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.
A year ago I returned from a trip abroad. I returned knowing my business was about to shift, that I felt called to focus on the hot button issues impacting businesses and teams, and that I had something to offer that could make a difference. Within 3 months I heard of businesses impacted by employee suicide, deaths from faulty equipment, murder suicide in a workplace, and mass injury events. All of these incidents were unexpected, all were hugely impactful, and all shared a common factor: each business had to learn in the moment how to respond to the events. It has been nearly a year for some of these events and in that time I have seen businesses impacted respond by decreasing staff, changing services, leaving the market, and some by holding steady. None of the businesses that experienced these events have grown in services or revenue 6-12 months following the event. While I don't think this is the only metric that matters, I do think it is a telling metric. And while some tragedies can be avoided or prevented, the perception that these are "rare" events in a business life-cycle is clearly mistaken. Most businesses will experience crisis events. What makes the difference in their success following it is their planning before. We know this, and are committed to equipping leaders before and supporting businesses after an event. Crisis Response Planning involves mapping out post-event how your team will prepare, respond, and recover to operational capacity while allowing and facilitating review and correction. We are hosting 1 day crisis response planning in the NH area this August.
So, what will one day of crisis planning entail?
Crisis preparation involves four steps. 1) pre-event assessment for risk (probable, likely, and possible) 2) Identifying and preparing a crisis response team and set of spokespersons. 3) Assembling a crisis portfolio allowing for shared knowledge from prior events and a crisis communication system plan. 4) Designing a post-event review system.
One day of time from key players is a small investment that might make a huge difference in setting your business up well to endure and thrive despite crisis. If you are ready to plan, you can register here for our August 12 event.
Clarity in Chaos.
It is a central focus of our service offerings. When we established a firm devoted to crisis response planning, culture, inclusion, and conflict management we knew we were the partner companies needed to handle the hot button issues that detract from mission. What we didn't know was how varied and consistent the efforts would be. Our services are designed for high growth companies and non-profits; organizations that have a growing demand but limited resources to respond. These are the perfect environments to see innovation and creative problem solving. They are also the perfect storm for unintended offense, massive missteps, and sometimes outright mistreatment. What we have known all along is that little missteps during the growth phase are set ups for problems in the adapting phase. When reputation, relationship, and results are most essential is not just before a big service launch or public offering; they matter when the room size starts to double from 6 to 12, from 12 to 24, and especially from 48 to 96. We have known this and helped our partners see that too. Yesterday the NY Times shared some recent management data that support our claims (you can find their post here).
Our insight wasn't based soley on gut instinct; we had read the results of studies produced by Stamford's Emerging Company division (their site outlines a recent history of findings, and links to some full text for the wonks among you). We know quite a bit about teams, leadership, and accountability mechanisms. We know how marginalized people (read as "anyone who is different in a group of sameness") are treated within homogeneous settings. Our insight and services were positioned after witnessing multiple start-up cultures, both non-profit and high tech, burgeon and then flounder when opportunity and growth collided.
When we offer a course like "Manager's Tool Kit" it's because we know scaling well means avoiding crushed toes. When we participate in a panel discussing how women in non-traditional settings can be supported we know we are there to celebrate and inform those who work with women in all fields.
Our work with clients has taught us some valuable tips that any company facing hypergrowth would do well to learn:
It was such a charming version of my everyday. Jet setting, scouting locations, long chunks of time simply waiting for the real work to begin. My favorite might have been the fancy dinners on another company's dime or the lack of roots required to do good work. When I read the recent "what a consultant does all day" article that circulated late last week I had to laugh. I knew it was describing the details of a young entry level employee of a high level consulting firm, and that of course the founder of said firm wasn't necessarily carving their time in the same way. Even so, while it made me laugh I also felt some degree of frustration that this was the version of consulting that was presented to those who many not appreciate what the work actually entails; particularly if done well. So, in case my clients, future and current, wonder how different the story looks I figured I would lay out my everyday.
After getting up to a house full of children and negotiating morning routine duties with my partner I get to my office and begin working my customer relationship pipeline. I make note of events within the industries we serve, edit some content for this blog, a column I co-write, or material for my monthly Insider newsletter and social media streams. I respond to requests for proposals, answer questions about training logistics, and at least three times per week serve on a variety committees related to my professional interests. I usually spend at least 1-3 hours a week managing material for various collaborative practice groups that I participate in or organize. I spend some amount of time each week learning skills relevant for my business and I spend some time each month teaching others something that will help them grow their business.
