Align your car, align your business

For the last few weeks, my car had been acting funny.  The tires are in near new condition, yet in the rain it would hydroplane, and even on dry pavement it didn’t seem to hug the road very well.  A friend said that sounded like an alignment problem, so I made an appointment and took it in.

Turns out, 3 of the 4 wheels were well out of whack.  I was given a read out much like the one pictured that showed the before and after condition of my car.  Luckily, they have adopted the red is bad, green is good system for us automotive morons.  I immediately noticed a difference when I drove the car away from the repair shop, and was glad and proud and relieved, all at the same time.

As I told my wife about this experience, she said, “that sounds a lot like what you and Scot are doing, but for businesses.”  Leave it to my wife to point out something obvious that is right in front of my nose.

She was right. Since the end of 2010, Scot Carson of Amusement Advantage and I have been working together to help businesses figure out where they are out of whack, and provide tools, resources and advise about how to “re-align” their business practices.

If you don’t know Scot, he runs the only mystery shopping service that is exclusive to the attractions industry.  He had a number of clients asking about additional insight that could be gained from a report, or from looking at multiple reports, and that’s what I get to do.  I’ll look at an entire season of reports, for example, and pull out the trends in employee behavior and guest experience that business owners can use to improve the way they lead, treat their employees or interact with their guests.  In other words, a business check-up, with re-alignment if needed.

“Working with Matt has given us the ability to provide our clients with a third party comprehensive analysis of their mystery shopping results.  We highlight trends and patterns in terms of positive and negative guest experiences and provide suggestions for actionable improvements and recognition.  It’s a fantastic way to yield an even greater return on our mystery shopping programs!” -Scot Carson

Like Scot said, we do talk about what is good and what is not-so-good in the reports.  People like (and need) to know when they are doing things right, and these reports identify a whole lot of goodness going on.  So there are “green” sections in the reports, and then there are the “red” sections.

Because we are often looking at the reports after the season ends, we are not focused on changing or “fixing” a particular employees’ behavior.  Instead, it is more important for us to identify the trends or conditions that influenced the negative behavior, so we can figure out the long-term solution about how to fix it.

So, if you feel like your car needs to be realigned, take it to a qualified mechanic.  If you need your business realigned, that’s what Scot and I are here for.

If you’ll be at the IAAPA Expo, plan to stop by and see us at booth #3927!

Thanks for reading!

Be careful what you make “mandatory”

The other day I visited a local Firehouse Subs.  As usual, when I walked in the door, I heard an unorganized chorus of “Welcome to Firehouse” from the employees behind the counter.  I didn’t look to see if they had even looked up from making sandwiches or queued off the sound of the door.  I’ll be honest, I’m not a fan of these “gang welcomes” that a number of quick serv establishments have adopted, but the experience of walking through the door and being yelled at alone did not prompt this blog post. It was something else.

Before I get to that, let me tell you why I am not a fan of this practice.

  1. It’s an interruption – If someone is diligently making a sandwich, let them make the sandwich.  It interrupts the service an employee may be providing to the person right in front of them so they can “welcome” another patron.  Isn’t the person in front of them worth their full and undivided attention?
  2. It’s generally insincere – Because this is probably a mandatory action, it has become rote.  No thought, no expression, just when the door opens, you yell.  Do it or else. That’s a warm and fuzzy all around.
  3. It’s UNwelcoming – The purpose is to greet and acknowledge that a customer has just arrived.  Yelling at them insincerely ought to accomplish that, don’t you think?

Now that I have that off my chest, let me tell you why this particular visit got my attention.

As my sandwich was being made, another patron walked in the door.  One employee blurted out, “Welcome to Firehouse”, then the employee standing right in front of me, making my sandwich, repeated the “greeting” in the most mechanical, emotionally void and insincere way.  He didn’t even look up from his task.  Par for the course for what I have seen so far.

Still, that’s not why I am writing this. It’s what happened next.

The employee who made my sandwich, wrapped it up and put it in a bag.  He then looked directly at me, smiled a very genuine smile, and with all the warmth and care of Mother Teresa, said, “Here you go, sir.  Hope you enjoy your day.”  It was like a ray of sunshine had taken over his body!

Did he REALLY go from robot to caring human being in less than 5 seconds?  I was blown away.

So I very quickly made a distinction between the last two phrases I heard him utter.  The first was likely something he had to say, was strongly encouraged to say, and might even get in trouble if he doesn’t say.

The second one, he WANTED to say.  And that’s what most people don’t understand about service.  Try as we might, great customer service does NOT come from a book, a policy, a rule or a mandatory phrase.  It ONLY comes from a genuine desire to help someone else.

If you are having trouble creating an environment where your employees want to provide great service, I can help with that so give me a call if you want.

But only if you want to… it’s not mandatory.

Thanks for reading!

Motivation lessons from my billiards app

We all probably have our favorite “go to” apps to help us pass the time. Who hasn’t played Angry Birds or Words with Friends while waiting in line somewhere? For me, nothing passes the time like billiards.

In this particular version, though, I can’t seem to lose.

And I have tried to lose. The computer misses really easy shots, and won’t sink the 8 ball. The only way that player 2 wins is if I happen to sink the 8 ball before I am supposed to.

I thought maybe I was in trial or amateur mode, but there is no such setting.

So, I found myself pushing the envelope just to see what was possible. I started trying all sorts of combination and bank shots, I even “ran the table” sinking ALL the balls just to see what my opponent would do. My challenge was no longer in winning, I was actually trying to see IF I could lose or what I could get away with to see if that changed the outcome. It didn’t. I still won.

You’d think I would be happy with all that winning, but when the option of losing was taken away, the thrill of victory became a little less special.

