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.

vid-cap-3

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

visit-me-wwa

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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Is investing really worth it?

When you invest in something (time, money, energy) you generally get better (or more predictable) results than if you don’t invest, or leave things to chance.

While there are many examples of this in life, here’s the situation that inspired this post.

When I travel, I normally get a rental car.  I like the convenience and flexibility it provides, but it’s not always practical. That was the case last week when I traveled to West Palm Beach for the Florida Attractions Association conference. (More insights from the conference to come).  During my 4 days at this particular conference, I didn’t need to go anywhere outside of the hotel, and therefore didn’t want to spend the money on valet parking since the car would just be sitting there for 4 days.  So, my transportation to and from the hotel would be the shuttle provided by the hotel.

After picking up my luggage at baggage claim, I went to the meeting spot where all hotel shuttles were to meet their passengers.  I saw shuttles from other hotels and car rental services go by, but not mine.  So I waited.

And waited.

While I thought I had read that the shuttle ran on a regular schedule, it occurred to me that maybe that wasn’t about THIS hotel shuttle.  Hmmm…. maybe I should go ahead and call?

So I called.  I spoke to Elvis (at the hotel, not THE Elvis).  He told me that the shuttle should be there in about 15 minutes, and to watch for a large, black van with the hotel’s name on the front.  I said, “thank you, Elvis.  Thank you very much.”

As I waited, this is when the concept of investment ran through my brain. Had I spent the money on a rental car or even a cab, I would likely be at the hotel by now.  Instead, I am at the mercy of someone else’s schedule.

Once the shuttle arrived, I was told we had to pick someone else up at the executive airport nearby.  After we got there, we found out that the person to be picked up was at the regular airport after all, so back there we go, all before heading to the hotel itself.

Before we go any further, this is not a complaint about the hotel shuttle service, or the fact that I had to wait.  The driver was actually very pleasant and the van was well appointed and clean.  This is actually just an observation of the results we get when we invest in something versus when we don’t.

It’s very much like that quote that makes the rounds every few years.  You know the one….

The CFO is implying that it would be a waste of time, money and resources to develop their people if they are just going to fly to coop.  And that may happen.  Another question to ask is, “what if, by developing people, you actually get them to stay?”

I think this investment argument works with employees, relationships, hobbies, projects, you name it.  The more you put in, the more you get out.

And how many of us struggle with and complain about the lack of consistency we see in the behavior of our employees?  Have we invested ENOUGH to get the kind of predictable excellence we are striving for?  Here’s what I mean:

Many companies put a lot of emphasis on training new hires.  Great – there is a lot they need to know.  But, how many of those companies INVEST in season-long learning strategies?  I don’t have any official data to share on that, but from the people I talk to, the number is quite low. Part of the problem is when we look at our seasonal staff as temporary.  Sure they will only be on payroll for a few months, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be trained and developed so they can help the company be successful for years to come.  The experience of being groomed for the next level could be the difference between someone coming back for another season or you having one more spot to fill.

Of course the other option is to do your training up front and hope for the best the rest of the season.  It’s your choice.

In all of this, there is a fundamental understanding that “investing” is different than “spending”.  Spending implies a commodity transaction with little or no long-term return on that spend.  Investing assumes there will be a calculated output in proportion to your input.  Both can refer to money, time, resources, etc.  If we look at the quote above, maybe the CFO is thinking that it’s a waste to spend the money developing people… there will be no appreciable return in his mind.  Maybe the problem is that he doesn’t really know what that return would actually look like.

For me, I’ve seen the results when we invest in our people.  They are more confident, engaged, motivated, and willing to help out when the chips are down.  And while it could take an investment of money to make this happen (in the form of additional development resources, not just a wage increase) it’s also our investment of time. Time to communicate, to coach, to listen, and to set the example of how you want your team to behave.

So if you would like more predictable excellence, investing in your team definitely IS worth it!

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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Everything is everything

If you follow me on Facebook, you know that my wife and I just came back from our first ever trip to Europe.  We took a pizza making class in Naples, a food tasting tour in Trastevere (Rome), and a cooking class in Lucca.  We also did the Painted Wall self guided walking tour in Cannes and rode a Ferris Wheel (big surprise) in Marseille, France.

