They can smell fake

While waiting for a recent flight, I had the pleasure of speaking to a gentleman named Dustin.  He is a 6th grade teacher in Florida and I could tell that Dustin is a guy who loves his job, enjoys helping and teaching kids and truly wants to make a difference in the lives and futures of those around him.

At one point, the conversation turned to those teachers who didn’t display the same attitude, and how they seemed to complain a lot and generally blamed the kids, the administration, and the parents for their bad experience (and attitude) as teachers.

Dustin then went on to talk about how this impacts the students.

“The kids can tell.  They don’t respond well to people who don’t seem to care.  They can smell fake.”

My first thought was, “like a dog can smell fear”?

“Sort of”, Dustin said.  “They can tell when someone isn’t genuine, and they react to that with their behavior toward the teachers and fellow students, and you can even see in their grades.”

My second thought was, 6th graders aren’t the only ones who can smell fake.  Our employees are pretty good at it, too.

Which brings me to this: leaders are like teachers.  It’s a TOUGH gig to fake.  I think fewer people are successful at “faking it until they make it” than they care to admit.

But there are plenty of people in leadership roles who, for one reason or another, have no business being there.  The process that put them there is another blog for another time.  I would rather focus on identifying the fakes and finding a different path for their talents.

And by the way, I don’t necessarily fault the fakes (yet).  Again, the system that put them there might have been broken, or they may have thought it was the right move at the time.  It’s those that have identified that they are faking their way through that need a swift kick in the pants.

Here is what I have seen fake, ingenuous, I’d-rather-be-somewhere-else type of leaders do that impact their credibility, trustworthiness and ability to be respected.

  • Inconsistent behavior – The ol’ Jekyll and Hyde.  “I wonder who is showing up today?” is a common question from employees.  Employees find it hard to trust people when they don’t know what the reaction will be if they ask a question or make a suggestion.
  • Haphazard policy enforcement – probably comes from the inconsistent behavior above, but what does it say when a leader decides to enforce a policy, rule or deadline one day, but the next day completely ignores it? Hard to know where you stand.
  • Poor communication – In my experience, I attribute 99% of all leadership issues to communication… lack of, too much, or incomplete.  When your heart and mind really aren’t in the game, it’s tough to muster the energy and patience needed to listen, convey the proper message and listen some more.

If this sounds like you, please gather your belongings and head for the exit.  Do not pass go, do not collect $200.  You are not doing yourself or your employees any favors by being fake and inconsistent.  Should you quit without another job to go to?  That’s up to you and your bank account, but PLEASE start looking for something that will truly align with your strengths and interests.

If you don’t do it for yourself, do it for your employees.  They deserve a leader who will openly communicate and LEAD them to greatness – not fake their way to mediocrity.

Thanks for reading!


About the author: In just a few weeks, Matt and his coaster nerd buddies will be embarking on their annual coaster extravaganza! This year they’ll be in California, visiting Disneyland, California Adventure, Knott’s Berry Farm, Universal Studios Hollywood and Six Flags Magic Mountain.  Blog, Twitter and Facebook posts to follow!

Broken is the new normal

Twice within 24 hours my wife and I encountered broken equipment at local businesses that visibly frustrated the employees.

People’s exhibit A: Last night at the movies, Linda noticed that one of the automatic hand dryers in the ladies room wasn’t working. When she told an employee, the response was, “yeah, that has been broken for a few years.”

People’s exhibit B: This morning at our favorite bagel place, I noticed that at the register, the little screen that faces the customers wasn’t working. When I mentioned it to the employee, she said, “I know, I’ve got to pick my battles. That one over there has a screen that works, but the order screen doesn’t. This one is the opposite. We can’t seem to get it all right at the same time.” I could hear the frustration and resignation in her voice.

To a casual observer, these probably aren’t cause for too much concern.  There is another hand dryer in the bathroom, and you can still process bagel orders, so what’s all the hub bub, Bub?

The hub bub is that while these may not have a huge impact on your guests (even though that should be a concern), they ARE impacting your employees.  Maybe even in ways you don’t realize.

A guest may see this situation once or twice, but the employees deal with it ALL THE TIME. Not only are they constantly reminded about it when THEY see it, they also get to have well-intentioned guests like us pointing out the mechanical issues of their business.  The longer that situation goes unresolved, the the more frustrating it is to hear. That frustration can really wear a person down.

When that happens, it’s really hard for an employee to take pride in their facility, or sometimes even themselves when they are working in that environment.  “Why should I worry about my appearance when the company doesn’t seem to care about what the building or equipment look like? They want me to smile and be nice? How can I smile when I’m constantly making excuses for why things aren’t working?”

