8 Business Lessons from Story Land
Now that fall is really underway with cool evenings, apple cider, and pumpkin everything feeling nostalgic about summer feels allowed. As I shuffle photos for end of year family gifts I come across this cute shot from a trip to New Hampshire's Story Land. Have you been? A lovely, right-sized family friendly amusement park that works for children from "2-102" as they say on little signs throughout the park. What might be easy to overlook is that this "little park" pulls in over $20 million a year in revenue and employ hundreds of workers each season. Workers come from nearby Conway but they also come from Turkey, Poland, Ukraine, Tokyo and New York (hey, it's northern New Hampshire, it's all pretty exotic up here!). How can a seasonal place be so successful in cultivating a workplace culture where staff are friendly and engaged with customers, in all weather, even when the tasks they engage with are monotonous and routine? I noticed 8 things that Story Land does right.
1) Start Small and be Authentic
When you line up to ride the "old fashioned cars" (which you will, don't try to be too cool!) you will notice the large maps hung on the wall which depict the park from various eras. It's a great trick to keep you from noticing your wait in line, and a lovely way at the end of the day to reminisce with grandpa about the first trip he made to the park. But there is a lesson here about growth: the park did not start with 5 major rides, 5 central themes, and 6 dining areas. Instead, it started with a small playground type area with only a few rides. Over time attractions were added and the crowds returned. And what was added was always with the goal to appeal to family fun, not single rider fun. This commitment to authentic fun pays off.
2) Add value
In a day and age when income generated from family amusements comes largely from concessions, upgrades, and add ons Story Land's approach is refreshing: charge a reasonable entry fee and allow families to bring items they prefer. The result: families willing to make multiple trips, indulging in treats and extras, and lots of little painted faces which adds to the fun. By keeping their full costs upfront for families they gain loyalty and increase revenue AND goodwill.
As you pass through gates onto rides you notice name tags on worker shirts which say their names and where they are from along with information about how long they have worked at Story Land. Countries, cities, little towns. Men, women, age and ethnic diversity is on display. The result is a wonderful combination of youthful enthusiasm, careful attentiveness, helpful graciousness. Add in conversations in line about trips and places visited and the atmosphere is one that feels inclusive and benefits from the cross section of people and talents they have hired.
4)Brand is your culture
Story Land means family and fun, natural beauty, clean environment, and valuing leisure time. This culture results returning workers, happy customers, and an atmosphere of trust and fun. These are not accidental elements, each are attended to in order to promote the experience that keeps families returning.
5) Pipeline is local, recruitment is global.
As diverse as the staff are within Story Land, it might be easy to think there is an externally focused strategy in place. While this is likely true, it is also obvious that there is attention to cultivating local relationships as well; workers from the surrounding region return again and again because the opportunities are there and structured to encourage return. And they don't think of pipeline as only about converting non-worker into new worker; they have techniques that convert new worker to returning worker and returning worker to recruiter. Attention to the reputation they have in the region as an employer pays off with a significant percentage of staff that are returning or legacy hires. And the blend of this with new international workers lends itself to responsiveness.
6) Train and Crosstrain in Advance
Workers and tasks are efficiently aligned, but a sick day or malfunctioning ride can require a shuffle that can disrupt operations. Solution; introduce skills as modules, rotate trainees through, and give everyone ownership over the customer experience even if they don't touch all parts. In your organization you can benefit from creating or encouraging cross functional teams, job share days, and rotating leadership opportunities.
7) Turn a disadvantage into an advantage
How does a family amusement center attract and retain a talented set of regional and international workers year after year? They are located over an hour from international airports, over an hour from any major metropolitan city, and their hours of operation are 9:30-5pm so youthful workers have plenty of downtime and few urban-style outlets. Rather than this being a challenge, Story Land has turned this into an advantage, highlighting the natural beauty of the area and offering a lifestyle that translates as active and an escape from the chaos of urban life. What can you reframe to attract talent?
8) Be part of an ecosystem
A stop at the gift shop shows a variety of souvenirs, which you have enough money to buy since you packed a picnic. Grabbing the iconic Humpty Dumpty doll and reading the tag reveals that he was created right there in New Hampshire, at a manufacturer in Hudson in the southern region of the state. This may seem inconsequential, but for an item easily outsourced and able to be brought into the shop for pennies this is a big statement. Story Land makes a commitment to being a part of a statewide ecosystem even while making national and international purchases. But what customers leave with, and that lives on with them, is a cute little guy that reminds them of a NH connection. Your role in an ecosystem has many advantages and can boost a brand and culture greatly. Think about the various touchpoints you have with staff or customers and consider a local partner that can enhance that point.