You probably noticed that the majority of our activities centered around food!  While we of course wanted to try the local delicacies, we also wanted to get more of a glimpse of the local culture and people – and we got that.

What we also got, without even trying, was an education in engagement.  If my trip to Europe reinforced anything, it’s that EVERYTHING matters.

Was the food good in Italy?  No.  It was AMAZING!  But I would dare say that as good as it was in reality, it tasted EVEN BETTER considering the environment.  For example, during our cooking class in Lucca, we were not only learning from a world renowned chef, but we were also sharing the experience with people from the Netherlands, Scotland, England and Seattle – people we had just met that day.  Sitting around a huge table on a farm in rural Italy, eating a meal that you helped prepare, engrossed in engaging conversation… how could the food NOT taste good?

And that’s why I think people (including us) come back from vacation with stories of the best this or the best that.  The environment heightens the experience and makes everything better.

Since this is not a food or travel blog, this has to tie back to engagement soon, right?

Yes.

You have heard me say time and time again that engagement is about the environment that we create for our employees.  That while recognition is important, on it’s own it can’t fully engage someone in their work.  It’s about the hiring, training, discipline and yes, termination that will begin to create an engaging environment.  But you know what?  That’s not everything either.

It’s about the look of the room when new hires come in for orientation or to do their paperwork. It’s about how well the real world (their work location) matches up with what they are told in training or when they were recruited.  It’s about how much pride YOU take in the company and how you treat the guests that will carry over to your employees.

When we were on our food tour, our guide Francesco warmly greeted every shop owner we encountered.  He would say, look at this beautiful man or family or woman.  He didn’t mean beautiful in terms of looks, but beautiful in terms of the people they are.  When referred to that way, each an every person smiled and beamed and showed their true beauty.

How often do we introduce a new hire to their supervisor like that?  In my experience, it’s more like, “This is Sam, he’s your supervisor.  He’ll show you the ropes.”

Does that make you beam with pride?  Didn’t think so, but that’s part of the environment, too.

So here is your challenge – especially as some of you are beginning daily operation and ramping up for summer crowds… analyze EVERYTHING that could make an impression on your employees. Again, you have heard me talk about the importance of communication, recognition and listening.  Those are a great starting point.  But also look at the physical environment, how employees are moved through your processes (hiring, training, cross utilization).  What do your break areas look like?  Are you taking care of “behind the scenes” areas as much as guest facing areas?  Employees see those areas before and after their shift… so they are the first and last impression they have.

Do your employees go through a security check point?  How is that experience?  Is the person at that post starting the day off on a positive or negative note?

Do you have company logos, mantras and insignias posted around your offices and buildings to remind and inspire your staff?  How do they look?  Are they up to date or ripped and falling apart?

When an employee has to interact with someone from another department, how does that go?  What example are full time staff setting for front line staff when out in park?

And the list could literally go on and on… but for this post, we’ll stop here.

Part of this challenge is to put yourself in the shoes (and mindset) of your employees.  You may know why something is not working and may even know when it’s going to be fixed, but a new hire doesn’t know that, and will assume that that’s just the way it is and no one cares about it.

Fast forward two months from now, when all of these influences have piled up and created a lasting impression of you and the company.  One little thing might not be a big deal, but put it all together and it tells quite a story.

You are the author of that story and can determine how it ends.  That is, if you remember that EVERYTHING matters.

Thanks for reading!

Matt

About the author: While it was not Matt’s original intent, the theme of this post fits nicely with the theme of this years’ IAAPA Attractions Expo, which is Every Experience Matters.  Of course, that’s in November.  Next week is the Florida Attractions Association conference, where the theme is Mission: Possible – Creating The Adventure.  Our mission as leaders is to create a positive adventure for our teams, and if we focus on the right things, that mission is POSSIBLE!!

If you are coming to the FAA Conference, Matt will be speaking on “Investigating Workplace Conflict” on Tuesday, June 14 at 10:30 am.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

Terri Adams

Terri Adams

AlWeberJr

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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