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!!

Your impact will have a long shelf life

At the recent Florida Attractions Association conference, we got to hear from Brett Culp, an award-winning filmmaker who helps tell the stories of ordinary people doing extraordinary things.  One of his main messages was about impact, and the fact that you never know when or how your impact will be felt.

I had an experience at that very same conference that proves this theory.

One of the breakout sessions was lead by my colleague and good friend, Josh Liebman.  Josh and I have known each other for years through various industry endeavors, and currently we get to work together through my partnership with Amusement Advantage and his role as their Director of Business Development. He was also one of my very first guests on #3 Questions.

At the conference, his breakout session topic was “Create Guest Loyalty and Exceed Expectations” – something I know he knows a lot about, so I was excited to go to his session to support him and learn from him.

Since doing presentations like this is not something he does everyday, he asked me to give him some feedback on his session.

Josh is a natural.  He had great content, spoke from the heart and engaged the audience.  After his presentation, we talked about some small improvements he could make for next time, but overall he did a very good job.  He then shared with me that one of the conference interns told him she was impressed by his public speaking skills and asked where he learned how to do it.

He said he did it by watching me.

I was blown away. I don’t share this to be boastful or to brag.  I share this because I truly didn’t know that I was having this kind of impact on someone.  And my internal reaction was somewhat surprising.  I discounted it.

I thought, surely he had some other resources besides me!  He’s got natural skills, no way I had that much influence over his speaking style. He just gave me a huge compliment, and I didn’t know how to take it.

There are a few lessons here.

  1. Know that your impact may not be known to you for many years (if at all), but you are making a difference.  Leaders (like teachers and parents) are shaping the view and work ethic of others. They will follow your lead if you make it compelling enough.  If YOU believe that what you are doing is IMPORTANT, they will too.  They may never tell you outright, but just know that somewhere down the line, a former employee is following your example (so make it positive!)
  2. Take the compliment! For someone who talks about giving compliments and feedback on a regular basis, I had a hard time receiving it.  If this is you, own it and accept it.  Let yourself be complimented on something outstanding that you did.  Resist the temptation to squash their recognition efforts by saying something like, “oh, it was nothing”.  To them, it was something.

The big lesson here is to keep on keepin’ on.  By doing the right things now, you are setting the example for how people will behave in the future. There is no expiration date on the impact you are making.

Thanks for reading!

Some call it peer coaching, some call it a support group! Whatever the label, being part of a Mastermind Program can help you get advice and guidance from a trusted group of industry peers. Performance Optimist Consulting runs the ONLY Mastermind Program specifically for attractions professionals.  Check it out here!

How to build loyalty

This is not theory.  This is not guesswork.  This is the real deal.

A few weeks ago I was working with a client and got to speaking with one of the long term (30+ years) employees.  He told me a story about a meeting he had with the company owner back in his first year.  Here is what he said:

“Back then, it was almost unheard of for someone who had only been with the company for a short time to be in a meeting with the owner.  But, there I was.

I was nervous, and didn’t want to say or do the wrong thing. About 1/2 way through the meeting, the owner’s secretary comes into the room and hands me a note.

The owner could tell something was wrong by the look on my face, so he asked to see the note.

I handed it to him and then he asked me, “What are you waiting for? We can do this meeting another time. Get out of here.”

The note said that my son had broken his arm at school and that he and my wife were on their way to the hospital.  Being new, and not wanting to screw up, I was conflicted with what I should do.  This meeting was a big deal, at least in my mind.

But the owner saw it differently.  He knew that family came first, and more importantly, not to make people choose between family and the company.  

From that day on, my loyalty has been pledged to this organization.”

So often we hear managers complain about the lack of loyalty they see from their employees.  If this story is any indication, it’s likely because the managers haven’t shown any loyalty or caring to their employees first… they haven’t made the first investment in the relationship.

Like respect and trust, loyalty is not given – it’s earned.  You don’t get to complain about someone not being loyal to you if you have not shown them that you are worthy of being loyal to.  And as a leader, you HAVE to take the first step.

As we saw above, sometimes that comes from encouraging an employee to put other interests above work.  Eeeek, I know!!

Let’s say Johnny has to leave work early to go to football camp.  What if, instead of complaining about it, you actually encouraged him?  Ask him how long he’s been playing football… what position does he play?  Does he have a favorite team?  Show some interest in what he is interested in.