Story Land is open for one more weekend before closing for the season but these lessons will help them ramp up for next year and help your company enjoy multigenerational success.
"What is the ROI on that?"
"Can you give me some easy to implement suggestions?"
"It might be something we can roll out, but I am not sure I know how to message it, any tips?"
The past few months I have been lucky to land some great lunch meetings with some key contacts. It gets ideas flowing, opportunities for further collaboration are revealed, and a great deal of good will gets fostered. I make a habit of annual check ins with key contacts, not always back loaded to the end of the year, in order to celebrate the work we acheived together that year and to listen for areas that can be improved. The innovation that so energizes an organization rarely appears wrapped on your door, rather it slinks in one chat at a time and suddenly appears fully formed only because so many minds have already contributed to the vision. I love being in the position I am to observe and facilitate this process. I often get to do this in organizations seeking to be more inclusive and conscious of ways individual and cultural differences can be leveraged and supported within a system. With newer contacts I am often confronted with a set of questions that boil down to one common request:
"Can you bullet point exactly what will work so I can copy that in my company? And combine that with dollar by dollar analysis of exactly what economic benefit will occur for the effort? I prefer to look at projects only limited to the next 2 quarters please. Thanks!"
The rationale and intent of the request is certainly understandable: when you need to sell an idea up the chain you want to empower yourself with the kind of information you know holds currency. But when I hear this question it tells me the inclusion effort isn't ready to be launched. Rather, there is more planning work needed to ready the system for the tasks that will actually lead to greater effectiveness.
My business card says "Translating Results". It's a tagline I used when my consulting firm first launched back in 2007. At the time I was positioning my services to be a within-reach option for Kahneman/Gladwell/Arielly type feedback. If you don't know what I am referring to you, you now have some idea the challenges I encountered those first years! I keep the reference because it accurately reflects my method of consultation. I don't know everything, but I know how to locate, vet, and apply many things that will have impact in your organization. I see my role not as building something new for you, but as helping you locate resources and talents that exist within your systems and that can be strengthened by some tested best practices.
The approach doesn't always translate well into a three step plan, but the chance to connect an idea with direction is well worth the conversation. Looking forward to our next chance to connect.
This is the inaugural post of my new website. In a few more days I will enter my prior posts into the archive. If you have been reading along you may have noticed that my posts have focused on a variety of human resource topics. From time to time they also shared thoughts on current events, in my life or in the news. It was nice getting an audience, and the blog helped me open some other writing opportunities for myself. I will keep blogging. But this entry, and this new site, represent a narrowing of focus and a clarification of my mission and vision for BDS Insight.
I am not an organizational psychologist that can help a hi tech company recruit and select talent.
I can do that, but it isn't where my passion rests. And that was the lesson of the past year and a half of finding my way to my mission.
If you have had a chance to poke around my new site you have no doubt noticed a number of service offerings. To some it may seem there is little in common in these threads. Culture and diversity, on-site trauma response, coaching and training, and collaborative law facilitation. It hardly seems my focus has narrowed. But the common thread in these is me. My background, talents, interests, and experiences are all represented in these practice areas. Over the past 18 months I have clarified and credentialed myself to deliver these services well.
In the recent words of Dustin Pedroia "I don't have to do everything I do. It's just that I like it."
And like it I do, but also I have lived it, learned from it, and listened to or lectured about it over the past many years in such a way that this feels like the right time and the right way to bring these parts together.
I know a lot about helping people through hard times.
I know a lot about setting goals and knocking them out of the park.
I know a lot about getting people who don't agree, to find ways of agreeing.
I know a lot about how important people are, and how easy it is to miss what is important to them because of blindspots and uncertainty.
I hope you will think of BDS Insight when you or a company you know needs insightful, smart, well-grounded, and science driven support for issues related to crisis, culture, or conflict resolution.
If you are a C-Suite-er looking to rise, an A-lister looking for perspective, or a First Responder exhausted from your work, I hope you'll call me for some coaching support and strategies to sustain your passion.
If you are a couple seeking a different kind of divorce, or a company attempting to settle without litigation but with advocates, I hope you will make use of my collaborative coaching services.
Call this a refresh, rebrand, or pivot; to me it just feels like a perfect fit. Looking forward to our future work together.