And unfortunately, this is just the tip of the iceberg. If an employee gets it in their head that these issues are not being addressed, why would they bring future issues to your attention? The longer a situation persists, the more “normal” it becomes. When “broken” becomes the normal mode of doing business, we’re in trouble.

The easy answer is to fix the broken stuff in a timely manner. That may not always be easily accomplished, but at least the effort has to be there (and be known to those who are waiting for it). This means communicating the process to your employees so they don’t think you don’t care. When they think you don’t care about the facility and their experience, they could start to feel that you don’t care about them.

And you don’t want that to feel normal.

Thanks for reading!


About the author: Matt offers keynotes and in-depth workshops based on the material in his book, The Myth of Employee Burnout. Don’t accept broken employee morale in your business – it doesn’t have to be the norm!

Make it easy for people to like you

I don’t know if you have a 4 Rivers Smokehouse where you live, but we’ve got a few around here (Orlando, FL), and they are incredibly popular.  How do I know this? Because I see one of these on about 1 out of every 5 cars driving around town.

4 rivers copy

As my wife and I started noticing how many people had affixed these to their cars, two questions emerged: When are we going to try it? And, how good must it be for ALL these people to put a bumper sticker on their car?

It wasn’t until we asked a friend (who had on of these on her car) what the deal was. It was all then very clear.

It’s a magnet.

So while you might really like 4 Rivers, you can express it without the long-term commitment and potential paint damage that a bumper sticker provides. They made it easy to like them (and share that with others).  That’s smart!

How can we apply that same notion to our work environments?  How can we make it easy for our employees to like us and recommend us?  Unfortunately, I don’t think it is as easy as a bumper magnet, but maybe it’s not that tough, either.

Everyday your employees are making decisions about their experience with you.  Is it good, is it bad, what do they like, what do they not like?  Then, their actions show how they feel.  They like more stuff, they perform better.  They don’t like stuff, they become a pain in the rump.

We often talk about looking at things from our guests perspective to make sure we are meeting their needs… how often do we do that with employees?  How often do we put ourselves in a position to experience what they experience, to go through what they go through, to deal with US when we are at our best and our worst?

If we did, we might find what I like to call “emotional pinch points”.  We all know what a physical pinch point is and why it’s good to avoid it, but how many of us pay attention to the things impact the emotional well being of our employees?  It could be a small thing… maybe some illogical process that’s been in place for many years regarding how employees get paid.  You don’t even notice it now, it’s just a part of the process.  To an employee, looking at it from another angle, it’s a weekly frustration that slowly builds up and accumulates with any other pinch points they may experience.

It may take some time, but these pinches add up, and could eventually outweigh any of the good deeds you are doing.

Your challenge is to look at things from your employees’ perspective.  Get into their routine, experience what they experience.  If you find something that bugs you, immediately multiply that by 250 (average number of days a typical full time employee works; 2000 hours x 8 hours/day).  You may experience it once and think it’s not a big deal.  Now do it 250 times and see how you feel about it.

If you want some more ways to make sure you are providing a great environment for your employees, check out this great article my friend Shaun McKeogh wrote for FUNWORLD magazine!

Thanks for reading!


Also from the author: The Myth of Employee Burnout outlines Matt’s quest to get to the bottom of why some employees start off strong but then eventually fizzle out.  As one reader said, “This [book] is a must have for any leader that cares about the development of their team. You will not be disappointed.”  Can’t argue with that!  Available through Amazon or

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:
  • If you require quicker delivery, please visit:
  • 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 or 407-435-8084.
Thanks so much for your support!

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!

Kordell is a rock star

I knew before venturing out on this years coaster extravaganza that I would be paying very close attention to the way we were treated by the employees at the various parks we visited.  With long drives between some of the parks, my friend Alan and I had ample opportunity to dissect our experiences, and continually came back to one conclusion.

Kordell at Six Flags Over Texas is a ROCK STAR. He was by far the standout employee at the six parks we visited.20130719-121701.jpg

We first met Kordell in the morning when purchasing our Flash Passes (Six Flags’ cut the line pass). Here is what he did:

  • Greeted us with a smile.
  • Processed our transaction quickly (it was almost like we had a Flash Pass for the Flash Pass process!)
  • We were going to get the Gold (mid tier) pass.  Kordell noticed that Alan had an annual pass, and said with that discount we could get the Platinum pass for just a little more.  In the same breath he rattled off the benefits of the Platinum, which were very appealing to us.
  • He then said, “If you have a Discover card, I can take another 5% off!”  We did, and he did.
  • When all was said and done, he wished us a great day.

Alan and I walked out of the office commenting about how fast, friendly and knowledgeable Kordell was, AND the fact that he upsold us (which we agreed doesn’t happen that often)!  But, the story doesn’t end there.