This shows that you value him as a person, not just as an employee.  Value builds trust, trust builds respect, and respect builds loyalty.  And loyal employees come back to help out when they can.  Maybe Johnny’s practices interfere with the park’s schedule in August, but in September and October, when he is free on Sunday, he will be more likely to come back to work for the person who made him feel good about pursuing his passion rather than the person who made him feel bad because he wouldn’t be there to make funnel cakes.

I think this gives additional perspective to the reality that people don’t leave companies, they leave leaders.  This also means that they stay, or come back, because of the leaders who understand that giving loyalty first is the only way to earn it.

Thanks for reading!

Are you looking for a way to build your network AND your leadership acumen?  It’s as easy as 1, 2, 6!!

If you can spare 1 hour every 2 weeks for 6 months, you should consider being a part of the ONLY Leadership Mastermind program exclusively for the attractions industry!

A Mastermind group is a small collection of professionals who learn from and coach each other. Find out more here!

Is that coaster grease I smell?

Spring is a busy and wonderful time in the attractions industry! Seasonal parks are getting ready to open their gates and year round facilities are gearing up for a busy summer.  This means that you, as a leader, have to be ready to take on the challenges that will be put in front of you.  And yes, there WILL be challenges!

One way to do be ready for what comes at you is to continue YOUR development throughout the season, and I am super excited to share a few ways you can do that!


Attractions Mastermind Group

If you remember back to my first post of 2017 (and I’m sure you do!) you may recall me talking about the Attractions Only Mastermind program.  Well, the pilot program just concluded and I am happy to say it was a big hit!  Over a 6 month period, 4 leaders from various attractions gathered bi-weekly over Skype, and we networked, learned, shared, laughed, learned some more and gained incredible insight on business and leadership skills!

“The program is filled with everyone’s good days and bad days, advice of a lifetime, and guidance from your peers that is priceless. The education you takeaway from the program will really help mold you into a better manager professionally and a better person personally!” – Mastermind pilot program participant

We are currently putting together details for the next program… to learn more, click here!


Coaching discussions

Another way to continue your development is through facilitated coaching discussions.  That sounds complicated, but it’s not!  I’ve been doing quite a few of these recently and they have been tremendously impactful. Why? Because they are casual (so people are comfortable sharing) but also targeted to address specific issues. They can be done at any time during the season and are a great way to keep people engaged!

For example, I worked with Ken Whiting and his team at Whiting’s Foods recently and we talked about the leaders’ influence on employee retention.  People really opened up about their challenges, which allowed us to explore some pretty powerful solutions!

“We asked Matt to share some insights on leadership influence with our seasonal leadership team. Matt established a casual but professional environment right away and got everyone engaged in the discussion. He was able to have them uncover some deep truths that young leaders rarely discover, and we also talked about some very practical and actionable solutions to current challenges.  To see these leaders so enthused and energized was incredibly inspiring – this is a session that will have a long-lasting impact on our team!” – Ken Whiting, Whiting’s Foods

Give me a call to find out how a session like this could benefit you and your teams!


Ready-to-go Supervisor development course

On a recent IAAPA Webinar dealing with supervisor development, I asked the audience about the biggest challenges they faced when training new supervisors.  Here’s how the numbers shook out:

  • 68% – not enough time
  • 18% – don’t know what material to train them on
  • 14% – don’t know how to train another leader

If you fall into any of these categories, The Myth of Employee Burnout Supervisor Training Program may just be for you!

To save you time on developing content, this package includes everything you need to conduct your own 8-week development program with your leadership teams:

  • A text book (The Myth of Employee Burnout) for each participant
  • A leader’s guide with pre-formatted lesson plans
  • Workbooks for each participant to recap the assigned reading and prepare them for the upcoming lesson

The sessions don’t have to be long… 20 or 30 minutes.  You may already have a weekly meeting where you have everyone together. This is a great way to add some continuous development to your agenda!

Click here to read more about it!


So what do all of these have in common?  YOU!  These are all tools, but it takes effort and energy on your part to put those tools to use.  I encourage you to find some way to continue to grow, learn and develop each and every day.  Read an article, watch a Ted Talk, speak with someone you have never spoken with before… even if it’s something small… you owe it to yourself and your team to continue to strive to be the BEST version of you that you can be.  And only YOU can make that happen!

Thanks for reading – see you on the midway!

AIMS Communication Review – Part 5

Welcome to the final installment of our AIMS Communication Review series.  In case you missed the first 4, here ya go!

