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  • Writer's pictureMare Greco

Marie Alexandropoulos: An introduction to Maritime Companies' evaluation processes

Staff’s evaluation on the level of the definition of the company’s strategy, goals and internal communication:

Determination of a strategy in the field of shipping management: many companies deploying resources on a large scale without any clear notion of what their strategy is; yet a shipping company’s strategy is a vital ingredient in determining its present & future. A valid strategy will yield growth, profit, or whatever other objectives the managers have established. It is necessary for the company’s staff to have a clear notion of what the company’s strategy guidelines are, in order to yield growth. It’s required for every big corporate to frequently assess employees and executives on what the company’s goals and strategy, are. Develop a set of Policies: proceed to the evaluation of the awareness of the employees on these policies and how they’re identifying or perceiving the opportunities and mitigating the risks of these policies always considering the new challenges e.g. environmental restrictions which persist and harden or technological developments such as autonomous and smart ships, as at the same time, the sector is facing unprecedented cost pressures and a stricter regulatory backdrop. Some companies’ departments are more concerned of the direct implication and policies’ impact to the employees, other are emphasizing to executives’ engagement to company’s policies and goals.

A strategy is a set of goals and major policies: the employees must be able to identify precisely what is meant by a goal and what is meant by a major policy; they have to be evaluated on the good comprehension and easy identification of the company’s goals and major policies. Corporate goals are an indication of what the shipping company, as a whole, is trying to achieve and to become especially because of the fundamental changes that broad technological advance in areas such as artificial intelligence & internet of things which bring a profound impact to the marine sector. Both parts—the achieving and the becoming—are important for a full understanding of what a shipping company hopes to attain. In order to state what a shipping company expects to achieve, it is important to state what it hopes to do with respect to its environment, both, on-board and ashore, and to ensure through frequent assessments all employees in all levels are alert and attentive of what the shipping company seeks to attain. A shipping company is part not only of a market but also of an industry, the Community, the Economy of a Nation or a Region, and other systems. In each case there are unique relationships to observe (e.g. with competitors, EU leaders, national Governments, and so on) and it’s important to evaluate the good comprehension, within all levels, of the perception of what a company operates in more external “systems” than the market.

Staff’s demotivation typically stems from a lack of rapport and communication with management. If employees feel that their contributions to the organization are undervalued, they may cease to have a sense of personal responsibility for the company’s success. It seems of great significance to frequently evaluate the quality of communication and interaction between the various departments of the shipping company.

How to evaluate:

Becoming: if you ask young men what they want to accomplish by the time they are 40, the answers you get fall into two distinct categories. There are those—the great majority—who will respond in terms of what they want to have. This is especially true of graduate students of business administration. There are some men, however, who will answer in terms of the kind of men they hope to be. These are the only ones who have a clear idea of where they are going. It’s important to frequently evaluate company’s staff motivation and to ask what they want to accomplish and what they aim to be by the time they are 40/50/60. Money terms: there is a basic fallacy in confusing a company’s financial plan and goals with thinking about the kind of company you want the one you’re working for, to become. It is like saying, “When I’m 40, I’m going to be rich.” It leaves too many basic questions unanswered. Rich in what way? Rich doing what? It’s important to evaluate company’s staff on how they perceive or determine the company’s design and goals. Dimension of goals set: a key element of setting goals is the ability to see them in terms of more than a single dimension. Both money and performance policies are part of a statement of objectives; but it is essential that these be viewed as the concrete expressions of a more abstract set of goals—the satisfaction of the needs of significant groups which cooperate to ensure the company’s continued existence. Who are these groups? There are many—customers, managers, stockholders, employees & crew, to mention just the major ones. The key to corporate success is the shipping company’s ability to identify the important needs of each of these groups, to establish some balance among them, and to

work out a set of operating policies which permits their satisfaction. This set of policies, as a pattern, identifies what the company is trying to be. It is important to frequently evaluate each group’s important needs. “You have to grow or die.” Many maritime managers have a view of their company’s future which is strikingly analogous to the child’s view of himself. When asked what they want their companies to become over the next few years, they reply “bigger.” What must be appreciated, however, is that “bigger” for a shipping company has enormous implications for management. It involves a different way of decision making process, and one which many managers may not be suited for—either in terms of temperament or skills (managers have to be evaluated on this). Moreover, whether for a large company or a small one, “bigger,” by itself, may not make economic sense. Maritime Companies which are highly profitable at their present size may grow into bankruptcy very easily. Conversely, a shipping company which is not now profitable may more successfully seek its survival in cost reduction than in new-built fleet growth or in association with a new-built fleet growth program. A shipping company’s management staff has to be intelligent and well-educated, yet, to not lack the experience necessary to control the company’s possible and prospective rapid development. All these facets must be under evaluation.

