Should we be striving for loyalty over engagement?

Don’t get me wrong, I’m a big employee engagement guy. In fact I talk a lot about engagement in The Myth of Employee Burnout.  I truly do think we should be focused on engaging the hearts and minds of our employees. After all, that’s how we get the best out of people, right?

I’d like to challenge my own theory.  The other day I was thinking about guest loyalty programs. You know the ones… a special card or program companies use to get you to come back and continue using their service (i.e. create loyalty).

For example, one of the grocery stores in my town offers fuel points… the more you spend in the store, the more fuel points – i.e. discount – you get.  Makes me a loyal customer, right?

Maybe.  It certainly brings me back because I like the discount on gas, but if another grocery store has similar products, maybe offers better service, I might go there.  It might even depend on my mood.  If I can waffle back and forth that easily, I don’t think I’m that loyal.

Why? Because when you look up the definition of loyal, you get this: a strong feeling of support or allegiance.  Based on the example above, I would say that I have a moderate feeling of support or allegiance to the grocery store that offers fuel points. Why?  Because it’s transactional, not emotional.

More on that in a minute.

Back to my original theory – if we truly want employees to embrace our values and put forth their best effort, should we be concentrating on employee loyalty more than engagement? Should we be focused on creating “a strong feeling of support or allegiance” in our employees, over and above their level of engagement?  Maybe even instead of?  Or maybe loyalty creates engagement?

Here’s what I know: loyalty is powerful. Loyalty will “motivate” people to do things they may not otherwise do.  Think of the people you consider yourself “loyal” to… would you stick your neck out for them, step outside your comfort zone for their benefit?  I’m going to bet YES was the answer.

I know what you might be thinking… loyalty in the workplace went out of style like the promise of a gold watch at the end of 40 years of service.  Wrong.  Loyalty from our employees went out when we stopped being loyal to our employees.  When we got the idea in our head that they were going to jump ship for more money down the road, we stopped trying to earn their loyalty. And that’s our fault.

Earning loyalty in 2019 is going to be different than earning loyalty in 1989 or 1979, or 1959.  Many of your employees have different life situations and circumstances that lead them to your company, so we have to look at how we support them and gain their allegiance in a different way.

Is support about training?  Yes.  But it’s also about a listening ear, guidance from a trusted leader, and knowing that you have their back.

And allegiance, like we mentioned earlier, is about emotion. It’s about deeply believing in something to the point you choose it over other options. You feel so emotionally connected to to the cause, company or person that you feel compelled to take action. Probably why we pledge “allegiance” to the flag here in the USA.

When we focus on fostering support and allegiance, it is no longer about what our employees can do for us, but what can we do for our employees, which is a fundamental shift in thinking for many leaders.  It’s the upside-down triangle that puts the “top” of the organization on the bottom of the triangle, because as a leader, you are there to support the efforts of everyone else to create a successful team or company.

But before you print and hand out employee loyalty cards, remember the story of the gas points.  It’s counting transactions, which will only produce moderately loyal actions.

Contrast that with my experience with Alamo earlier this year. Long story short, they had a car for me when another rental company would not honor my reservation.  Not only that, the agent was so kind and accommodating (and could sense my urgency), I couldn’t help but feel supported and that they truly cared about me. Since then, I have pledged my allegiance to Alamo. (Full disclosure, I had been a member of their Alamo Insiders loyalty program before this, but it was this experience that truly made me LOYAL!)

Related: AttractionPros Podcast Episode 92 – Service Urgency (and more on the Alamo story)

So creating employee loyalty should not be about cards or programs. It should be about creating bonds and relationships with people so they feel supported and naturally want to pledge their allegiance to you.

Loyalty is not dead. You just have to earn it.

Thanks for reading!

Want to support a great organization AND learn some important leadership concepts at the same time??  Now you can!  A portion of all book sales in 2019 will be donated to Give Kids The World!


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!


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.

Book with Buy Now

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?


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!


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.







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.

To appreciate people, you have to appreciate people

After my recent epic roller coaster-palooza trip, I noted in my recap that one thing I noticed was that the places with the best guest service also had leaders who were out-and-about  and visible to guests and employees.

One more roller coaster picture because... why not!

One more roller coaster picture because… why not??

While I’ll expound on that in the future, it also occurred to me that just being visible isn’t always a good thing.  If you are a jerk, maybe it’s best that people DON’T see you.

What got me thinking about this was looking back at some of the blogs and articles I’ve read about leadership best practices.  Many of them contain very good advice about recognizing the positive in people and showing appreciation for their contributions.  They may even say, “be visible to your employees!”  But if you are a jerky-jerk, that might back-fire.

What these articles fail to include (and I am probably guilty of this as well) is not mentioning one of the most important, foundational, critical and experience-influencing characteristics of all.

In order to show appreciation for people, you have to genuinely appreciate them and the work they do.

And sadly, that’s not always the case.

We can all tell the difference between sincere recognition and somewhat positive words being thrown at us by someone who thinks that’s what they are supposed to do.  The delivery is different, the tone is different, and the impact is different.

To appreciate simply means: to be grateful or thankful for, or to value or regard highly. 

Let’s see which of these sound more like you… how you view employees:

Leader A

  • Glad they are part of the team
  • Welcome their ideas and contributions
  • Interested in their development and growth

Leader B

  • A drain on your energy and time
  • Necessary evil
  • No-good slackers

I would love it if my Leader B descriptions were a little far-fetched, but experience tells me otherwise.  If that sounds like you, call me.  Seriously.  407-435-8084.  It’s very possible that you are the leader employees DON’T want to see.

