IAAPA Question – What I should have said…

This past week during the IAAPA Expo, I had the pleasure of teaching the Human Resources and Leadership portion of the Institute for Attractions Managers course. At the end of the session, I was asked the following question by one of the participants:

“You mentioned that we need to address issues when we see them.  How do you do that without sounding like a broken record?”

It was a great question, and as I think about the answer I gave, I don’t think I gave as complete of an answer as I should have.  I’d like to fix that.

My original answer (given within the context of guest service behaviors) was that “sometimes people need to find their own groove, and that if they are still within your standards and guidelines, letting them learn at their own pace might be okay.”

I still stand behind that, but I also think there are more factors to consider.  For example:

If this is a safety issue, don’t worry about what you sound like.  Your job is to make sure your employees and guests are safe.  Correct and/or guide as much as you need to.

If your employees are violating standards of conduct (i.e. having their cell phone when they shouldn’t, not adhering to grooming guidelines, etc.), then again you need to be relentless with enforcing your standards.

I think it’s also important to ask ourselves some questions, starting with WHY isn’t this employee adhering to the policy in the first place?

A few of these could be the culprit:

  • They don’t think it’s important
  • They don’t understand how to do it
  • They don’t see how they impact it
  • Others around them aren’t doing it

Similarly, we have to ask; WHY don’t they correct their behavior when we tell them?

  • They still don’t think it’s important
  • They still don’t understand how to do it
  • They still don’t see how they impact it
  • Others around them still aren’t doing it
  • They don’t respect the person asking them to change their behavior
  • There is no consequence for their behavior

If they are not understanding the concept or haven’t bought into it, we may need to look at how we are communicating the information.  If others aren’t doing it or there is no consequence for not doing it, that comes down to holding people accountable – showing them that things will change if they continue on the current path (and it’s very possible they won’t like the change!).

There. That’s better. That’s a more complete answer to the question.  So then what?

If you feel like you are starting to sound like a broken record, look at how that record got broken. It could be a lazy employee, but more likely it comes down to our communication and our ability to hold people accountable to our standards.

We could be the problem, but that also means we are the solution.

Thanks for reading!





About the author:  Matt loves helping leaders find out what they can do to improve their own performance or the performance of their teams. He offers free consultation to see what direction to take, or to find out why you might be feeling like a broken record!  Contact him here to schedule a free 30 minute call.

Book launch: The Myth of Employee Burnout

It’s here!

Many of you have been hearing me talk about this for months, and now the book “The Myth of Employee Burnout” is ready to go!Book for web V1

In case you haven’t heard, this book follows my quest to uncover the truth behind why some employees start off strong but eventually fizzle out.  What I found was very interesting, and will open many leaders’ eyes to how they may be causing burnout, but also how they can fix it!

“The Myth of Employee Burnout” explores how every facet of the ‘employee life cycle’ (from recruiting to termination) can play a role in determining if an employee will continue working at a high level or not.  I then give practical and strategic steps you can take in order to reverse the effects of burnout, or eliminate it altogether.

BenefitsHere are some very kind words about what happened when the information in this book was applied in the real world:

“I continue to use your teachings on a daily basis, whether it’s in regards to our “motivation levels” to combat employee burnout, or just on day-to-day recognition and ways to compliment employees on what they are doing right. Overall this season has been such a success “guest compliment-wise”, and I am convinced it is because of your help.”

– Steve Gioe, Operations Manager for Sodexo at Canobie Lake Park.
Attendee at The Myth of Employee Burnout workshop

How to get your own copy!

There are two ways to order:

  • For special orders (such as signed copies), please visit: www.performanceoptimist.com
  • If you require quicker delivery, please visit: www.amazon.com
  • Paperback is just $16.95 plus shipping.
  • “Kindle” version also coming soon!
The book will also be on sale in the bookstore at the IAAPA Attractions Expo in Orlando, FL, Nov. 18-22, 2013.
For other inquires, please contact me directly at matt@performanceoptimist.com or 407-435-8084.
Thanks so much for your support!

What “the holidays” can teach us about leadership

Peace on Earth, good will toward men.

‘Tis the season to be jolly.

Be nice to your sister, it’s Christmas!

It never fails.  When we get to “the holidays” time year, there is palpable feeling in the air of hope, good will, family togetherness and kindness for those less fortunate.  “It’s the most wonderful time of the year”, states one classic song, and most everyone buys into it.

But why?  Why at this time of year do we all of a sudden turn on the compassion and caring and treat our neighbors (and even foes) with the respect and dignity they deserve?

