Do your leadership skills need a tune-up?

photo-640Everyone, meet Watson.  Watson, meet everyone.

Watson is what we affectionately call our Honda Element.  (Element… elementary… Watson).  It’s a great car that has served us well.  Recently we had to get the brakes redone and transmission flushed, but that’s all part of owning a piece of machinery like this.

It’s like my Dad would say… if you want something to last, you have to take care of it.  If we want Watson to be ready when we need him, we’ve got to take care of him.

See where this is going?  If we want our employees to last and be ready when we need them… I’ll let you finish that statement.

In all cases, this takes people who are qualified to perform the work. For Watson, that’s a mechanic.  For your employees, that’s YOU!

Do you FEEL qualified?  Most newly promoted leaders don’t, but they also don’t know what steps to take to remedy the situation. (Don’t feel bad, in many cases your manager doesn’t know how to fix it, either.)

Here are some things to think about (and talk to your manager about!):

  • Are you actually qualified?  Mechanics (the good ones) take classes and attend update and recurring trainings to keep their skills sharp.  What books, classes or seminars can you experience to hone your skills?  Is there someone you know that you can seek out as a mentor or coach?
  • Do you have the right tools?  A hammer won’t do you any good if you need a wrench.  What tools (skills, abilities) do you need in your tool box to effectively lead your teams?  (Look at the things you dislike to do the most – that’s a good starting point.)
  • How well do you use your time? When I first called the mechanic, they said they couldn’t get Watson in for another 3 days.  Do you have a good handle on how you spend your time, where it goes and how to maximize your efficiency within the time you have?
  • Are you a good problem solver?  When I first brought Watson in, I explained what the brakes were doing (according to me).  The mechanic then had to look at all of the surrounding factors and circumstances to determine the right solution. Are you able to identify the needs of your employees so you can provide them with what they need?  If not, what tools or skills do you need to be able to do that?

Leaders (the good ones) are constantly looking at ways to get better at their craft, and that means seeking out opportunities learn, grow, and be better at your job than you were yesterday. Some of your skills might be right where they need to be, others may need some attention, and that’s okay.

Cars keep changing, so mechanics have to continue learning just to keep up.  Your job as a leader ain’t that different.

Thanks for reading!

Matt

About the author: Over the last few months, I’ve taken my desire to Help Leaders Lead to the next level.  Along with my book about employee engagement and burnout, I also now offer professional coaching services and self-directed leadership development courses.  Oh, and don’t forget the FREE eBook I’m giving away on my homepage!

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The two T’s… Trust and Teamwork

If you have been reading my blog for awhile (especially this post from 2012), or you have read The Myth of Employee Burnout, you may be familiar with a guy named Dallas Hobbs. I originally met Dallas when we both worked at Universal Orlando, and I am glad to say we have kept in touch in the years since we both left.

Dallas is now the Guest Services Manager at The Fountains Resort in Orlando.  We exchanged a few emails the other day, and he mentioned how he had taken over a team at the Fountains and was able to really turn them around.

But he didn’t tell me HOW!!!

So I asked.  Here is what he said. If you are leading a new team, or if you are struggling with team morale, take note.  Take lots of notes.

“The how was actually simpler than I thought it would be. One of the first things I did after being trained at their jobs and spending time on all 3 shifts with them, was to start 1-on-1’s. Dedicated time that each associate could spend with me, uninterrupted, each month. Very quickly I learned the problem was trust. Not that they thought the person next to them was a liar, but trusting that they were doing their job. Common phrases from my PBX operators would be, “Front desk is out there doing X instead of Y!” Or “PBX isn’t picking up because they are playing on their phones!” Even though they are all the same team, one department. They talked as if they didn’t know each other.

So several things had to happen. First everyone went though refresher training so they all knew that everyone knew what to do and how to do it. Then they all spent 2 days shadowing other departments learning what they go through (housekeeping, activities, F&B, engineering). Then the segmented schedule became one giant schedule. Regardless of position or shift, we were going to be one team, even if only on paper.

Very slowly I started rotating people into different positions. Though some were better or more comfortable in specific roles, I needed them to occasionally experience the rest of the department. This was the rough one because no one likes their schedule messed with or going outside their comfort zone. So of course I had a few ruffled feathers. Again the 1-on-1’s were key here. Positive and individualized encouragement helped those through the process. Change management 101. As well as opening the lines of communication. Simply encouraging each other to talk!
I also began hiring differently than my predecessor. Before they hired experience and resumes.  I hire people and personalities. Hiring people I know would get along with the people I already have and be a part of my team. Which meant passing over very qualified candidates.

However trust takes time. We’ve all lost trust in someone or something and only time will win that trust back. So I could not force it over night. Which was the hardest part. Sitting back and telling my superiors and HR that it’s working, just give it time. Looking back now it didn’t take too much time at all. In 2 months my scores did a 180 and have been climbing ever since. In our score system, we celebrate single digit increases because it takes a lot to move that needle. I had increases of 15% points over previous months. In fact my summer scores are the highest in the history of the resort. And they are the highest year to date. In the middle of the 100 days of summer, my team is crushing it. (By the way, I’ve not lost a single associate all summer. #BurnoutIsAMyth)

They are no longer focused solely on their individual jobs but are helping those next to them. And even doing more work to make the next shifts job easier. I have associates seeking out MORE work to do, on their own. Simply because the shift prior to them did the same.

Now there is more to it than just trust. Empowerment, empathy, etc. are all key elements to a great team, but the major issue at the start was simply trust.”

Dallas built trust through communication and stirring things up a bit.  Sometimes complacency, although comfortable, can be the biggest enemy of progress, productivity, and yes, trust.  Thanks for the insight, Dallas!!

If you have a story or experience that might help others and would be willing to share it, please email it to me here.

Thanks for reading!!

