Infographic “How To” Post 3: Challenged

This is part 3 of a 10 part “how to” series covering the points in the infographic below.

Employees Stay3For a long time there was (and maybe still is) a movement to try to remove all risk from the jobs that our employees do.  We worked to simplify, streamline and dare I say… idiot-proof many of the tasks and procedures that our employees are engaged in.

Part of the reason could have been safety… too many accidents or even near accidents.  That makes sense.  But there was also a pervasive mindset that while we’re making things safer, let’s also make them easier.

“It’ll be easier to train this position and our employees can get up to speed faster.”  What that really says is that we can spend fewer of our precious training dollars on teaching them complex tasks.  Along this same line, many conversations in management offices were also lamenting the fact that the young workforce just couldn’t handle those tasks.

“They don’t have the work ethic, discipline… blah, blah, blah… so we’ve gotta make these jobs idiot-proof – you won’t even need to THINK to do it.”

And there in-lies the problem.  Sure, you’ve shaved some time off the training schedule and saved a few bucks, but now you have a job that no one really wants to do.  You want top talent in your organization, serving your guests?  Don’t give them simpleton, dumbed-down jobs to do. After all, the only person who WANTS to do an idiot-proof job is… well… an idiot.

So here we are, with (potentially) oversimplified jobs and training schedules that produce mundane, apathetic performance in the field.  Why? Because our employees are not given the chance to do what they are naturally wired for – survive in a challenging environment.

Of course it may not LOOK like that to you, their manager, but regardless of generation, race, creed, color or ethnic background, humans are largely wired the same. We’re survivors, and we rise to the expectations and challenges that are set up for us (given the right circumstances, motivations, and environment, of course).

No challenge = no need to try any harder

Yes, you may have some slackers and under-performers, but I would argue that it’s not because of a lack of drive to survive, but a lack of the right environment where they feel it’s important (or necessary) to accept the challenge in front of them.  We’re not running from sabre-tooth tigers anymore, so we have to be a little more creative in presenting these situations.

These “situations” are the jobs we hire our employees for. Interacting with guests, running rides, selling tickets, flipping hamburgers… so many of these jobs that have been sanitized for your protection.  Now, I am certainly not advocating that we remove safety procedures or mechanisms, but what challenge this poses for US is how to make these mundane and risk averse jobs more interesting.  Give them something to do, something to think about, some way to use their brain on a regular basis.

To me, this means making some new activity a higher expectation than it was before.  For example, let’s take a greeter at an attraction.  Their job is to greet, check heights, screen for loose articles, etc.  At busy times, this can be challenging, but the surge of guests may ebb and flow throughout the day.  What is their challenge when it’s a little slower?  Do we give them anything else to do during those times?

Do we teach them how to engage a stranger in conversation?  When the line is stopped near the greeter, and there is a period of time that passes that the greeter and a group of guests are standing within a few feet of each other… what do we often see the greeter doing?  Looking around, looking at the ground, looking longingly at the ride platform hoping their next rotation comes soon… How about in those instances we teach and encourage our employees to engage in conversation with the guests?  We teach them about conversation starters and visual cues so that they can talk to the guests, which makes the time go by faster for everyone.

I know what you’re going to say… we teach those things in orientation. Great, but how much time do you spend with them at the greeter position following up? How often are you out there setting the example?  How much of a priority is it for you?  If you say “not much”, then it’s not going to be much of a priority for your employees, either.  They aren’t going to see this is as a true challenge or even a job duty.  It’s just something “they” talk about but don’t really expect us to do.

I also think sometimes we let people “off the hook” to be the best they can be at even the “mundane” jobs.  We know it’s easy, so we don’t expect people to put a whole lot of effort into it.  If we don’t think the job is important, they won’t either.

