Bad service – who gets a pass?

My wife and I just spent a few wonderful days with friends in the Black Hills of South Dakota.  Mount Rushmore, Deadwood, Crazy Horse, Wall Drug… it was a GREAT time!  We even got to stop and see my friends Cameron, Vivian and Mark at Rushmore Tramway Adventures (with a bonus ride in the Mammoth)! 

And of course, with great times come great guest service lessons! 

Because it was October, the area was in the wind-down phase of their busy season.  We caught our friends at Rushmore Tramway Adventures on the very last day of operation, and other establishments were closing up soon or were at skeleton staffing levels.

Unfortunately, two experiences stood out with underperforming/unprepared staff members, but they were received very differently.  Here they are – would love to hear your take.

  • Server 1 – mentioned multiple times that she was normally the bartender and was not used to waiting tables. The service at this restaurant was slow and inconsistent.  There seemed to be one ketchup bottle being shared by all tables (5 out 30 were occupied), and 4 out of 6 of our orders were delivered incorrectly.  When service recovery was performed, it was with an air of frustration.
  • Server 2 (different restaurant)- When asked what beers were on draught, the waiter said, “I’m not sure, it’s only my 4th day.”  He was young and timid, hoping against hope to make it to his 5th day. “Could you find out, please?”, we asked. “Sure”, he said, and disappeared.  He came back with a written list. His confidence grew throughout the meal, and when service recovery was needed this time, there was a sincere apology AND a 10% discount on the bill.  In fact, one of our pizza’s came without the pepperoni we ordered.  We were too hungry to wait for another pizza to be made, so he brought out some cooked pepperoni to add to the pizza that had been delivered.

When analyzing the groups’ reaction, it confirmed something I have believed for a long time about service… people don’t necessarily want service perfection, but they do want effort and don’t want to hear excuses.  To me, the bartender telling us she wasn’t normally a server felt like an excuse.

I think it felt like an excuse because she didn’t put forth any effort to overcome the deficit.  We joked that she was probably also responsible for housekeeping, maintenance and renting kayaks at the lake during the summer… and she would have rather been doing any of those activities at that time.

It may be a fine line, but server 2, after announcing that it was his fourth day, never returned to the scene of the crime.  He didn’t use his lack of experience as a crutch. He smiled, answered our questions, apologized for errors, made efforts to improve, and actually did improve, right before our eyes.

Here’s what I find interesting… server 1 was probably in her late 30’s or early 40’s (I am a terrible judge of age), and had a worn name tag, like she had been working at this establishment for some time. She’s the experienced one who fell back on the “this isn’t my normal job” excuse. You would think, hope and maybe even expect that with her level of experience at that hotel/restaurant, that she would be able to jump in to many different positions and perhaps not excel, but at least not act like a fish out of water, either.

By contrast, server 2 was probably in his early 20’s, admittedly in his 4th day of employment at that restaurant, and didn’t seem to possess a TON of worldly work experience.  He was the one who busted his hump to make things right.

And who knows, maybe server 1 was like server 2 on her 4th day on the job?  Maybe she LEARNED how to shirk responsibility and play the victim from the people around her and her – GASP – leaders! Since we know that leaders have a tremendous impact on employee morale, engagement and productivity, she could just be reacting to her environment.

What are the lessons?

  • Cross train early and often – to combat the “not my job” syndrome at the end of a long season, prepare those who will be with you to the very end.  Create a plan to have them ready to take on the new role BEFORE others vacate the job.  Just because it’s the end of the season, it doesn’t mean that training is automatically easier or less time consuming (if you do it right).  When cross training is done at the 11th hour, it can be viewed as a desperation move, and people will be less likely to see it as an opportunity.  Doing it early gives you a chance to reframe the conversation from “oh crap, we have to do this” to “this is what we planned all along.”
  • Encourage effort, even if not perfect – server 2 wasn’t perfect, but he did display a good amount of effort.  That effort needs to be encouraged so he will put forth the effort again. That effort might show up as learning the draught beers by heart or reaffirming the order with the kitchen.
  • Discourage the “victim voice” – Even as you reframe the conversation with early cross training, you may still hear people saying “it’s not my job”, or “I normally don’t do this”. If they say it, they believe it.  If they believe it, their actions will reflect it. There is no need to beat them over the head with “it IS your job!  Your job description says ‘and other duties as assigned!'” Instead, talk to them about their objections… maybe learning a new area brings them back to new hire fears… maybe they have gotten so comfortable (and it’s taken awhile) that they don’t feel they can achieve that level of skill in such a short time.  They need to SEE for themselves that it IS their job (and that it will be okay) before they start telling themselves that.

