The quote with the most…

“The minute you decide to stop learning is simultaneous with the moment you become ineffective.”


This quote comes from Ashley Adams from Dollywood who includes this as part of her email signature line.  As a trainer, this of course was especially interesting and inspiring to me.

More than going to a class or studying a particular topic, to me this quote is about having an open mind.  There are SO many opportunities to take in new information in 2009 that we really have no excuse BUT to keep learning – if we are open to it.

The other day, my wife Linda and I were talking about fingernails.  Exciting stuff, I know.  The subject of strengthening them came up, and I suggested ping pong balls.  After she nearly spit out her coffee from laughing, she asked what the heck I was talking about??

I have a friend who plays classical guitar, and to pluck the strings, they use their fingernails, not a guitar pick.  To make sure their nails don’t break and to get a good sound, some people will cut up little pieces of ping pong balls and glue them under their nails on the picking hand (typically the right for right-handed people).  A reticent “ah-ha” was uttered, followed by a question about the difference between classical guitar and acoustic guitar.

I explained the nylon vs. steel strings and the type of music played on both.  I could tell I wasn’t explaining it well, so I tapped into a brand new educational resource: YouTube.  I showed her the video below, and it clicked.

Okay, so YouTube isn’t exactly new, but it does change the way we think about expressing ideas, and yes, training and learning.  What I was having trouble getting across in words was now perfectly clear, thanks to an ambitious musician who learned the Mario Bros. theme on classical guitar.

Of course this would have been a flop of an experiment if Linda wasn’t open to learning something new.  I’ll bet if you aren’t a guitar player, you just learned something, too.  Well done.

Learning = effectiveness.  I like that.

Thanks for sharing, Ashley!

Spoons – a lesson in quality

One of my non-theme park related jobs over the years was working for a home theater and satellite installation company out of Hampstead, NH called Tkachuk Associates.  In modern retail terms, Tkachuk (ka-chuk) is what you might call a ’boutique’ operation.  It’s run by the husband and wife team of Dave (pictured) and Nancy Tkachuk and when I was there, I was one of 3 employees.  As bosses, I would describe Dave and Nancy as beyond generous, but I’ll explain more about that in a future post.  I know right now you just want to hear about the spoons! dt2003

Dave had a very subtle way of getting his point across, and for teaching us things about the business.  He was adamant about us using the right tool for the right job so we wouldn’t waste time or make things look sloppy.  The most profound (in my memory) example of one of his teachings had to do with snipping the excess material off of wire ties.

In the home theater installation game, there is a lot of wire.  “Wire is cheap”, Dave used to say, meaning it’s better to have extra than to run out!  Because very few people like looking at the “clutter” and “mess” all those wires make, we use wire ties to bundle them together.

Rightfully so, Dave was concerned not only with the fact that the wires were bundled, but that they looked neat and tidy and didn’t pose a safety hazard.

The example on the right shows wire ties that are cut properly – straight across and as close to the main housing as halar-ties-largepossible.  The right tool for this job would be wire cutters.  Even with wire cutters, and unskilled (or hurried) technician could haphazardly cut the plastic, leaving the nub jagged and sharp.  Dave referred to this as “spoons”, because it looked like someone had tried to cut the wire ties with a couple of spoons.  Unacceptable.

I think of the “spoons” often, especially when cutting wire ties or doing anything that requires patience and precision.

Use the right tool for the job, take your time, and do the job right the first time.  That… is the lesson of the spoons.


Employee focus – service or process?

In response to the post about Circuit City, Katherine Ervasti in the Tourism Management Business Development Program at Niagara College pointed out that sometimes you have employees who are focused on service, and others that are focused on the process.  I thought this was an interesting topic…

We’ve probably all worked with him/her… the employee that will talk to anyone, help anyone, but you can’t get them to be on time or to fill out their paperwork correctly.

On the other side of the coin you have those who complete paperwork and tasks perfectly, but may not be as comfortable striking up a conversation with a complete stranger.

When we look at where this comes from, we can look to personality, up-bringing, skill level, behavioral styles, environment, etc.  To me, all this leads to understanding a person’s ‘comfort zone’.hammock

I don’t know about you, but when I am in my comfort zone, I feel safe.  I feel confident and secure in what I can do.  One of my comfort zones is in the classroom as a facilitator.  I have been doing that for many years and have developed the skill to where I typically get very favorable response.

Your employees, no matter how old or young, have had time to develop their comfort zones as well, and much of that is derived from where they have had success and gotten positive attention in the past.

From a staffing stand point, there are two ways to look at this.  You can either place people strictly in their comfort zones and rarely ask anything else from them, or you can you allow them to step outside of themselves once in a while so they can develop a new skill.  The latter of course is more difficult and time consuming, but the pay off is more flexibility with who can do what so you are not so dependent on one person as the only one who can do a particular task.