Do you have employees who try to get away with the absolute minimum, or do things that are so outrageous that you just wonder what planet they came from?  Chances are they feel there will be no significant consequence to these actions – mostly because that is what you have shown them to be true in the past.

When there is no chance of losing your job, keeping your job seems a little less special.

Lessons from the app

  • Allow people to lose – Not everyone is going to succeed at a job in your company.  Don’t devalue your good employees by keeping the bad employees around.  You are essentially saying, “We’ll put up with anything.”  And that’s what you’ll start to get.
  • Challenge your employees – encourage them to push the envelope FOR the company, not in spite of it.
  • Don’t miss the easy shots – Correcting small missteps in performance and behavior when you first see them is MUCH easier than waiting for an employee to embark on a quest to see just how little they can do because they don’t think anyone is watching.

Have a leadership dilemma that can’t be solved by studying the billiards app?  Let me know!

Thanks for reading!

Will the green arrow save you?

No, the green arrow I am talking about is not a super hero, the green arrow is literally, a green arrow.

And it can’t save you. But I have a feeling a lot of people are waiting for it to.

The other day I was sitting at a traffic light, waiting to make a left-hand turn across a large, usually busy intersection. I was the first car in line, so moving forward was dependent on my actions. In front of me was a green light, but NOT the green left-hand turn signal. What was also in front me, was open road. Not a car to be seen coming the other way to impede my progress.

Yet, I sat there. Partly because I was lost in the song that was playing, partly because I had been conditioned to wait for the green arrow when turning left.

In this case, it was perfectly legal and safe to make the left turn, but it took a while for that message to make it to my brain. I guess I was waiting for it to be ultra-super safe.

That made me wonder how many times in our lives are we poised to move forward, yet we wait for some sort of condition, or in this case a signal, to tell us that it’s ultra-super safe to move forward and that there will be no risk in doing so?

Me thinks, a lot.

I know I’ve done it. When Linda and I were discussing whether or not to rebuild our website, there were many unknown factors. We had a green light in terms of having a business model that had been successful for four years, but could we sustain it? Could we make it work as a full-time business? At some point it would have been great to get the “green arrow” in terms of removing the risk from such a move, but that wasn’t going to happen. With any new venture, there is risk.

What green arrows are you waiting for? In what areas of your life or career are you waiting for the ultra-super safe signal to move ahead, when current conditions are potentially as favorable as they are ever going to be?

If you are struggling with a decision, don’t be afraid to try the old pro/con list. It may not be fancy, but it is effective in helping clarify your thoughts while putting the real benefits and challenges into a workable format.

What I really like about the con list, is that it gives you a to do list.  If done properly, it lays out the obstacles you need to overcome to avoid some of the risk. The pro column also shows the real and tangible benefits of the action. You may find the risk isn’t worth the potential outcome.

Or is it?

Thanks for reading!

About the author:  Matt Heller was listening to Rush’s Clockwork Angels when sitting at the light, being inspired to write this post.  Matt also produces a monthly newsletter with additional insight and articles.  To sign-up for email delivery, click here.

Got a leadership dilemma? Ask me!

Turn that team around!

The other day I was lucky enough to have lunch with a friend and former colleague, Dallas Hobbs. For the last few years, Dallas has been working at a local resort, and over lunch was telling me about the team he inherited a few years ago. There was drama, in-fighting and lots of “under-the-bus” throwing. He said it took awhile, but finally he had the team firing on all cylinders and willing to bend over backwards for each other.

You know me… I had to ask him how he did it.

Here’s what he said:

  • Got rid of the wrong people – Dallas quickly assessed who the trouble makers were and gave them a chance to follow his rules and vision.  When they didn’t, it was time for them to seek employment elsewhere.  How many of us have bad apples on our teams that are doing nothing but bringing morale and productivity down?  And why are they still working for you?
  • Was willing to be short staffed – when you remove people from your staff, you need to replace them, just maybe not right away.  Dallas was willing (even though it was difficult) to run with a skeleton crew while he took the time to find the right people to build up his team.  He had to really figure out what the team needed, and the only way to do that is to observe them over time. Which leads us to…
  • Hire for what the team needs – Dallas went beyond the basic job description of a position he was hiring for, and looked at what strengths and weaknesses the current team possessed. He realized that to simply hire more of what he already had would be a mistake.  He needed balance.  He needed people that could interact with guests AND take care of the paperwork, setting-up equipment and all the other nitty gritty, less glamorous stuff.
  • Hire the person, not the resume – In his quest to find balance, Dallas didn’t necessarily look for people who already had experience in his exact field.  He looked for people who liked to do the “type” of work he had for them to do, so he hired based on personality and skill, rather than simply looking at experience. One of his most successful employees had never worked in this type of environment before, where as one of his least successful hires had tons of relevant experience.  The latter was so stuck in her old ways that she couldn’t adapt to the new environment.

And the kicker…

  • Change supervisor mentality from reactive to proactive – Many supervisors pride themselves on being good at putting out fires.  Unfortunately, if all you are doing is reacting to the daily issues, you will never have a chance to look forward to be able to make things better and actually LEAD your team.  Dallas got them to identify what was causing the fires in the first place so they could eliminate them from happening.  That way they would have more time to be proactive and look to the future, rather than always looking toward the past.

So clearly this was not an overnight process.  It was painful at times, and it probably took a lot of effort to get people to come around and work as a team.

But eventually they did.  And now Dallas can focus on moving forward, instead of worrying about which way the bus is going.

Are you having issues with your team?  How could some of these suggestions work for you?

Thanks for reading!

About the author: Matt Heller is always looking for great stories about teamwork and leadership in order to give his readers and clients as many different perspectives as possible.  If you have a compelling story you are willing to share, let’s hear it!  Either leave a comment or email Matt directly.