The Platinum pass allows you to reserve a time on the Texas Giant (this was the day before the very unfortunate incident at the park) to minimize waiting. To reserve this time, we had to go back to the Flash Pass office.  Each time we did, Kordell remembered us, greeted us with a big smile and took care of our request.  We left the park for lunch, and had to turn in the Flash Pass device – who was there?  Kordell, rocking the house.

At one point in the early evening, we went to see Kordell again for a reservation for the Texas Giant.  We didn’t know it, but it had closed temporarily and was not taking reservations.  Kordell knew that, and instead set our device for a reservation for Titan (another great coaster at SFoT). He could have simply handed the devise back to us and sent us on our way, but instead he took it upon himself to make up for the fact that we couldn’t do what we originally asked for.  We were surprised and excited, and of course immediately made a bee line for Titan!

The picture above was taken when we ran into Kordell just before getting on the Texas Giant for our last ride of the night.  He was out in the park sweeping, but he was still smiling. When we mentioned how much we appreciated his service that day, he immediately (and proudly) told a co-worker standing nearby.  You could tell that he was happy that someone noticed his efforts.

When we turned in the Flash Pass device at the end of the night, we met Eric, Kordell’s supervisor.  He said that he had met Kordell when he was 15 and that he was eager to work, but too young to hire.  Eric told him to call him as soon as he turned 16 and he would hire him.  Alan and I are sure glad they both followed through!

If this experience confirms anything, it is the importance of hiring the right people.  Kordell showed signs of excellence long before he was even hired, and that translates to his performance on the job.  It’s also obvious that Kordell enjoys what he is doing, and that speaks to the ability of his management team to make sure people are in the right places and doing jobs that line up with their skills and personality.

Employees like Kordell are not always easy to find, and they will rarely be molded from someone who doesn’t have the desire or personality to perform.  So how (and where) will you find your next Kordell? Are you currently looking?

Thanks for reading!


About the author: Matt Heller cannot magically make all of your employees perform like Kordell.  He can, however, help you and your leaders figure out how to find the best talent and keep them motivated!

What can Michelle Forbes teach us about giving credit?

Michelle Forbes? The actress? Yes.

Ms. Forbes appeared in two productions that contained themes about giving credit where credit is due.

As pictured above, Michelle appeared in a Seinfeld episode where she played Julie, George Costanza’s love interest.  She was accused of taking credit for the purchase of Elaine’s big salad.

In the 1994 movie “Swimming with Sharks” she played alongside Frank Whaley, and was there to help pick up the pieces when Kevin Spacey (playing Frank’s boss) takes the credit for work that Frank’s character had done.

Both stories remind us how important it is to give credit where it’s due, as well as what can happen if you don’t (even if those outcomes are enhanced by Hollywood storytelling).

In the Seinfeld episode, George paid for Elaine’s big salad, but Julie handed it to Elaine. Elaine thanked Julie, leaving George feeling under-appreciated for his efforts.  George later tells Elaine that he paid for the big salad, and then Elaine makes an off-handed remark to Julie in a later scene.  Julie then confronts George, and all sitcom hell breaks loose.  Julie and George argue and break up.

The Swimming with Sharks example is a little more extreme.  Guy (Frank Wahley) is Buddy’s (Kevin Spacey) assistant.  To say that Buddy would win worst boss of the millennium is an understatement.  The last straw is when Buddy promises to tell his boss about Guy’s contribution on a current project, but instead takes 100% of the credit, right in front of Guy.

Guy’s reaction?  He breaks into Buddy’s house, ties him up and tortures him. It’s not pretty.

Not giving credit for other peoples’ ideas or contributions can be way too easy at times.  We already know that most people feel they don’t get enough thanks and recognition, so when a sincere thank you comes their way, it can be hard to deflect it to its rightful owner.

But we need to make a conscience effort to do so, especially if we don’t want to end up tied to a chair with Frank Whaley waving a gun at us.

Even though it may seem that giving away credit is the same as giving away credibility, it’s not.  Here are some ways that sharing the credit can help you:

  • Builds trust – employees see that you believe in them and are willing to go out on a limb to help them.  They also see you putting their needs ahead of your own. That shows that you care about them as a person, not just an employee.
  • Increases input – nothing can survive in a vacuum and no leader can succeed without input and suggestions from their team.  Giving credit encourages more ideas to flow. Taking the credit yourself will stop those ideas in their tracks.
  • Shows you are a good leader – people who take the ideas as their own sometimes are doing so to make themselves look good.  As a leader, your job is to develop those around you and sharing great ideas (and the credit for where they came from) shows that you foster greatness in your team, not just yourself.  Ultimately you are judged by your teams performance and accomplishments.  Why wouldn’t you want to show those off?

In true “giving credit” fashion, I must acknowledge Ms. Forbes and the cast, writers and crews of Seinfeld and Swimming with Sharks. This post would not have been possible without them.