I am sitting in a cafe about 5300 miles from my home in New Hampshire and reading news of a young mother’s murder while on holiday in Turkey. A few days before I left New Hampshire my local paper reported on my trip and the fact I would be traveling with my family for the next 5 months. I went online to locate the story so I could share it with my family through email and I noticed a comment following the article. In it a man scoffed at the travel plans, warned (us?) that the US would not be able to help us if we needed it, and sarcastically implied we were entering this experience with blindness and folly. It struck me as incredibly ironic coming only a couple of weeks after school children in a safe community only 2 hours from our home were gunned down. Is there real safety in the world? Was I being irresponsible for bringing my family?
And then the news of Sarai Sierra’s trip and death. Why would a mother leave her children, why was she gone so long, what was she really up to? The insinuations and accusations were flying as the search for her revved up. I myself had a thought that perhaps she was trying to get away. But then they found her, dead, and likely killed the few hours before she was to board a plane home, early, to surprise her son for his birthday. And I felt my heart break for her, for her boys, and for everyone she was inspiring with her journey.
Because she is me, I am her, and our choices really not so different. I am sure some will take her death as proof that she was selfish or that these kinds of choices are inherently fool hardy. And I think about the father soldier who will not return, about the business traveler dad that has to be on location for months at a time, and about the young woman pursuing a high stakes career with travel that is deciding not to have a family. I think about the ways in which their choices are seen as necessary sacrifices and how some herald their decisions. But not so for a mother, and I can’t be sure that a mother of children any age would be judged less harshly.
As I was thinking about Sarai’s life and her decision to travel for a month to a part of the world she did not know I was struck by the choices she must have had to make. Her boys were 9 and 11, on the verge of teenage years, but well after the demanding toddler and kindergartner years. She started her family in her very early 20′s, when many are still figuring out what they want to be when they grow up. I imagined her as a selfless mother, captured by photos of her children that then flourished into photography as a passion. I imagined her planning meticulously, and deciding that the time was perfect, her boys back in school after the holiday break, she would be back in time for winter break and birthdays, and still time with them in school to edit and work on the fruits of her trip before summer came crashing in and she was back to schlepping active boys to and fro.
My husband and I talked about her trip, talked about her leaving her boys. We brought our 5 children with us on our adventure; we judged her. And I reminded him of our privileged ability to pay for the tickets that were not already covered in my travel grant, talked about the choices a parent faces when trying to time their lives and their children’s lives. When is a parent allowed to place priority on their personal or professional development? Would this have been any different if her boys were in college? Worse if they were infants and toddlers?
I am sad for her family. But I do not want her death to be a warning to ambitious parents, mothers or woman who might be mothers, to not pursue their passions. You can place your children’s activities and interests above your own, lots of women do and our US culture praises this. But if you feel empty, exhausted, resentful, shortchanged- are you really giving your best to your family? Does the choice really have to be so black and white? Can’t we cheer on parents, dads and moms, who pursue their passions AND try to negotiate the shifting sands of parenting as best they can? She is a heroine, and I will think of her often as my children are offered opportunities to change their lives. I hope they are always ready to love others and follow their dreams, and I will pray they are as safe as can be while still being part of the world.
The goal to expand US exports has apparently been successful and you might be finding it is time to allocate some human resources within your organization to establishing a presence in the communities that are emerging markets for your company. Whether the distance is great or small there are likely to be challenges for the organization that are both practical and philosophical. If you have to schedule a phone call, whose time table should you use if there are time differences? How much does it matter what experience an employee has with a new cultural environment? What role does the organization have in preparing an employee for a relocation?
These issues are not the exclusive concern of well established institutions, although they tend to have some successful models worth noting. Rather, these are concerns relevant to even the smallest start up operation if there is a plan to do business with those who differ in location, background, language spoken, or country. And, really, isn’t that all start up operations? The goal of every business is growth and by now we are aware the growth often won’t be confined by national borders or boundaries. If you are about to send a salesperson or plant manager out into the wider world what can you do to prepare them and your organization for this challenge?
1)Where is “over there” (place)? Where is “back there”?
For some companies expansion will mean travel to Europe, Latin America, the Middle and Far East. For others it may be a trip within North America. The length of time for an employee stay and the depth of your organization’s presence (office, relocation packages vs. long term hotel) may vary. What you may ask of your employees in this context is likely to vary as well based on the task and role demands. A salesperson may be charged with a very different set of demands than a branch manager. Knowing and understanding not only where they are heading, but what is unique about the place they are departing from is essential to being effective in these environments.
2)Identify if they are checking in, visiting or staying.
Visitors, no matter how frequent, will be perceived differently from residents (no matter how brief the move). Callers will be seen again as entirely different from these other categories. If you intend for a team of implementers who are operating abroad while responding to a manager operating within your home base you will need to be mindful of what role status you want your manager to have. Is it right to be managed by remote, do you benefit from the investment of on the ground face to face time? What gets lost without this investment?
