3 Questions Live – Episode 3

Here we are again, with another episode of 3 Questions Live!  This is where I will answer 3 questions from you and ASK 3 questions that I would like for you to answer.

In this episode, I answer the following questions:

  1. How do you convey to a new leader that their role is not just about wearing a different colored shirt?
  2. How do you get respect from your leaders when they discount your ideas for being a “millennial”?
  3. How do you get respect from peers after a promotion, especially when one of them was up for the same promotion you got?

If you have thoughts or comments on any of these topics, I would love to hear your perspective as well!

My 3 questions for you are:

  1. How often should we do formal evaluations?
  2. What are the best ways to teach leadership skills?
  3. What are some of your favorite books, podcasts or resources that provide great insight?

Please enter your answers to the above questions, or your questions for a future episode in the comments below, or email me at matt@performanceoptimist.com.

Looking forward to your input!

Thanks for watching!

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Infographic “How To” Post 10: Trusted

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

Employees Stay10

I’d actually like to start the final installment of our series with a question.

Do you trust your employees immediately or do they have to earn your trust over time?

I know people who are firmly planted in both camps.  I guess the same question could be asked of people that you meet, even outside of the workplace.  Is it in your nature to trust right away, or are you a little more cautious and maybe even skeptical?

Whatever your modus operendi, the infogrpahic makes the case that trusting your employees is an important part of getting them to stay.  I would agree with that.

Let’s look at the definition of trust, so that we can then examine what it means and what it looks like on a daily basis.

Trustreliance on the integrity, strength, ability, or surety, of a person or thing; confidence.

Side note: I didn’t even know that “surety” was a word, but I trust that dictionary.com wouldn’t steer me wrong!

Thinking of our employees, in order to trust them, we need to rely on their integrity, strength, ability and surety. We have to have some confidence that they will do as directed.

I can hear some of you now… “if that’s the criteria, forget it!  I can’t trust these people.”

Before we jump on that bandwagon, there are some really interesting components to this definition that I’d like to explore.  First, let’s talk about integrity.


A common definition for integrity is: doing the right thing even when no one is looking.  Integrity is also about being honest, especially in the face of adversity.  In all fairness, how can we rely on our employees to act with integrity until they have been battle tested?  We can get a sense of who they are and what they stand for during the interview and initial training, but until they are out on their own, we won’t really see what they are made of. Having said all that, you may think I am of the mindset that employees have to earn every bit trust that I might give them.  But I’m not.

I think when an employee starts out, in order to begin fostering an environment of trust, we have to be the ones to make the first investment.  We have to trust that our employees are giving us their best and extend the benefit-of-the-doubt when needed.  This is not to say that people should be allowed get away with poor behavior or performance, but we shouldn’t jump to the conclusion that it’s an integrity issue.  If we get more evidence later on that that is the case – so be it.  But not right off the bat.


What I think is really interesting about this word within the confines of this definition, and the context of workplace trust, is where it actually comes from. In large part, it comes from you.

Think about it.  An employees’ ability to do their job is derived from, among other things, the training they receive, the environment in which they work, the conditions under which they work (including peer relationships), and the support they get from leadership. Barring physical or mental conditions, if we cannot rely on an employees’ ability to do their job, we have to look squarely back at ourselves.  What is our influence, whether direct or indirect, over their training, environment and conditions?  Is the support we are providing adequate?  Do we trust our own abilities enough to be able to truly set our employees up for success?  Is our frustration in their abilities (or lack of) really a reflection of our ability (or lack of)?

These are not easy questions, but they are important.


When you are confident something is going to happen, you can feel it.  Some people  feel it in their gut, others feel it as a warm and soothing calm.  Either way, you feel it to the point of knowing it.  It’s similar to having confidence in a friend or colleague… you just know they are going to come through.  That confidence is built on your experiences with them, and it takes time to develop those relationships.

Showing that you have confidence in others is part of trusting them and ultimately keeping them on staff.  In my previous jobs, I could tell when my manager had confidence in me… he would assign me something and let me run with it.  If the confidence was lacking (perhaps because of higher stakes, a tighter deadline, or my lack of experience in that area), additional check in points were scheduled and work progress was evaluated more stringently.

But honestly, that was a growth opportunity for me.  The stakes were higher, and once that project as completed successfully, the confidence my manager had in me was also higher.