Matt

About the author – After 20+ years in hospitality leadership and human resources, Matt Heller founded Performance Optimist Consulting in 2011 with one simple goal: Help Leaders Lead. Matt now works with attractions large and small and leaders at all levels to help them improve leadership competencies, customer service, employee motivation and teamwork. His book, “The Myth of Employee Burnout” was released in 2013 and has become a go-to resource among industry leaders.

NEW RELEASE!  88 of Matt’s favorite leadership blog posts, all in one convenient downloadable package!!

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“Come sweat with me”

When my friends and I on the #CNC16 trip visited Cedar Point a few weeks ago, we got up bright and early to experience the Sunrise Thrills VIP Tour.  Not only did we get to see the park from the top of Valravn, we also got incredible coaster-nerd access to Top Thrill Dragster, Millennium Force and Maverick.

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223 feet above Cedar Point!

IMG_7686If you are at all interested in a bird’s eye view of an amazing park, or just want to geek out on some incredible roller coasters, this tour is for you.  However, this post is not about the tour specifically.

It’s about sweat.

Our tour guides were two Guest Services associates who were also roommates.  One was a front line associate (Steve), the other was a Supervisor (Jeff).  We learned that after the tour concluded, Jeff was going to be working at the Iron Dragon roller coaster, helping guests fill out forms to be part of a Virtual Reality beta test.  Jeff shared with us that a lot of people want to do this, so it’s an intense, go-go-go, seemingly endless kind of process. Combine that with the expected heat, and Jeff wasn’t exactly looking forward to it.

Since many hands make lighter work, Jeff was trying to enlist Steve’s help.  His convincing argument was a statement I’ll never forget.

“Come sweat with me”, he said.

To me, this acknowledges that while the assignment might not be the most desirable, it’ll be a lot better doing it together than alone.  It also indicates that Jeff will be there WITH Steve, and he’s not just telling him to go do something without supporting him.

And while I don’t know the history between these two, I think it also indicated that Jeff would do the same for Steve if the situation were reversed.

At it’s core, these four words communicate the one thing employees need more than anything from their leaders… support.

Support comes in many forms… communication, listening, providing feedback/coaching, working alongside them, providing tools, creating opportunities to learn, and yes, sweating.

We all know that actions speak louder than words, so the act of going through the same hardship as an employee speaks volumes about your understanding of their struggles. (And no, they don’t care that you used to do their job back in the day.  They want to see you do it TODAY!) When they see that you ‘get it’, it’s much easier for them to trust you, believe in you and want to follow you.

If you haven’t been out to work with your staff in a little while, I encourage you to find the time to do so – even if you don’t HAVE to.  If your season is winding down, you know that you need the remaining employees to pour on the afterburners to finish out the season strong.

Your display of “sweat equity” could be just what’s needed to ignite the flame.

Like this post? Download 88 of Matt’s favorite leadership blog posts in one convenient eBook! More details (and a sample) can be found here!

Thanks for reading!

Matt

About the author – After 20+ years in hospitality leadership and human resources, Matt Heller founded Performance Optimist Consulting in 2011 with one simple goal: Help Leaders Lead. Matt now works with attractions large and small and leaders at all levels to help them improve leadership competencies, customer service, employee motivation and teamwork. His book, “The Myth of Employee Burnout” was released in 2013 and has become a go-to resource among industry leaders.

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Those pesky employees

If I were to ask you, “What is the #1 challenge you face with employees?”, how many of you would list one or more of the things below?

FAA employee Challange poster1Well, that’s exactly what I did at my expo booth at the Florida Attractions Association conference in June.  I wanted to know what people were struggling with in terms of employee behavior and performance.  It was interesting because some people grabbed a marker right away and added their thoughts to the list, while others needed time to ponder the question for a bit.  Either way, it was fascinating to hear their perspectives.

Of course me being me, I had to ask where they thought these behaviors came from.  Some offered a quizzical look and said, “I just don’t know”.  Others sheepishly said, “well, if I’m being honest, it probably stems from something I did… or didn’t do.”

I would tend to agree that a lot of these can relate back to the environment created by the leader and the example they are setting.  That said, that might not be the entire story.

To dig a little deeper, we have to ask the question that we seem to get asked a lot… why?

  • Why won’t your employees do paperwork?
  • Why don’t your employees have passion for the job?
  • Why is product quality lacking?
  • You get the idea…

But you can’t stop there.  You may ask, “Why don’t employees do paperwork?”  There could literally be dozens of reasons:

  • They don’t know how.
  • They don’t have time.
  • They don’t understand its importance.
  • And so on…

From here, you then have to ask “WHY” again, and for each possible answer.

  • Why don’t they know how?
  • Why don’t they have time?
  • Why don’t they understand the importance?

Let’s tackle one of these… we’ve discovered that they actually DO know how, but say they don’t have time.  Okay.

  • Why don’t they have time? For grins and giggles, we’ll say this person is a tour guide at your facility.  They are currently scheduled for 6 hour shifts, with their first tour starting 30 minutes after they clock in, and their last tour usually ending 15 minutes before the end of their shift.  They do three 1.5 hour tours a day, which means they are on tour 4.5 hours out of their 6 hour shift.  They need time to rest in between, eat and prep for the next tour.  Traditionally, the paperwork has been done at the end of the shift.  Your tour guides are saying that 15 minutes (when they are tired from 3 tours) is not enough time to get the paperwork done.

If you then ask “why is that not enough time to get the paperwork done?”, that leads to… “how long does the paperwork really take?”  You realize that to be done correctly, to summarize and close out all three tours, it takes about 30 minutes.

So no, the 15 minutes at the end of the day are not enough.

So we go back to why…

  • Why is the paperwork done at the end of the shift?”  Because that’s when it’s always been done….  (hopefully you see the opportunity here!)
  • Why can’t the paperwork be done in chunks, closing out the tours as you go?  That way you are only taking 10 minutes at the end of each tour, and at the end of the shift they should have time to do the last one and get out on time.