Thanks for reading!


Not giving credit causes employees to burnout and not perform up to their potential.  To learn more about my research about employee burnout what it takes to overcome it in your business, click here.

The Ceiling Fan Saga

The other day, my friend Vince told me a story that I like to call, “The Ceiling Fan Saga”.  To get you up to speed quickly, here is the Cliff’s Notes version:

Vince and his wife Brenda acquired a ceiling fan from a friend who was moving.  In the process of the taking the fan down, the glass around the lights broke.  After trips and calls and online ordering from Home Depot, Vince and Brenda still didn’t have the right piece of replacement glass for the fan.  Vince finally gets the name of someone who he thinks can help him.  He is told that “Anne” will call in a few days and all will be resolved.

A few days go by.  No call.  A few more, still no call.  Vince calls the person who told him that Anne would call (because they wouldn’t give him Anne’s number).  He said there had been no call from Anne, no messages, and not even a missed call recorded on the caller ID.

“Yeah”, Anne’s colleague said, “Anne doesn’t really like to leave messages.”

Seriously? Someone who has a job of communicating and helping people OVER THE PHONE won’t leave a message?  Interesting.

Unfortunately, this saga is still ongoing, so I don’t have a resolution for you, but I do have a question.

How many of your employees are good at most parts of their job, but not the entire job? And is their deficiency the most important part of their job?

I would say that Anne’s willingness to leave a message is a pretty critical part of her job.  It’s like when I hear leaders talking about their employees saying, “Well, they are a really good cashier, they balance and know the promotions, but they are not good at talking with the guests.”

Isn’t that as much a part of their job as everything else?  Maybe it is on paper, but that’s not what is being enforced.  We are allowing that employee to not be good (or even passable) at a critical part of the job because they are competent at one that is easier to measure.

How about this: an employee that is loyal, willing to work any time, will jump in to clean and do the dirty work, yet is borderline rude with the guests and says very inappropriate things that require immediate damage control (true story)?

Reading that, you would probably say “get rid of him”, yet those scenarios seem to happen all the time.  We stop short of expecting some of our employees to actually rise to ALL of the expectations we have.

So here is your challenge: The next time you start to utter the phrase, “They may not be good at X, but it’s okay because they are really good at Y”, think about the implications of that person not being good at X.  They could impacting customer service, employee morale and teamwork. Then identify what it would take to make them better at X, and help them get there.

You can also think about this way… if, as a leader, you are not helping your employees improve their skills, someone might say about you, “Well, they are really good with numbers but they can’t coach their employees.”

In that case you wouldn’t be doing all of your job, either.

Thanks for reading!


About the author:  Did you know that Matt is writing a book about employee burnout?  You can read more about it (including a sample chapter) by clicking here, or hear him talk about it on a recent appearance on Blog Talk Radio.

Join me on BlogTalk Radio

This Sunday, June 2, I am excited to be a guest on the Peter LaPorta Show, hosted by BlogTalk Radio.  Festivities begin at noon eastern!

Laporta Show

I originally met Peter when we both worked at Universal, and now he is a successful and accomplished speaker, author and radio show host!  For more information on Peter, click here.

We’ll be talking about employee burnout (and my new book on the subject), and anything else we can fit into our 30 minutes on the air.  To tune in and/or call in, click the pic below for more details!

BlogtalkradioThanks in advance for tuning in!


Employees Also Want Fairness

In response to my last post, What Employees Want From Their Leaders, my friend Judy Kolk from Kayben Farms shared with me some of the things that she has uncovered over the years about what people feel an employer “owes” their employees.  She graciously agreed that I could re-post them here for all of you.  It’s great insight.

“In interviews I always ask people what they think an employer “owes” their employees.  The most common answer is “fairness”, so I go on to ask them what that means to them.

The responses I get sound like this:

  • A good place to work – this includes fun
  • Training – they don’t want to be set up for failure because of improper training
  • Communication – they feel like they can do better when they know what the expectations are
  • Respect – so many of them are concerned about not being respected, both personally and for their skills
  • Recognition – when they have done something exemplary, they want to be acknowledged
  • A chance to shine – they may have a particular skill never get’s “discovered”, but would have been happy to use in a previous job.”

See any similarities to our last list?

What I find interesting is that they say things like being set up for success, having the tools and training to do their job well and being recognized for their talents and accomplishments. They are essentially giving us a blueprint for success in terms of keeping our employees happy.

It also means that they WANT to succeed, they WANT to do a good job, and they WANT to be able to show they can contribute.

That’s the good news.  Now we just have to follow the blueprint.

Thanks for reading!


Bonus Fun: Kayben Farms has a pretty cool employment page where they do a great job of setting the stage for the employee experience.  Check it out!