In this two-parter HR Partner, Becky Mee tells first hand all about life on board a cruise ship from an HR perspective, in association with her friend, former Celebrity Cruise colleague and current co-worker, Tim Frear.
In this blog, Becky outlines the stages of ‘closing’ a ship and the lessons for any business, especially where a buy out is concerned. Tim’s blog is a mirror image, looking at opening a ship.
‘Where’s Becky’ – somewhere in the picture below! Can you spot her?
by Becky Mee
Any HR professional who works on board a ship is asked this question at least once a cruise by guests, “You mean there’s HR on board a Cruise Ship?” They really can’t believe there is a need for such a role on board (or that you don’t go home every night!!)
On my second contract with Celebrity Cruises, part of Royal Caribbean, my ‘to do’ list included the slightly daunting task of ‘closing’ the Celebrity Mercury (an 1,890 passenger and 850 crew cruise ship) and transferring her to a sister brand, TUI.
Never having been involved in a transfer or a business buy out prior to this, it was a steep learning curve which taught me some invaluable lessons about business, culture and helping people adapt to change.
With any business transfer, there is the logistics of moving one set of people from point A to point B.
With the rotating fixed term contracts of the cruise industry, there is the logistics of who stays with the ship whilst it transfers brands and ownership, who goes on vacation and who transfers to another ship. This involves a lot of planning, booking of flights, having enough openings for crew and matching skill sets to openings on other ships so the right balance is maintained on board.
Any successful transfer requires careful planning involving key people from across the business. This meant having a cross department working party, with the Miami transfer team and Ship Hotel, Deck and Engine teams working together to plan the practical logistics of the transfer in detail.
Making sure everyone knew what was required and when was crucial, and on the odd occasion when something didn’t quite go to plan it was normally because someone who needed to know didn’t.
As with any change management situation, you can never communicate enough (see Planning above!)
Whether it’s communicating what’s happening when, making sure people have information on their transfer and the new company, or working with the HR team in the other company to ensure you’re managing both brands and expectations together, communication is crucial.
All companies have their own culture and feel depending on their branding and location, and ships are no different.
Managing the differing expectations and values is tricky and, ultimately, HR needs to help people assimilate to the culture of their new company. Training is important but takes time and support needs to come from the top down as well as from peers.
Once people have transfered, it’s business as usual at the new company.
The expectation is to keep going and crew are expected to sign onto a new ship and get on with the job. This can mean additional training as they are not aware of the new brands on board, orientation of the physical ship (“Where’s my cabin again?!”) and adapting to a larger community.
Whilst it can lead to performance issues as people adapt to expectations it can also lead to promotions and new career opportunities.
Whilst you’re expected to transfer and get on with it, people also need time for a ‘farewell’.
Many crew were reassigned to Mercury for several contracts, with it becoming a second home, where they had met lifelong friends and often their partners. This meant we had some opportunities for great employee recognition events before the ship transferred, which all added to the memories.
Read more on opening a ship in Tim Frear’s blog here.
(We were inspired by an original article from People Management. Read more here.)
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