When I am not managing my CRM, I am planning and delivering learning material for my clients. I spend a few hours per week reading recent behavioral science research and mapping skills training to match relevant results that might help a client achieve their aims more effectively or efficiently. When I am not planning such learning opportunities I am delivering them to companies and agencies that are equipping their teams with skills to manage change, respond to conflict, or engage diversity within their system.
It isn't all reading and writing. My favorite aspect is when I can work even more closely with an organization to support leadership and staff engaged in big picture events. As a sounding board and strategist I listen for strengths and challenges that can be opened to provide options that may not have been obvious to those within the system. My goal isn't to develop a winning idea, it's to bring the space out that will allow the system to see the great idea that already exists within.
Most nights I end up back where it all started, and instead of dishing out advice I dish out something worthy of a young eater's complaints before baths, homework, stories, and last minute scrambles consume the evening. While my evening does occasionally involve dinner out with a client, it most usually has to do with some marquis event that I attend to celebrate their achievements. If there is a dinner, it's usually chicken, and since many are also fundraisers, I can't really say they happen on the company dime. I can say that I wouldn't change my version of a consultant "typical day" for the version the hot-shot recent college grad shared. I spend most of my time doing for clients, and that is what makes me keep showing up each and every day.
Just a spoon full of sugar...
I don't typically link to a blog written by another, but this topic touches on so many aspects of what we at BDS Insight offer that I felt it was an important link to share. We all know what it is like to deal with a person who seems unable to NOT be rude and aggressive with others. Some individuals seem prone to behaving badly, and the rest of us (what, you don't think I will count myself as someone who could behave badly, do you?!) are sidelined trying to figure out how to get out of the line of fire. A growing body of research is revealing that for some people there is a combination of factors that increase their sensitivity to threat, increase their mental engagement with threat, and decrease their inhibitory systems. Translation? They see more threat, are consumed and concerned by threat to a far greater degree than others (their brains are literally using more energy to deal with rejection and aggression than others) and are more likely to respond negatively once such threats are perceived. The fix?
Seems silly, but early research is showing two factors that make a difference for a specific subset of people: sugar (glucose) and training. Now, before you smack your forehead think about this for one minute. The training they offered was simply engaging the non-dominant hand in routine tasks for 2 weeks. The amount of sugar was only 40-50g. And the effect was clear: for a specific group of people with these factors retaliatory behavior when tested in a lab setting lessened to a significant degree. There are so many additional nuances and details in this series of studies I thought I would share the link for you to dig a bit deeper. I am looking forward to designing trainings around these insights. And you preschool teachers will nod in silent agreement; we all know that a using building blocks and having a lollipop sure are helpful in controlling tantrums! Time to see more fun in the center of our conference tables!
Ripples in the wake of tragedy.
In the space of a week I celebrated the amazing courage of new recruits and the hard work of veteran law enforcement officers and tonight I am offering words of encouragement after some of those very same officers responded to the scene of a 9 year old shot dead by his ultimately suicidal father during a supervised visitation at a local YWCA.
The intersection of my work; crisis, conflict management, and diversity education have sadly coalesced in this case. As my community rebuilds and reflects on the implications of this tragedy there is also an opportunity to offer tips to support workers affected by similar events.
The event was witnessed by a visitation monitor who survived without physical injuries. This individual will be the most attended to member of the staff, as he or she should be, but there will be people surrounding this individual who will also need support. Individuals in his or her supervision group who will likely have less professional experience and possibly less life experience will need support. Individuals who supervise other workers will need some guidance on how to tune in to how they themselves are feeling, and how to disconnect and plug in with the other parts of their world. Mostly everyone will need permission to pay attention to the parts of their lives that bring them joy and renewal. This isn't being callous or dismissive of the tragedy; this is filling your tank for the long battle that is recovery.
Community resources can be brought in to attend to immediate emotional needs, but just as important are plans to assist the organization in addressing the small details that often get lost in these events. There are many conversations ahead. There is a need to review policy and advocate for change. But this work can only be done if those who are most directly involved in the day to day work of the organization are prepared for the work of not only processing this tragedy, but of connecting to silly, absurd, irrelevant parts of their lives as well. If your organization needs help fostering resilience or planning recovery from sudden traumatic events support is available.
When was the last really great conversation you had? When was the last terrible talk you had?