Policies & decision rules: A policy says something about how goals will be attained. It is what statisticians would call a “decision rule,” and what systems engineers would call a “standing plan.” It tells people what they should and should not do in order to contribute to achievement of corporate goals. A policy should be more than just a platitude. It should be a helpful guide to making strategy explicit, and providing direction to subordinates. Consequently, the more definite it is, the more helpful it can be, yet the subordinates, in each department, have to be frequently assessed on what the guidelines of the standing plan are, in order to achieve the shipping company’s goals. No standard set of policies can be considered major for all shipping companies. Each shipping company is a unique situation. It must decide for itself which aspects of corporate life are most relevant to its own aspirations, spirit, traditions, e.g. family company’s culture or stock market orientation, and work out policy statements for them and for the company’s set of activities. For example, advertising may be insignificant to a company which provides maritime transportation services worldwide. The major rule for a strategy is to be explicit. Any strategy, once made explicit, can quickly be evaluated and improved. Otherwise, there is always the danger that the strategy is either incomplete or misunderstood from the company’s staff. Evaluating employee’s core values’ comprehension and acceptance -all levels- and by recognizing and valuing these behaviors which determine company’s culture, it’s providing a roadmap of how shipping company’s staff should all be working together, treating each other, and treating company’s clients. It also creates a team spirit. A Shipping Company is much more difficult to successfully branch out into new ventures or a, e.g. fleet diversification or smart ship concept, without a precise appreciation of the good comprehension of the company’s staff their strategic significance. This is very important when a Maritime Company aims to attempt a program of corporate acquisition, fleet diversification, or market expansion, or invest in an innovating field creating value. Frequently evaluate and appreciate company’s staff good comprehension of new, innovating scopes (e.g. smart ship/fleet and inherent risks and side effects such as cyber security), and the most innovative digital maritime platforms and tools, comparatively in how vessels are operating today. To an ever-increasing extent, management is a team activity whereby groups of executives contribute to corporate success. Making, through evaluation, strategy explicit to all levels, makes it far easier for each executive to appreciate what the overall goals are, how they are perceived all levels, and what his own contribution to them must be.

