Happy Team Members Yield Satisfied Guests
Repercussions of the pandemic, including the “Great Resignation,” have compelled attractions owners and operators to find ways to keep their employees content and engaged. Funworld spoke to representatives from three attractions, and all of them agreed that inspiring staff was inherent to the success of their businesses.
“By motivating our front-line employees, we improve both the overall employee and guest experience, and we recognize staff who go above and beyond,” explains Jessica Alfaro, assistant general manager/director of operations at Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk in California.
Tony Sanders, operations and sales manager for Alabama Adventure and Splash Adventure in Bessemer, Alabama, recently presented a webinar titled, “Games and Merchandise: Prepare Your Team for the 2022 Season.” In addition to the advice given in the webinar, he shared more of his valuable ideas with Funworld.
“I like to measure success in what my friend and longtime veteran of hospitality leadership, Matt Heller, calls ‘return on culture’ (ROC),” says Sanders. “In my opinion, engagement directly affects important factors like team morale, reduced turnover, and improved performance.”
Sanders went on to say he thinks engagement affects each team member in ways that can’t be measured, like a positive mindset, personal and professional growth, a sense of pride in themselves and the work they do, and a better understanding of friendships and connections.
The formula Sanders endorses is that a positive employee experience means a positive guest experience, which results in a positive return of revenue. An integral part of the employee experience comes from incentives for a job well done.
Establishing a Rewards Program
Sanders encourages managers to put together their strategy for engaging staff before the season begins. His recommendations include:
- Survey team members to get ideas and decide on goals.
- Look at past experiences and trends to see what worked and what didn’t.
- Get feedback from key leaders to ensure the ideas proposed won’t have negative impacts on operations.
- Keep this program going to see an ROC.
Sanders recommends that attractions leaders put their plans in writing and give physical copies to staff members. He says this will help with communicating clear expectations and commitments to employees.
Deciding on Employee Incentives
Leaders shouldn’t assume they know what their team members would like as rewards. Instead, Sanders recommends asking them directly. He places a dry-erase suggestion board outside his office for that purpose, as well as for other feedback. He was surprised to discover a favorite prize was “Tony works my game for an hour, and I still get paid.”
To get the most out of a single recognition card, Sanders likes to use them three times:
- The first is an instant reward given by the person who recognized the team member’s action. This can be a free ticket to the park for friends or family, or a free soda or meal from the team member café.
- That instant reward card then goes into a monthly drawing opportunity for a larger prize, like a food gift card, admission to a local attraction, or a gas card.
- For a third chance to win, the cards are turned into auction cash for the “end of the season” auction. Then, team members can bid on larger prizes like TVs, tablets, or game consoles.
“At Lagoon, we teach our team members about our ‘Lagoon Coaster Culture,’” says David Gray, head of human resources at Lagoon Amusement Park in Farmington, Utah. “This culture has four core values: safety, service, pride, and teamwork. Our leaders are encouraged to focus the recognition on how the team member’s actions or behaviors exemplified these values.”
Alfaro says the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk rewards employees based on a model called SWEL (Smile, Welcome, Eye contact, Leave them well). Examples include having fun, interacting with guests, taking photos for them, asking if they’d like to play again at a midway game, and, in general, choosing a positive attitude and being present and energetic.
Propose Professional Training
If an attraction wants team members to return year after year, it can offer them more than a gift card or prize.
The E.L.I.T.E. Leadership Development Program at Lagoon has proven very successful, says Gray. Participants attend six sessions, focused on the park’s core values, over the summer season. Behind-the-scenes tours and experiences are included. The intent of E.L.I.T.E. is to develop, educate, and inspire the next generation of Lagoon Leaders, he says.
Gray brings home the point that there is no one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to engaging, motivating, and recognizing employees. The secret lies in taking the time to find out what motivates each individual team member. While it can be a lot of work, it’s well worth the effort because employee retention increases.