The chances are pretty good that both happened with the same person, since most of us find we regularly communicate well with only a small handful of people on matters that are close to our hearts. And it is the same person or people that tend to rile us up when we are not feeling that "click" that comes from good connection. When I work with couples seeking to resolve their divorce dispute through collaborative practice, I survey each partner in order to understand their perception of their own and their partners communication style. The goal of collaborative coach facilitation is NOT to reunite the couple and repair the rift that has led them to select divorce (although truth be told some couples have decided against divorce after learning skills from their collaborative coach); rather the goal and the purpose of the information I collect is to better understand the areas of strength and challenge that might impact the couple's ability to directly confront the myriad decisions that lay before them as they disentangle the life they built together. From the simple to the complex, a couple's communication pattern can forecast areas that will prove easy and challenging as they make the decision to dissolve their union.
There are 11 areas that I examine with each partner prior to the start of the collaborative process. Each area represents a communication method that in and of itself predicts very little about potential "hot spots". What can be very revealing however is the pattern of these 11 areas and the ways in which both partners report themselves and their partner's patterns. Knowing that one partner has a habit of leveling while another partner tends to withdraw helps me to shape 5-way meetings so that the information that needs to be heard can be heard in a way- and at a pace- that is most helpful for shared decision making.
Take a look at the list below. What approach do you recognize as your primary approach; which one is your "pet peeve" when selected by your partner? I evaluate my clients using a standardized measure; but you can learn a lot about your particular approach by reviewing and reflecting on these for yourself. And, if you happen to be in the middle of a conflict with someone with whom a long-term connection is necessary, consider what changes you might make to help decrease the negative conflict and open up productive dialogue. We can't control others, but there is a lot we can do to select a different pattern for ourselves.
Leveling:Being Open, honest, and clear about your thoughts and feelings
Emotional Expressiveness: Being comfortable with expressing and expressions of emotions and affection.
Validation: Acknowledging and giving full credit and value to another's experience and perceptions.
Love and Affection: Expressing and being comfortable with expressions of love and affection.
Editing: Leaving out thoughts, feelings, or information in order to shield your partner, or yourself from your partner's reaction.
Negative Escalation: Adding negative statement upon negative statement and increasing the degree of conflict
Negativity: Finding problems and blame with every statement or suggestion offered by partner.
Feedback: Asking questions about your partner's position in order to better understand their statement.
Stop Actions: Stopping conversations when conflict has gotten heated and agreeing to return to the topic once calmer.
Focusing: Maintaining the dialogue on the single topic that is being addressed and preventing the conflict from spreading to other tangential topics.
Withdrawl: Refusing to engage on a topic and ceasing dialogue and interaction.
(adapted from Allerano & Markman, 2006)
When was the last time life called on you to be lovingly and patiently accepting of imperfection? How good were you at answering that call? I bet it depends on who was on the other end, and how long that particular phone was ringing.
Compassion is a quality that is gaining new attention because it seems to sit at the heart of so many human experiences and its presence, or absence, can tell us a lot about what might follow.
In crisis, compassion can be the quality that assists a first responder in dealing professionally with a suspect. Doing so may allow more successful prosecution, and ultimately the justice that a more adversarial response may have garnered. Compassion for the crisis survivor goes another way too; when we can see our own actions in a compassionate light we have a better time coping with the emotions and guilt that frequently arise as a result of traumatic events.
In relationships, compassion is the skill that gives us pause when we are feeling most frustrated at our partner or child. Just as most healthy people would not fault a dog for wanting to sniff the ground, compassion allows us not to fault our partner for sometimes being selfish, sometimes not listening, sometimes not following through. When we respond with compassion we elicit the type of relational response we were craving to begin with.
When we try to connect across divides, be they class, gender, or race; compassion helps us to develop awareness and understanding of our own and others biases, which in turn helps us to select different responses than we might otherwise have generated.
Looking at relationship and stress response outcomes, those with higher self-compassion often report more positive outcomes. There is truly something powerful about the ability to see imperfection and tolerate and embrace it anyway.
You can turn compassion into a powerful tool for yourself, and the more you try it, the greater the rewards. Compassion is a quality that can be cultivated. Small steps to increase your awareness and acceptance of imperfection, in the environment, yourself and other people, can result in big gains in areas of decreased stress, increased productivity, and increased positive interactions. Think about how much energy and time you would save when you stopped trying to change things that can not be changed and instead moved into where things are as they are. Curious about how self-compassionate you are with your own imperfections, Dr. Neff has a useful tool I use in my coaching practice and in areas of my research. Her copy for the general public can be found here. She also has a great book you may want to read.
