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!!

 

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!

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!!

AIMS Communication Review – Part 2

In case you missed part 1 of the series, it can be found here: AIMS Communication Review – Part 1.

On with the struggles!

Biggest communication struggle: Asking for help.

If you need help as a leader, good luck.  You should know everything and be able to do everything all by yourself and on your own.

As if.

No one, despite trying to convince you otherwise, knows everything.  As an emerging leader, you don’t know everything either. Heck, seasoned leaders (the good ones) know that they still have stuff to learn and that they need help.

I think there is a BIG misconception out there among new leaders that asking for help is a sign of weakness.  It’s not.  It’s actually a very confident demonstration of strength of character and a willingness to get better.

Some of the most well respected leaders I know (with titles like CEO) ask for help.  They ask for it from the peers, outside counsel, their employees, their families… basically anywhere they can get it.  As you mature as a leader, you start to understand the vastness of the things you don’t know and can’t do.  You realize you can’t possibly have all the information, nor can you be an expert at everything.  If you don’t ask for help, you’ll be sunk.

So ask for help. It’ll show how strong you really are.

Biggest communication struggle: Not getting to the point.

Why do we not get to the point?  Do we not know what the point is, or are we afraid of the reaction of those who are receiving the point?  Two very different scenarios.

If we don’t know the point, how do we figure it out?  Are we relaying information to our team that we aren’t clear on… a new initiative, promotion or mandate from the top?  Remember when we talked about asking for help? Ask for clarification.  Make sure you CLEARLY understand before trying to explain it to others.

If we are afraid of the consequences, it can cause us to beat around the bush and sugarcoat the true message.  That’s really not fair to the person you are talking to.  They deserve the truth, and for the truth to be delivered in a clear, respectful and productive way. It can help to think through the conversation and it’s many possible outcomes BEFORE jumping in.  Consider the ultimate outcome you are going for so you have an idea of where you are going (like a GPS when driving).  State the facts, avoid interjecting too much emotion and be brief.

The other danger of beating around the bush is that it can take a long time… we may start rambling, trying to find just the right thing to say.  That’s counterproductive to the conversation.

Biggest communication struggle: Not being able to say no.

Here’s the conundrum… as a new leader, you want to do well. You want to please your boss, you want to please your employees, you want to do whatever it takes to be successful. What’s the opposite of all that?  Saying no.

But here’s the thing… you also have a responsibility to yourself.  I know, I know… you’re a selfless workaholic who can handle the pressure – in fact you work best under pressure.

Good for you, but you won’t be able to sustain this.  Trust me.

Emerging leaders often don’t know what the true time commitment is for all the stuff they take on.  They don’t realize how much time they do or don’t have.  They don’t know because they don’t have the experience yet.  That leads to the idea that they can say yes to everything.  And they would be wrong.

Instead of a blanket YES when asked to do something, think through a few things:

  • How long will this take?  Since you may not know, ask.  If your boss is asking you to do something, ask how long they think it will take (hopefully they at least have an idea).  Also ask about a deadline and any resources that are available.  Maybe you can divide and conquer.
  • Is this aligned with your current goals?  First, if you don’t know your goals, start there. Now you can determine if the ‘ask’ is in line with where you want to do and what you need to do.  Maybe it’s something you REALLY want to do but has little to do with what you SHOULD be doing… would you do it?

Still having trouble saying no?  Think of this… when you say YES to something, you are actually saying NO to something else.  Saying YES to staying late, you are saying NO to spending time with family or friends.  Saying YES to taking on a special project, you are saying NO to the time you can spend with your employees.

These are not hard and fast rules, as there are times when you absolutely should say YES.  Just as there are times to say no.  Of course the key is balance, and having the ability and guts to say no when the situation is right to do so.

That’s six communication struggles down and more still to go.  Probably enough for at least one more post.  Stay tuned!

Thanks for reading!

Matt

Reading is fundamental!

Book with quote for blog

AIMS Communication Review – Part 1

Last week at the AIMS Safety Seminar in Orlando, I had the pleasure of teaching the “Operational Leadership and Communication” course.  If there is anything, in my mind, that goes together like peanut butter and jelly, it’s leadership and communication!

After going through a communication assessment to determine their strengths, everyone wrote down their biggest communication struggle and turned it in to me.  Then as a group, we all brainstormed ways to over come that particular issue.  It was a great opportunity to learn from everyone in the room.

Unfortunately, we didn’t have time to get to them all, and some students have already emailed me asking to address their particular trouble spots.  If you were in the class, I am happy to do that for you, too.  In the meantime, I thought I would use the blog to address some of the ones that many people seem to be struggling with.

Here we go!

Biggest communication struggle: Being patient with others’ opinions.

You are not alone!  In class we talked about the fact that listening has more to do with an open mind than anything else.  When we hear someone state an opinion that is different from ours, we have a few choices.

  1. Immediately launch into a rebuttal
  2. Think about what to say, then respond
  3. Say nothing at all

Too often, option 1 is taken and that rarely ends well.  In order to make options 2 or 3 a reality, it takes patience, and what allows us to be patient more than anything else?

Thinking of things from the other person’s perspective.  Since there are (at least) two sides to every story, first consider that yours might not be right, or at least it’s not the story that the other person believes.

Take a deep breath.  Try to imagine where they care coming from.  Put yourself in their shoes.  Consider your previous impact on the situation. THEN, feel free to respond.

Biggest communication struggle: Being vocal

This came up a few times, and it doesn’t surprise me considering the class was full of leaders who are still developing their chops. Expressing your thoughts to your peers, employees or even management can be tough… there is a lot of fear that can encircle those situations.