AIMS Communication Review – Part 1

AIMS Communication Review – Part 2

AIMS Communication Review – Part 3

AIMS Communication Review – Part 4

And, we’re off…

Biggest communication struggle: When I need to council or discipline

Nobody likes to hear that they screwed up or could be doing better, right?  Not so fast.

It’s usually not the message that people object to, it’s the way the message is delivered. Ergo, “don’t kill the messenger.”  Since we are the messenger, it’s in our best interest to develop some survival skills.

First and foremost, we must not look at these situations as adversarial.  You know, us vs. them.  It’s our job to help our employees get better, and that means that we sometimes have to correct a behavior or action.  We may also have to document that behavior if a policy has been violated.

When it comes to having the conversation, your opening and the words you choose can set the tone for the entire experience.  Here are some examples:

“Karen, I can’t believe you got another guest complaint.  Your attitude is really slipping.  I had such high hopes for you in the beginning of the season.”

–OR–

“Karen, thanks for coming in.  I wanted to talk about some of the recent guest complaints that have come in, specifically the ones that mentioned you.  What can you tell me about those situations?”

The first one is very accusatory, and doesn’t give Karen much of a chance to tell her side of the story.  In fact, I could see Karen getting very defensive, which wouldn’t be very productive for the conversation.

What was different about the second one?  We acknowledged Karen’s willingness to participate, stated what we wanted to talk about, then immediately gave Karen an opportunity to share her perspective.  By approaching this as a way to help Karen, we are setting ourselves (and Karen) up for a much more meaningful and effective conversation.

Sometimes, even after the best opening, an employee could still try to deflect the blame on to someone else.  I’ll bet you have all heard things like:

“What about Jeremy?  He’s been getting guest complaints, too!”

“Really?  I wasn’t even trained for that position.  How could I be expected to know what to do?”

“It’s not my fault, we didn’t have the tools needed to do the job. Weren’t you supposed to get those for us?”

…and the list goes on.

The goal, of course, is to steer you away from the topic and place the blame elsewhere.  But you won’t be falling for that because you prepared for this conversation.  You thought of some of the objections or roadblocks the employee might throw at you and were prepared with a response.  For example:

“What about Jeremy?  He’s been getting guest complaints, too!” “We’re not talking about Jeremy, we’re talking about you.”

“Really?  I wasn’t even trained for that position.  How could I be expected to know what to do?”  “I’ve seen you in the position many times, and I know that Grant trained you.  You’ve actually done it very well in the past.”

“It’s not my fault, we didn’t have the tools needed to do the job. Weren’t you supposed to get those for us?” “Actually, yes, and they arrived last week. I saw three of your co-workers using them the very next day.”

Certainly your answers will vary based on the situation, but the point is to be prepared by taking the time before the conversation to think through some of these scenarios.

Biggest communication struggle: Don’t always relay the intended message

When hearing this, my first question is: how do you know?

Did someone not do what you asked them to do?  Did they badger you with follow-up questions that they should have known based on what you said?  Did you hear them relaying your message to someone else and they missed the mark?

If you do know that you haven’t relayed the intended message, there are two places to look: at you as the message originator and the other person, as the message receiver.

Here are some questions to ask about YOU:

  • Do I fully understand the message?
  • Have I taken time to explain all aspects of the message?
  • Have I made any assumptions about the message receiver (i.e. word choice, previous knowledge or experience)?
  • Have I emphasized or prioritized the most important parts of the message?

And also some questions about the RECEIVER:

  • Are they ready, willing, and able to receive the message?
  • Do they have any preconceived ideas that would cloud the message?
  • Have you had successful communications with them in the past?  If so, what made it successful?
  • Are there, or will there be, distractions that take away from the delivery of the message?
  • How will you check for understanding with this person?

That last one is pretty powerful… if you THINK there may be a discrepancy, how will you find out before it’s too late?  There are a number of ways to check for understanding or comprehension.  After you have relayed your message, you could ask:

  • Does that make sense?
  • What questions do you have?
  • How would you explain this to someone else?

Each of these offer a different level of feedback regarding their comprehension.  The first may just be a head nod.  Okay, they think they get it.  The second allows them to clarify anything they don’t get, but they may not know what they don’t know.  The last one allows you to hear, in their own words, how they would relay this message to someone else.  This should let you know if you are on the right track with that person or not.

Biggest communication struggle: Accepting change

For the last one of these that we’re going to tackle, this is a doozie.

Change.  Wow.  Okay.

Speaking from personal experience, I can tell you that not all change is created equal.  Some change is easy to deal with and accept, some is not.  Let’s start there.