Compassion doesn't mean lack of excellence or surrender. Progress can happen even when imperfection is tolerated and social science research, and your own memories of loved ones who guided you, confirm that progress is more durable, more fun, and more contagious when true understanding and concern has directed it forward.
I was thinking once again about the many service offerings BDSinsight has and it struck me one day after sitting behind an older driver (who lacked my sense of urgency when responding to a green light) how compassion is a thread that runs through each of the areas we serve. Culture and diversity, crisis, and conflict management are all enhanced when we can bring compassion. Here are some great TED talks that share lessons learned by others about compassion's role.
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.
This week it seemed my news feeds were advertising the latest stories about happiness, tips, tricks, and how to’s. It didn’t matter if the source of the information was from a business journal, a relationship columnist, or a parenting forum; the hot headlines were each shouting about the latest research, anecdote, or personal journey to achieving lasting happiness. One columnist quipped that workers who were happiest were the ones doing the least amount of work, while a marriage counselor released research to suggest that happy couples have fewer episodes of forgotten kindnesses shared between them. And how can you escape the battering-ram of happiness when it comes to children? This past weekend was a celebration of Easter for many, Christians and seculars alike, with toothy smiles of overflowing baskets and chocolate bunnies missing ears. All around us we get fed stories of the centrality of happiness to our relational and occupational existence.
While I sure like feeling happy, happiness isn’t the point. If you are basing your company’s, you own, or your marriage’s success on a measure of happiness you are absolutely going to be disappointed. And the level of disappointment is not a predictor of your future happiness, but it is an indication of how well you will weather the ups and downs that lay ahead.
Want your work, relationship, company, or kid to turn out great? Focus on purpose and meaning instead of happiness. When we experience a sense of importance in what we do and who we spend our time with, we are not only more likely to spend our time doing or being with those tasks or people, we are more likely to be better at it, create more pleasurable experiences for others, and basically be more pleasant to be around. If we worked harder to help our children think about their experiences from a meaning-based perspective, instead of a function-based one (wasn’t that fun?), we would do much to create resilience in them when they face challenges that are not easily conquered.
I have recently seen the intersection of these ideas come to the fore as I dig deeper into an emerging area of law. Collaborative Practice is the process of two (or more) parties agreeing to forgo litigation in favor of jointly creating a resolution. The parties are represented by counsel, and the process is facilitated by a specially trained coach facilitator who has both a mental health and mediation background. The coach’s role is to handle the emotional labor involved in helping the parties identify their needs and move towards a resolution that best meets their shared interests. Collaborative law is seeing a surge of interest in family law matters, due in no small part to the very lengthy hearing process and collateral damage associated with litigated divorces. In civil disputes there is a rich history of success for collaborative law, but fewer seem aware of its power as a tool for change.
In seeking to resolve disputes, happiness as an end goal is usually a non-starter. There has been a long history of hurt and bitter feelings, and parties often wish separation rather than union as they work through a collaborative process. But flipping this desire into a goal of feeling valued, feeling heard, and leaving a lasting impression of one’s commitment or integrity may make the two parties more likely to come to agreement because of a shared vision.
Last week’s unfortunate unfolding of Adria Richards’ tweet heard ’round-the-dev-world and this week’s responses to gaming leaders stepping down in response to sexist party events underscores that workplaces are once again facing the strains between status quo and inclusivity. These efforts to frame distance and dispute from a meaning-based, rather than happiness-based, space may result in more human, and humane, responses to each other and to our roles and responsibilities.
I’m really not against having fun! But in the spaces where my work is conducted: leadership coaching, collaborative law process, and company culture and inclusivity, I far too often see the cost of focusing almost exclusively on “happy” to the detriment of “fufilled”. You can click on a lot of recent headlines to learn tricks to happiness, but you will need an endless loop of headlines to hold onto that feeling once achieved. Instead, look to create a map to meaning and your search efforts are likely to be less exhausting and more rewarding than you (or your company, partner, or child) felt possible.
Want to read more?
Petersen, Park, & Seligman (2005). Orientations to happiness and life satisfaction: The full life versus the empty life. Journal of Happiness Studies.6:25 41
Loretta L.C. Brady, Ph.D., APA-CP is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist, Professor, Entrepreneur, and Diversity Columnist.
All entries posted and archived on this blog are subject to all rights reserved,
Loretta L.C. Brady, Ph.D., APA-CP, 2011-2014