People Person


Staff are a key asset to the adventure park industry—they’re tasked with delivering an exceptional experience to our guests every day. Therefore, just like safety, customer experience, and financial performance, people management must be at the forefront of business leaders’ minds. If we cannot deliver a positive employment experience to our staff, how can we expect them to deliver one to our guests? 

In most organizations, human resources drives the building of a successful team and creation of a positive workplace. But many small businesses—including some aerial adventure operations—do not have a dedicated HR department or person. For companies with just a handful of full-time employees, HR can be a foreign topic. 

If no HR person exists at your operation, HR responsibilities such as compliance, compensation, and benefits, tend to fall under the purview of a finance or office manager of some kind. The people management component of HR may be handled from the operations side. Whichever way a business chooses to address those responsibilities, HR concerns need to receive the same attention as other tasks.

Here, we will focus on three key areas to support and drive the overall success of managing human capital: compliance, policy, and company culture.

Staying Compliant

HR can be a complex and challenging component of business compliance. The legal landscape for employers, ranging from federal law to local municipality employment regulations, continues to evolve.

When considering compliance, it’s important look through two lenses: 1) what is required? and 2) what best practices are employers implementing in their organizations? 

Join the Society. A great resource for such topics is the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM). Individuals performing HR-related functions can obtain a membership, which will keep you informed on updates pertaining to the ever-evolving legislation impacting the people operations of your organization. The Society also offers many other useful resources, such as policy templates, best practices, and continuing education webinars around HR hot topics.

While it is important to remain informed on the evolution of compliance, how you execute those changes is critical. Participating in your state or local SHRM chapter is a great way to network, connect, and learn from seasoned HR leaders in your area. Most local chapters hold regular meetings to address changes or topics impacting your location as well as how to implement those changes. Chapter participation will expose you to seasoned HR practitioners from whom you can learn, and can help provide you with approaches to use in your own organization for maintaining compliance.

Policy: The Root of People Management

The best way to provide a positive work environment is to establish a fair one. Therefore, it is necessary to be clear about the guidelines your company operates within. As aerial adventure operators, we have a multitude of rules and regulations from an operations perspective. We make these known to our customers and ensure guests understand what is required to participate.

Similarly, having established policies for staff is critical to providing a workplace that is transparent about expectations, and to mitigating potential employment issues.

Gap assessment. First, take an inventory of existing people policies. Does your organization have a company handbook? What are the procedures for certain employee-related events? Do employees and managers know where to find this information? Are they even aware of it? 

Consider what policies currently exist in your organization, what is potentially missing, and work to fill in the gaps. Don’t just think about what situations you have encountered in the past, but also predict what may occur in the future. It is nearly impossible to have a policy or procedure for every scenario (ahem, Covid…), but working toward a comprehensive approach removes uncertainty for your team. 

What to consider? While some aspects are unique to the characteristics of your business, common topics include harassment and discrimination; disability and/or religious accommodations; workplace incidents and workers’ comp; leave policies (not just discretionary programs like PTO, but also jurisdictionally mandated paid/unpaid leave, such as sick leave, voter leave, jury duty leave, etc.); and much more.

It may seem daunting to go through this process, especially if you have no formal documentation in place already. However, efforts you put in now will pay dividends in the future. Having established protocols for you or your managers to follow will significantly reduce the time you spend later, when (not if) you are scrambling to determine how to handle that “thing-you-never-thought-you-would-have-to-deal-with.”

Having established policies creates consistency across an organization and will generally provide a fair and expected outcome for everyone. No matter how large or small an operation, a handbook and supplemental policies provide a roadmap for how the company functions from a people perspective. An organization may have avoided this in the past due to the complexities or costs associated with creating the framework to follow. However, there are many tools available to employers that can offer a low- or even no-cost solution. 

Resources. Professional HR associations are one source of information, but most employers will need a multi-pronged approach to establishing or enhancing their internal policies. 

Technology has progressively made it easier for employers to navigate employment law, and has provided the tools and resources needed to create the policies to govern an organization. A simple online search will provide you with a variety of HR compliance aggregation services, as well as off-the-shelf handbooks and policies that can be adapted to your specific needs as an organization.

