Employee Engagement: Lessons From Universal Studios

July 20, 2011 Business and Management no comments

Universal Studios Grand Opening - 28 May 2011
Managers should lead by example and be there when it matters (Universal Studios Singapore)

Leadership and management are two of the most difficult tasks any manager needs to do in today’s organisation.

The new rules of work mandate that hierarchical ways of bossing people around will no longer work. Against such a backdrop, how can you and your leadership team engage your team members more effectively and impactfully?

John Hallenbeck, Vice President (Park Operations) of Universal Studios Singapore together with Shaun McKeogh, Training and Development Manager of Ferrari World (Abu Dhabi, UAE) shared some useful tips on staff engagement at the IAAPA Asian Attractions Expo 2011.

I found the lessons very useful and hope that you find them insightful too.

#1 Hire the Right People

The most important part of any HR strategy is to get the right people into an organisation. Other than conducting job interviews, aptitude, and attitude tests, look at softer factors such as personality, friendliness, and body language to ascertain a potential hire’s suitability for your corporate culture.

Offer scenarios at your work place and judge how that person will react to them. If time permits, it’ll be good if some of your team members could speak to a new hire to determine cultural fit.

#2 Set the Standard

This can be done through several platforms, beginning with your Induction & Training programme. Training should steer your staff in the right direction, and should “always be engaging to create engagement”.

You should also Train Your Leaders to ensure that there is better team engagement leading to improved employee retention, performance, and productivity, while helping to elevate attendance, safety records, and project completion.  Greater employee engagement usually leads to improved guest service.

Setting the Scene is also key. You should clearly state the service and conduct expectations of one’s team, while stating what the team members should expect from you. Hold your ENTIRE team accountable for their actions in relation to the established expectations, but hold yourself accountable to follow through.

In short…

Aptitude                   +     Attitude                 =    Altitude

OJT (nuts & bolts)   +     Service & Culture   =   Guest Satisfaction/Profits!

Don’t Over Think Service. Instead, keep it simple by emphasising things like greetings to one another (Good Morning! How are You? Thank You) and caring for customers and team members alike (eg Stay Hydrated).

Look for service cues in the field – like a guest looking lost and holding a map – and be proactive to take service to the next level.

#3 Empower Your Staff

Never fault your team for making a decision. Instead give EVERY team member the authority to provide your guests with ANYTHING that they deem is appropriate to satisfy a situation (of course within reasonable budgets!)

Provide regular feedback on situational decisions and SHARE these lessons with the entire team.

Finally, don’t let your team members ever say “I have to get my manager to approve that!”

#4 Internal Communication and Marketing

Create an annual calendar of all the major staff activities and events, and let staff know how they are involved. Find a way to recognise back of the house colleagues and let them know that they are also STARS.

In communicating, let them know what your organisation’s core values are, and what is expected of them. Look at developing a feel good communication device in the form of a printed newsletter for employees, regularly updated noticeboards, employee events, emails, or even text messages, eg “In 4 weeks time, get ready for an amazing staff event!”.

#5 Reward & Recognition

As Mary Kay Ash, Founder of Mary Kay Inc has shared:

“There are two things people want more than sex and money… recognition and praise.” – Mary Kay Ash

Research has shown that most people leave an organisation because of their boss. Conversely, most people stay in an organisation because they feel valued. 99.4% of survey respondents have also reported that its important for managers to recognise them. While money is a factor, what really motivates staff to perform is thoughtful and personal recognition.

Developing reward and recognition systems that reinforces one’s company values are key. Develop them in such a way that people would aspire to receive them. Be FUN and CREATIVE!

Some possibilities:

  • Letters from managers to thank staff (maybe with freebies thrown in)
  • “Check your payslip to see if you’re a winner!”
  • Put up posters of staff awardees, eg “You are a VIP”
  • Going out together to celebrate
  • Having traditions, eg pins (Disney’s Partners in Excellence pins), or names on “Hall of Fame’ windows for employees of the year
  • Dish out gifts to deserving staff
  • Hand out certificates, cards & sticky notes

In recognising your staff everyday, you should:

  1. Be timely
  2. Be sincere
  3. Be specific

One way to do this is to state the name, action, impact and appreciation for the task well done. The golden rule is to make them personal and feel like heroes when they come home.

#6 Be the Executive Producer and the Key Grip

In leadership, you should ensure that there is alignment to your organisation’s VISION, MISSION and VALUES based on the following understanding…

  1. Corporate culture drives overall engagement.
  2. You can be the best business unit, but if the company does not sign up to your beliefs, it will be short-lived for you and your business unit.
  3. Everything needs to be a collaborative effort.

It is important to know your team and how best to communicate with them. If you are gone tomorrow, the company will still run. However, will it run better when you are around?

Leadership is a team effort so you should be participative. Teams select a captain in sport, so this same principle can apply at work too.

Leading by example is key, and according to legendary American football coach Vince Lombardi...

“A good leader is one that selects the right people to do the job, then let’s them do it!”- Vince Lombardi

#7 Create a Comedy, Not a Drama!

Having fun is key in any staff engagement exercise, and you should do this by initiating staff organised events.

Examples include a June Jubilation at Universal Studios and a Golden Clicker award where team mates reward each other by peer voting. In park incentives for staff like a map contest or radio bingo can also be played.

Being a part of the extended community is also vital. Select a charity to help with, and look at ways to network and bond with the team.

It’s a Wrap – Sign the Deal!

To succeed in employee engagement, all members of the leadership team must subscribe to it. In summary, the employee engagement strategies are:

  1. Hire the Right People
  2. Set the Standard
  3. Communicate Expectations
  4. Manage your Managers
  5. Reward and Coach
  6. Learn from the Challenges
  7. Celebrate Successes

Now that you’ve learned how a world-class theme park like Universal Studios Singapore does it, the ball is in your court. How can you better shape the leadership and people culture in your organisation?

Asian Attractions Expo
John Hallenbeck and Shaun McKeogh

By Walter
Founder of Cooler Insights, I am a geek marketer with almost 24 years of senior management experience in marketing, public relations and strategic planning. Since becoming an entrepreneur 5 years ago, my team and I have helped 58 companies and over 2,200 trainees in digital marketing, focusing on content, social media and brand storytelling.

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