The Art of Effective Leadership
Strong, visible leadership can make all the difference in a changing market. Victoria Lynn, managing director at Looping Group, has seen that firsthand at Drayton Manor Park in Tamworth, England, which has experienced an acquisition and a pandemic in recent years.
“2022 was fantastic. Customer satisfaction rose, the staff seemed happy, the rides were working, and the revenue and profits were good,” she said. Lynn expected 2023 to be a banner year for the park. Instead, “in my 23-year career, it was the most challenging year I have ever had for many reasons.”
A Changing Social Landscape
Following the pandemic, guests were more likely to become impatient and irate, despite fewer queues. This also extended to park employees. “The staff became more temperamental, which was a big learning for me and the leadership team,” she said. Despite Drayton Manor being a tourism business, employees didn’t want to work weekends and late nights. “It was quite a shock to us because we had a lot of events planned.”
She responded by becoming even more visible to frontline team members. “I like being with the team, and we have to do that to the next level this year.” Senior management needed to be at ground level to understand what employees wanted and how to get the best from them. “Our season starts again on October 1, and for the next three months, it’s all about staff engagement. What do we have to change to make them happier and motivated to come to work?”
Demonstrating Desired Behavior
Attraction leaders must “walk the talk” and lead by example, said Sabrina de Carvalho, divisional director at Merlin Entertainments’ Heide Park and Gardaland. Both teams had hierarchical structures. “The big challenge was getting innovation into those teams,” she said. A strategy that worked well was to bring together middle managers from different departments to work collaboratively on projects. One addressed pricing strategy at Gardaland—a key issue for the resort. The teams had monthly check-ins with the senior leadership team. The experience showed that these employees were less risk-averse because they knew there was another level of oversight. “They were bold and came up with great ideas. It was a phenomenal result,” de Carvalho said.
The Importance of Trust
“Great leaders create companies and organizations that inspire trust within their teams,” said Micah Styles, CEO of Barker Langham Recruitment. According to Styles, research shows that employees in trust-led companies are less stressed, less prone to burnout, and take fewer sick days. He encouraged leaders who questioned the time, effort, and investment required to create “collaborative, communicative team environments to look at the financial and social value perspective.”
Fostering a Shared Vision
Kirin Sinha, CEO of augmented reality technology and media company Illumix, shared her vision of purpose and progress. In weekly management meetings, she asks questions including: Does everybody in the organization understand the company strategy? And do they know how their work supports our company pillars?
Increasingly, Lynn recruits people based on shared values and mindset. “We need people who can adapt, change, and be flexible,” she explained. She is open about the job’s demands from the outset, saying to candidates: “This is the goal. This is our expectation. Is this for you?” She wants people who love what they do.
“By being really honest, you’re going to find those people who fit better,” said Sinha. “You choose a job or an industry because there is a connection.”
Developing Internal Talent
Attraction leaders must have long-term workforce plans. “We need to grow our own talent and not just rely on the market,” de Carvalho said. Håkon Lund, owner of Lund Gruppen, spoke of the need “to create talent factories.” Operators such as Puy du Fou and Europa-Park are already launching academies to train tomorrow's employees.
Companies also need to develop a culture that induces team members to stay. Celebrating employees’ successes is important. Small gestures such as smiling and remembering people’s names can also create a sense of belonging, de Carvalho believes. “How you treat people is how they’re going to treat your guests.”