Change that is easy to accept is usually change that we initiate or immediately agree with.  I’m guessing that the person who submitted this was not having trouble accepting changes that they suggested, so…

On to the changes we that we didn’t choose, don’t agree with or don’t understand.

  • Sometimes we resist change because we think the change will harm us.
  • Sometimes we resist change because we think we won’t be able to keep up (although we rarely admit this one)
  • Sometimes we resist change because we can’t see what the true outcome is going to be (so our mind automatically goes for the worst case scenario)
  • Sometimes we resist change solely because of the person who suggested it

That’s a lot of reasons and ways we can resist change. Ultimately these all stem from our comfort zone, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  We create our comfort zones for survival, to put us in a confident position to deal with whatever comes at us.  They really are a way for us to protect ourselves.  The problem is when you get stuck in your comfort zone… you may be safe, but you also can’t grow and improve from there.

For some people change equals pain, or even perceived pain.  Dr. Henry Cloud gives us some perspective on the relationship between pain and change:

“We change our behavior when the pain of staying the same becomes greater than the pain of changing. Consequences give us the pain that motivates us to change.”

Yes, change can bring on pain.  But staying the same can also bring the pain.

Think of a business owner who is losing money.  If they stay the same, they will likely go out of business.  If they do something to change, it could be scary, but it could also save the business.  The pain of staying the same is greater than the pain of changing.

For you to accept change, you have identify and possibly redefine the “pain” so you can make a better decision for you, your team, your family, or your company.  Let’s look at our list again…

  • Sometimes we resist change because we think the change will harm us.  Ask yourself, ‘what’s the worst that could happen?’ If it doesn’t involve death or dismemberment, it might be worth a try.
  • Sometimes we resist change because we think we won’t be able to keep up (although we rarely admit this one).  Honestly assess the skill you think you may or may not be able to handle.  Ask for others opinions and advice.  No one expects everyone to be an expert at everything.  A person who embraces a change, learns from it and gets better will be for more well respected (and valuable) than the curmudgeon who stifles the change out of fear or ignorance.
  • Sometimes we resist change because we can’t see what the true outcome is going to be (so our mind automatically goes for the worst case scenario). See step one (what’s the worst that could happen?), but also run through REALISTIC scenarios about possible outcomes.  Seek out the opinions and perspectives of those who DO agree to see why they think this is a good thing.  Listen with an open mind when they tell you!
  • Sometimes we resist change solely because of the person who suggested it.  Learn to identify this when it happens.  You know the people who push your buttons… don’t poo-poo a good idea just because it came from someone you may not get along with.  This could be the idea that takes the business to the next level… get over your differences and be able to admit when a good idea is a good idea.

And that’s it!!  We made it to the end of our AIMS Communication Review Series.  If you have any questions or comments, feel free to leave them below.  If you have additional communication struggles that you would like to address, feel free to contact me directly at matt@performanceoptimist.com.

Thanks for reading!

Are gearing up for your summer season?  Are you concerned that your employees won’t stay, or stay motivated throughout the season?  Don’t wait until it’s too late!! Act now and get the tools you need to avoid burnout!!

The Myth of Employee Burnout book and Supervisor Training Program!!

Company culture – aahhhhhhh!!!!!

What the heck is company culture?  SO MUCH has been written about it… so many people are talking about it… but what is it?  And more importantly, how do you get the culture you WANT in your company??

Our first order of business is to establish this fact: every business HAS a culture.  You already have an accepted way of doing things… it just may not be the way you WANT to do them.

So instead of trying to create a culture, you should probably be focused on changing the culture – which is ultimately more difficult, but not impossible.

If you went to the IAAPA Attractions Expo (#IAE16), you noticed a culture.  Remember that feeling when you walked into an education session or onto the trade show floor?  That palpable feeling of excitement, anticipation, and camaraderie, that you were sharing this experience with 30,000 of your closest friends?  That’s the “culture” of IAAPA, and it didn’t happen overnight.

And your current company culture didn’t just appear overnight, either. It has taken years of influence from you, previous leaders, and unofficial leaders (those without a title, but with plenty of influence). Notice I said influence, but didn’t assign a positive or negative spin to it.  The fact is that company culture is driven by both.

And here is the problem I have seen over the years… leaders start out with every intention of creating (or changing to) a positive culture, and they define the actions needed to get there.  Unfortunately, what they overlook is how to deal with the negative influences that creep up… the people who are not fully bought in… the curmudgeons who would rather see things stay the same (no matter how dysfunctional), and time.  The true time investment it will take to change the way people think, act, and perform their jobs.