What do you think? What do you do to prepare your team for the end of the season?

And oh… would you have given a “pass” to server 1 or 2?  Neither?  Both?  Let me know.

Server 2 gets a pass from me.  Server 1?  Not so much.

Thanks for reading!

FREE Event in Orlando – November 12, 2017

Seating is limited!  Click the pic for details and tickets!

If you liked that post…

Many of you have been faithful readers since I started this blog back in 2009. THANK YOU!! I love hearing about how you use the stories to better yourself and your business and quite frankly, that’s what keeps me going!

That’s also what led me to put together over 80 of my favorite leadership articles into one, free, downloadable eBook.

How do you get it? Click this link and enter your email so we know where to send it.  That’s it.

Should you have any trouble with the download, let me know right away.

Happy reading!!

Visiting 7 amusement parks in 7 days taught us…

CNC17 (Coaster Nerd Con) is but a memory (and a bunch of Facebook posts), but the lessons learned still linger!

For those who like data, here are a few things to chew on:

  • Number of rides and coasters ridden: 52 rides on 27 coasters
  • Number 1 coaster of the trip (IMO) – Renegade at Valleyfair (especially in the rain at night!) Super fast, lots of airtime, and out. of. control.
  • Total length of all coaster track ridden: just over 28 miles
  • Day 1 of trip in MN – 59 degrees
  • Day 7 of trip in TX – 95 degrees (biggest temp swing on any CNC trip)
  • Total driving miles: just under 1300 miles

So what did we learn?  As I mentioned in my last post, we observed that an old concept is still true: the parks with the more visibly engaged management teams also had the best performing employees.

And the parks where this was most evident were Adventureland, Six Flags Fiesta Texas, and Silver Dollar City*.

I put an asterisk by Silver Dollar City because while we did see engaged management, there was something else going on there.  Something beyond employees and managers and good guest service.  At SDC, it wasn’t about a theme, it was about a lifestyle.  There was something so genuine about the experience that you didn’t feel you were in a “park”. It’s more like stepping into another time and the people aren’t employees or cast members or actors playing a role, this is who they are.  And for many, this is absolutely true.  For the craftspeople and artisans that line the foot trails, this IS their life.  And others around them embrace it.  I didn’t feel like anyone was putting on a “show” (unless they were literally part of a show) but that they were just living their lives and we had been invited to be a part of it.

While you can’t replicate that kind of atmosphere everywhere, you can replicate the genuineness that people display.  Whether you run a museum, zoo, theme park or FEC, allowing and encouraging people to use their talents and creativity on the job generally leads to higher satisfaction levels for both employees and guests.

Here are some things we oberserva-learned (made that up) during our trip:

  • Valleyfair – speaking of letting people be creative, there is no better way to stifle that creativity than to surrender your safety spiels and announcements wholly to an automated system. Luckily, Valleyfair balances this pretty well.  On many rides, we heard operators using the theme or name of the ride in their speils.  On High Roller (roller coaster), the operator would say, “enjoy your ride on the Hiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiigh Roller!” – and they would hold that out until the last car left the station.  At Renegade, they said “Yee Haw” as you left the station.  In both cases, guests were playing along, which enhanced their experience.  You can’t do that with a recorded speil that says the same thing every 45 seconds.  People tune those out.
  • Nickelodeon Universe – It was hard not to be nostalgic both here and at Valleyfair, since I had worked at both places. At NU though, the changes over the years not only included new rides and attractions, but a new name, brand and theme.  When I was there is was Knott’s Camp Snoopy, and it was themed to the woods of the upper mid-west.  It was cool and quaint and really neat.  And while there are some elements of the old park still there (like home plate from the old Met stadium), there are also LOTS of new things to dazzle the kiddies and extend a stay at the Mall.  And that’s when the “don’t do what you’ve always done” lesson kicked in.  It would have been neat for me to see the park exactly as it was when I worked there, but that would have been bad for business (most notably since the Knott’s name was no longer able to be used!).  For any business to survive, they have to change, grow, and adapt.  And that’s exactly what has happened.  The park has evolved to offer new and fresh experiences that keep people coming back.
  • Adventureland – This was our first visit, and boy were we impressed.  We enjoyed the mix of rides, the cleanliness of the park and the friendliness of the employees. It really shows that you don’t need a Disney or Universal sized budget to provide a great experience and excel in all areas of operation.  It just takes a commitment to quality and knowing who you are so you aren’t trying to be something that you’re not. PS – Petunia the Pig says hello!
  • World’s of Fun – Despite the rain (and it RAINED!), we had a great time at World’s of Fun! This was largely due to our tour guides, former IAAPA Ambassador and friend Deborah Burnett and her roommate Koen.