So that’s one possible solution to one possible cause of the problem. You give that a try and see if it works.  Are your employees now doing their paperwork on a more regular basis?  If so, great! If not, back to the drawing board to try something else.

And if you do find that something you did (or didn’t do) caused these situations, take that as good news.  If you were part of the problem, you know where to look to find the solution.

Thanks for reading!

Matt

About the author – After 20+ years in hospitality leadership and human resources, Matt Heller founded Performance Optimist Consulting in 2011 with one simple goal: Help Leaders Lead. Matt now works with attractions large and small and leaders at all levels to help them improve leadership competencies, customer service, employee motivation and teamwork. His book, “The Myth of Employee Burnout” was released in 2013 and has become a go-to resource among industry leaders.

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Is investing really worth it?

When you invest in something (time, money, energy) you generally get better (or more predictable) results than if you don’t invest, or leave things to chance.

While there are many examples of this in life, here’s the situation that inspired this post.

When I travel, I normally get a rental car.  I like the convenience and flexibility it provides, but it’s not always practical. That was the case last week when I traveled to West Palm Beach for the Florida Attractions Association conference. (More insights from the conference to come).  During my 4 days at this particular conference, I didn’t need to go anywhere outside of the hotel, and therefore didn’t want to spend the money on valet parking since the car would just be sitting there for 4 days.  So, my transportation to and from the hotel would be the shuttle provided by the hotel.

After picking up my luggage at baggage claim, I went to the meeting spot where all hotel shuttles were to meet their passengers.  I saw shuttles from other hotels and car rental services go by, but not mine.  So I waited.

And waited.

While I thought I had read that the shuttle ran on a regular schedule, it occurred to me that maybe that wasn’t about THIS hotel shuttle.  Hmmm…. maybe I should go ahead and call?

So I called.  I spoke to Elvis (at the hotel, not THE Elvis).  He told me that the shuttle should be there in about 15 minutes, and to watch for a large, black van with the hotel’s name on the front.  I said, “thank you, Elvis.  Thank you very much.”

As I waited, this is when the concept of investment ran through my brain. Had I spent the money on a rental car or even a cab, I would likely be at the hotel by now.  Instead, I am at the mercy of someone else’s schedule.

Once the shuttle arrived, I was told we had to pick someone else up at the executive airport nearby.  After we got there, we found out that the person to be picked up was at the regular airport after all, so back there we go, all before heading to the hotel itself.

Before we go any further, this is not a complaint about the hotel shuttle service, or the fact that I had to wait.  The driver was actually very pleasant and the van was well appointed and clean.  This is actually just an observation of the results we get when we invest in something versus when we don’t.

It’s very much like that quote that makes the rounds every few years.  You know the one….

The CFO is implying that it would be a waste of time, money and resources to develop their people if they are just going to fly to coop.  And that may happen.  Another question to ask is, “what if, by developing people, you actually get them to stay?”

I think this investment argument works with employees, relationships, hobbies, projects, you name it.  The more you put in, the more you get out.

And how many of us struggle with and complain about the lack of consistency we see in the behavior of our employees?  Have we invested ENOUGH to get the kind of predictable excellence we are striving for?  Here’s what I mean:

Many companies put a lot of emphasis on training new hires.  Great – there is a lot they need to know.  But, how many of those companies INVEST in season-long learning strategies?  I don’t have any official data to share on that, but from the people I talk to, the number is quite low. Part of the problem is when we look at our seasonal staff as temporary.  Sure they will only be on payroll for a few months, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be trained and developed so they can help the company be successful for years to come.  The experience of being groomed for the next level could be the difference between someone coming back for another season or you having one more spot to fill.

Of course the other option is to do your training up front and hope for the best the rest of the season.  It’s your choice.

In all of this, there is a fundamental understanding that “investing” is different than “spending”.  Spending implies a commodity transaction with little or no long-term return on that spend.  Investing assumes there will be a calculated output in proportion to your input.  Both can refer to money, time, resources, etc.  If we look at the quote above, maybe the CFO is thinking that it’s a waste to spend the money developing people… there will be no appreciable return in his mind.  Maybe the problem is that he doesn’t really know what that return would actually look like.

For me, I’ve seen the results when we invest in our people.  They are more confident, engaged, motivated, and willing to help out when the chips are down.  And while it could take an investment of money to make this happen (in the form of additional development resources, not just a wage increase) it’s also our investment of time. Time to communicate, to coach, to listen, and to set the example of how you want your team to behave.

So if you would like more predictable excellence, investing in your team definitely IS worth it!

Thanks for reading!

Matt

About the author – After 20+ years in hospitality leadership and human resources, Matt Heller founded Performance Optimist Consulting in 2011 with one simple goal: Help Leaders Lead. Matt now works with attractions large and small and leaders at all levels to help them improve leadership competencies, customer service, employee motivation and teamwork. His book, “The Myth of Employee Burnout” was released in 2013 and has become a go-to resource among industry leaders.

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Everything is everything

If you follow me on Facebook, you know that my wife and I just came back from our first ever trip to Europe.  We took a pizza making class in Naples, a food tasting tour in Trastevere (Rome), and a cooking class in Lucca.  We also did the Painted Wall self guided walking tour in Cannes and rode a Ferris Wheel (big surprise) in Marseille, France.

You probably noticed that the majority of our activities centered around food!  While we of course wanted to try the local delicacies, we also wanted to get more of a glimpse of the local culture and people – and we got that.

What we also got, without even trying, was an education in engagement.  If my trip to Europe reinforced anything, it’s that EVERYTHING matters.

Was the food good in Italy?  No.  It was AMAZING!  But I would dare say that as good as it was in reality, it tasted EVEN BETTER considering the environment.  For example, during our cooking class in Lucca, we were not only learning from a world renowned chef, but we were also sharing the experience with people from the Netherlands, Scotland, England and Seattle – people we had just met that day.  Sitting around a huge table on a farm in rural Italy, eating a meal that you helped prepare, engrossed in engaging conversation… how could the food NOT taste good?