Hopefully if you were at #IAE16, you took advantage of some of the educational sessions put on by the HR Committee.  Each of the sessions we planned had “culture” as our over-arching topic, then we divided it into subtopics, such as:

  • Recognition
  • Communication
  • Training
  • Leadership/Supervisory development
  • Recruiting/hiring
  • Onboarding
  • Front line staff development
  • Diversity
2016 Human Resources Symposium

2016 Human Resources Symposium at #IAE16

Even if you didn’t get to these sessions, the above topics can serve as a road map to changing your own culture.  Think it’s just about leadership?  Nope.  Gotta have the right people on board.  Think it’s just about proper training?  Nope.  Gotta have the right people processes in place.  It’s all connected.

It goes back to something you have probably heard me talk about before… the Employee Lifecycle.  Thinking about ALL of the factors that influence an employee’s experience (from recruiting to termination) is a necessary part of creating, defining, establishing and altering your company culture.

The Employee Lifecycle.  Don’t leave home without it.

So where does this leave us?  If you are trying to change your culture, know that it’s not going to be an overnight process.  Know that you are going to have stumbling blocks along the way (like people who don’t want to change).  Know that it will not come from a wall poster or new fancy set of values that you come up with but don’t uphold with your actions.  That’s the biggest culture killer of all… mixed messages when it comes to what you say you stand for.

Case in point – Over Thanksgiving, I was talking with my 26-year-old niece, Samantha, who works at a social media tech company in Austin, TX.  At one point, she said she really liked the company culture.  So I had to ask, what is it that you like?  She mentioned two main things:

  • The values of the company were widely accepted by the employees, and those who didn’t fit with the culture didn’t find themselves employed very long.  One example was that it’s an expectation to seek help when needed, to find ways to better yourself with the assistance of others on the team.  Those who felt they were the smartest people in the room, or that didn’t accept coaching or feedback, ultimately didn’t grow or build the right kind of relationships with those around them.  This is a case of the culture taking care of those who don’t fit the culture.
  • She knows what the values “look like” and how her daily actions uphold the company vision.  This is why fancy posters with verbose mission statements don’t work.  Without the right kind of reinforcement, people don’t even know what they mean, let alone know what they would have to DO to uphold or achieve the mission.  If an employee can’t see how their daily behaviors impact the bigger picture, they will never understand, nor buy into, the culture you are trying to create.  They just won’t.

Related: 3 Ways To Improve Company Culture

Here are my bottom line must-do’s when thinking about changing your culture.

  • Decide what culture you want
  • Figure out what it takes (behaviorally) to get there.  Do that. Everyday.
  • Pursue your cultural goal relentlessly – DO NOT LET UP!
    • Hire people that will support your culture
    • Fire people who won’t
  • If something doesn’t fit your culture, don’t do it – no matter how expedient it might be.  You will only be hurting yourself.

Ultimately your culture will be what you decide it should be minus what you allow that it shouldn’t be.

Thanks for reading!!

Matt

The Myth of Employee Burnout shows leaders how each facet of the Employee Lifecycle is critical to keeping employees engaged.  For a limited time, use coupon code IAE16 to take 10% off!  Click here to order now!

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Do your leadership skills need a tune-up?

photo-640Everyone, meet Watson.  Watson, meet everyone.

Watson is what we affectionately call our Honda Element.  (Element… elementary… Watson).  It’s a great car that has served us well.  Recently we had to get the brakes redone and transmission flushed, but that’s all part of owning a piece of machinery like this.

It’s like my Dad would say… if you want something to last, you have to take care of it.  If we want Watson to be ready when we need him, we’ve got to take care of him.

See where this is going?  If we want our employees to last and be ready when we need them… I’ll let you finish that statement.

In all cases, this takes people who are qualified to perform the work. For Watson, that’s a mechanic.  For your employees, that’s YOU!

Do you FEEL qualified?  Most newly promoted leaders don’t, but they also don’t know what steps to take to remedy the situation. (Don’t feel bad, in many cases your manager doesn’t know how to fix it, either.)