  1. Fear of rejection – either the idea or you as a person
  2. Fear of sounding stupid – you’ll fumble your words and sound incompetent
  3. Fear of indifference – there will be no reaction, just awe-inspiring silence

These are legit, but can be overcome!  Best way to do that?  Just do it.  Work up the gumption, plan what you are going to say and state your case.  As a leader, you MUST have the confidence to state your position or vision.  If you know of a better way, SAY IT!

One way to bolster your confidence to speak up is to do a trial run with some trusted allies.  Let’s say you know the topic at the next manager meeting is going to be reducing guest complaints.  You have sort of an out-of-the-box idea that you fear will get shunned if spoken aloud.  Try it out on a few people one-on-one to gauge their reaction.

Also ask yourself, “what’s the worst that can happen?”  If you won’t die or lose your job, you can handle just about anything else.  And we always make it worse in our minds than it really is.  PLUS, you may have the winning idea, the suggestion that saves the company from total ruin!  You don’t want to hold that back, do you?

Biggest communication struggle: Expecting people to know what I am talking about.

Hello, McFly! We don’t all get it, get it? Seriously, this is something we all suffer from at one time or another.  Why? Because we forget that other people can’t read our minds.

Think of all the knowledge that you have accumulated over the years.  What are the chances that someone else has the exact same database of knowledge and information rolling around in their skull?  Very slim.  So, we can’t take our communication for granted.

I love it when I hear managers say, “he should really know that!”.  Really?  How?  Do you know that he knows that?  Do you know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that they have the knowledge and context to reach the same conclusion?  If not, get your specifics ready because that’s what it will take to avoid confusion.

If you have been with your company for a while, you know lots of stuff and jargon that a lot of new employees don’t know yet.  You have the benefit of time and experience.  They have someone getting frustrated with them because they don’t understand your abbreviations or nomenclature.  Don’t blame them.  Blame you for either not explaining it or assuming that someone else did.

I think this one goes along with being patient.

And we’re back.

There were a bunch more struggles that I will save for future posts.  In the meantime, if you have questions about communication, leadership, or peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, my inbox is always open.  Drop me a note anytime!

Thanks for reading!

Matt

What? You want to read more?  Might I suggest:

My commitments for 2017

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Photo – Cedar Point during CNC16!

How many of you have committed to something new for the new year?  If you have noticed that many resolutions that start on January 1 often lack the resolve to make it to February 1, you are not alone.  That’s why I started working on improvements and commitments for 2017 back in the middle of 2016.

Of course my overall commitment was, is, and will continue to be to “Help Leaders Lead“.  Whatever you need to better lead your teams, I am here for you!

To this end, I have updated my website to include eCommerce so it’s easier to get the things you need… like bulk copies (with discounts) of the Myth of Employee Burnout or to sign up for a coaching program.

I can also now do one of those fancy auto-magic PDF download things… so I packaged up 80+ of my favorite leadership articles and made it a free downloadable PDF.

Two of the things I am MOST excited about are my new Mastermind program (currently in pilot phase) and the Myth of Employee Burnout 8-week Supervisor Training Program.

If you haven’t heard of a Mastermind group, it’s essentially peer or group coaching. There are 4 attractions professionals and me, and we get together every 2 weeks via Skype to help each other with current issues.  We also have a private Facebook group to share documents and discuss things between calls.

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Some of the topics have included: group interviews, encouraging buy-in and urgency, whether or not to hire a sales manager and communication.

Early feedback for the program has been very positive, including:

“I like learning from other professionals and hearing about what they go through.  Very similar to my experiences.”

“Flexibility to discuss current issues is great.  We can talk about what’s going on and get immediate ideas to implement.”

We’ll wrap up the pilot group in a few months, at which point I will be starting another round based on their feedback.  If you would like to participate in the next round, just let me know.

If you have been looking for a cost-effective way to keep your Supervisors engaged and learning throughout the season, the Myth of Employee Burnout Supervisor Training Program may be just the ticket!  This 8-week experience will:

  • Cover the major learning points of the book, giving participants a well rounded understanding of employee motivation and engagement
  • Encourage leaders to discuss and explore their leadership strengths and areas of improvement.
  • Build necessary leadership skills like communication, problem solving and leading a diverse workforce.

The program is broken up into 8 lessons and is designed so that a department manager or trainer can meet with a small group of supervisors for about 30 minutes to build the skills needed to lead on a daily basis.

The best part is that you get everything you need… detailed lesson plans, participant workbooks and a copy of the Myth of Employee Burnout for each participant.  You only pay for the number of people going through the program – no waste, no mess!  For more pricing and samples of the included materials, click here.

I don’t know about you, but I am excited for 2017 to unfold!  Below is a list of conferences I will be at to start the year.  If you will be at any of these it would be great to connect!  Just let me know.

Happy New Year – have a safe and prosperous 2017!!

Matt

Just a few places I will be to start 2017:

AIMS Safety Seminar
Ops. Supervisor Basic & Advanced (all new content!)
Operational Leadership and Communication (all new format!)
Orlando, FL
January 12-13, 2017

Texas Public Pool Council Annual Conference
Cause and Effect of Leadership
San Antonio, TX
February 7, 2017

American Pyrotechnics Association Winter Conference
The Myth of Employee Burnout
Henderson, NV
February 16, 2017

IAAPA Webinar
The New Supervisor: Tools, Tips, and Talking Points for Today’s Workforce
Time: 1:00 pm EDT
March 1, 2017

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

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