First, check with your insurance broker, payroll provider, or any other HR-related vendors the organization has an existing relationship with. Some may have resources available to you for a reduced rate or already included in your partnership. As always, be sure to have your legal counsel review any new or revised policies prior to distributing.

Policy distribution. Once you have robust policies for your team, don’t just stick them in a binder or on your company’s intranet (but definitely still put them there for reference). Make sure that you actively provide and communicate the policies to employees and front-line supervisors. 

Of course, a policy does not add any value if those impacted do not understand it. Employees must be accountable for reviewing policies and adhering to them. Management is responsible for upholding the guidelines set forth by the organization. The best approach for delivering this content to your team will vary by workforce, but having a clear vision on how to execute this will ensure a positive impact. 

Ultimately, taking these steps in the long term will create transparency and structure across your workforce. Having these policies in place will create a more efficient workplace while reducing costs, risk, and time spent on ambiguous situations. 

What’s my employer brand?

As a customer-centric industry, branding is vital to attracting and retaining clientele. It influences guest expectations and how consumers identify our business. We tend to put a lot of thought and effort into developing our customer value proposition—and we need to do the same for our employee value proposition in order to retain existing staff and attract prospective hires. In a continually challenging labor market, employers must be able to succinctly share what sets them apart from others—i.e., their employer brand—and continue to model this to keep talent in the organization. 

Developing an employer brand starts with identifying the organizational mission and company values. If these already exist, great. If not, you have an opportunity to work with your leadership and employees across the organization to identify what those might be. 

To start, learn the tangible and non-tangible benefits your employees value. Find out what team members enjoy most about working for your company. Additionally, there is benefit in asking what employees would like from the organization. This can be scary, but it will only help you better understand learning opportunities and improve the perception of your organization. This feedback can identify easy-to-implement, cost-effective programs that are valued by your staff. It’s important to understand what you are delivering to keep staff around and integrate that into your overall employer brand.

The aim of an employer brand is to establish for all stakeholders the direction of the business (mission) and how you are going to get there (values). This then becomes your baseline for decisions and communication across the organization. 

When everyone is referencing the same core aspects of the business, it has a positive impact. It drives the culture of your organization and articulates to potential job seekers what your brand is all about. While education, skills, and experience are critical components of the hiring process, attracting individuals who align with your overall mission and values is just as crucial. 

Managing your brand. Once you’ve established key components of your employee value proposition, managing your employer brand and online presence is a necessity. Here are two key statistics from a 2021 statistical reference guide from, a website built to increase workplace transparency: 86 percent of employees and job seekers research reviews and ratings when considering where to apply for a position; and 75 percent of job seekers were more likely to apply when an employer is actively managing its brand. 

The current job seeker is very astute, so employers must pay attention to how their organization is perceived in the job market. Just as we engage with our customer reviews and curate our brand on such review sites, it’s critical to do the same on job-board sites. So, be sure to actively respond to employee feedback, and show a high level of engagement on these sites. These steps demonstrate your willingness to listen to employees and to thoughtfully consider their feedback.

These websites can be a resource as well. By showcasing your employee experience, testimonials, and other key pieces that job seekers are interested in, you can use job boards to align your company with those who are interested in the type of work and culture you offer.

Bottom line

At the end of the day, we all want to provide an unparalleled customer experience for our guests and a workplace where our team members feel valued. Human resources is where these intersect. Take a strategic approach to bolstering HR in your organization; it can have a profound impact on your business.

If you do not have the resources or means to have a dedicated HR representative, the steps discussed here provide a blueprint for initial success. Yes, it can be overwhelming. However, joining a network of other HR professionals, staying abreast of real-time updates within the field, and paying attention to your policies and employer brand will provide a solid foundation for you to continue to evolve and improve your people operations. 

Jack Marti, SHRM-SCP, MBA, is the manager of HR and organizational excellence at Go Ape—a company with 15 adventure parks in the U.S.—and sits on the board for the Frederick County, Md., Society for Human Resource Management chapter. 


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