In my first update from this amazing trip, I highlighted what we saw as outstanding performance by the concierge at The Ritz Carlton Istanbul in rescuing us when we got caught in the violent Taksim Park protests at the start of our vacation. But the logistics of that rescue were small potatoes compared with the logistical challenges faced by and stepped up to by AMAWaterways when their entire European river cruising business (and that of every other river cruising company plying these waters) was disrupted by raging floods across Central Europe. As I’ve said many times, you can recognize great HRM in the behavior and performance of front line staff, and AMA’s front line staff performed magnificently in the face of Mother Nature’s fury.
We learned about the flooding very early in our journey, and I was following developments online, but our Captain and onboard cruise manager also kept us very well-informed. They said, early on, that they would let us know if there might be any changes to our itinerary as a result of the flooding, but this developing story moved very quickly from “might be” to “would be” changes. Upstream from us on the Danube, lots of river cruises were being disrupted and/or cancelled, and then it was our turn.
We were supposed to stay on the AmaCerto until we reached Budapest, but Budapest’s docks and surrounding streets were going to be too much under water, from the worst Danube flooding in 400+ years, for us to dock there safely. And as we saw when we got to Budapest, where many ships were stranded, they were so surrounded by water that the only access to them was by dinghy. And many of those cruise ships were still there as I’m writing this because of the lost dockage and lack of clearance under the many bridges.
Our ship’s captain didn’t want to take AmaCerto any closer to Budapest than the last major docking site he knew to be safe — so Novi Sad in Serbia — and safety first is what’s expected from the Captain. But with many different groups on board, all with different plans once we had reached Budapest, and with some of them expecting to continue upstream on AmaCerto past Budapest and on to Prague and beyond, that one decision — secure the ship at Novi Sad — had tons of ripple effects. And that’s when great HRM really matters.
Enter an amazing cruise manager, Sebastien Leroy, a responsive and capable headquarters staff (and keep in mind that we were only one of dozens of AMA ships whose itinerary and that of their passengers were being disrupted at exactly the same time), and an onboard crew who rose to the occasion. For AmaCerto, the decision was made that we would do our scheduled Belgrade touring, then go on to Novi Sad in Serbia where we’d end the cruise portion of our trip. After a day of touring there, and I truly loved Novi Sad, plans were made (so tour buses and tour guides engaged on zero notice, AMA cruise managers on leave flown in from all over the world, hotel accommodations arranged, group meals ashore planned, etc. etc.) for us to do an overland bus trip to Budapest (with touring and a great lunch stop along the way), stay one night in Budapest (where they cleared the Hilton on very short notice for a large group of us with another group going to another hotel), enjoy associated touring and an evening event, and then continue on with our planned extension program to Vienna. And did I mention that Sebastien was doing a good bit of this rearranging while we were in the Iron Gorges of the Danube, a truly wild area where not even satellite-based wifi did more than provide sporadic bursts.
No big deal in terms of changes for us, but lots of changes for other members of our cruise’s guest list, and I have to give a major shout-out to AMAWaterways for taking great care of all these changes in their plans. One such guest, an amazing senior (and you know that’s anyone 80+ since 60 is the new 40) from Australia traveling on her own, had planned an extension tour of Turkey, so all of her intermediate plans had to be remade — and AMA handled their end of this beautifully. I’m hoping that her travel agency, which had planned her independent travel after the cruise, did as good a job.
Those of us in the enterprise software business know full well how difficult it is, in the middle of a go-live end-user implementation or vendor product release, to have to make a major change in the software at the last minute. Ripple effects, unforeseen consequences, disrupted workforce schedules, communications challenges, and so much more must be handled quickly and correctly lest the end result be dissatisfied customers, many to most of whom are communicating online with friends/family/colleagues about every little bump in the road. Great project managers know that they must build up a vast reservoir of positive karma, of great relationships with colleagues across the organization, so that they’ve got chips to call in when all hell breaks loose. And great HRM is the enabling fabric which holds an organization together and lets it perform well under those conditions.
Watching the AMA AmaCerto team, and especially our cruise manager Sebastien, work through all the changes, get everyone going in the right but new direction, not lose any luggage or passengers or tempers in spite of several nearly all-nighters, I was reminded of the best project teams of which I’ve ever been a part. And I know that we’d have had a much less positive experience with such a major disruption if AMA didn’t do HRM well every day. The proof of their HRM policies was in how the entire crew of AmaCerto worked together to minimize the impact of the Danube floods, clearly beyond their control, on all of us. And it was clear that our cruise manager, ship’s captain and ship’s hotel manager had built up enough karma to make it all happen.