So bringing this back to the 30,000 foot view of trust, I think we can all agree that it’s important to show our employees that we trust them. It’s critical to their confidence in us and themselves, and helps create an environment where employees can learn and grow.

If we don’t trust them, we have to examine that very carefully.  Early on, there may not be enough mutual experience to determine how much actual trust is there.  Fair enough.  Once they are in the role for awhile, if we still don’t trust them or their abilities, is it because they aren’t trying, don’t have the aptitude or just don’t want to do it?  Many of those answers point back to us in one way or another.

Since this is a “how to” post, we can’t just give you the philosophical side of the story without the practical side.  And there are two practical sides.

How to TRUST your employees:

  • Just trust ’em – don’t be so skeptical.  Easier said that done in some cases, I get it.  But not everyone is automatically against you or a moron. Unfortunately, when you think very skeptically about a person, you tend to treat them that way.  That doesn’t foster a lot of trust.
  • Give them a chance – Allow them to show you (through actions over time) that they can be trusted.  If they make a mistake (without malicious intent), guide them back on to the correct path.

How to SHOW your employees that you trust them:

  • Listen to them
  • Use words like “we” and “us”
  • Ask their opinion
  • Tell them, “I trust you”
  • Follow-up without micromanaging
  • Hold them accountable to goals and standards of performance
  • Praise in public (where and when appropriate), discipline in private
  • Coach employees – help them help you find solutions
  • Explain WHY you have confidence in them – what have they done in the past that signifies they are ready for an upcoming challenge?
  • Share pertinent information
  • Admit a mistake

That last one is a tricky one for some.  “… admit a mistake? No way!  People will laugh, point fingers and lose all respect.”  I’ve actually found the opposite to be true. When you own up to making a mistake, people see you as more human, more real, and more like them.  People trust real.

There is also a vulnerability in admitting a mistake that employees tend to find very comforting and endearing.  They also don’t have to deal with the obvious cover-up and back-peddling that often happens when trying to minimize a mistake.  If anything, that behavior will quickly degrade any amount of trust your employees may have had in you.

Like respect and communication, trust is a two-way street.  Make sure it’s going both ways!

Thanks for reading and I hope you enjoyed the series!!  Comments and questions are always welcome!


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.

Infographic “How To” Post 7: Valued

This is part 7 of a 10 part “how to” series covering the points in the infographic below.

Employees Stay7You might be wondering how “valued” and “appreciated” are different.  After all, they are both about acknowledging an employees’ contribution.  I would also say they are similar because you need to genuinely appreciate and value your employees to show that you appreciate and value them!

And lastly, when you show appreciation, it can make an employee feel valued. Whew.

To me the big difference is how you measure these two things, and because value is about worth, there is a tangible representation of worth that every employee gets.

Their paycheck.

So going back to post #1, at least part of an employees’ value to the organization will be determined by a set of numbers on a deposit slip.  But, if we allow that to be the only determining factor of value, we are missing a tremendous opportunity to convey to our employees just how valuable they are to us.

The reason that the paycheck can’t be the only measure of value is because we are dealing with people, not a product or commodity.  You can say it costs $3 to build a widget, so the value (before adding profit margin) is $3.  Of course, the “consumer” value for that widget is going to be based on what price a store can charge.  In the employee world, it’s not an apples to apples comparison because people have emotions and feelings which are HUGE factors in determining value.

Going back to ‘worth’ for just a minute, when people say they don’t get paid enough to do something, they often say “it’s not worth it”.  What they are really saying is that it’s not worth their time, their effort, or extending themselves beyond their comfort zones.

When you look up the word worth, it’s about equality.

Worth – equivalent in value to the sum or item specified

The ‘item specified’ in our case could be a task or an extra shift, or heck, if we aren’t doing the rest of the things right on this infographic, it could be their daily job duties.  So we have to be able to equate the value of what they are doing with the value of what they get out of it – which isn’t all about money.

People like and need to get paid, yes.  However, people also have this need to be involved, to be productive, and to know that they are doing something important, otherwise they are just wasting their time.

Have you seen people who felt like they were wasting their time?  It’s not pretty.

So we ask ourselves: Are my employees doing something important?  Is their role (and how they perform it) critical to guest service, revenue, efficiency, safety, team morale, etc.?  I would argue that yes, what our employees do is important (and valuable).  Why would we pay them to do it if it wasn’t?  At the same time, why do we continue to pay employees when they are no longer providing value?