And that’s why I think people (including us) come back from vacation with stories of the best this or the best that.  The environment heightens the experience and makes everything better.

Since this is not a food or travel blog, this has to tie back to engagement soon, right?

Yes.

You have heard me say time and time again that engagement is about the environment that we create for our employees.  That while recognition is important, on it’s own it can’t fully engage someone in their work.  It’s about the hiring, training, discipline and yes, termination that will begin to create an engaging environment.  But you know what?  That’s not everything either.

It’s about the look of the room when new hires come in for orientation or to do their paperwork. It’s about how well the real world (their work location) matches up with what they are told in training or when they were recruited.  It’s about how much pride YOU take in the company and how you treat the guests that will carry over to your employees.

When we were on our food tour, our guide Francesco warmly greeted every shop owner we encountered.  He would say, look at this beautiful man or family or woman.  He didn’t mean beautiful in terms of looks, but beautiful in terms of the people they are.  When referred to that way, each an every person smiled and beamed and showed their true beauty.

How often do we introduce a new hire to their supervisor like that?  In my experience, it’s more like, “This is Sam, he’s your supervisor.  He’ll show you the ropes.”

Does that make you beam with pride?  Didn’t think so, but that’s part of the environment, too.

So here is your challenge – especially as some of you are beginning daily operation and ramping up for summer crowds… analyze EVERYTHING that could make an impression on your employees. Again, you have heard me talk about the importance of communication, recognition and listening.  Those are a great starting point.  But also look at the physical environment, how employees are moved through your processes (hiring, training, cross utilization).  What do your break areas look like?  Are you taking care of “behind the scenes” areas as much as guest facing areas?  Employees see those areas before and after their shift… so they are the first and last impression they have.

Do your employees go through a security check point?  How is that experience?  Is the person at that post starting the day off on a positive or negative note?

Do you have company logos, mantras and insignias posted around your offices and buildings to remind and inspire your staff?  How do they look?  Are they up to date or ripped and falling apart?

When an employee has to interact with someone from another department, how does that go?  What example are full time staff setting for front line staff when out in park?

And the list could literally go on and on… but for this post, we’ll stop here.

Part of this challenge is to put yourself in the shoes (and mindset) of your employees.  You may know why something is not working and may even know when it’s going to be fixed, but a new hire doesn’t know that, and will assume that that’s just the way it is and no one cares about it.

Fast forward two months from now, when all of these influences have piled up and created a lasting impression of you and the company.  One little thing might not be a big deal, but put it all together and it tells quite a story.

You are the author of that story and can determine how it ends.  That is, if you remember that EVERYTHING matters.

Thanks for reading!

Matt

About the author: While it was not Matt’s original intent, the theme of this post fits nicely with the theme of this years’ IAAPA Attractions Expo, which is Every Experience Matters.  Of course, that’s in November.  Next week is the Florida Attractions Association conference, where the theme is Mission: Possible – Creating The Adventure.  Our mission as leaders is to create a positive adventure for our teams, and if we focus on the right things, that mission is POSSIBLE!!

If you are coming to the FAA Conference, Matt will be speaking on “Investigating Workplace Conflict” on Tuesday, June 14 at 10:30 am.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lessons from the C-Suite

Over the last few weeks, I have had the pleasure and honor to work with two of the preeminent C-suite executives in the attractions industry; Terri Adams, COO of Schlitterbahn Waterparks & Resorts, and Al Weber Jr., President and CEO of Apex Parks Group.

Terri Adams

Terri Adams

AlWeberJr

Al Weber Jr.

 

 

 

 

 

 

While their leadership styles are different, I noticed some interesting similarities about how they carried themselves and interacted with their teams.  For those who aspire to lead at their level, these points will give you insight into what it takes.

Put trust in others – Both Terri and Al understand and embrace the fact that they can’t (and shouldn’t) do everything.  As an executive, it’s their job to oversee, to guide, to look ahead, to problem solve and to trust others to do everything else. As an example, when I spoke at the Apex event, Al was quick to point out that other people had taken the reigns of planning and executing the event, and he deferred to their direction and judgement.  Often we see executives portrayed shouting out orders and taking credit for others’ accomplishments.  Terri and Al did the exact opposite of this.  They hired smart people, trusted them to do what was right and got out of the way.

Made it personal – Terri excelled at making personal connections with all members of the Schlitterbahn staff.  We traveled to 4 of their 5 parks, and she was immediately embraced (often literally) by the local employees.  I believe it is her willingness to be herself and be vulnerable that allows these connections to be made.  As an example, the first night I was there I was working with a small team of trainers.  After dinner we were playing a charades-type game when Terri showed up, dressed very casually, and jumped right into the game.  There was no pretense, no barrier of, “I’m the COO!”, and no awkward moments when someone was afraid to be themselves in front of her.  That’s one of the true tests of leadership… are people comfortable being themselves around you?

Al was really good at knowing the players on his team and figuring out what they needed to excel.  He knew where there was experience and he knew who needed more guidance. That doesn’t happen by accident nor does it happen overnight.  You don’t truly know someone’s abilities or potential until you observe them over a period of time and through various situations.

Direct (and respectful) communication – When you speak to Al or Terri, you know you are speaking to Al and/or Terri.  They both make (and hold) very direct eye contact.  They listen intently, and if they don’t understand something or need more information, they do not hesitate to ask.  I think that is one HUGE difference between seasoned executives and less experienced leaders.  Neither Terri nor Al shy away from admitting they didn’t know something, which leads to more conversation and deeper understanding.  Inexperienced leaders often avoid those types of situations because they don’t want others to think they don’t have all of the information. The irony is that in order to be an effective leader, you NEED that information and to have those conversations.  Otherwise you can’t make the decisions you need to make, or worse, you make the decisions with incomplete information.