Making an EVALUATION (all levels): There are six criteria on which to base an evaluation common to all levels. Assess employees’ awareness of the: 1. Internal consistency: often evaluate the company’s staff awareness on the cumulative impact of individual policies on corporate goals, given that in a dynamic company consistency can never be taken for granted (e.g.: quite large family-controlled shipping companies that have to reconcile two conflicting aims: rapid expansion and retention of exclusive family control of the firm; if they are successful in expanding, the need for additional financing soon raises major problems concerning the extent to which exclusive family control can be maintained). 2. Consistency with the environment: failure to have a strategy consistent with the environment can be costly to the Shipping Company. Consistency with the environment has both a static and a dynamic aspect for the company’s staff to be alert: in a static sense, it implies judging the efficacy of shipping company’s policies with respect to the environmental status quo, the Regulations and rules. In a dynamic sense, it means judging the efficacy of policies with respect to the environment as it appears to be changing and the implementation of the new international maritime environmental regulatory frame. Both comprehension and consciousness of the above, of the shipping company’s staff has to be frequently evaluated. 3. Appropriateness, in the light of available resources: resources are those things that a company is or has and that help it to achieve its corporate objectives; included are money, competencies, and facilities. Human competencies are the core of the Maritime sector. Company’s valuable resources represent its capacity to respond to threats and opportunities that may be perceived in the corporate environment and their appropriateness has to be regularly evaluated. Human element is essential to this perspective as it is the bundle of chips that the company has to play with, in the serious game of shipping business. In determining a strategy, management must carefully appraise its own skill profile in order to determine where its strengths and weaknesses lie, as strengths and weaknesses also need to be periodically assessed. It must then adopt a strategy which makes the greatest use of its strengths. 4. Satisfactory degree of risk: each shipping company must decide for itself how much risk it wants to live with. In attempting to assess the degree of risk associated with a particular strategy in various corporate departments, it may be used a variety of techniques. 5. Appropriate time horizon: in choosing an appropriate time horizon, it must be paid careful attention to the goals being pursued, and to the particular periodic evaluation of the staffs’ attachment to the goal. Goals must be established far enough in advance, and be made clear to the employees to allow the organization to adjust to them. Organizations, like ships, cannot be “spun on a dime.” Consequently, the larger the organization, the further its strategic time horizon must extend, since its adjustment time is longer, as staff assessments has to be made on a periodic basis. 6. Workability: The simplest way to evaluate a corporate strategy is the completely pragmatic one of asking: Does it work? Quantitative indices of performance are a good indicator yet, in a corporation the only thing often wrong, is people. A corporation needs: 1) frequent reorganizations, 2) some good top executives, and 3) their evaluation on an annual review basis. The goal of an evaluation is to evaluate professional performance, not the person. Evaluation review, reporting and steps: Performance review (for all company’s staff, all levels): It is essential that employees and executives have a clear understanding of the basis for their evaluation and the indicators or evidence the company expects the staff and executive to provide in advance of the defined evaluation period. Look forward in order to look back: looking forward to define the results and policies that will be used in next year’s evaluation (e.g. of the executive) thus, establishing and clarify the process by which the staff and executive will provide with information they can use to conduct the evaluation next year. Annual evaluation included in the policy manual: Once it has been determined the timing, process, and specific reporting requirements for the annual evaluation of staff and executives, it is very important to write it all down and include it in the policy manual. While necessary changes can be made, the company should avoid tinkering with the process or the goals and reporting requirements. The company will get more benefit over the long run from having a stable and well-known process so executives and employees are focusing on the long term success of the organization and not the next evaluation. Multi-rater surveys: Shipping companies use multi-rater surveys to evaluate organizational performance the company wishes to operate. Companies that carefully construct them to measure specific behaviors of employees and executives, they found them to be useful if carefully implemented. The company can suggest or require that the employees & executives uses a multi-rater surveys every few years as a development tool to give employees & executives the insight on their behaviors and how they are perceived by others, but the results should be either provided only to the employee and/or executive, or should be provided to the board with the executive’s self-evaluation and a developmental plan they have developed based upon the input from the survey. When the board discusses the results with the executive, the focus should be on asking the executive how the company can support them in their professional development goals, including encouraging the use of a coach or mentor, pursuing education or training, or other types of developmental professional support. An organizational survey (staff survey) periodically implemented can also provide good feedback for the executive. Yet, a survey, even one that has been validated and has balanced participation, is not a substitute for evaluation of the staff’s and executive’s performance on clear, agreed upon goals that advance the mission of the company. - Reviews should use a checklist form; - Evaluations should focus on employee and/or executive actions and behaviors (rather than the performance); - Input from others in and outside the company is more appropriately focused on organizational assessment, not as narrowly as on employee and/or executive evaluation; - Value that emerges from evaluations is that the discussions — if held in good faith — result in better-aligned expectations and goals for the organization and for the executive & employee; Evaluation Process The Company should assign a small group or one person to managing the employee’s or executive’s evaluation. This can be the officers, or a task force created for the job.

The employee or executive should go over the process and instrument(s) with that committee prior to the start. This can be as simple as an email or as deep as a group discussion about goals of the evaluation. The board can collect the information from respondents. Rather than compile an “average,” it’s important to report how many board members marked “outstanding,” how many marked “needs improvement,” and so forth. Having all board members mark “fine” is quite different from half of them marking “outstanding” while another half mark “improvement needed.” An executive session of the board (perhaps 1 hour without any staff present) to discuss the evaluation / survey results and comments in general. Relaying the information to the employee or executive: by the board chair or another assigned member or two. The employee’s or executive’s chance to respond (in person or in writing) to the full board. The review and the response (if there is one) are placed in the employee’s or executive’s personnel file.

In all cases, in the environment of a shipping company there must be a continuous, conscientious and thorough evaluation in all corporate departments, with a targeted approach.

Marie Alexandropoulos worked as a lawyer, residing in France for more than 28 years. When back in Greece in 2011, she astutely combined her extensive legal experience with a Certification in Chartering and Shipbroking and she is a laureate of the Hellenic Shipbrokers’ Association, holding the Gnosis Certificate.

Marie witnessed a positive turn in her carrier joining the Shipping sector, since her expertise lies in a large scale of maritime management services, including chartering, sales & purchase, ship's operations and insurance, trading, Flags and open registries, offshore registrations, providing comprehensive administrative and technical services, in association with a large network of partners, with a deep know-how and in compliance with current international standards, rules and regulations. She has proven to be a significant new player in the shipping industry and her good spirit and aura, maritime culture and network have placed her at the heart of various Maritime Clubs and Associations (such as The Propeller Club of US Port of Piraeus, HELMEPA etc). Marie is also a founding member of the Special Shipping Team of the New Democracy Party (EKO Nea Dimokratia) in charge of Women in the Maritime Community. A fresh writer, also involved in various environmental causes for the protection of the seas & the coastal marine and the prevention or reduction of marine litter (Founder & CEO of the ENGO DIALAGI since 2014), Marie remains a forward-looker, elevating the values of the maritime sector in the way that Greeks have distinguished themselves since millenaries.


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