This is part 3 of a 10 part “how to” series covering the points in the infographic below.
For a long time there was (and maybe still is) a movement to try to remove all risk from the jobs that our employees do. We worked to simplify, streamline and dare I say… idiot-proof many of the tasks and procedures that our employees are engaged in.
Part of the reason could have been safety… too many accidents or even near accidents. That makes sense. But there was also a pervasive mindset that while we’re making things safer, let’s also make them easier.
“It’ll be easier to train this position and our employees can get up to speed faster.” What that really says is that we can spend fewer of our precious training dollars on teaching them complex tasks. Along this same line, many conversations in management offices were also lamenting the fact that the young workforce just couldn’t handle those tasks.
“They don’t have the work ethic, discipline… blah, blah, blah… so we’ve gotta make these jobs idiot-proof – you won’t even need to THINK to do it.”
And there in-lies the problem. Sure, you’ve shaved some time off the training schedule and saved a few bucks, but now you have a job that no one really wants to do. You want top talent in your organization, serving your guests? Don’t give them simpleton, dumbed-down jobs to do. After all, the only person who WANTS to do an idiot-proof job is… well… an idiot.
So here we are, with (potentially) oversimplified jobs and training schedules that produce mundane, apathetic performance in the field. Why? Because our employees are not given the chance to do what they are naturally wired for – survive in a challenging environment.
Of course it may not LOOK like that to you, their manager, but regardless of generation, race, creed, color or ethnic background, humans are largely wired the same. We’re survivors, and we rise to the expectations and challenges that are set up for us (given the right circumstances, motivations, and environment, of course).
No challenge = no need to try any harder
Yes, you may have some slackers and under-performers, but I would argue that it’s not because of a lack of drive to survive, but a lack of the right environment where they feel it’s important (or necessary) to accept the challenge in front of them. We’re not running from sabre-tooth tigers anymore, so we have to be a little more creative in presenting these situations.
These “situations” are the jobs we hire our employees for. Interacting with guests, running rides, selling tickets, flipping hamburgers… so many of these jobs that have been sanitized for your protection. Now, I am certainly not advocating that we remove safety procedures or mechanisms, but what challenge this poses for US is how to make these mundane and risk averse jobs more interesting. Give them something to do, something to think about, some way to use their brain on a regular basis.
To me, this means making some new activity a higher expectation than it was before. For example, let’s take a greeter at an attraction. Their job is to greet, check heights, screen for loose articles, etc. At busy times, this can be challenging, but the surge of guests may ebb and flow throughout the day. What is their challenge when it’s a little slower? Do we give them anything else to do during those times?
Do we teach them how to engage a stranger in conversation? When the line is stopped near the greeter, and there is a period of time that passes that the greeter and a group of guests are standing within a few feet of each other… what do we often see the greeter doing? Looking around, looking at the ground, looking longingly at the ride platform hoping their next rotation comes soon… How about in those instances we teach and encourage our employees to engage in conversation with the guests? We teach them about conversation starters and visual cues so that they can talk to the guests, which makes the time go by faster for everyone.
I know what you’re going to say… we teach those things in orientation. Great, but how much time do you spend with them at the greeter position following up? How often are you out there setting the example? How much of a priority is it for you? If you say “not much”, then it’s not going to be much of a priority for your employees, either. They aren’t going to see this is as a true challenge or even a job duty. It’s just something “they” talk about but don’t really expect us to do.
I also think sometimes we let people “off the hook” to be the best they can be at even the “mundane” jobs. We know it’s easy, so we don’t expect people to put a whole lot of effort into it. If we don’t think the job is important, they won’t either.
Here are some other ways to challenge employees that are not so job specific:
- Ask them to work on a project to improve something. Need more efficiency, higher sales, etc., ask your employees to help come up with ideas. BONUS – if you implement their ideas, they’ll have MUCH higher buy-in than if you came up with the same idea.
- When they complain about something, ask for a solution. Follow-up with them in a few days or a week and ask them what they came up with.
- Hold them to the high standards you already have. Seeing the high expectations many companies have for their employees, starting with enforcing the standards you already have can be challenging enough.
As I re-read this post to make sure I hadn’t forgotten anything (which is still possible!), I noticed a trend. A lot of what it takes to challenge people is in the follow-up – which I know is a HUGE challenge for leaders. So maybe we start there… dedicate yourself to following-up with your team… what you say…. what you do… what you expect. Make what you SAY is important BE important to others.
You have to rise to THAT challenge before we can talk about how to further challenge our employees. Are you up for it?
Next up: Promoted
Thanks for reading!
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.