It could be tradition, a time of celebration, or the desire to not end up on Santa’s naughty list… to me it doesn’t matter why we do it for a month in December, so much as it matters why we don’t do it the rest of the year.  Whatever the reason, we choose to act differently.  In many cases, we choose to give.

From a leadership point of view, this is a huge opportunity.  If you notice that people are a little more kind and cooperative around the holidays because more people are in a giving mood (including you), then why wouldn’t they react that way the rest of the year?

So what are we giving (beyond the obvious tangible “things”) that people are responding to?

  • Our time – the holidays are about slowing down and appreciating the people around you.  Why wait?  This is not the only time of year that people need attention and appreciation.  And it doesn’t have to be a lot… a little of your time and sincere attention will go a long way.
  • Our patience – Unless it’s 4 am on Black Friday, there is usually a little more patience granted during the holidays.  People learn, understand and develop at very different paces.  Allowing someone the opportunity to learn and grow on their own timetable makes them much more comfortable with the task or concept you are trying to teach them.
  • Our understanding – Employees are people.  Leaders and managers are people.  And people need encouragement, guidance and support.  Sometimes that just means listening to them about what they are going through.  Maybe a little compassion or a little empathy to show that you really care about them as individuals.

Walt Disney said it best, “You can design and create and build the most wonderful place in the world. But it takes people to make the dream a reality.”

And it takes time, patience and understanding to keep the people around you feeling like they want to give you their best effort.

Happy Holidays!

More from Pat Koch and Holiday World’s Legacy of Friendliness

For many people, visiting a Disney park or property has a magical quality. Because of this, just as many companies around the world have been trying to emulate the Disney experience in their own facility, attempting to tap into their own brand of magic. But here’s the problem: there is no such thing as magic.

As much as I wish it weren’t true, I cannot wave a wand or snap my fingers and transport myself to Hawaii anytime I would like.

Except for magicians, most people can’t explain how a magic trick works (and magicians really aren’t supposed to tell, either). We know there has to some logical explanation about the lady that gets cut in half, but we are too busy being entertained to really question it. That’s what Disney is counting on for the guest experience, and what makes emulating them so difficult.

So I say don’t bother. Especially when there is a little park in Indiana that has been named the friendliest park in the world 13 times, positioning themselves as the new gold standard for hospitality in the hospitality industry.

And here’s what’s cool. If you were at the Pat Koch Lunch and Learn at IAAPA, she told you exactly how Holiday World has done it. If you weren’t, I’ll recap a few points here.

1.  They train. They commit to making sure everyone knows what they are supposed to do and has the skill to do it. Even as Mrs. Koch says, “it takes time and it’s expensive, but it is vital.”  And it’s not just for the front line, either.  Folks in management ranks are also required to keep up with industry trends and certifications.

Speaking of training, it was something she said about the timing of their training that was very intriguing as well. She said they let people get comfortable their tasks for a little while, then bring them back in for hospitality training. That way they aren’t trying to cover too much at once.  Seems to be working. :o)

2. They have “high standards and strict rules”. Many people seem to think that young folks need to be coddled or they have no work ethic. Not so. Holiday World proves that you can have high standards and people will rise up and meet them IF you are clear about the expectations and you enforce them fairly and consistently.

3. They “mentor, teach and care for” their employees. People need to know how they measure up to the standards, that they belong, and that there is someone looking out for them.  As a brief aside, my wife and I have been watching the show “Gold Rush” about the new gold boom in Alaska.  One of the characters, 16 year-old Parker Schnabel, recently enlisted the help of his father and grandfather to build a road on his claim.  Parker shows a tremendous amount of respect for these two, not just because they are good at what they do, but likely because they have been there to encourage, guide, mentor and care for Parker throughout his life.  Our employees at work need that, too.

4. They listen to the front line. Mrs. Koch stated that, “maybe the cashier or sweeper has a better idea of how things should be than we do.” It takes a strong leadership team to admit they don’t know everything, and that the people in the trenches probably have some good ideas, too. We just have to listen to them.

There was one last thing that Mrs. Koch said in her presentation that stuck with me, something that applies to business, relationships and how you lead your teams. She said, “Be number 1 to somebody, not number 2 to everyone.”

To me that means be the best you can for YOUR audience (ie. clients, guests, employees, friends, family, co-workers). Don’t worry about being everything to everyone.

Who are you number 1 to?

Taking the Mystery out of Mystery Shopper’s Reports

A month or so ago, I wrote the following article for the IAAPA Family Entertainment Center newsletter FunExtra.  A few people have asked me about the topic of mystery shopping lately (especially given my new partnership with Amusement Advantage) so I thought I would run the article here as well.  Enjoy!