You mean, like stop paying them?  No, I mean let them go.  Set them free. End the employment relationship.  If there is one thing that is undermining your ability to convey just how valuable employee 1 is, it’s keeping on employee 2, who is a slacker and doing just enough to not get fired. If I were employee 1 (doing the same job as employee 2), I wouldn’t think what I was doing was very valuable because employee 2 was still allowed to it.

And yes, you probably need employee 2 to fill a spot on the schedule, but other than that, they aren’t doing you any favors.

So if you value your employees, and you feel they bring value to the organization, how do we SHOW employees that they are valuable (so they’ll stay)?  Glad you asked.  Here are a few suggestions:

  • Rid yourself of slackers. I’m serious.  If they’ve been coached, and they just aren’t coming around (or aren’t a good fit for the team or company), cut your losses. Doing this shows how much you REALLY value the valuable employees for their worthy contributions.  Like it or not, employees compare EVERYTHING.  “I’m making the same amount as everyone else, but they don’t follow the rules, don’t come in on time or treat the guests well.  What the heck am I doing all that for?”  You have control over that value proposition.
  • Communicate value and worthiness.  Employees don’t auto-magically know how valuable they are. It’s tough sometimes to see past your current task and fathom how it all fits into the big picture.  It’s up to you to communicate to the ride operator, retail clerk or custodial attendant just how important their job is… not just in the context of what tasks they perform, but to the overall organization.  We do this through specific and sincere feedback, mentoring, and coaching.  We also do this by removing the word just when describing a position, job or assignment. He’s “just” a clerk, “just” go stand there and greet people.  You immediately remove any and all value that might have been previously implied.
  • Make working for you worth it. Remember in post #1 when we said that pay was only 1/10th of the overall compensation an employee gets, and that if that’s ALL they get (and by extension, all they’re worth) often they will say it’s not enough? Take that to heart and consider all of the other things that employees value.  Do they value personal development, communication, a team atmosphere, career growth, someone who will listen to them, challenge, involvement, feedback, customer service?  Do they have an interest or passion that we can tap into and put them in a position to use that on the job?  Don’t know?  Find out.  When others value what you value, or acknowledge your values as important, doesn’t that make the experience more worth it?

Ultimately, for your employees to stay, there is one question they will ask themselves everyday (and you likely ask yourself the same question).

Is this worth it?  If so, they will stay.

If not, they’ll eventually find a job that is worth it.

Next up: On A Mission

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.

Record sales when short staffed – a story about bravery, vision, and true leadership

I apologize for my recent “blog silence”!  Some of you already know that my wife and I recently moved from Orlando to Hendersonville, NC, and packing, driving, and unpacking have taken up a bunch of my time (and provided some great customer service stories, but those will have to wait)!  We’re quasi settled now, and I hope that today’s post was worth the wait!

It’s a story about a leader who works in the theme park industry and what he did to make it (quite successfully) through a busy spring break season.  He sent me the following email, and graciously agreed to allow me to share it with you.


I’m just going to jump right into this: I just completed the most rewarding and fun week of work I’ve had in a long while, and it was during peak season! Sorry for the long book of an email, but I must tell all!

Going into this Spring Break season I knew first hand we were going to be short handed in the staffing department of the operation. Those who we did have on the roster would be pushed harder to make up for it, and it would be up to us as leaders in the venue to ensure they are given 200% support, encouragement, and engagement for their efforts.

In our unit we have our primary restaurant and a handful of smaller locations. As my expertise lies in food carts I’ve spent the past year improving that part of the operation, but Continue reading

Epic recognition fail

Please tell me I didn’t just see that.

Yesterday I was at a local office store, waiting to pick something up from the copy/print center.  Behind the counter, two employees, Dustin and Tina, where feverishly working to complete the orders of the people in line in front of me.

I had worked with Tina before, and she is a true rock star.  Any business would be happy to employ her. She’s knowledgeable, friendly, efficient, and just a pleasure to work with.  Maybe that’s why this recognition fail was so profound to me.  Tina deserves SO much better.

Tina had come up to the computer at the front counter.  She was working on something for one of the other customers. You could tell by the look on her face that she was deep in thought and concentration.

At that moment, a young man in Manager-type clothes walks up to Tina with a piece of paper.  He starts talking to her with little regard for the work she was already doing. I was standing pretty close, so it was pretty easy to hear what was being said.

