How to Ensure Smooth Sailing by Hiring the Right Crew Members

Published: Jan 24, 2019
Modified: Mar 26, 2020

By AMA Staff

It happens all too often. You meet with a terrific candidate for that important job opening. The interview goes perfectly and you’re thrilled to have found your man (or woman.) But before you know it, the honeymoon’s over. You realize you’ve hired someone totally unsuited for the job. You allow the person to stay on, fervently hoping the situation will improve. But as the months go by, you realize that the situation will never improve. If your team is sprinkled with similarly disappointing new hires it’s no doubt taking its toll on your employees’ productivity and morale.

In his new book All Hands on Deck: Choosing the Right People for the Right Jobs (The Armarium Press, 2006), direct marketing expert Richard Warner offers some advice for businesspeople who are baffled by the art of "people placement." He states, "The difference between running an OK company and running a great company often lies in whether or not you can fill the jobs you have available with the right types of people. It may sound overly simple, but really, that's all there is to it. Learn how to see through the various disguises job candidates and employees wear—often inadvertently—and you’ll see them fly under their true colors."

In his book Warner uses nautical imagery to demonstrate how to weed out the dreaded “scalawag” job candidates and discover the true treasures—thus avoiding the necessity of making anyone “walk the plank.”

Following are Warner’s descriptions of the six types of crew members you may encounter on your own ship:

  • The Explorer

Explorers feel the most alive when facing the unknown. If you want to develop new ideas and improve upon old ones, find yourself an Explorer. These brave souls are leaders, not followers. An Explorer thrives when he is able to take chances. Even in the face of uncertainty or setbacks, an Explorer will maintain a positive outlook and keep his eyes open for new opportunity.

A word of advice: Don't expect an explorer to adhere to rigid regulations. Give him a certain amount of freedom to explore his ideas but never forget that as a manager it is also your job to rein in the ever-zealous Explorer when he has far-fetched or impractical ideas.

  • The Navigator

A Navigator is the Explorer's best friend. If Explorers dream up an idea that's a real gem, the Navigator maps out the path to the treasure.  Navigators are handy because they are practical and hold steady while steering the team toward its destination. Though they operate in the here and now, Navigators are especially gifted at viewing the horizon as well. They have an uncanny knack for steering the team from point A to point Z without any unnecessary hitches in the company's plans.

A word of advice: When a new Navigator joins your crew, take the time to explain your company's overall history and the progress it has made in recent years. Navigators think linearly, so they thrive when they understand how your company got to where it is today.

  • The Ship Captain

The Ship Captain is a jack-of-all-trades. He knows the fundamentals of sales, accounting, engineering, HR, research and development and most anything else. A Ship Captain is a skilled leader who delegates tasks to team members without micromanaging. He is a lot like the ideal parent: he never plays favorites and always takes time to address problems and give encouragement or advice.

A word of advice: Give a Ship Captain clear responsibilities and the authority to enforce all regulations within his realm of power. Remember that a good Ship Captain won't worry about taking responsibility or making mistakes. If you notice him dumping his duties on someone else, consider demoting him to a more appropriate position.

  • The First Mate

The First Mate does not actually know how to tend the engines or hoist the sails, but he certainly knows the people who do. The first mate may not physically do all the work, but he's as dependable as an onshore breeze and makes sure it gets done. He is kind, diplomatic and, above all, dependable. The First Mate's job is not high profile or flashy, but it is a vital to the team's overall success. He moves about the ship almost unnoticed, accomplishing both minute and monumental tasks. He is aware of his shortcomings and works to improve upon them and enhance his talents.

A word of advice: Don't forget to give your First Mate the praise he deserves. His job is momentous but he can be taken for granted in the chaos of the day-to-day routine, so thank him often and encourage him to speak up when he observes any potential or existing problems within the company.

  • The Crew Member

Crew Members make up the engine of any business. They are the ones who actually do the work. They don't implement their visions for the future of the company or negotiate ways to make a business run better. They simply execute their daily tasks with efficiency and finesse. A Crew Member is dependable, dedicated, efficient and expects a fair salary for an honest day's work. But some Crew Members may also expect a big raise each year even though their basic responsibilities have stayed the same. As an employer, you must find a way to keep Crew Members in line while also treating them fairly.

A word of advice: It is always best to outline a Crew Member's job responsibilities in writing. When left to memory, details can be edited to the favor of each individual worker and your tightly run ship may begin to falter as responsibilities fall to the wayside. It's also important to remember to give Crew Members the credit they deserve. They are, after all, the hands and feet of your business, and when they're the ones who interact with your customers, the faces.

  • The Stowaway

A Stowaway is an employee who wants a free ride at your expense. The Stowaway’s goal is to do as little work as possible for the highest possible amount of pay. The tricky thing is that the Stowaway is usually intelligent. He will often give a stellar interview, thanks to his skills in manipulation. All his flashy enthusiasm will soon fade away, however, and you may find yourself face to face with a whiny, and sometimes volatile, nuisance!

A word of advice: It may be worth your while to spend a little energy trying to rehabilitate a Stowaway. When confronted with respect and encouragement, stowaways can sometimes make total turnarounds, becoming great pleasures to work with. But if you find yourself wasting a lot of time and energy on a Stowaway, it is best to cut your losses and throw him overboard before things get really ugly.

Think about your own employees. Try to figure out which categories each fits into. If your team or organization does not run as smoothly as you wish, you may want to move some folks around until they do the job for which they are best suited. You may discover that you have a Stowaway lurking in your crew or even a Ship Captain whose talents are being wasted because he’s just been mopping the deck.

Above all, remember that the right person for the job is out there. As a leader, you must control the sails and discover the true potential of each of your team members. Before you know it, you’ll be experiencing smooth sailing.

All Hands on Deck is available at bookstores nationwide and at

About The Author(s)

American Management Association is a world leader in professional development, advancing the skills of individuals to drive business success. AMA’s approach to improving performance combines experiential learning—“learning through doing”—with opportunities for ongoing professional growth at every step of one’s career journey. AMA supports the goals of individuals and organizations through a complete range of products and services, including seminars, Webcasts and podcasts, conferences, corporate and government solutions, business books and research.