If an employee is ‘staying’ there are multiple considerations to prepare. One will be how communication will be managed between the host and the home base stations. Understanding and building into the process a format and rhythm to communication channels can help alleviate the frustration and alienation that can beset those who are working abroad. Another concern will be preparing the employee for cultural exchange. While the agenda of the company will be measured in sales, or productivity, or other tangibles there will need to also be respect for the non-tangible exchange that will occur as well. Sharing insights into the “American” or “Texan” or “East Coast” way of doing things is a valuable exchange that will contribute to the bond the host country employees, customers, or partners will feel towards your employee and your company. A simple strategy to use in preparing a traveling employee is to have them think about what items represent your company culture well and to find ways to share these with the host community while sharing the host community artifacts with the company. If nothing else it becomes a point of commonality with which to begin conversations between the host and home bases. Of course, you will also need to know how such items are received in the host environment. Bringing pork rinds to a mostly Muslim or Jewish community isn’t likely to engender warm feelings no matter how well that represents your corporate culture.
3) identify the main values of the host location.
The host location may place an emphasis on efficiency, directness, and self effacement (see Globe Project’s leadership reports on Germany) or may prefer warmth, relationship, and trust as priorities in exchanges. This type of knowledge can be deciphered from the communication history with members of the host location, from studying history and culture relevant to the location, and from research on cross cultural differences. Using this knowledge will assist the employee in developing an approach to their interactions that will likely be more effective at obtaining the long term goal of organizational growth, impact, and success.
Cultural competence is a process and a company has a choice to make the investment in the process. Doing so is an excellent investment. Training and coaching can assist, as can a detailed organizational plan. We can offer guidance if you find yourself in need.
A Long and Winding Road
I had breakfast yesterday with a woman that had been a neighbor when I was in high school. It was a particularly challenging time in my life and hers was one place that I could count on a friendly face, encouragement, and a break from the stress. Our lives went separate ways and we lost touch until she began searching for me online and tracked me down after a few email exchanges. There we were, enjoying each other in the present and sharing stories about the various paths our lives had taken. It got me thinking what it was about our earlier relationship that set the stage for such genuine enjoyment of each other even though our day to day contact had been limited when we were neighbors. And what of technology, and the role that played in allowing us to once again enjoy interactions with eachother? One theory, that of High Quality Connections, might explain the ways small relationship exchanges can yield such lasting and memorable connections.
High Quality Relationships (HQR, 2011) are connections we make with others that build us up, make us feel positively, and help us feel supported in our environments. There is an entire field of study devoted to understanding how to create organizational environments that facilitate such dyadic experiences. Stephens, Heaphy, and Dutton (2011) outline the various elements central to HQR. ”Other-awareness” is a term that refers to being aware of another person’s feelings, attitudes, and perceptions. Developing other awareness may allow an individual an advantage in their daily encounters; if you understand how others are feeling you are more likely to know when is the right time to offer support and when is the right time to seek support. The author’s offer new ways we might consider respect, support, and play as tools in enriching our daily interactions. The richer the interactions the more satisfied we are likely to be in multiple areas of our life. While the authors consider this in the context of in-person interactions, there remains uncertainty in what ways social media may be used for fostering HQR. Surely a DM from a close friend mid workday connects you to them and provides a sense of play. What might these tools do to office relationships, client interactions? What to make of the expanding tools in social media, and tools to focus our attention within social media information landscapes?
The newly launched ruustr allows you to set up search criteria that could be used to alert you when someone in your preferred network expresses a need. This in turn could be used to increase your “other awareness” and your knowledge of opportunities that present to engage in HQ interactions. At the end of the day social media tools don’t have to represent alienating factors in our relationships but could be used to heighten our engagement in the three factors that most influence HQR:
“The focus on respectful engagement, task enabling and playing shows us that small moves matter for building connection and that modes of interacting can transform people’s understandings of how they relate to others.” (Stephens, Heaphy, & Dutton., (2011), p17)
Respect, support, and playfulness create lasting and measurable impacts; we can use technology to deepen these connections. Doing so creates chances for even small exchanges to offer important and valuable connections. These simple but powerful ideas are worth cultivating for the chance they provide for us to share time and space with others. And the experience reminds me the powerful impact we can have when we just share a little of our time with others.
Loretta L.C. Brady, Ph.D., APA-CP is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist, Professor, Entrepreneur, and Diversity Columnist.
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Loretta L.C. Brady, Ph.D., APA-CP, 2011-2014