    Just before the deluge!

    They both have a deep love of the park and it’s history, and it was so fun hanging out with them and hearing their stories.  What this reiterated to me was that enthusiasm really is contagious, and that a positive attitude can make even a rainy day at an amusement park a fun and memorable experience.  Don’t let others, or the conditions of your situation, stifle your natural enthusiasm about something… there are others who need to see your example.

  • Silver Dollar City – See above! Oh, and do the cave tour.  It rocks.
  • Six Flags Over Texas – File this under, “you may not think people notice, but they do!”  Okay, so we rode The New Texas Giant a bunch of times on this visit.  A bunch. When we rode it first thing in the morning, there was a young lady with red hair at the controls, and she was there just about every time we rode. Toward the end of the night, she was still there, however this time she was on the load side of the platform where we could talk to her.  As we entered the station, she smiled and said in a humorous way, “oh you guys are back?  Going to the front seat again?”  Apparently, we made an impression – and were predictable! The point is that while I could see her diligently watching the ride when at the controls position, it hadn’t dawned on me that she was actually paying attention to us – so much so that she remembered us and where we sat. Thinking back to my operating days, this really shouldn’t have come as a surprise.  I remember when the same people would ride over and over and again, and it was fun to interact with them.  This also proves that as a leader, people are watching you, too. Your employees, guests, managers and peers – they all notice what you do, even if you don’t notice that they’ve noticed.
  • Six Flags Fiesta Texas – this is where the “visible management = better performing employees” really came to life.  While at the park, we had the great pleasure of getting to hang out with Park President Jeffrey Siebert, Director of Marketing Ron McKenzie, and Admissions/Waterpark Manager Josh Parisher.  And while a bunch of the time was spent geeking out and talking “theme parks”, we also got to observe these three in their natural habitat… talking to guests and employees, picking up trash and setting an incredible example for employees to follow.  One of the first things Jeffrey did while walking us through the park was to straighten a trash can on the walkway.  I found myself later wanting to do the same thing, almost as if I had stepped back into my management shoes and was suddenly responsible for such things.  But what was most impressive was how each of them, at different times, broke away from our conversations to address an employee, usually by name, and genuinely interact with them for a few moments.  We could tell by the employees’ reactions that this seemed to be a pretty normal occurrence, that talking to the upper management was not out of the ordinary. There were genuine smiles and conversations that only happen when a trusted relationship had been established. We also saw this when we weren’t with these three.  By and large the employees were friendly and efficient, and absolutely added to an outstanding overall guest experience.

A quick recap:

  • Find ways to let your employees use their creativity
  • Honor the past, but don’t get stuck in it
  • Budgets don’t determine quality, your commitment does
  • Let your enthusiasm be contagious
  • Be genuine, be who you are, know who you are
  • People notice what you do
  • Visible management = better performing employees (bonus – it all starts at the top!)

For some of you, there could be a few “A-HA” moments in there that you can work to implement.  For others, this may be validation of current practices.

For those of who KNOW this stuff but for some reason aren’t doing it, I challenge to think about why.  Is it you, your team, your company?  What is standing in the way?  What will it take to knock down the roadblocks?  Sometimes it can be hard to identify specifically what’s holding things back.  Let me know if you need some ideas about where to look.