Here are some things to think about (and talk to your manager about!):

  • Are you actually qualified?  Mechanics (the good ones) take classes and attend update and recurring trainings to keep their skills sharp.  What books, classes or seminars can you experience to hone your skills?  Is there someone you know that you can seek out as a mentor or coach?
  • Do you have the right tools?  A hammer won’t do you any good if you need a wrench.  What tools (skills, abilities) do you need in your tool box to effectively lead your teams?  (Look at the things you dislike to do the most – that’s a good starting point.)
  • How well do you use your time? When I first called the mechanic, they said they couldn’t get Watson in for another 3 days.  Do you have a good handle on how you spend your time, where it goes and how to maximize your efficiency within the time you have?
  • Are you a good problem solver?  When I first brought Watson in, I explained what the brakes were doing (according to me).  The mechanic then had to look at all of the surrounding factors and circumstances to determine the right solution. Are you able to identify the needs of your employees so you can provide them with what they need?  If not, what tools or skills do you need to be able to do that?

Leaders (the good ones) are constantly looking at ways to get better at their craft, and that means seeking out opportunities learn, grow, and be better at your job than you were yesterday. Some of your skills might be right where they need to be, others may need some attention, and that’s okay.

Cars keep changing, so mechanics have to continue learning just to keep up.  Your job as a leader ain’t that different.

Thanks for reading!

Matt

About the author: Over the last few months, I’ve taken my desire to Help Leaders Lead to the next level.  Along with my book about employee engagement and burnout, I also now offer professional coaching services and self-directed leadership development courses.  Oh, and don’t forget the FREE eBook I’m giving away on my homepage!

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“Come sweat with me”

When my friends and I on the #CNC16 trip visited Cedar Point a few weeks ago, we got up bright and early to experience the Sunrise Thrills VIP Tour.  Not only did we get to see the park from the top of Valravn, we also got incredible coaster-nerd access to Top Thrill Dragster, Millennium Force and Maverick.

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223 feet above Cedar Point!

IMG_7686If you are at all interested in a bird’s eye view of an amazing park, or just want to geek out on some incredible roller coasters, this tour is for you.  However, this post is not about the tour specifically.

It’s about sweat.

Our tour guides were two Guest Services associates who were also roommates.  One was a front line associate (Steve), the other was a Supervisor (Jeff).  We learned that after the tour concluded, Jeff was going to be working at the Iron Dragon roller coaster, helping guests fill out forms to be part of a Virtual Reality beta test.  Jeff shared with us that a lot of people want to do this, so it’s an intense, go-go-go, seemingly endless kind of process. Combine that with the expected heat, and Jeff wasn’t exactly looking forward to it.

Since many hands make lighter work, Jeff was trying to enlist Steve’s help.  His convincing argument was a statement I’ll never forget.

“Come sweat with me”, he said.

To me, this acknowledges that while the assignment might not be the most desirable, it’ll be a lot better doing it together than alone.  It also indicates that Jeff will be there WITH Steve, and he’s not just telling him to go do something without supporting him.

And while I don’t know the history between these two, I think it also indicated that Jeff would do the same for Steve if the situation were reversed.

At it’s core, these four words communicate the one thing employees need more than anything from their leaders… support.

Support comes in many forms… communication, listening, providing feedback/coaching, working alongside them, providing tools, creating opportunities to learn, and yes, sweating.

We all know that actions speak louder than words, so the act of going through the same hardship as an employee speaks volumes about your understanding of their struggles. (And no, they don’t care that you used to do their job back in the day.  They want to see you do it TODAY!) When they see that you ‘get it’, it’s much easier for them to trust you, believe in you and want to follow you.

If you haven’t been out to work with your staff in a little while, I encourage you to find the time to do so – even if you don’t HAVE to.  If your season is winding down, you know that you need the remaining employees to pour on the afterburners to finish out the season strong.

Your display of “sweat equity” could be just what’s needed to ignite the flame.

Like this post? Download 88 of Matt’s favorite leadership blog posts in one convenient eBook! More details (and a sample) can be found here!

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 and has become a go-to resource among industry leaders.

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Lessons from the C-Suite

Over the last few weeks, I have had the pleasure and honor to work with two of the preeminent C-suite executives in the attractions industry; Terri Adams, COO of Schlitterbahn Waterparks & Resorts, and Al Weber Jr., President and CEO of Apex Parks Group.

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Terri Adams

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Al Weber Jr.

 

 

 

 

 

 

While their leadership styles are different, I noticed some interesting similarities about how they carried themselves and interacted with their teams.  For those who aspire to lead at their level, these points will give you insight into what it takes.