If you related more with Leader A – WONDERFUL!  You probably already appreciate, recognize and value your employees. If you aren’t doing it, but you THINK it, it’s time to put those thoughts into action!

Like so many things, our actions are nothing more than the physical manifestations of our thoughts. You want to show GENUINE appreciation?  You’ve got to be genuinely appreciative.

Thanks for reading!


About the author:  Matt founded Performance Optimist Consulting in 2011 with one goal in mind: to help leaders get the most out of themselves and their teams.  He does this through speaking engagements, training workshops and one-on-one coaching.  His book, the Myth of Employee Burnout outlines why some employees start off strong but eventually fizzle out. It has been called a “great resource” and “an eye-opener”.



Knowledge is power, knowing how to use it is priceless

In customer service circles, we talk a lot about knowledge. As a service provider, having the knowledge of what to do, how to do it and the background information to help the consumer make the right choice is paramount.

Also knowing when to back off can be a useful talent.

A few weeks ago, Linda and I went to Colonial Photo & Hobby, a local specialty photo shop where we have gotten great service and great products in the past. I would almost describe CP&H as old fashioned or a throwback, but in the best possible way… when you walk in the store there are numerous people waiting to help, and they are experts in their field. They have knowledge to spare and are willing to share it.

We were lucky enough that day to be helped by Ken Pepper. We were either looking for a new camera, or needed information about our current camera to take better pictures. Ken listened, asked insightful questions, made suggestions, let us try different cameras, explained various features and taught us more than a few things that would help our picture taking efforts. It was everything you could want from a service interaction.

But Ken is not the reason for the post. Not the entire reason, anyway.

There was another employee nearby who did not have a customer to help, so they decided to “help” Ken and us. As Ken was making a suggestion, the other employee would interrupt, make a different suggestion, and basically tell Ken how to do his job. It was annoying and insulting at the same time. Ken handled it like a pro, though.  He patiently listened to their suggestions and went ahead with his own agenda anyway.

Luckily, another customer was in need of help, so the other employee left and we were able to be helped by Ken, unencumbered by other influences.

The other employee probably had the knowledge to help us, but their approach, when we were already being helped by Ken, was overbearing and out of place.

So where did this come from? Why would this employee feel the need to power-in on Ken’s interaction?

  • Maybe they had a problem with Ken. (Hard to believe as easygoing and patient as Ken is, but it’s possible.) Maybe they had some sort of issue in the past and this employee didn’t think too highly of Ken’s suggestions or his ability to make the sale.
  • Maybe there is a self esteem issue. The amount of experience in this store is incredible, and maybe this person feels the need to prove their worth any chance they get, and maybe Ken is an easy target because of this low-key demeanor.
  • Maybe they just can’t help themselves. Some personality styles prefer to shoot first and ask questions later. Maybe this employee hasn’t developed the self awareness and control to use their knowledge at appropriate times and situations.

The impacts here are two-fold (at least).  First, if this had gone on much longer it would have really soured our experience as consumers. (It obviously stuck with me enough that I am writing about it, but it did not tip the scales away from doing business with CP&H in the future.)  Secondly, if Ken continues to be the target of this type of undercutting, it could lead to animosity and tension among the staff, which has a funny way of rearing it’s ugly head when customers happen to be around. Either way, it’s not good for business.

You’ve probably never heard me say, “discourage your staff from providing service and information”, but in this case it’s more important to know WHEN and HOW to provide it.

So HOW would you handle this?  WHEN would you step in if you saw this happening?

Thanks for reading!


Post script: In the end, did we buy a new camera?  No. Ken taught us enough about our current camera that we were able to take the type of pictures we wanted. Because of his great service, though, the next time we DO need a camera (or anything CP&H sells), we’re going to see Ken!

Comparing Influences

Teflon Coated Dreams. Fast Forward. Touch. Snafu. Exit 4. Virtual Dandelion. Left of Center. The Anne Deming Band. Nine Tall Booms. Voodoo Hodown.

What do all these names have in common? They are all names of bands I have been in over the years. In each case, before we picked up our instruments to make some sort of music, we talked about our influences.We discussed what other bands, musicians and music moved us, what had entered into our musical consciousness and could (ability permitting) be heard in the way express ourselves on our instruments.

It was a critical conversation, and one that had to happen before the creative process could begin. It allowed us to get to know each other as people and as players, and instantly created a strong bond or told us “this might not work”. Ultimately, it was about finding common ground.

I wondered the other day what would happen if we adopted some of this process when we hire employees (or even talk to them about their career goals)?

Now, with full disclosure, it will be no surprise to anyone reading this that this is by no means a fool proof system, as evidenced by how many bands break-up over creative differences versus how many actually stay together. However, it could be argued that perhaps the “influences” conversation didn’t initially go deep enough for the bands who didn’t make it, or, someone in the band got too big for their britches.

As part of the process of getting to know potential applicants or your current employees, what can be gained by asking them what, or who, has influenced them in the past?

  • How they think: often you will hear about a situation that happened, and why it was good or bad. You may now have a better idea about how they will react to things in your workplace.
  • What they value: what did they learn, or takeaway from the experience that shaped who they are? Do those values match yours, or those of your company?
  • What moves (or motivates) them: did this situation or person move them to action in anyway, whether wanting to follow their lead or avoid their mistakes?

If you like the idea of having a better understanding of what your applicants/employees think, what they value and what motivates them, maybe it’s time to ask them about their influences.

Let me know how it goes!

Thanks for reading!


About the author: In case you were wondering, some of Matt’s musical influences include Rush, Marillion, Yes, Pink Floyd, & Living Colour.  If you are familiar with those artists, does that give you an idea of what he values, how he thinks, and what motivates him?