Here’s a strategy, understanding that not everyone will be great at everything, but also realizing people typically will do what gets favorable attention.  Learn to praise accomplishment, in addition to the final product. This way you reinforce the positive steps along the journey, which helps you get to the final goal.

For instance, if you have any employee that is terrible with paperwork, encourage the little victories along the way, rather than waiting until it is perfect.  These may be small ‘at-a-boys’, but they will work wonders when you are trying to develop a new habit or skill in your employees – especially if it is outside their current comfort zone.  Also relaying the importance of the task to what they already like doing helps communicate the bigger picture.  A service-oriented employee may not care about the process until they see how it effects service.

If you can establish new confidence and skill in an employee, you will have just created a new comfort zone for them, which ultimately makes your job easier.



Share your thoughts!

Show and Tell – Ben’s RPM Recognition program

Last week I got an email from Ben Rogers from Funtown Splashtown USA about a recognition program he had come up with to use this season at the park.  It sounded really cool and I asked Ben if it would be okay if we shared it here.  Apparently he said yes!  :o)

RPM Recognition is a system that shows the importance of having an all encompassing system of recognition. Its main focus is not on recognition programs solely, though it’s still a part of the program, but it ties in the importance of all facets of recognition.

We begin with “Recognition of Role” and hone in on the importance of your companies history, goals, mission, and team work by the company as a whole, not the smaller teams it’s usually broken down into. This portion will help your team members to put the puzzle pieces together and see/fall into the “Big Picture.”

Next we move on to “Recognition of Peers” which focuses on bringing the park together on a mo45_rpm_record_gerald_g_02re personal level by putting a face to the name. Due to various schedules and departments most team members rarely get the chance to meet everyone. This causes a lack of contact between team members that in turn weakens our goal of working as a team. The “recognition of peers” portion will show the importance of raising the level of unity in the park. It will discuss methods of recognition by peers which includes the recognition wall, recognition cards and employee gatherings. In addition it will touch on International students and the introduction of new cultures.

Finally the program will end with “Recognition of Merit.” This section will focus on the importance of continuous reinforcement, positive methods of recognition, and low budget vs. high budget recognition. We will discuss how verbal can be better than physical recognition and how important of a role your supervisors and managers play. Finally we will end with STAR (Service that’s absolutely remarkable,) and how to track the recognition. All this will lead to higher levels of job satisfaction and employee retention ultimately leading to greater guest satisfaction.”

Thanks, Ben, for passing that along!

If anyone else has an idea or suggestion to share, please feel free!  After all, sharing is easy…it just starts with a click.

If Circuit City can do it…

If you Google “Circuit City bankrupt”, nearly 1,290,000 entries appear.  You would think that news of a companies public failure would create doubt, animosity and a general lack of caring from the folks still collecting a Circuit City paycheck.  Yet, when I visited one of the remaining stores a few days ago, I had one of the best customer service experiences I have had at a big-box electronics retailer.circuit_city_logo

Here’s what happened:

Incident #1: I was looking for two specific pieces of computer gear.  One I knew I had to have, the other I wasn’t sure about.  I found the first one without issue, then set my sights on the other.  After finding a model that looked similar to what I had seen online, I decided to ask an employee, Eddie,  if it would work with my current set-up.  What I got from the inquiry was an insightful follow-up question that indicated a knowledge and understanding of the product that went deeper that the product cheat sheet.  Based on my answer, the advice I got was that the product I was holding would not work and I should not buy it.  Eddie then gave me options for resolving my issue – none of which included me buying anything else from his store.

One could argue that Eddie cost the store a sale and some potential profits.  On the other hand, I was grateful for the information Eddie gave so I didn’t buy something I couldn’t use.  I trust Eddie, and I would shop there again.

Incident #2: While checking out, I approached the register with one other person in line.  From behind a display, another employee motioned me over to her register where there was no one in line.  She initiated some small chit-chat during the transaction, and capped the interaction with a big smile and a sincere, “Happy New Year”.

I literally walked out of the store saying to myself, “I don’t remember service like that BEFORE they went belly-up!”

Not being privy to the inner-workings of the electronics giant, I cannot vouch for what has happened behind the scenes.  In doing some research (and there is plenty to go around), I did see various opinions on CC’s business practices over that last few years.  Understanding that the truth is probably somewhere in the middle of all the ranting, I do want to highlight something that was made public.

On Circuit City’s own website, there is an entire section dedicated to answering their customers questions regarding the bankruptcy.  There is a certain sense of ‘up-front-ness’ that is refreshing, mostly because what we normally see is finger pointing and blame.

I would guess that at least at the store I went to, the management teams took this opportunity to communicate to their employees about what was going on.  In my Utopian world, I picture a gathering of employees and management, openly sharing ideas, concerns and suggestions and in the end, each person is better prepared and inspired to face the challenges ahead.

As a consumer, whether that really happened or not is irrelevant.  The service I experienced WAS real, and that is the memory I take away.

THAT is the true bottom line.