Camper and Nicholsons

Ask The Crew Coach - Our New Leadership Q&A column

26th Aug 2013

In the first 'Ask the Crew Coach' column, our Crew Coach Alison Rentoul talks to a motor yacht captain about a troublesome deckhand.

I have a deckhand onboard who is repeatedly late for work and although I have tried reprimanding him, he doesn’t seem to be getting the message. He improves for a few days then slips back into his old ways. I would threaten to fire him but he’s in a relationship with my Chief Stewardess and I think she would leave if he goes. I don’t want to lose her because she’s great and the owner is very happy with her. It’s also tough because in all other ways he’s a great guy! How can I discipline him without threatening to fire him?

Crew Coach:
This is a tricky situation and you’re right, it does require a different approach than ‘pull your socks up or I’ll fire you’, as in this instance you don’t want to carry out that threat. My guess is he knows this and is using it to his advantage. He currently thinks he’s ‘untouchable’ – one of the worst situations you can ever be in with a crew member. He’s testing you, like a naughty child, to see what the boundaries are, i.e. how far he can go and what he can get away with.

The problem is, at the moment there is no boundary. A boundary exists when there will be consequences if it is crossed – and as he knows you’re not prepared to follow through with the usual consequence of firing him, currently it seems as though there are no consequences and therefore, no boundaries. In addition to this, consequences equal responsibility – if there are no consequences for him, he has no reason to take responsibility for his actions. This means you are the one suffering all the consequences and responsibilities, and he has nothing to worry about.

So boundaries need to be set, by creating consequences for his lateness. But rather than trying to think of some horrible punishments yourself, a great tactic is to get him to tell you what they should be. Begin by having a private chat where you remind him that you’ve brought this up several times, with no improvement. Be open about the fact that you don’t want to have to fire him, because that could mean losing your Chief Stewardess and you don’t think that’s fair on her or the owner, just because her boyfriend couldn’t be on time. Explain you are disappointed because he seems a very promising crew member with great potential –but he won’t make it far in yachting if he can’t be on time.

Make it clear you are discussing this because you are concerned – you don’t want to have to fire him but he might leave you no choice. This shows him the responsibility for his employment is fully in his hands and his fate will be decided by his behaviour. If he agrees that he does want to keep his job, ask him how he plans to get out of bed on time in the morning. Make sure he comes up with some realistic solutions and ask him what he thinks you should do if he doesn’t stick to this new plan.

When he devises the consequences himself, he will be far more likely to care about them. They could be funny, like wearing his underpants on his head for a day, or more serious like docking his pay. Brainstorm ideas together but make sure whatever he chooses is something really bad for him. Ask how many chances he would give someone before following through on the ultimate consequence of firing them.

Getting him to think like this from a leadership perspective will make him step up and start taking responsibility for his actions If handled well, this method could actually bring about a far deeper change in him, and actually be far more effective than simply threatening to fire him in the first place. This could also inspire him to show more initiative, take more responsibility and be more proactive in other aspects of his work.

To really turbocharge this technique, for the next few days and weeks make sure you catch him doing things right and give him a lot of genuine positive reinforcement. Show him you meant it when you said you saw potential in him, by giving him new responsibilities and saying you trust him to take care of them. This might have begun as an annoying problem, but by forcing you to find a different management technique, he may actually have done you a favour – as you could end up with a far more motivated and valuable employee than you might otherwise have had.

Camper & Nicholsons International provides complimentary leadership training and coaching including a private and confidential hotline for the Captains of our Managed and Charter yachts. For more information about our Crew Development Program and our Crew Coach please click here.

by Camper Nicholsons

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I would fire him but he’s with my Chief Stewardess and I think she would leave if he goes