to take them somewhere