How a Vacation Taught Some Critical Workplace Lessons

Today I share a story with you (bearing important lessons) from a recent conversation I had with a friend of mine:

He and his wife were on a repositioning cruise from Vancouver down to San Diego, aboard the MS Westerdam (one of Holland America’s impressive fleet of vessels).

Knowing what my business is focused on, he wanted to share two distinct observations with me that he made early on during his trip.  Realizing they related closely to workplace environments and cultures, he thought I might be able to create lessons from what he experienced.

Boy, was he right!

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Drill Sergeants Please

The first observation deals with safety drills:

Prior to departing from Vancouver, there were several announcements made over the internal PA system telling them that their safety was the company’s “top priority.” The announcement also encouraged passengers to read the safety brochure, “From The Captain,” that was strategically placed on the bed in each cabin.

Additionally, they were asked to watch the short documentary on the vessel’s television channel, regarding the drills and safety features onboard the vessel.

The verbal announcement then provided them with information regarding the three different audible alarms that could/would sound should anything occur.

Every passenger was required to participate in the safety drill, which meant heading to their assigned assembly stations where a head count was conducted.

There were several announcements made about the fact that if any passenger did not participate in this drill, that passenger would not be permitted to continue on with the trip down to San Diego– they obviously took this stuff seriously!  The importance of this drill was further solidified by the  extreme solemnity of every crewmember on board.

If you’ve been on a cruise before, these safety procedures will be familiar to you – since this practice is performed consistently before each departure.

Despite the fact that many passengers were visibly keen to get the actual cruising under way so they could head to the all-you-can-eat counters and swim-up bars, my friend reinforced to me that there was an air of seriousness about the drill.

He said that it was quite clear from the body language of the staff (at every level of the ship’s crew), that this drill was something for which they had no intention of playing ‘lip service’.  Each of them was professionally turned out and ready to deploy.

The lesson here? Being realistic is crucial…even if it’s ONLY a drill (a “Fawlty Towers” episode springs to mind….).

The next morning, the announcements started up again…reminding each person aboard the ship what the various emergency alarms sounded like, as well as their meaning. There was even a fire drill for the staff to participate in, along with a debriefing for those involved.

He told me that the announcer’s final comment to them was that there would be no more drills, and should they ever hear an emergency alarm again, it meant that there was something serious going on and they should pay strict attention to it.

Having worked in the field of Emergency Planning and Preparedness within the police department for a number of years, I was incredibly impressed to hear about Holland America’s attention to this issue.

Now let’s move on to the second observation:

This one might sound silly at first, but it has to do with the abundance of hand-sanitizer stations, which were literally everywhere on board the ship.  My friend felt as though it was impossible to move more than a couple of yards in any direction without bumping into one of these stations!

Unlike the emergency drills, there were no announcements to use these stations, which was odd considering it was impossible not to see them everywhere they went…

The reason for their presence was finally brought to light one evening by the very highest member of the ship: the Captain himself.

My friend and his wife came across him in a corridor one evening and held out his hand to shake the Captain’s, but instead of shaking hands, the Captain fist-bumped my friend, stating kindly:

“We don’t shake hands on board. It would only take one piece of bacteria to catch hold and put the entire crew and passengers in sickbay– not good for anyone. Fist-bumping is definitely encouraged though!”

Here was the Captain setting the standard, role modeling the behaviour that he wanted to see on board.

It was also a firm statement that he was concerned with the health of everyone on board– not just fare-paying passengers like my friend and his wife.

They immediately realized that those “obstructive” hand-sanitizer stations were in place to reinforce the desired behaviour as well!

So, why did I share these stories with you?

How is Your Respectful Workplace Policy Holding Up?

If you want to see a positive change in your workplace, you can’t do it by rolling out the policy document and hoping people will read it (remember the Safety Brochure left on the bed in the cabin?). There MUST be additional and constant reinforcement of the importance of the policy and WHY it’s there in the first place– just reading the brochure is not enough.

How can your organization do this?

There must be a highly visual promotion of the organization’s commitment and expectations for behaviour everywhere (remember the plethora of hand-sanitizer stations?).

How can your organization do this?

You also need to see the demonstration of the organization’s commitment and expectations for behaviour performed regularly (remember the drill for the passengers and then for the crew the next morning?), not just when something happens and an investigator’s report suggests that now would be a good time to do training.

How can your organization do this?

An appreciation of people’s different and preferred learning styles is crucial in ensuring that you are effectively promoting the information you wish to share (remember the documentary on the in-cabin television?).

How can your organization do this?

But most of all, you need a demonstration at the highest level of your organization regarding their commitment and expectations as well (remember the Captain?).

How can your organization do this?

If you want to effect change in any organization, there MUST be constant reinforcement of the importance of the change that is sought, and WHY it’s sought.

Need I say more?

Who would’ve thought that a cruise could encourage such important workplace lessons?

I guess all I can end with is, bon voyage everyone!