In our fellow Maersk company, ESVAGT, engagement scores are impressive. According to ESVAGT CEO, Søren N. Thomsen, the key to success is high visibility and treating other people with respect, even when you disagree with them.

When Søren N. Thomsen started in ESVAGT three years ago, employee turnover was at 12% at sea. This was too high, and something had to be done. “The Captains were looking to the head office,  asking what we were going to do about it.But the Captains are the ones spending most of the time with our crew, so we had to turn the question around and ask them what they could do.” As part of the solution ESVAGT ran a number of courses on leadership for their Captains.

“Captains have received nautical education. Nautical educations haven’t got much focus on leading employees, so we have to provide that. And the Captains have responded really well, taking on the responsibility of leadership. This made engagement levels rise significantly." Employee turnover dropped as well, from 12% in 2011 to 9% in 2012, a 25% decrease, and then again from 9% to 8% at the time of writing. The leadership courses were such a success that Chief Engineers and Chief Officers have been enrolled as well. “The Chief Officers are our future Captains, so it’s good that they start learning leadership early on,” says Søren N. Thomsen.

Making every employee feel like a part of the same company, sharing the same objectives, was an equally important goal. “In companies like SVITZER and ESVAGT where a significant proportion of the employees are at sea and management and administration are on shore, you have the danger of an ‘us and them’ mentality. You must avoid that by making it very much a big ‘US’. We’re in this together, and we must all work to make it a success and, basically, to keep our company and our jobs.” The solution is respect. “Treat people with respect even when you disagree, and keep a proper tone when you have to cut through.”

Søren N. Thomsen also found it necessary to be very visible. For this reason he went out on one of ESVAGT’s crew change vessels before he had officially taken office. “I figured once I started, I would be too busy initially, and as I thought it was very important to get off to a good start, I went out on a crew change vessel for three days. I still go on one of those at least once a year. I enjoy it so much I almost forget it’s work. But it’s important, and it has had a very positive effect.”

The crew change vessels come in every Wednesday morning carrying around 30 ESVAGT employees. To Søren N. Thomsen, this is a great opportunity to see – and be seen. “You always hear or learn something new aboard a vessel. A new way of doing things that can be shared with other crews, for instance. Every time a crew change vessel comes in, they have a safety briefing, and now I also visit to provide a small brief on how the company is doing. The crewing department also shows up, taking care of small issues or problems face to face rather than by e-mail.” As can be seen in the figure, the effects of this approach have had a very positive effect on engagement.

Close article

ESVAGT is a shipping company
based in Esbjerg, Denmark,
providing a number of safety and
support services to the offshore
industries in the North Sea.
ESVAGT was formerly a part of
SVITZER, but today it is part of
Maersk Supply Service.