As personable as both Terri and Al are, there is also an efficiency to their communication that I think can be misconstrued as rude or uninterested.  Having interacted with both of them on a personal level, I can tell you that nothing could be further from the truth.  Their efficiency comes from the realities of their role, but it DOES NOT (at least in the case of Terri and Al) indicate a lack of caring or aloofness.  Quite the opposite… because they care so deeply about all of their employees and each area of their business, they know they have to manage their time to fit it all in.

Here are my takeaways (or… things to work on if you want to be an executive!)

  • Communication skills – you’ve heard me say it a bazillion times – communication is the key to effective leadership, and that is once again proven with the examples above.  Work on actively and attentively listening to others with an open mind.  Forget about impressing others with your knowledge – impress them with how much you value what they have to say.
  • Build relationships – leadership isn’t about barking orders and being in charge.  It’s about developing people and building them up to create something new or to move the company forward.  You can’t do it alone, so you better have people around you that can help!
  • Be YOU! – you cannot lead authentically, build relationships and communicate with others effectively if you are trying to be someone or something that you are not.  Great leaders, especially those in the top spots, are willing to admit their flaws and weaknesses.  This helps them improve, but also gives them insight into the types of people they should hire.  Your team is your lifeline, and their strengths can help balance out your weaknesses.

Thanks for reading!!

Matt

About the author – After 20+ years in hospitality leadership and human resources, Matt Heller founded Performance Optimist Consulting in 2011 with one simple goal: Help Leaders Lead. Matt now works with attractions large and small and leaders at all levels to help them improve leadership competencies, customer service, employee motivation and teamwork. His book, “The Myth of Employee Burnout” was released in 2013 has become a go-to resource among industry leaders.

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Infographic “How To” Post 10: Trusted

This is part 10 of a 10 part “how to” series covering the points in the infographic below.

Employees Stay10

I’d actually like to start the final installment of our series with a question.

Do you trust your employees immediately or do they have to earn your trust over time?

I know people who are firmly planted in both camps.  I guess the same question could be asked of people that you meet, even outside of the workplace.  Is it in your nature to trust right away, or are you a little more cautious and maybe even skeptical?

Whatever your modus operendi, the infogrpahic makes the case that trusting your employees is an important part of getting them to stay.  I would agree with that.

Let’s look at the definition of trust, so that we can then examine what it means and what it looks like on a daily basis.

Trustreliance on the integrity, strength, ability, or surety, of a person or thing; confidence.

Side note: I didn’t even know that “surety” was a word, but I trust that dictionary.com wouldn’t steer me wrong!

Thinking of our employees, in order to trust them, we need to rely on their integrity, strength, ability and surety. We have to have some confidence that they will do as directed.

I can hear some of you now… “if that’s the criteria, forget it!  I can’t trust these people.”

Before we jump on that bandwagon, there are some really interesting components to this definition that I’d like to explore.  First, let’s talk about integrity.

Integrity

A common definition for integrity is: doing the right thing even when no one is looking.  Integrity is also about being honest, especially in the face of adversity.  In all fairness, how can we rely on our employees to act with integrity until they have been battle tested?  We can get a sense of who they are and what they stand for during the interview and initial training, but until they are out on their own, we won’t really see what they are made of. Having said all that, you may think I am of the mindset that employees have to earn every bit trust that I might give them.  But I’m not.

I think when an employee starts out, in order to begin fostering an environment of trust, we have to be the ones to make the first investment.  We have to trust that our employees are giving us their best and extend the benefit-of-the-doubt when needed.  This is not to say that people should be allowed get away with poor behavior or performance, but we shouldn’t jump to the conclusion that it’s an integrity issue.  If we get more evidence later on that that is the case – so be it.  But not right off the bat.

Ability

What I think is really interesting about this word within the confines of this definition, and the context of workplace trust, is where it actually comes from. In large part, it comes from you.

Think about it.  An employees’ ability to do their job is derived from, among other things, the training they receive, the environment in which they work, the conditions under which they work (including peer relationships), and the support they get from leadership. Barring physical or mental conditions, if we cannot rely on an employees’ ability to do their job, we have to look squarely back at ourselves.  What is our influence, whether direct or indirect, over their training, environment and conditions?  Is the support we are providing adequate?  Do we trust our own abilities enough to be able to truly set our employees up for success?  Is our frustration in their abilities (or lack of) really a reflection of our ability (or lack of)?

These are not easy questions, but they are important.

Confidence

When you are confident something is going to happen, you can feel it.  Some people  feel it in their gut, others feel it as a warm and soothing calm.  Either way, you feel it to the point of knowing it.  It’s similar to having confidence in a friend or colleague… you just know they are going to come through.  That confidence is built on your experiences with them, and it takes time to develop those relationships.

Showing that you have confidence in others is part of trusting them and ultimately keeping them on staff.  In my previous jobs, I could tell when my manager had confidence in me… he would assign me something and let me run with it.  If the confidence was lacking (perhaps because of higher stakes, a tighter deadline, or my lack of experience in that area), additional check in points were scheduled and work progress was evaluated more stringently.

But honestly, that was a growth opportunity for me.  The stakes were higher, and once that project as completed successfully, the confidence my manager had in me was also higher.

So bringing this back to the 30,000 foot view of trust, I think we can all agree that it’s important to show our employees that we trust them. It’s critical to their confidence in us and themselves, and helps create an environment where employees can learn and grow.

If we don’t trust them, we have to examine that very carefully.  Early on, there may not be enough mutual experience to determine how much actual trust is there.  Fair enough.  Once they are in the role for awhile, if we still don’t trust them or their abilities, is it because they aren’t trying, don’t have the aptitude or just don’t want to do it?  Many of those answers point back to us in one way or another.

Since this is a “how to” post, we can’t just give you the philosophical side of the story without the practical side.  And there are two practical sides.