Our itinerary for CNC18 is already in the works! Stay tuned for where we will go (and what we will learn) when we venture out next year!

Thanks for reading!

NEWS YOU CAN USE!!

Did this post get you thinking about how to develop your own leadership skills?  How about the skills of others?

For you:

Attractions Mastermind Group – a small, trusted group of peers who meet regularly to discuss issues and support one another

For your team:

The Myth of Employee Burnout Supervisor Training Program – self-guided 8 week program that helps leaders build skills, relationships, and avoid burnout!!

4th of July… Resolutions?

If Jason McClure from Cedar Point can do a fun July 4th/Thanksgiving mash-up as a clever way to recognize his employees, I thought a July 4th/New Year’s mash-up might be fun, too!

Truth be told, I’m not big on actual New Year’s Resolutions, as they rarely last. What I am a fan of is when we we truly commitment to what we believe in.  And if you believe in your employees, there is no better time than right now to recommit and RESOLVE to support and guide them.

I will soon be sharing more of my observations during #CNC17 (Coaster Nerd Con) in which two buddies and I visited 7 parks over the last week, but what I can tell you now is this: the parks with the more visibly engaged management teams also had the best performing employees.

This really shouldn’t be a surprise if you have been following my rants about employee burnout for the last few years.  A leaders’ engagement has a direct impact on how an employee feels about their job and to what lengths they will go to be good at it.

The graph below shows what I have found to be the trend when tracking employee engagement.  Managers start off strong as employees are coming on board and the season is ramping up. As the season gets into full swing, if the management team disengages with employees or spends less time guiding and coaching them, employee engagement (morale, enthusiasm, energy) suffers (and it’s REALLY hard to get back).

Now, let’s not confuse leadership engagement with being busy – they are two different things. You can be doing a lot of stuff with very little time left at the end of the day.  But, are you doing the right things?  Are you taking an active role in the continued development of your team? Are you looking for and evaluating possible candidates to be in leadership roles next year?  Are you eliciting suggestions for improvements from your staff?

Heck, are you just out there with your team so they can see you?  At a few of the parks we went to, we didn’t see ANY management presence for about 90% of our day – and we were looking!  You can’t say you are engaged and only spend 10% of your time (if that) in the actual operation.

Contrast that with the parks that had engaging, service minded employees.  You saw a lot of this:

That is a manager at Six Flags Fiesta Texas picking up a piece of trash.  We saw this ALL DAY LONG there.  It made me, as a guest, want to pick up trash, too – which I did!  They were setting a great example, and the employees (and guests) were following it.

Now it’s your turn.  What is your 4th of July resolution?  What are you going to commit (or recommit) to that will help your employees feel supported and engaged?

If you feel so inclined, leave your resolution in the comments or email me here.  Would love to hear what you are committing to!

Thanks for reading!

DON’T LET YOUR EMPLOYEES BURNOUT THIS SEASON!!

You can prepare your supervisors to identify and eliminate burnout before it happens – but you have to start NOW! The Myth of Employee Burnout Supervisor Development Program was designed with your busy schedule in mind!

“I am super excited about the Myth class. I have noticed a marked improvement in my supervisors who took the course. Their interactions with the employees they supervise have improved. They have a sense of purpose and belonging. The time spent in class definitely advanced their skills to the next level.”

  — Sam Gage, Director  of Operations, Silverwood Theme Park

Click here, or the picture below to learn more!!

 

 

 

 

Call me a coaster nerd, I really don’t mind

It’s time.

Yes, it’s time for CNC17 (coaster nerd con), where two buddies and I descend on one particular area of the country and begin an epic roller coaster road trip.  This year’s trip will kick off June 24th in Minneapolis.

Our final stop on CNC16!

This year, it seems like every stop is EXTRA special:

Here is our route in case you want to follow along or if you are ON the route and want to say HI!  (We do allow tag-a-longs, as long as you are willing to ride the coasters over and over and over again!)

And you can bet your sweet bippy that we’ll not only be evaluating the airtime and lateral G’s on the coasters, but we’ll also be making notes about guest service, food, cleanliness, etc.  In other words, the whole enchilada (and maybe one of those, too)!