Secret shopper reports do not want to end up living in a drawer.  Unfortunately, that’s where many spend their dying days, mostly because we could be too busy to squeeze all the great information out of them, or we just don’t know how.  On behalf of all of the secret shopper reports out there, that stops today.

In this article we will discuss the report itself, what to look for and what to do with all that information.  We’ll also focus mostly on the employee side of the coin.  If a shopper says there is missing paint, there is missing paint – not a lot to discuss.  It’s the far more complicated world of employee behavior that I think trips most of us up.

The Report

For a manager or leader, the heart of the secret shopping experience is the report.  That’s what you signed up for – to get this unbiased account of how your facility and employees are performing.  You now have a tangible representation of how your business is seen by someone you don’t know.  If you care at all about your guests’ experience, this is powerful information, and it should be taken with a few considerations.

The report is a snapshot. Each report covers the events of one day, and individual reports should be viewed as a starting point for determining the best actions to take based on the needs of your company and employees.  You and your staff still need to observe on your own, using the shoppers report to supplement what you’ve seen.

Also consider that as objective as secret shoppers are, they are still human beings.  They still have opinions, feelings, and previous experiences that guide their assessment of your facility.  This is not to say that we should discount them for this reason at all.  If anything, this support the role of the report as a snapshot.  All of your guests are different, too.  So a non-shopper guest might interpret a situation differently than the shopper, but you will only get one piece of data.  That’s why you still need to do your own homework.

What To Look For

So you’ve got your report in front of you, now what?  Later we will focus on actions you should and shouldn’t take based on a report, but even before that you have to know what data you have and what it means.

One word I will ask you to keep in mind is trends.  What are the trends telling you?  You may see on one report that Suzie was rude.  She wasn’t smiling and she never said thank you.  This is surprising, since most of time when you see Suzie, she is smiling and making great conversation with the guests.  That “trend” (or break in the trend, in this case) should tell you that you need more data.  Here are some questions you could ask to gather more concrete information:

  1. Was this an isolated incident? Is this the first time anyone has mentioned Suzie being rude?
  2. Was there something going on that day that would have caused Suzie to be acting differently?
  3. Who was she working with?  Were they people she got along with or not?

This is just a small sampling of the kinds of information you would need to have to know what to do next.

Other trends to look for on the report include:

  • Policies – are there multiple people not following rules, or is it just one or two?
  • Areas/departments – are there certain areas or departments that are performing consistently well (or poorly)?
  • Comments – is there anything similar (in tone or content) in the verbatim comments that can give you more insight?

What Do You Do Now?

To this point, you have probably seen that it takes more than just a quick read-through to pull out all of the pertinent information.  But that is a necessary component of the process, in order to be able to take the right actions.

Looking at the situations above, what do we do about Suzie?  I think we discuss the report with her and ask her about her side of the story.  It’s very dangerous to reprimand based on the comments from the shoppers report.  Since this is not going to be immediate feedback (given the time it takes to compile the report), it’s best to look at it as a learning opportunity, not a disciplinary action. On the other side of the coin, it would be appropriate to praise or recognize an employee’s performance based on the shoppers report.  They still made a good impression, and the more that is acknowledged, the more likely it is to happen again.

What if you notice that all the employees mentioned were not following a particular rule or procedure?  That might be an indication that there has been a miscommunication about the procedure, maybe it just recently changed, or it’s something the employees don’t like doing.  In all of these cases, it would take some investigation to find out what’s going on and why.

One of the most important things you can do with the information in this report is to share it.  Share it with your management teams, with your employees (as appropriate; be careful of negative or damaging comments) and get their perspective on the best way to either make things better or continue doing the good things you are already doing.

Delegating or getting assistance with looking over the reports will not only ensure that you get the most out of them, it will also save the reports from living out their days in a dark and dreary desk drawer.  No one wants that.

It’s all about what you believe

I’ll admit it, the first time I saw the DaVinci Code, I fell asleep. It was late, I had been at the beach all day, there were subtitles… you get the idea. Anyway, I never really understood the hype around this movie until recently when I watched it again, stayed awake, and was able to follow the story.

Religious implications aside, I was especially intrigued by the last scene between Robert Langdon and Sophie, as Sophie was struggling with the news that she could be a descendant of Jesus. Asking what she should do now, Professor Langdon simply said, “it all depends on what you believe”.

I think that is an important life and leadership lesson, no matter your potential blood line.

If Sophie really believes that she is the last living descendant, she will certainly act differently than if she feels like this is all a bunch of religious mumbo jumbo.