Put trust in others – Both Terri and Al understand and embrace the fact that they can’t (and shouldn’t) do everything.  As an executive, it’s their job to oversee, to guide, to look ahead, to problem solve and to trust others to do everything else. As an example, when I spoke at the Apex event, Al was quick to point out that other people had taken the reigns of planning and executing the event, and he deferred to their direction and judgement.  Often we see executives portrayed shouting out orders and taking credit for others’ accomplishments.  Terri and Al did the exact opposite of this.  They hired smart people, trusted them to do what was right and got out of the way.

Made it personal – Terri excelled at making personal connections with all members of the Schlitterbahn staff.  We traveled to 4 of their 5 parks, and she was immediately embraced (often literally) by the local employees.  I believe it is her willingness to be herself and be vulnerable that allows these connections to be made.  As an example, the first night I was there I was working with a small team of trainers.  After dinner we were playing a charades-type game when Terri showed up, dressed very casually, and jumped right into the game.  There was no pretense, no barrier of, “I’m the COO!”, and no awkward moments when someone was afraid to be themselves in front of her.  That’s one of the true tests of leadership… are people comfortable being themselves around you?

Al was really good at knowing the players on his team and figuring out what they needed to excel.  He knew where there was experience and he knew who needed more guidance. That doesn’t happen by accident nor does it happen overnight.  You don’t truly know someone’s abilities or potential until you observe them over a period of time and through various situations.

Direct (and respectful) communication – When you speak to Al or Terri, you know you are speaking to Al and/or Terri.  They both make (and hold) very direct eye contact.  They listen intently, and if they don’t understand something or need more information, they do not hesitate to ask.  I think that is one HUGE difference between seasoned executives and less experienced leaders.  Neither Terri nor Al shy away from admitting they didn’t know something, which leads to more conversation and deeper understanding.  Inexperienced leaders often avoid those types of situations because they don’t want others to think they don’t have all of the information. The irony is that in order to be an effective leader, you NEED that information and to have those conversations.  Otherwise you can’t make the decisions you need to make, or worse, you make the decisions with incomplete information.

As personable as both Terri and Al are, there is also an efficiency to their communication that I think can be misconstrued as rude or uninterested.  Having interacted with both of them on a personal level, I can tell you that nothing could be further from the truth.  Their efficiency comes from the realities of their role, but it DOES NOT (at least in the case of Terri and Al) indicate a lack of caring or aloofness.  Quite the opposite… because they care so deeply about all of their employees and each area of their business, they know they have to manage their time to fit it all in.

Here are my takeaways (or… things to work on if you want to be an executive!)

  • Communication skills – you’ve heard me say it a bazillion times – communication is the key to effective leadership, and that is once again proven with the examples above.  Work on actively and attentively listening to others with an open mind.  Forget about impressing others with your knowledge – impress them with how much you value what they have to say.
  • Build relationships – leadership isn’t about barking orders and being in charge.  It’s about developing people and building them up to create something new or to move the company forward.  You can’t do it alone, so you better have people around you that can help!
  • Be YOU! – you cannot lead authentically, build relationships and communicate with others effectively if you are trying to be someone or something that you are not.  Great leaders, especially those in the top spots, are willing to admit their flaws and weaknesses.  This helps them improve, but also gives them insight into the types of people they should hire.  Your team is your lifeline, and their strengths can help balance out your weaknesses.

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.

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Infographic “How To” Post 10: Trusted

This is part 10 of a 10 part “how to” series covering the points in the infographic below.

Employees Stay10

I’d actually like to start the final installment of our series with a question.

Do you trust your employees immediately or do they have to earn your trust over time?

I know people who are firmly planted in both camps.  I guess the same question could be asked of people that you meet, even outside of the workplace.  Is it in your nature to trust right away, or are you a little more cautious and maybe even skeptical?

Whatever your modus operendi, the infogrpahic makes the case that trusting your employees is an important part of getting them to stay.  I would agree with that.

Let’s look at the definition of trust, so that we can then examine what it means and what it looks like on a daily basis.

Trustreliance on the integrity, strength, ability, or surety, of a person or thing; confidence.

Side note: I didn’t even know that “surety” was a word, but I trust that dictionary.com wouldn’t steer me wrong!

Thinking of our employees, in order to trust them, we need to rely on their integrity, strength, ability and surety. We have to have some confidence that they will do as directed.

I can hear some of you now… “if that’s the criteria, forget it!  I can’t trust these people.”

Before we jump on that bandwagon, there are some really interesting components to this definition that I’d like to explore.  First, let’s talk about integrity.