Manager – “Have you seen this?” (showing the paper to Tina)

Tina – (while still trying to work) “no, what is it?”

Manager – “You were mentioned personally on the President’s list.”

Tina – (1/2 looking at the paper, 1/2 looking at the computer screen) “Oh, uh, okay.”

Manager – (as he walks away) “You can keep that one, I’ve got another one for the break room.”

Do you feel that knot in your stomach?  That’s a completely wasted recognition opportunity.  Kinda makes me sick even to think about it.

Even more so, as I observed Tina just after that, she looked confused and a little annoyed.  Last time I checked, those were NOT the emotions people should feel when they’ve been recognized.

Then again, I cannot really qualify this as recognition. At best, it was a drive-by-manager-doing-his-duty.  I don’t know what the “President’s List” is, but I bet the recipient deserves better than a photo copy and an interruption.

Probably the hardest part for me to fathom, was the look on the Manager’s face as he walked away – the look of total managerial satisfaction. Yes, it does feel good to recognize others and to praise their accomplishments, but he did neither.

He failed.

But he doesn’t know he failed, at least not yet.  My guess is that it will be years before he has the managerial maturity to know that what he just did was about as far from effective recognition as you can get.  Even if Tina’s performance fades or she leaves, he probably won’t equate that to his actions.  And that’s too bad.

So what would you have done differently?  If you were this manager, how would you have recognized Tina for appearing on the President’s List?  Email me or leave a comment!

Thanks for reading!


About the author: Along with his business partner, Scott Brown, Matt has helped develop and launch Lessons In Fun – an all-new business training seminar where the world’s greatest theme parks become your classroom. Click here for more information. Registration for our session in Feb. 2015 is now open!

Know what you do well

The very first time I presented at the IAAPA Attractions Expo was in 2006. I flew to Atlanta for the opportunity, and will never forget how it went.

It stunk. At least in my mind.

I remember talking really fast and having no life in my presentation at all. I tried to be funny, but it jut wasn’t working. I realized (too late, I am afraid) what my problem was.

I was trapped on the podium behind a long table and a lectern. I was trapped by my nervousness as much as my short microphone cable. I was separated and cut off from the most important people in the room. The audience.

I didn’t realize how much I really fed off of their energy and emotion until that presentation. The next year I decided to get off the podium and work the crowd from a closer proximity. I was much more comfortable, and I could tell that the audience was having a better time, too.

The lesson?  My presentations generally go much better when I can interact with the crowd.  Since realizing this, I have never let myself get trapped on the podium again.

Recently, I had another, similar lesson.  It seems as though just about every independent speaker or trainer out there has some sort of video, either of them presenting or talking directly to the camera. Since I am working on building a business of my own, I figured I should have one, too.  So, I’ve spent a good amount of time talking to my computer, setting up a decent shot, thinking of what to say, and trudging through footage of a recent class I taught.

I was über unsuccessful. I wasn’t getting my point across and even I got tired of watching after a few seconds. I just couldn’t see how anyone was going to be compelled enough to keep watching and hear my message.  (The video I shared last week is in direct response to my lack of success in this other medium).

Then it hit me. This is not what I do. It’s like being stuck on that podium at IAAPA. I realized my strength was in the live performance, so I should concentrate on that. Luckily, I’ve also had good response to my writing, so that’s worth pursuing as well.

I found this to be extremely motivating, because my efforts to do the same thing that everyone else was doing was not going well. I’ve never been one to blindly follow the pack, and maybe this was my wake-up call that I was trying to do just that.

If you have ever felt the same way, here are some questions for you to consider.

  • What are you good at?
  • Do you currently get to use your greatest talents in your job/career?
  • What do you do that may seem effortless to you, but is a struggle for others?
  • Have other people said, “You know, you would be great at X”… but X is something you’ve never considered?
  • Are you trying (and not being successful) at something right now that isn’t really “you”?

As you move through your career, these are good questions to keep in mind.  Over the years, the answers can change, and that’s okay.  In fact, trying new things and working at additional skills is how we grow and get better at what we do.  I am certainly not saying we shouldn’t try new stuff.

I am suggesting that while we are trying new stuff (and maybe struggling with it), don’t forget about what it is that you do well.  For me, I’ll keep writing and performing live until I can master talking to my computer.

Thanks for reading.