Don’t believe me? Look no further than the things human beings have done through the ages in the name of religion, politics, or even sports. People often have deep seated beliefs in these areas that ultimately guide their thoughts and behaviors.

So what do you believe?

Do you believe that you are a good leader, or that your teams run amok no matter what you try? Do you believe that young people coming into the workforce are lazy and worthless?

Guess what?  Whatever you believe shows up in your actions.

If you believe the young folks are lazy, then you treat them that way and go figure… They act that way. If you believe they deserve respect and compassion, they’ll respond to that, too.

I can’t tell you how many conversations I’ve had with people who can’t understand why their employees are lackluster, yet when you talk to them about how they treat them, it’s typically reactionary to their belief that they are lazy and worthless.

Do you see the cycle that is created here?

Here is one of the problems. Beliefs don’t change easily or quickly. Many people look for undeniable evidence to alter their perception, but often their beliefs are so strong that they are not open minded enough to see it, even when it’s right in front of them.

As a leader, this is where you need to LEAD! If you are waiting for someone to change who they are, get ready to wait for a long time. Instead, if you are willing to make the first investment of trust, respect, compassion and dignity, you will find that your story has a much different outcome.

That’s why we are called leaders, not waiters.

So I ask you again… what do you believe?

Nothing happens without confidence

A funny thing happened when I was out for a bike ride the other day. I was riding on a trail near our house when I saw what appeared to be a woman and her daughter walking toward me from the other direction. They were both walking dogs, so they had their hands full.  The woman was walking in front and her daughter, who I am guessing to be 11 or 12 years old.

As we got closer, the mother and I made polite eye contact, exchanged a quick head nod and a smile. Since I was looking in that direction anyway, I figured I would extend the same courtesy to her daughter. What I got in return was not what I expected.

The young girl glared at me, with all the defensiveness she could muster. There was no smile, no nod, just a squinty-eyed stare and a quick look away.

So what was the difference? To me I think this came down to confidence. The woman knew that merely saying hello to a passing stranger was nothing to worry about. In fact, she probably thought it was the polite thing to do. The young girl, on the other hand, didn’t have that experience. In fact, she may have been thinking of something the woman walking four feet in front of her told her many times – don’t talk to strangers. Because of this, she didn’t know what would happen in this situation.  She lacked the confidence to say hello.

We see this in little kids all the time. Put them around someone they don’t know very well, and mom or dad become their shield. Does this happen to us at work? You bet.

Think about your service or hospitality expectations. When you get down to it, we are really asking our employees to treat perfect strangers as if they are old friends. Smile, ask them how they are doing, see what you can do to help. Especially for inexperienced and less confident employees, this behavior is usually reserved for people they know, and know well.

So what do we do?  I think a good overarching approach is to think about how to not only train your employees on how to do their tasks, but also figure out how to build their confidence at the same time.

And what builds confidence?  Think of the things you do well or have a particular aptitude for. You have probably been doing them for awhile, you may have even made some mistakes along the way, and I would bet dollars to donuts that someone along the way gave you feedback or guidance. Is that what we are doing for our employees, or do we simply give them a once over of the procedures and call it good? (I’m being dramatic about that last point, but you get the idea). Building confidence is so important that it should be built into your training and onboarding process.

I’ll just leave you with a confidence coincidence. I got an email from a friend the other day who was talking about some challenging experiences she had recently, and how she now felt more confident for having gone through them. This is someone who is established in her career, not a twelve-year-old walking her dog.

Experience gives us all the confidence to face challenges and know that we’ll be alright on the other side. What are you doing to ensure your employees have the right experience to build their confidence?

Thanks for reading!

Picking rotten apples

The other day I had lunch with a good friend who was telling me about her new job. To say that she had a rocky start would be an understatement. What was inspiring, but not surprising knowing her, was how after only 7 months on the job, she transformed a toxic team into one that is cohesive, respectful and productive.

I was thinking of all of you when I asked this question, “how did you do it?”

Out of the 25 people she inherited, 2 of them were the most challenging. And one of them in particular was enough to make most people quit.

We all, unfortunately, know the type of person my friend had to deal with. Long term with the company, very vocal when things don’t go their way, and have seen other managers come and go. They rarely get the feedback and coaching they deserve for their negative behavior, which tells them it’s okay. Left unchecked, you get an employee no one wants to deal with.

Which could have been my friends approach, but it wasn’t. She stuck to that employee, got to know her, gave honest feedback and didn’t let her get away with her usual shenanigans. A few months in, the employee went to my friends boss and essentially said, “this isn’t working out, it’s either me or her!” Luckily for my friend, her boss wasn’t playing that game, and the employee ended up resigning.

