Managing management when it comes to hiring

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Q: Anonymous, Captain, 44:

“I’m a Captain, but the yacht management company is treating me like a child. They’re trying to control every decision I make, even going so far as to interfere with my hiring and firing decisions. They’re trying to pressure me into taking on a seriously inexperienced Chief Stew (just to save money). This is a bad idea for many reasons – I know without a doubt the boss won’t like her and my junior Stews are more qualified than her – a complete recipe for disaster. This is not the first time they’ve interfered, but it’s even worse since the boss renewed their contract as they seem to think they have carte blanche. What can I do to get them to back off and let me run the yacht?”

A: The Crew Coach:

Ah, how to manage the managers! You’re far from alone in this, as many Captains over the last decade have had to relinquish more and more control to the management companies, and this has not always helped the yachts to run more smoothly. I’m not going to bag management companies here (as I think lots of them do a great job and with all the added administration these days, many Captains now couldn’t operate efficiently without their shore-side assistance). However I think it’s fair to say there is definitely room for improvement in the management/yacht relationship, on both sides.

It sounds like for you this Chief Stew situation has been your line in the sand — and it’s a good one to make, as the boss and your crew will certainly suffer as the result of a bad hire in a role as important as Chief Stew. As long as you can look at the situation (and candidate) rationally and confirm you’re not just opposing the candidate because you don’t like the management company interfering, I think this is a very appropriate issue on which to make a stand.

Here are some strategies that could help you navigate this situation successfully.

Don’t go in all guns blazing to have a row with the management company, allowing all your existing frustrations to blur the issue at hand. You’ll get a much more positive response if you keep your objections specific and tailored to this precise issue. If you go in asking them to butt out of everything, you could really shoot yourself in the foot. After all, you almost certainly need their help with lots of the paperwork, insurance and regulation issues so don’t burn your bridges. (You must also never forget that while you have a job today, you may not tomorrow – and their good opinion of you could be very important in the future).
Appeal to their desire to keep the boss happy. Explain in logical and unemotional terms how the hire of an inexperienced Chief Stew could result in expensive mistakes, higher crew turnover in the interior, annoyed guests and other operational problems. The additional salary required to hire someone of adequate experience is nothing compared to the risk of incurring these costs – which could even mean losing the client altogether.
If you manage to get them to allow you to choose the Chief Stew, ask them if they’d be willing to work in this way on all crewing decisions in future – where you actively welcome their input but have the ultimate choice. Explain that it is very difficult to have ultimate authority onboard if the hiring and firing decisions are not within your power and the crew know this. Effectively they would be stripping you of your authority, which also reduces crew respect for you and your position, making it much more difficult for you to run the yacht. If you navigate this situation well, you could pave the way for a future conversation with management about other responsibilities they have taken from you which are traditionally the Captain’s domain.
It’s definitely worth removing ego from the situation and asking if there’s anything you’re doing that is making their job more difficult. Perhaps you’re being slow on providing crew paperwork or cruising itineraries. You may find that they’re muscling in on your territory because you’re not providing them with enough information to think they can stay out of it and still get what they need to done. Think about how you can make their life easier and they may well be more inclined to help with making yours easier in return.
If they still insist on their chosen candidate being hired, and if you have a good relationship with the owner, I would let the owner know you’re willing to give the girl a chance and train her up to the best of your ability, but that you feel there may be potential issues of inexperience and culture fit with this candidate. In this way, you have at least signalled that this was not your choice.
If your relationship with the management company continues to deteriorate, you are on very shaky ground, as a dispute between you both will ultimately test which way your owner’s loyalty lies, and you may not find it is with you. I can’t tell you how many Captains I have worked with who put the owner’s loyalty to the test, only to find themselves on the dock with no reference from their last management company. Never ever forget that people in this industry are all very interconnected and that they have long memories. It pays at all times to do the right thing by people and try your best to get along with them, even if it means you have to graciously resign and find a different position where you have more autonomy.

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