W&D Undercover Boss: Churchill Downs

This past Sunday, the latest episode of  Undercover Boss featured Bill Carstanjen, COO of Churchill Downs.  I’d like to start this post with a few quotes that I think sum up some of Bill’s take-away’s from this experience.

“This is a people business, and knowing how people feel is vital if we want to run it well.”

“Anytime you get a little bit personal, you lose a little bit of control, but sometimes its worth that to get to the truth.”

Two things of note here are “how people feel” and the “truth”.  The truth is, I don’t think we invest enough time to find out how our people feel.

The other truth that we saw in this episode was how people feel about the “other side”.  The back stretch didn’t understand the front of house, and vise-versa.  How many times have we heard that??

Or maybe we’ve heard it, but didn’t really listen.  I think we sometimes tell ourselves that those two worlds are just too different and that they really don’t need to understand each other.

But what if they did?  What if they did understand how each impacts the other?  Wouldn’t that make your life easier?

Here’s the trick, though. Often they are two different types of people with different skill sets, different priorities and different ideas of what is important to keep the business running.  We often see that one side will think THEY are the ones who keep the place running, and the other gets in the way.

The truth?  Both are vital and NEED to understand what the other is doing and WHY they are just as important.  Rationalize it to either side this way… in the days of slashed budgets and “synergizing management practices”, why would a company PAY to have all those people on staff if they didn’t need them?

Just like all of our Undercover Bosses, eyes are only truly opened when you take the time to experience what someone else goes through.  It doesn’t have to take long (because we know you don’t have a lot of time!), but the experience is well worth it.

Thanks for reading!

Great questions raised from FUNWORLD article!

A longtime reader, Ben Santos Rogers from Funtown Splashtown USA in Saco, ME posed a number of great questions after reading the article in FUNWORLD about fair vs. same treatment.  I would love to get your perspective on his questions, so leave a comment or email me here.

Ben also shares some great ideas about his recognition programs – I am sure he would be okay if you used those as inspiration for your own efforts!

Here is Ben’s note (reproduced with permission!), and his questions are highlighted.  Thanks in advance for your insight!

Hello Matt!

I just read the article in FunWorld and I wanted to let you know I really enjoyed it. It helped me to analyze my recognition process a little bit more. It is truly very difficult to try and spread the recognition when dealing with such a large number of team members and departments. I always have team members that stand out everyday and this causes me to have an inner fight. Do I recognize repeatedly and risk the “Favoritism” factor even though they are deserving and I could supply facts and examples? But does that really sit well with their fellow team members when they see this person being recognized over and over? As a former front-line worker I think that I would be maybe the slightest perturbed even if those facts and examples were present.

Then there are those that are under performing. Is it wise to give them a little recognition to try and light the fire so to speak, or does this diminish the future recognition they will receive? And of course there are those who show they deserve it but see team members that don’t fully apply themselves getting recognition. This in turn most likely will have some sort of affect on their work ethic in the future.

It’s a double sided sword and it gets even harder when you throw different departments into the mix with different expectations. Every year I feel like the recognition program we have at the park is evolving for the better. My only current problem is to try and integrate a park wide system. Smaller departments are easy but with the separation of the ride and water park and the different times that they begin and end shifts it makes it a little difficult. But maybe it’s better that way.

One thing that I am going to continue, and it was a great way to get everyone recognition in some respect is the “My Funtown Family” wall. Numerous times throughout the summer I would takeoff through the park with a camera and capture our team members in action. These photos were put up on the wall with a little caption and their first name. This was a great thing for the mornings because everyone would gather and talk about all the photos (and the comical captions)and really laugh and recognize their fellow team members. Though it’s not the recognition of a job well done, but by seeing their picture and name up on the wall for all to see it gave them a sense of belonging. And that is very important!

Once again Congratulations on being in this months edition of FunWorld and I hope life is treating you well!

Have Fun,


Feedback lessons from American Idol

For those following this season of ‘Idol’, you’ve heard the good, the bad and the ugly (speaking of performances) of what America has to offer in terms of singing talent.  What you have also heard are a number of very good examples of what NOT to do when providing feedback.

I know this is a TV show, and that the judges are there to JUDGE, but I wonder what the contestants really get out of the information shared after their performance.  Here’s what I mean…

Feedback is judgmental.  Again, I know it’s a TV show and they are supposed to judge the performance, but often it comes off as preachy and down right mean.  I think this happens when you lead with emotions and assigning “good” and “bad” labels to things, or talking about what you liked or didn’t like.  Immediately puts most people in a defensive mode.

Feedback not based on specific behaviors.  It bugs me when they say there were some pitch problems, or the performance was pitchy (which isn’t a word, by the way), without following up on where or when that happened.  How is the artist supposed to know what circumstances caused the pitch issues in the first place?  They also usually use vague terms that don’t mean much when you really think about them.

Feedback that contradicts itself.  I don’t know how many times we’ve heard the judges say be yourself, make the song your own, and then in the same breath say that you shouldn’t change a classic song so much – which is it??  Nothing like a mixed message to keep the performers guessing.  Not such a big surprise when they come back the next week and haven’t improved.

Feedback for improvement in public.  This is the ultimate public setting.  We’ve often heard (and said) to praise in public, correct in private.  (Even that can be tricky, but it’s a good rule of thumb.)  While the contestants KNOW this is part of the show, it can’t make it feel any better.

You are probably all way ahead of me when it comes to what to take away from this.  We’ll transport ourselves to the Bizarro World and do the exact opposite of the American Idol judges.

It may not get us on TV, but it will help make sure our employees have the information they need.

Thanks for reading!!

I’m published in FUNWORLD!

In early December of last year, I recounted an experience while in Las Vegas about being treated fairly.  I was contacted by the wonderful people at FUNWORLD magazine to put more of an amusement industry spin on it for an upcoming issue.  Of course I jumped right onto the computer and started typing. 

Click here to read the article in the March issue of FUNWORLD.   Enjoy!