The other bad apple ended up leaving shortly thereafter.

It wasn’t too long until the other 23 people realized how much more pleasant work had become, so much less negativity. So much less hostility.

I often ask people if they would rather run their operation with a full staff including the bad apples, or a little short staffed with with everyone giving 100%. Overwhelmingly the answer is short staffed with an engaged and productive crew.

It’s a tough call to make, but sometimes the tough answers are also the right answers.

In fact, most of the time that’s that case.

Have you had situations like this?  How did you handle it?

Dilbert on motivation

Recognition.  Trust.  Setting an example.  How many more leadership attributes can be contained in one comic strip?

Of course that’s not really the question.  The question is, thinking about your own behavior, do you trust people right out of the gate, or do they have to earn and build your trust?  I’ve asked that of many different leaders and there are always some people who fit into each category.  Which is better?  Are either of them right?  Does it come down to experience and personality?  Probably.

What about recognition?  My last post was all about recognition and making sure we are recognizing and rewarding the right things.  What I didn’t really touch on was WHEN to reward.

Just like the trust/no trust camps, there are those who believe that someone’s paycheck is their recognition versus those who understand that people need to feel part of something, they need to belong… they need to see the value they bring to the organization.  They need to be recognized.

To answer the question of WHEN to reward and recognize, it needs to be when it’s deserved.  If it’s too often and overdone it becomes meaningless, and when not done enough (like in the cartoon) it is demotivating.  But I do believe that this is one that we HAVE to make the first investment in.  We can’t wait for someone to WOW us before we recognize them.  We could be waiting for a long time.

This is especially true for brand new employees.  They are just getting their feet wet, trying to figure out the company, their co-workers, everything.  They will need encouragement and guidance if they are to become a productive employee for you.

I will leave you today with a challenge and a few things to think about… first the things to think about:

When was the last time you rewarded effort or a mistake?  We often wait for the end result to provide recognition, however it’s effort (and continued effort) that is going to get people to the end goal.  Mistakes can be great learning opportunities and if done right, letting people know that mistakes are okay (baring safety concerns) encourages them to learn, which ultimately helps them, you and the company.

Here is the challenge: watch for outstanding effort or a mistake that you can recognize.  Let someone know that you appreciate how hard they are working and that it will pay off in the end.  As for the mistake, ask them what they learned and how that will help them in the future.  Ask them to share that knowledge with others.

Let me know how it goes!

Until next time -stay optimistic!

Be careful what you reward for…

There is a movement afoot to increase the amount of positive recognition that takes place within organizations. While I fully support this effort, I believe we have to be careful about what it is that gets rewarded or recognized.

The other day I was chatting with a few managers who were telling me that they had just launched a perfect attendance recognition program because they were having trouble getting people to show up for their shifts. They said it was typically when it was raining (the job is outside) or when the employees had to work late one night and be back early the next morning.

Hmmm… So we’ve got some data, let’s look at that more closely.

The question that has to be asked and answered is why. Why are they choosing to call out when it’s raining?  My guess is that they know the job still needs to be done, so we can rule out that they don’t think there would be anything to do. Maybe they don’t understand how important their job is (even in the rain) and feel that it’s not worth it to them to endure some slightly adverse conditions to do that job.

And why would that be?

Maybe as a leadership team we haven’t explained (or better yet, shown) them how valuable they are and what an impact it is to the team and the company when they are not there.

If this is the case, is a perfect attendance reward going to change this behavior? Likely not, but you might just get exactly what you are rewarding for: people showing up just to show up, bringing their poor attitude with them.

The other issue mentioned was the working-late-coming-in-early scenario. We’ve all been there from time to time. But if an employee doesn’t see the value they bring, they certainly won’t go out of their way to help when asked.

So we go back to the question of why.  Why do we need to be scheduling people for late shifts and early shifts back-to-back (especially if it’s a consistent thing)?  Are we short staffed? Do we not have enough people with the right availability?  Are either of these situations solved with an incentive program? I’ll let you answer that.

By asking why enough times we can get to the root cause of the problem, and by doing that we can actually solve the right problem rather than spinning our wheels.  (Some of you may have heard of a problem solving technique called the 5 Whys.  Above, I demonstrated how that could work by asking why until you get to the real cause of the problem.  If you would like to know more about the 5 Whys, click here.)

Similarly, we need to be rewarding for the right things. You want great guest service? Recognize that. You want high productivity? Recognize that. Be specific and explicit about what you are looking for, and the reasons behind why you are looking for it.

Then you’ll be happy to get the behavior you are rewarding for.

Until next time – stay optimistic!