Disruption doesn’t happen by itself – it takes people

Have you ever felt you had the wrong career or perhaps the wrong mindset? Did you ever feel that you’ve worked in a broken way of collaborating inhibiting development, improvement and motivation?

I have, which for me has led to changed paths often enough in search for my niche in life. I’ve been both fired and promoted for speaking out. The companies I’ve worked for all said they promoted a culture of assertiveness though.

Being lucky enough to be familiarized with many industries I haven’t found one which is so conservative as the maritime not realizing this is a one-way street where failing is the only destination.

‘It all comes from the ‘them’ vs. ‘us’ mentality that permeate the maritime world’

As in most other industries there is an administration part and a production part. In the maritime sector these two are physically separated. Tendency is on the on-shore taking more and more control with a we-know-better mentality.

Why is this bad? The on-shore organisation has a better and more thorough understanding of the business and what it takes to succeed. Those ashore are in a better position to see things in the helicopter perspective.

Perspective is not an issue here – the way collaboration and information sharing work is.

‘It’s not lack of will – it’s just being addressed the wrong way’

Most companies are looking for a pull-culture while they are themselves promoting a push-culture throughout.

Whilst I took on senior operational roles this is what I experienced and hence learned again and again. The more I tried to raise the flag of operational and safety issues that could easy be not only optimized but also benefit the company as a whole – the more often I was told to shut it.

‘It seems that companies fail to obtain a shared understanding on the combination of commercial, operational, safety and environmental considerations’

Every year seafarers die due to suffocation in tanks or cargo holds. Whilst I was mostly working on liner vessels transporting containers, cargo holds still needed ventilation if anyone was to enter.

Liner vessel disruption


On one specific route, we were carrying mixed cargo including reefers with dairy, meat and fruit. A lot of full ones to the north – and mostly empty ones to the south. The vessel was experimental in its design so rather than relying solely on electricity to power the cooling, reefers in the cargo holds could plug into a water cooling system on board.

To run the system on water the number of reefers needed to be above a certain number though. Which meant that when we were transporting mostly empty ones the few live ones had to run purely on electrical power.

As the reefers needed to be checked physically at least twice a day we had to have the ventilation running if the containers were inside the cargo hold. This was primarily to ensure sufficient supply of oxygen for the people entering. If the reefers had been on deck the natural ventilation would have been adequate and time used for each check reduced considerably due to easier access.

We started noticing a pattern where – for no obvious reason – live reefers were placed inside the cargo holds instead of on deck when we were south bound and the numbers of live reefers was low. We saw this as a low hanging fruit of improvement; by planning slightly better, all the live reefers could actually be placed on deck thereby practically eliminating the necessity for running the cargo hold fans.

‘We found savings to be electricity, thereby saving fuel used to power the generators reducing the environmental impact and reducing man hours spend’

We summoned our findings in a friendly and professional report arguing how the company could benefit from taking a different approach. Finding an area of easy gain, we felt as part of the company team. We forwarded the report to both the regional planning department as well as the company department handling environmental improvement. Whereas the latter embraced our findings and suggestions the former quickly rose to their toes. They were mad about us telling them how to do their job.

We were sent an e-mail summoning how the employees of the planning department tolled an average experience in their job of +25 years. I myself had a mere 3 years as a senior. After additional correspondence – the identified savings on economy and the environment were used for – you’ve guessed it: Absolutely nothing.

Years later I was working as a maritime pilot – a local advisor that assisted vessels to safely pass, enter or leave our national waters and ports. A crucial part of the job was establishing trust with the crew of a vessel to ensure good cooperation and gain from their insights on the characteristics including limitations of each vessel. To best achieve that it was necessary to go beyond the job description.

‘The job description was technical – the job itself was dealing with people’

Job content aside it meant that doing 4,000+ pilotages gave the opportunity to talk to as many crews. With a straight forward and no BS approach this was a source of valuable insights that no consultant would ever get from interviewing.

Overall people were discontent and felt they were neither being heard nor trusted. Companies were continuously implementing changes adding to the administrative burden, stretching safety rules due to savings and failing big time to listen to people when raising issues.

Again, and again the same story retold: Companies not listening to the real reason why operations are not run safe and economic. Obvious to everyone having hands-on experience – but something that was not allowed to be questioned. Oh, was this recognizable…

In May 2017 CEO of recruiting group Faststream Mark Charman said: “We surveyed over 1,000 seafarers from 26 different nationalities to find out what seafarers really thought about their career…66% are planning to change employers within the next 3 years…” Charman continued: “If the industry is going to change then the driving force behind this must be the seafarers. They will be the biggest disruptors.””

‘If companies continue having a ‘them’ and ‘us’ perspective – they will continue to fail’

Moreover, many of these companies will not be able to optimize their operation, safety or even foster ideas that will lead to alternative ways of doing business. Although most companies spend around 50% of their budget on salaries one is left to wonder why there is no focus on using the brain and heart capacity of ALL the employees.

By leveraging collaboration, communication and trust companies will not only create leaner and more agile organisations it’s also beneficial for retaining and attracting both employees and customers.

If focus is to inspire WE leadership, one that embraces everyone in the organisation, employees will in return find the new economically, socially and environmentally needed solutions that will be necessary for every company in the future.


Stay safe and inspire WE leadership



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