How to TRUST your employees:

  • Just trust ’em – don’t be so skeptical.  Easier said that done in some cases, I get it.  But not everyone is automatically against you or a moron. Unfortunately, when you think very skeptically about a person, you tend to treat them that way.  That doesn’t foster a lot of trust.
  • Give them a chance – Allow them to show you (through actions over time) that they can be trusted.  If they make a mistake (without malicious intent), guide them back on to the correct path.

How to SHOW your employees that you trust them:

  • Listen to them
  • Use words like “we” and “us”
  • Ask their opinion
  • Tell them, “I trust you”
  • Follow-up without micromanaging
  • Hold them accountable to goals and standards of performance
  • Praise in public (where and when appropriate), discipline in private
  • Coach employees – help them help you find solutions
  • Explain WHY you have confidence in them – what have they done in the past that signifies they are ready for an upcoming challenge?
  • Share pertinent information
  • Admit a mistake

That last one is a tricky one for some.  “… admit a mistake? No way!  People will laugh, point fingers and lose all respect.”  I’ve actually found the opposite to be true. When you own up to making a mistake, people see you as more human, more real, and more like them.  People trust real.

There is also a vulnerability in admitting a mistake that employees tend to find very comforting and endearing.  They also don’t have to deal with the obvious cover-up and back-peddling that often happens when trying to minimize a mistake.  If anything, that behavior will quickly degrade any amount of trust your employees may have had in you.

Like respect and communication, trust is a two-way street.  Make sure it’s going both ways!

Thanks for reading and I hope you enjoyed the series!!  Comments and questions are always welcome!

Matt

About the author – After 20+ years in hospitality leadership and human resources, Matt Heller founded Performance Optimist Consulting in 2011 with one simple goal: Help Leaders Lead. Matt now works with attractions large and small and leaders at all levels to help them improve leadership competencies, customer service, employee motivation and teamwork. His book, “The Myth of Employee Burnout” was released in 2013 has become a go-to resource among industry leaders.

Infographic “How To” Post 9: Empowered

This is part 9 of a 10 part “how to” series covering the points in the infographic below.

Employees Stay9I can hear the rally cry now, proclaimed by well-intentioned executives bent on improving customer relations and employee morale:

“We’re going to empower our employees to go above and beyond for our customers!”

So let it be decreed… and POOF! Employees are now empowered.

Not so fast.

No one that I know of has ever acted empowered just because they were told they were empowered.  There’s a wee bit more too it than that.

Let’s start with the “why”.  Why did Mr. or Mrs. Bigshot declare open season on employee empowerment?  As I said above, they meant well.  Chances are that there was a desire to streamline a process… perhaps it was the guest comment or complaint procedure… maybe it had to do with processing a return… or maybe it was so when something went haywire, their front line employees would be able to handle it and spare the guest the further inconvenience of having to trudge up to guest services to have their problem resolved.  Lastly, it could also be to encourage random acts of kindness – want to do something nice just because… go for it – you’re empowered to make that decision.

In my experience, what DIDN’T happen after the “why” was fully examined, was to determine “HOW” this was going to happen.  It was assumed since management was lying down the empowerment gauntlet, that eager and willing employees were going to jump at the chance to pick it up.  That they were just chomping at the bit to do all these wonderful things and were just waiting for permission from the powers that be.

Permission is part of it, but it ain’t all of it. Sadly, this is where many people stop, and wonder why they employees aren’t acting as empowered as they should.

So let’s turn that around.  Let’s dive into HOW we empower employees so they will actually feel and act empowered.

Did you see what I did there?  I inserted a word we haven’t discussed yet.  Feel.  First an employee has to feel that they actually ARE empowered in order to act that way.

Uh oh… we gotta talk about feelings again?  Good gravy.

Afraid so. No matter what age, nationality, ethnic background or chosen NFL affiliation, all human beings are wired in much the same way.  Our actions are based on how we feel.  Are you feeling like you are learning something from this post? If so, you’ll keep reading.  If not, it doesn’t really matter what I type here because you are long gone. (If you are still here – thank you!)

This is why the decree of empowerment alone does not inspire actions. There are still too many variables in play that the employees have questions about.  For example:

  • What am I empowered to do? You said I could go above and beyond.  Above and beyond what and how far above and how far beyond? Who can I ask if I need help? Meh. It’s too confusing. Forget it.
  • How do I do this? Is there a form to fill out?  A procedure?  An app?  In what situations would I empower my empowerment? My manager said one thing, but the guy next to me said something else. Meh. It’s too confusing. Forget it.
  • Am I going to get in trouble?  If I’m giving stuff away or letting people break the rules, aren’t I going to get in trouble?  It was reinforced and reiterated how important our rules are, so I’m not sure what’ll happen if I decide that one isn’t so important. Meh. It’s too confusing. Forget it.

If you’ve struggled with empowerment in the past, this should give you a quick-start guide for revamping your initiatives:

  • Be clear about WHAT sort of things they are empowered to do
  • Be specific about the procedure or steps to take so employees get comfortable with doing something outside of their comfort zone
  • Explain (and live by) what will happen when an employee takes on the challenge of doing something out of the ordinary. (Praise the effort, even if the execution needs adjusting)

For clarity, I should mention that in many cases, there won’t be a specific blueprint for employees to follow every time they want to go above and beyond or do something special. If there were, it would be called a Standard Operating Procedure and it would be part of their everyday routine. We do have to set guidelines and expectations at first to get people thinking in a way that it’s okay to step outside of the norm and do the extraordinary, but the ultimate goal should be about developing their decision-making skills.

Because that’s what empowered employees do, and it’s what Mr. and Mrs. Bigshot WANT empowered employees to do… make decisions that will have a positive impact on the situation.

To encourage these decisions, it will be important to constantly reinforce not only that you WANT them to make these decisions, but again you have to make them feel good about making them (so THEY’LL want to). This process takes time, encouragement, guidance and patience on your part.  Talk to employees about scenarios where different decisions could be made, and walk through the possible outcomes.  Encourage them to try different things to see how they work, and follow-up with them on their progress.  Continue to encourage experimentation while you praise the effort of stepping outside their comfort zone, even if the action wasn’t exactly what you envisioned.