Integrity

A common definition for integrity is: doing the right thing even when no one is looking.  Integrity is also about being honest, especially in the face of adversity.  In all fairness, how can we rely on our employees to act with integrity until they have been battle tested?  We can get a sense of who they are and what they stand for during the interview and initial training, but until they are out on their own, we won’t really see what they are made of. Having said all that, you may think I am of the mindset that employees have to earn every bit trust that I might give them.  But I’m not.

I think when an employee starts out, in order to begin fostering an environment of trust, we have to be the ones to make the first investment.  We have to trust that our employees are giving us their best and extend the benefit-of-the-doubt when needed.  This is not to say that people should be allowed get away with poor behavior or performance, but we shouldn’t jump to the conclusion that it’s an integrity issue.  If we get more evidence later on that that is the case – so be it.  But not right off the bat.

Ability

What I think is really interesting about this word within the confines of this definition, and the context of workplace trust, is where it actually comes from. In large part, it comes from you.

Think about it.  An employees’ ability to do their job is derived from, among other things, the training they receive, the environment in which they work, the conditions under which they work (including peer relationships), and the support they get from leadership. Barring physical or mental conditions, if we cannot rely on an employees’ ability to do their job, we have to look squarely back at ourselves.  What is our influence, whether direct or indirect, over their training, environment and conditions?  Is the support we are providing adequate?  Do we trust our own abilities enough to be able to truly set our employees up for success?  Is our frustration in their abilities (or lack of) really a reflection of our ability (or lack of)?

These are not easy questions, but they are important.

Confidence

When you are confident something is going to happen, you can feel it.  Some people  feel it in their gut, others feel it as a warm and soothing calm.  Either way, you feel it to the point of knowing it.  It’s similar to having confidence in a friend or colleague… you just know they are going to come through.  That confidence is built on your experiences with them, and it takes time to develop those relationships.

Showing that you have confidence in others is part of trusting them and ultimately keeping them on staff.  In my previous jobs, I could tell when my manager had confidence in me… he would assign me something and let me run with it.  If the confidence was lacking (perhaps because of higher stakes, a tighter deadline, or my lack of experience in that area), additional check in points were scheduled and work progress was evaluated more stringently.

But honestly, that was a growth opportunity for me.  The stakes were higher, and once that project as completed successfully, the confidence my manager had in me was also higher.

So bringing this back to the 30,000 foot view of trust, I think we can all agree that it’s important to show our employees that we trust them. It’s critical to their confidence in us and themselves, and helps create an environment where employees can learn and grow.

If we don’t trust them, we have to examine that very carefully.  Early on, there may not be enough mutual experience to determine how much actual trust is there.  Fair enough.  Once they are in the role for awhile, if we still don’t trust them or their abilities, is it because they aren’t trying, don’t have the aptitude or just don’t want to do it?  Many of those answers point back to us in one way or another.

Since this is a “how to” post, we can’t just give you the philosophical side of the story without the practical side.  And there are two practical sides.

How to TRUST your employees:

  • Just trust ’em – don’t be so skeptical.  Easier said that done in some cases, I get it.  But not everyone is automatically against you or a moron. Unfortunately, when you think very skeptically about a person, you tend to treat them that way.  That doesn’t foster a lot of trust.
  • Give them a chance – Allow them to show you (through actions over time) that they can be trusted.  If they make a mistake (without malicious intent), guide them back on to the correct path.

How to SHOW your employees that you trust them:

  • Listen to them
  • Use words like “we” and “us”
  • Ask their opinion
  • Tell them, “I trust you”
  • Follow-up without micromanaging
  • Hold them accountable to goals and standards of performance
  • Praise in public (where and when appropriate), discipline in private
  • Coach employees – help them help you find solutions
  • Explain WHY you have confidence in them – what have they done in the past that signifies they are ready for an upcoming challenge?
  • Share pertinent information
  • Admit a mistake

That last one is a tricky one for some.  “… admit a mistake? No way!  People will laugh, point fingers and lose all respect.”  I’ve actually found the opposite to be true. When you own up to making a mistake, people see you as more human, more real, and more like them.  People trust real.

There is also a vulnerability in admitting a mistake that employees tend to find very comforting and endearing.  They also don’t have to deal with the obvious cover-up and back-peddling that often happens when trying to minimize a mistake.  If anything, that behavior will quickly degrade any amount of trust your employees may have had in you.

Like respect and communication, trust is a two-way street.  Make sure it’s going both ways!

Thanks for reading and I hope you enjoyed the series!!  Comments and questions are always welcome!

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.