While I’m gone, I have an assignment for you.  Take a good look at you and your leadership team.  What do you need?  What will help take you or your team’s leadership to the next level (or just help you get through the season)?

If it’s something I offer (like the list of links below), give me a shout and we’ll chat! Even if it’s not, let me know and I will help you find the resource(s) you need.  That’s how I Help Leaders Lead!

See you on the midway – thanks for reading!!

DON’T LET YOUR EMPLOYEES BURNOUT THIS SEASON!!

You can prepare your supervisors to identify and eliminate burnout before it happens – but you have to start NOW! The Myth of Employee Burnout Supervisor Development Program was designed with your busy schedule in mind!

“I am super excited about the Myth class. I have noticed a marked improvement in my supervisors who took the course. Their interactions with the employees they supervise have improved. They have a sense of purpose and belonging. The time spent in class definitely advanced their skills to the next level.”

  — Sam Gage, Director  of Operations, Silverwood Theme Park

Click here, or the picture below to learn more!!

 

Something positive worth shouting from the rooftops

On October 4-5, I was scheduled to work with the leadership team at Zoo Miami. Unfortunately, this was also the time frame that Hurricane Matthew was ripping it’s way through the tropics with an eye on the eastern Florida coast.

Because hurricanes are hard to predict further that 12 hours out (despite being talked about around-the-clock), we weren’t sure when, or how significantly, the Miami area would be affected. We got through our Tuesday and Wednesday morning programs with no issues, but it was decided that we would postpone our Wednesday afternoon sessions so that employees could prepare the zoo, their homes, and their families, and I could try to get a flight out before the airlines felt the need to suspend operation.

This is where the story gets shout-worthy.

My flight was on Delta, and so I did the responsible thing of calling the reservation number while also checking flights online that I might be able to change to. Given the call volume, my wait was listed as over 2 hours. Crazy, but expected given the circumstances.

As I refreshed my searches, I saw flights disappearing. I clearly wasn’t the only one who wanted to get out of Dodge (or Miami) earlier than planned.

I didn’t want to wait for 2 more hours and risk losing any of these flights, so I went ahead and changed my reservation online. There was a fare difference that I would have to pay for and a reservation change fee. Okay, them’s the breaks of travel – it is what it is.

BUT – I got a flight that would get me out of the way of the storm, so I was happy.

The next day, as I was waiting in the Miami airport, I got an email from my wife that included an article about airlines waiving the reservation change fees because of the hurricane.

Hmmm… wonder if they would waive mine, even after the fact. So I called.

Still a one to two hour wait on the phone. By then I would be on the plane.

That’s when it hit me. In the contact section of the Fly Delta app, it also included their Twitter handle.

So I sent this tweet.

A few clarifying tweets later and I was asked for my reservation number in a Direct Message.

By the next morning, I had a Twitter message stating that they were refunding my reservation change fee. No other questions asked.

Sweet! That takes a little of the sting out of the extra expense.

Moreover, it provides us some lessons about service recovery.

  • Have multiple ways for your guests to contact you. Honestly, I wasn’t surprised that the wait to speak to an agent was as long as it was. These weren’t exactly normal travel conditions. Lucky for me they also had people monitoring Twitter (and I’m guessing other social channels). Oddly enough, it never even dawned on me to approach one of the Delta employees working the multiple gates in the H concourse of Miami International. Don’t know if they could have helped, but they were there. That’s at least three different ways to contact someone for resolution.
  • React quickly. Again, I don’t really blame Delta for the long phone waits. I do COMMEND them for the quick response via Twitter – not only to correspond with me, but also to actually issue the refund. All they asked for was my reservation code, and the next thing I know they are refunding my fee.   I didn’t have to fill anything out, go through an inquisition or prove my case. I would imagine the agent did their research without needing me… they looked up my reservation, saw that I was originally scheduled to leave at 9 am Thursday morning and did in fact change it the night before to leave 16 hours earlier. From my original tweet to the message coming through stating my refund was being processed, it was less than 10 hours. I had the refund for this BEFORE my original flight was supposed to take off. DANG!
  • Make it easy for your employees. I don’t know what the process was behind the scenes, but for my tweet to be received, researched and processed within such a short period of time, the process has to have some efficiency to it. Make it easy for your employees to take care of your guests, and they will. Make it complicated or convoluted and they will find every excuse to circumvent your service initiatives.