Let me take a quick side journey at this point… when you truly empower people to make decisions, and give them the latitude to do so, it’s imperative that you prepare yourself for a time when they could do something so off the wall it might make your head spin.  People are funny like that.  Give them opportunities to actually use their brains, and they might surprise you.  I would contend that as much as that surprise might make you cringe, there is also a chance that they could come up with an incredible idea or solution to a problem that you have been struggling with for years.  The connections in the brain and the desire to actually share that with you don’t come from people who are only taught to keep their head down and focus solely on the task in front of them.

And now, back to our story…

The more you encourage little decisions, the more comfortable employees will feel about making those, and even larger decisions.  You also get to evaluate and guide their learning in terms of making those choices for the best outcome for everyone. Win-win.

As a little overlap to our final post on Trust, I think it’s important to address trust as it applies to empowerment.

For you, you need to trust that your employees will do the right thing.  They may not all the time, but that’s why you will be there to guide them the next time.  You show trust by not micromanaging, respecting their decisions and helping them grow.

Your employees need to trust you to not change the rules on them midstream.  If you encourage empowerment, but employees get in trouble for thinking outside the box, you will unravel any desire to do that again in the future.  They also have to trust that you’ll have their back if something goes south.

I know I’ve told this story before, but it more than applies here as we talk about employees making decisions and how trust factors in.

When I was an Operations Area Manager at Valleyfair, one of the departments I oversaw was Admissions, which included Guest Services.  I was extremely lucky to have a returning Supervisor on my staff named Lisa.  Lisa had worked there for many years already, and had probably forgotten more than I would ever learn.  One day early in my tenure as manager, Lisa came to me with a guest complaint issue.  She explained the situation and asked my opinion about what she should do.  Based on her experience, I had more than an inkling than she already had a resolution in mind, so I asked what she thought.  She quickly provided a great solution, so we went with her idea.

Lisa KNEW what to do, and of course I had told her before that that she could make those decisions, but we hadn’t established the trust in our relationship yet that made her feel comfortable to go ahead and make that decision without my approval.

The moral to that story? For empowerment to work, it takes time.  It’s a perfect storm of knowledge, desire, permission and encouragement.

Oh, and trust. Can’t forget trust. Good thing that is the topic of our next post in the series!

Next up: Trusted

Thanks for reading!

Matt

About the author – After 20+ years in hospitality leadership and human resources, Matt Heller founded Performance Optimist Consulting in 2011 with one simple goal: Help Leaders Lead. Matt now works with attractions large and small and leaders at all levels to help them improve leadership competencies, customer service, employee motivation and teamwork. His book, “The Myth of Employee Burnout” was released in 2013 has become a go-to resource among industry leaders.

Infographic “How To” Post 8: On A Mission

This is part 8 of a 10 part “how to” series covering the points in the infographic below.

Employees Stay8Of all the topics on this infographic, being “on a mission” could be one of the most important pieces of the puzzle.  Of course, it’s also one of the toughest ones to cultivate.

Or is it? Let’s explore.

Back in February of 2015, I wrote a post called, Is It Time To Rethink The Mission Statement?” My basic question was this: is YOUR mission statement doing what it was intended to do – unify your workforce toward a common goal?

Of course, a mission statement on a wall can’t do that.  In fact, it really can’t do anything. To me, mission and culture are very tightly aligned because both require action… consistent action… to be taken seriously.

For some reason, when I picture an employee “on a mission”, I conjure up a vision of someone with a steely stare, a fire in their gut and constantly on the move.  If they were a cartoon, they would have the little wispy lines behind them showing that they were swiftly moving about.

motion-lines-03But this post isn’t about what they look like, it’s about how you get them there.

Here are some questions to ask to get the ball rolling:

  • Does your company have a mission statement?
  • If so, is it concise and targeted, or a stew of buzz-wordy mumbo jumbo?
  • Is your mission supported throughout the organization with real-world behaviors?
  • Is your mission something that employees can believe in and get behind?

Let’s start at the beginning:

Does your company have a mission statement?

I looked up two definitions to dive into this topic:

  • Mission: an important goal or purpose that is accompanied by strong conviction
  • Mission Statement: an official document that sets out the goals, purpose, and work of an organization.

If you have a mission statement, great.  You have organized your thoughts about the direction of the company and what you hope to accomplish/achieve.  Unfortunately, most people stop there thinking that just having this written down or on a fancy poster will make it come to life.  If that’s you, and you haven’t seen the results you are looking for, don’t despair… you are not alone.  Pay special heed to the 3rd and 4th bullet points below.

The reason just putting up the poster doesn’t work is because we are talking a mission. An important goal! A purpose! Strong conviction! When was the last time a poster, and a poster alone, inspired you to do something?  It’s usually the combination of interactions with others, an internal conviction of your own, a little research, the example set by others THEN seeing the poster may illicit some action.  But usually not by itself.

So does your mission statement convey and reflect of the true goals and purpose of the company?  As we’ll explore later, are YOU demonstrating a strong conviction or belief in that mission?

If you don’t have a mission statement for your organization, I am not going to tell you that you have to have one. Create one if you’d like, they can be helpful.  But be careful.  If you create a fancy mission statement and don’t uphold it through your actions, you will have wasted a lot of time.  On the other side of the coin, if everyone is already committed to a common goal, and that oozes from every pore of every being on the payroll, a statement on a wallet card probably won’t deliver a lot of traction.

If you do have a mission statement, is it concise and targeted, or a stew of buzz-wordy mumbo jumbo?

A stated goal or purpose that is easily remembered and defined for the individual is the first step in creating a mission statement that will actually help you get people on the same page.  Again, in-and-of-itself, the statement can’t do that.  But if it’s clear what the goal is and what employees need to do in whatever position they are in to help achieve it, then you’re closer to having a mission statement that will actually inspire people to join you on your mission.

