Industry Update
Opinion Article 5 December 2019

Industry Experts Share Organisational Advice For 2020: Tackling Talent And Leadership Challenges Head-On

By Thomas Mielke, Managing Director, AETHOS Consulting Group London

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We are approaching year end and organisations will have set their strategies for 2020. In the travel and tourism sector, chances are that executives and senior leaders will have spent a significant amount of time talking about talent, or the lack therefore. The cruise sector, in particular, is facing an unprecedented challenge - to deliver on the set goals and expansion plans knowing that, at present, they do not have near enough staff to execute against the growth strategy.

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Recruitment and retention thus remain key issues of which executive boards are concerned. Increasingly, they have started to more proactively question and probe whether their organisation's HR best practices and people delivery systems are 'fit for purpose'.

In an informal roundtable after this year's Seatrade Europe, AETHOS spoke with four cruise executives about three 'top tips' that have helped their respective organisations tackle the talent and leadership challenges head-on. Ultimately, the topics and recommendations are interrelated and build on one another.

Display out-of-the-box thinking to increase the talent pipeline

In theory, there are really just three ways of adding to an organisation's talent bench strength: to recruit from the competition, to go outside of the industry, or to secure talent fresh out of universities or apprenticeship programs. However, in reality, poaching executives from competing cruise lines is a short-term fix because it is not increasing the overall talent pool within the cruise sector - it just shifts the problem. The cruise companies are much more concerned about getting more people excited about the sector so they'll join it. Graduate programs and apprenticeships are therefore critical, helping to feed the talent pool from the bottom up. However, one cannot purely rely on internal programs. As Adam Sharp, Head of Business Development & Destination Development EMEA at Royal Caribbean International, put it, "more needs to be done to build awareness." He said, "the fact universities have started offering cruise-related degree courses has brought much needed focus to our industry […], and it has helped competent young professionals to get enthusiastic about a career in cruise." There remains a lot of work to be done, though, and cruise companies would be wise in 'courting', for example, hotel and restaurant schools to add cruise-specific material to their curricula.

At the other end of the spectrum, when it comes to recruiting management or leadership positions, the sector needs to consider recruiting from outside the industry more seriously. Hans Lagerweij, President, Albatros International, pointed out, "in the cruise sector, we think too much in silos." Clarifying his statement, he said, "unlike other sectors, such as Fast-Moving Consumer Goods, we are too conservative about moving people around or getting new people in […]. This limits learning and development as well as innovation." Adam Sharp added that such silo mentality also negatively impacts an organisation's ability to revolutionise and/or transform - ultimately stifling growth and jeopardising competitiveness. So, securing talent from outside the cruise industry and with fresh perspectives is mission critical. The consensus was that specific functions, such as sales, marketing, and finance, all lend themselves rather well for such 'outside hires'.

Don't be stubbornly focused on a track record; instead, focus on transferable skill sets

AETHOS has previously drawn the attention to assessing 'contextual performance' as opposed to 'domain knowledge' - in other words, not all positions require task competencies and/or a track record in a specific domain. In fact, if one aims to significantly 'move the needle', it is often preferable to secure someone with a fresh pair of eyes. The cruise executives seemed to agree, with Amaury de Williencourt, National Manager at Intercruises, highlighting that Intercruises has "increasingly focused in on transferable skills as [the firm] needs agile teams that can embrace the constant changes within the industry." Passion, flexibility, and inquisitiveness are principle characteristics, with which Hans Lagerweij also agreed, adding that "quick learning abilities are fundamental, specifically since, often, experience is simply not always available." In line with that, it was suggested to more critically assess, and improve, internal talent management and succession planning programs - ideally to be in a better position to identify the in-house talent ready to take the next step up. The key is not to be trapped in the traditional linear career path model but instead foster and promote executives taking a 'leap of faith' based on their core competencies, not their experience, helping to promote knowledge, know-how, and skills across different divisions, geographies, and management levels.

Start strengthening your internal mentorship programs and roll-out 'culture training' initiatives

As the sector recognises its need for talent from outside the industry and significantly more 'fresh talent' without a past track record in a particular function or department, it also acknowledges that more emphasis needs to be put towards 'culture fit'. Employees off- and onshore need to understand the company's DNA to thrive and succeed within the firm. At the same time, being able to relate to other colleagues and their particular departmental challenges brings greater cohesion and efficiency. Per Bjornsen, Director at VShips, highlighted the effectiveness of his firm's global graduate program, in which young marine engineers and naval architects, for example, work alongside experienced fleet managers and superintendents. "The sharing and exchange of experiences is as much a part of the program as is the passing on of intrinsic 'system knowledge'," he said. "Of course, more senior executives are mentoring new joiners - but make no mistake, there is also reverse mentoring going on, with graduates teaching the 'old guard' a thing or two about, for example, project management and IT skills." In globally operating firms such as Royal Caribbean, Adam Sharp mentioned that exposing executives to 'the other side' of the business and encouraging, for instance, corporate leaders in sales to work on board the firm's ships has not only been a best practice but has also brought with it a huge benefit of greater understanding. "Understanding how, what, and why we deliver has been key to helping shape our message ashore," he said. Hans Lagerweij sees in such internal experience sharing programs a vital component of the HR tool box - stating that "formal or informal programs, geared towards the exchange of hard facts as well as soft skills needed to succeed in a particular business are vital to ensure the survival of industry outsiders or new joiners to the cruise industry […]. From a culture and company DNA perspective, it is just crucial to invest more into staff going on an 'experience mission' or to gain access to 'industry legends' so they can learn from those who have made the industry into what it is today."

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