Want more customer service and service recovery resources?  Check out the LeaderTips: Guest Service ebook!

So, the outcome could be seen as me getting a refund and us learning some things about service recovery. But the story doesn’t end there.

When I got on the plane, I was sitting in seat 1C. I got to talking with the guy in 1D, and told him that I had just booked the flight the night before. He said, “that’s strange, that seat has been booked for weeks.”

How and why he knew that was puzzling, until he said…

“I’ve been in seat 1C on my last 83 flights in a row. I tried to get it on this one but it was taken when I booked the flight.”

Needless to say, we switched seats so he could make it 84 flights in a row.

He then said that he ALWAYS flies Delta. He said, “I know it’s a big company, but they always take care of me.”

So it’s a story about a refund, lessons on service recovery and LOYALTY. Taking care of people leads to loyalty.  I know I felt taken care of by the agents monitoring Twitter that night.

And THAT is worth shouting from the rooftops!

Thanks for reading!

Matt

visit-me-wwa

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.

What can we learn from this?

One of my first paintball experiences was in college, when a few buddies and I decided to see what the game was all about.  We had fun, but it was clear we were not as “into it” as some of the other players.

Because there were only three or four of us, we were grouped with other players to make a full game – probably 6 or 7 per team.  At the end of the first game (in which we really didn’t know what we were doing but had fun anyway), one of the other guys on our team gathers us around for a strategy session.Paintball_Player“What can we learn from this?”, he asked the group.

If he wasn’t as serious as a heat attack, I probably wouldn’t remember it so vividly, but this guy was not about to lose again.  I remember thinking, um… “shoot the other people before they shoot you?”  That was my takeaway. I thought that answer was too simplistic, so I kept my mouth shut and let the real strategists work their magic.

Until recently, I sort of got a chuckle when I recalled this incident. I couldn’t believe (at the time) that this guy was SO into this friendly game of paintball. Of course now, as a training professional, I ask myself that same question all the time.

I go to a restaurant and get lousy service… “what can we learn from this?”

I rent a car and get great service… “what can we learn from this?”

I recall my first paintball experience about a guy asking “what can we learn from this?”… “what can we learn from this?”

The vast majority of these experiences become blog posts or stories I tell in my training classes.  Why?  Because there IS a lesson there, if you are willing to look for it.

And that was the light bulb moment that happened for me when I was on a plane recently, inexplicably recalling the paintball drill sergeant.  He was so into it that he wanted to up his game, improve his standing, and wipe out the competition.

I think it’s when we are “into” things that we have a genuine desire to improve and to learn more.  We’ve probably reached a certain maturity in that skill and now can see that there are ways to get better and we are willing to figure out how to get there.

As a paintball novice, I didn’t know or care about how to get better.  I was going to shoot a few people with paint and call it a day. Game over.

But this leadership thing… this customer service thing… this employee engagement thing… I am whole-heartedly INTO those things.  So I ask the questions.

Do you find yourself asking those questions?  If so, what about?  Is it about your role as a leader or the engagement of your team?  Is it about building model railroads, mountain biking or exotic food?  When we examine the topics that command our curiosity, we start to uncover our passions.

If you are trying to find your passion, or tap into the passions of your team, that’s the question you need to ask.  “What am I constantly (and naturally – with no prodding from anyone else) trying to get better at?”  “What do my employees (individually) care so much about that they are willing to take the time, effort and energy to learn more about it and improve their performance?”

I mentioned maturity earlier in relation to a skill, but I also think there is a maturity in knowing that you don’t know everything. When you know what you are passionate about, you know there is so much more to learn… then it seems that everything becomes a learning opportunity.

So I will ask you, what did you learn from this?

Thanks for reading!

Matt

It’s more than a book – it’s a training system! 

The Myth of Employee Burnout has been used by several companies as a text book for training their new supervisors. One company said it lead to double-digit growth in productivity and employee satisfaction.  Wouldn’t you like to see how it could do that for you, too?

Book cover with amazon

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Performance Optimist Consulting and Amusement Advantage are strategic
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engage their employees, amaze their guests and improve business processes.

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