For example, I’ve always liked the simplicity of Herchend Family Entertainment’s mission: Creating Memories Worth Repeating®.  We all know this business is about encouraging repeat visits to our locations, so charging employees at all levels with creating a memory that your guests will want to relive or re-experience is not only a great mission, but also a pretty great business model.

And, it transcends departments, making it easy to identify the types of actions someone in foods, merchandise, attractions, custodial, finance, marketing, sales, security, maintenance, admissions, etc. need to display on a daily basis to have a positive impact on the mission.  Granted, their audiences may be different, but the process of creating positive memories for an external guest or internal partner are largely the same; follow through on commitments, be respectful, deliver more than you promise.

Contrast that mission statement with the one I used (and made up) for my post from 2015: To deliver unparalleled care to our clients with employees who exceed all expectations of quality and cooperation and provide amazingly unbelievable returns to our shareholders.

That probably looks nice on a poster in the break room, but I’d bet dollars to donuts that most employees (including the leadership team) couldn’t decipher what that means in terms of daily behaviors, nor would they know when they achieved it.

So if you are going to have a mission, and a statement that embodies it for all employees to embrace and uphold, I implore you to keep it simple.

Is your mission supported throughout the organization with real-world behaviors?

This is why your mission needs to be simple, easy to remember, easy to embrace (see next section) and the behaviors that support it need to be easily identifiable for employees at all levels. Why? Because if people don’t get it, they ain’t gonna do it!

This is where mission and culture either make beautiful music together or repel one another like two North pole magnets.

Every company (or team) has a culture.  It may not be what you want to be, but there it is. And this culture, or the way stuff gets done in your organization, has everything to do with whether or not your mission will be supported.

Picture this: a brand new employee has just completed their orientation.  They heard all about the company, the mission, and the do’s and don’ts.  They get to their work location the next day, and either by implication or by direct example, are shown that things in the “field” are vastly different than what was discussed at orientation. The current culture doesn’t understand, buy in, support, or embrace the mission that the company is going for, and has decided to run things their own way.

And chances are, the leadership teams across property also don’t understand, buy in, support or embrace the mission either.  Thus, the trickle down to the front line and now the new hire.

No matter what your mission statement is, there are some critical steps to be taken to translate the words on a poster into real actions and behaviors that will drive your culture:

  • Define the mission – in terms of behaviors, and what it “looks like” to each and every role at all levels.  On a daily basis, what would an accountant, supervisor, F&B attendant, or ride operator do that supports your goals?
  • Live the mission – your culture is a reflection of what you do everyday.  Are you living by the mission that you set for everyone else?  Is the mission part of your daily meetings, goals, recruiting efforts, training practices, and termination process?  In other words, is the mission reinforced in every aspect of the employee lifecycle?  If someone, anyone, is acting in a way that is inconsistent with the mission, why are they still on payroll?  (This is ESPECIALLY true of leaders and executives.) You cannot expect your new employees to embrace a mission that isn’t being supported by the people they are working with everyday.
  • Measure the mission – is the mission part of how you evaluate your employees?  If not, it should be.  If you are going to expect people to do something, you better measure their progress.  Once you have defined what the mission looks like, you now have the criteria for measurement, and even for seasonal employees, it’s critical they know how they are measuring up. “People will respect what you inspect.”  I can’t remember who said that, but it has stuck with me for years. If you want people to provide great service, you better inspect how they are providing service.  You want people to treat others with respect, you better inspect how they are treating others.

Even if you have a simple, easy to understand mission statement, if your culture isn’t supporting it, it’s just a statement.

Is your mission something that employees can believe in and get behind?

This is why you have a mission in the first place, right?  It’s a beacon on a foggy night helping to lead your employees through murky waters.  But, do they care?  Is it something that means something to them?  Is it a direction they want to go?  Is the outcome important to them?

Lots of mission statements mention providing some sort of service to the guests. Why is that important to your employees (again, at all levels).  I think it’s easier to understand this dynamic as a leader, someone who has invested the time to understand the inner workings of the organization.  But to the 17 year-old who got a summer job, they may not have that perspective, not because they are stupid or lazy, but just because they lack the years of experience. So how do you frame your mission to provide great guest service so it not only makes sense to the 17 year-old, but also makes them want to get behind it and support it?

Part of this is the example we set, as we discussed in the section about the mission being supported by real world behaviors. If we value it, they will be more likely to value it, too.

The other part of this is looking at it from their perspective.  We often think of our mission in terms of “what’s in it for the company?”.  Since the success of the company is a result of the efforts of the employees, why not look at it as, “what’s in it for the employees?”, too?

Many of our younger employees want to work for an employer who is doing good (or the right) things. You know you already do good things (and hopefully you are doing the right things).  Does your mission reflect that?  Or, is the mission all about guests, business results and shareholder confidence?  Does it address the kind of environment you are creating for your employees or the service they get to provide?  And I don’t mean the tasks they do… that’s their job.  I’m referring to bigger picture kind of service of escapism, safety, fantasy, memories, family togetherness, etc.  That is a mission that people can get behind.

When all you talk about is ringing up a sale and throughput, you aren’t allowing your employees to embrace the bigger service picture.  You are keeping them rooted in their tasks, not challenging them to be a part of something ultimately more rewarding.

And working to achieve a mission should be rewarding, because if it’s not, why would you want to do it?

Next up: Empowered

Thanks for reading!

Matt

About the author – After 20+ years in hospitality leadership and human resources, Matt Heller founded Performance Optimist Consulting in 2011 with one simple goal: Help Leaders Lead. Matt now works with attractions large and small and leaders at all levels to help them improve leadership competencies, customer service, employee motivation and teamwork. His book, “The Myth of Employee Burnout” was released in 2013 has become a go-to resource among industry leaders.