Here are some other ways to challenge employees that are not so job specific:

  • Ask them to work on a project to improve something.  Need more efficiency, higher sales, etc., ask your employees to help come up with ideas.  BONUS – if you implement their ideas, they’ll have MUCH higher buy-in than if you came up with the same idea.
  • When they complain about something, ask for a solution. Follow-up with them in a few days or a week and ask them what they came up with.
  • Hold them to the high standards you already have.  Seeing the high expectations many companies have for their employees, starting with enforcing the standards you already have can be challenging enough.

As I re-read this post to make sure I hadn’t forgotten anything (which is still possible!), I noticed a trend.  A lot of what it takes to challenge people is in the follow-up – which I know is a HUGE challenge for leaders.  So maybe we start there… dedicate yourself to following-up with your team… what you say…. what you do… what you expect.  Make what you SAY is important BE important to others.

You have to rise to THAT challenge before we can talk about how to further challenge our employees.  Are you up for it?

Next up: Promoted

Thanks for reading!


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.

Give Your Peeps a Chance

So Rush just released their 20th studio album entitled Clockwork Angels.  60+ minutes of music from three guys who have been together for over 30 years and are each pushing the 60 year-old mark.  If that weren’t incredible enough, it’s actually a really good album, but then again, I am a Rush fan.

What that means is that I will certainly give them a chance when they release new material.  They are typically treading in some new territory, and as fans we’ve become accustomed to their desire to change course musically over the years. That’s probably what has kept them thriving and relevant since 1974.

What this also means is that it might take some time to get used to their new direction.  Mention Rush to 99% of the population, and they will immediately think of the song, “Tom Sawyer.”  Even if they liked that song, they may not have liked other things they heard by the band because it wasn’t exactly like (or very close to) the style of Tom Sawyer.  The same is true of this new album, but I realized a few things as I listened to it multiple times (that WILL lead to some leadership insight, I promise!).

  • Rush music challenges the listener.  They certainly don’t play what you are expecting. Unfamiliar chord changes, arrangements and melodies seem to be their norm, if that makes sense.  Again, that might make it tough to sonically digest for some.  What it does for the people who stick with it for a few listens is that it helps to expand their musical vocabulary, like listening to different points of view on a particular topic.
  • Rush fans trust the band to make it worth their while. Rush has been around long enough to build up a pretty loyal fan base that will take the time to listen to and absorb the new music they create.  One of the most often heard comments about a Rush album, especially this one, is that it gets better with each listen.  Nuances of the music are discovered which makes you want to listen AGAIN to hear what ELSE might be going on that you missed the first 7 times.  By this point you are very familiar with the music, and most likely, the oddness of the new direction is growing on you or it’s not.  Thing is, you’ve already invested significant time… what’s one more listen to be sure?

Here’s how this all relates to leadership (at least in my mind)…

We all have people in our personal and professional lives that challenge us. Sometimes that challenge seems like a good thing that helps us grow, sometimes it’s just annoying.  What we have to realize is that even the annoying challenges help us grow.  Think about that employee who just seems to rub you the wrong way.  Everything they say is like nails on a chalkboard, and you usually do what you can to avoid them.  Well… what if you really gave them a chance and REALLY listened to them?  What are they trying to tell you?  What nuances of their personality have you missed because you dismissed their annoying persona from the get go?

Like I am a fan of Rush, I think it is important for leaders to be a fan of people.  Not crazy, paint your face kind of fans… well… maybe – why not?  What shows your enthusiasm for your team more than your willingness to go out on a limb for them?  What instills loyalty more than consistently delivering on your promise to be there for them?  What creates more “I will do whatever it takes” type of attitudes than having complete trust in someone and their ability to lead you in the right direction?

That’s what a fan sees.  That’s what you want your employees to see in you.  But like many things, it starts with you.

Be a fan of theirs, they will be a fan of yours.

Thanks for reading!

About the author: Matt Heller attended his first Rush concert in 1984.  He was 14 and had to buy and extra ticket so his Dad could come along as the chaperone. True story.