Staff Retention: Part I


Hiring and retaining staff have always been challenges for aerial adventure operators, but never more so than now—and the numbers prove it. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there has been roughly one unemployed (i.e., available) worker for every two job openings in the U.S. since late 2021. A decade ago, the ratio was roughly three unemployed workers for every job opening. Hiring and retaining staff has been the top concern for aerial adventure operators in the Adventure Park Insider “State of the Industry Report” for six of the last seven years.

The fierce competition for staff requires more time, energy, and money than ever before. Competitive compensation is critical to employee recruitment and retention, of course. We’ll cover that in part two of this series in the Summer issue of API. Here, we discuss how company culture can help attract and retain talent.


In a survey from Monster, 74 percent of Gen Z respondents ranked purpose and culture as more important than a paycheck at work.

Culture is an organization’s DNA. It is the shared values, goals, attitudes, and practices that characterize a workplace. When leaders are intentional about establishing values, and revisit them daily, it affects people’s behavior and shapes their work experience. Clear expectations around trust, time, flexibility, and innovation all contribute to a company’s culture.

A great company culture impacts everything, including employee happiness, employee retention, and company performance.

At the 2023 ACCT conference, The Flybook reservation software hosted a workshop on this topic with Go Ape HR and organizational excellence manager Jack Marti, and Zebulon Smith, founder and CEO of consulting firm Zebulon LLC. Here are five actionable strategies from that session that can help create a culture of happy employees.

1. Write your mission and vision statements and define company values.

According to experts at Harvard Business Review, as a rule of thumb, mission and vision statements should be one sentence each and easy enough to remember that people can repeat them. They don’t need to be incredibly original, but should be authentic and distinct enough that they can be used to hold team members accountable.

Mission: What is the core purpose of our work together? Why do we exist and do what we do? This is the north star around which company cultures are built, the single thing a person can point to as their reason for working in the organization.

Vision: What are we hoping to achieve together? This should be a bold but achievable long-term vision for the company.

Values: How do we do what we do? What principles will we consistently abide by? These should be impactful phrases that drive an organization’s day-to-day operations. They will help set expectations for behavior, performance, and how people treat each other.

Defining company values is no easy task, but there is nothing more important for a company to do. Here’s an example of what that process may look like:

1. Have senior leaders engage a broad group of employees in focus groups to discuss employee beliefs about what is important to the company. Document the feedback.

2. Choose the top 10 words or phrases that resonate with your company, then separate them into groups based on common themes.

3. From each group, pick one you would never compromise on.

4. From this smaller list, choose three to five values that you would fight for, hire and fire people for, and take or decline business deals for.

Once values are defined, the real difference lies in how they are used on a regular basis.

“At Go Ape, our values are front and center always,” says Marti. “They are posted to our website and ingrained in our daily practices.”

The following strategies are specific ideas on how values play an important role in employee retention.

2. Communicate company values from the start.

Marti works to infuse Go Ape’s values and mission into all aspects of the company. As a result, staff who reviewed their experience on job website rated culture as the top aspect of working at a Go Ape operation.

Building culture starts during the hiring process, which is an opportunity to establish expectations with prospective staff regarding the company’s values and what it cares about. For example, one of Go Ape’s values is “do the right thing.” This simple phrase is a huge driver of behavior at the company, and Go Ape makes that clear to applicants in various ways, including using technology to learn more about would-be team members.

To help put people in the right positions and deliver more data to hiring managers, Go Ape uses a behavioral assessment tool called The Predictive Index in the hiring process. The index identifies certain desired behaviors ideal for a given job description and produces a short five-minute survey for job applicants to take prior to a first interview.

The tool takes the responses and identifies applicant behaviors that hit the mark, as well as areas where the applicant may have blind spots or weaknesses for a specific position.

Marti admits this is not black and white. Because someone isn’t a perfect behavioral fit doesn’t mean they won’t get hired. But it allows for a more meaningful interview, and it opens the line of communication around where a candidate may fall short and how that person might overcome blind spots. It facilitates the beginning of the manager-employee relationship with a common understanding that everyone is trying to “do the right thing.”

3. Use company values to coach employees.

Discussing performance issues with staff can be intimidating for managers, so they often avoid doing it. High performing employees recognize when a coworker isn’t performing at their best, though—and they want a manager to address the issue. If issues are not discussed and corrected, it will deteriorate your culture and you could lose good people.

Values provide structure for conversations between managers and employees. When you establish company and job expectations up front, it’s much easier to refer to those later to celebrate ways employees are meeting those expectations and objectively discuss where they’re falling short. People are less defensive and go into a problem-solving mode for their own performance when expectations are clear.

Go Ape utilizes the predictability index ongoing throughout the season with what Marti calls “stay interviews.” In a “stay interview,” Go Ape targets employees whom it wants to stay with the company and discusses areas for the employee’s growth and actions the company can take to retain them. The index is revisited and provides language with which to communicate. It makes the process of discussing behavior more objective and constructive.

At The Flybook, one of our core values is “time.” We value our own time, the time of our peers, and the time of our customers. We regularly brainstorm internally about how we can execute that value and put processes in place to protect it.

We make it a priority to be thoughtful and answer questions correctly the first time. So, a failure to meet this expectation might be if an advisory team member rushes through a customer request without truly understanding it and provides the wrong answer, resulting in more customer time to explain the request and back and forth to reach an understanding. Because “time” is at the forefront of our values, we can easily discuss and address this issue with the team member.

4. Values-based benefits and recognition.

“Live life adventurously” is one of Go Ape’s values that not only applies to its clients but also internally. It’s a value, among others, that is strongly considered when structuring benefits.

Benefits and recognition don’t always have to be cash incentives. Marti has dug deep into the tools Go Ape already relies on for payroll and HR to leverage additional employee benefits. He outlined a few of these helpful features that are highly rated by employees:

Recognition: Utilizing a tool within its payroll service, Marti has customized digital “impression badges” so they align with Go Ape culture. These badges, awarded by both management and peers, are used to recognize team members who embody Go Ape’s standards and values.

On-demand pay: An “on-demand pay” feature in payroll allows employees to get paid on any day they need it, for earned wages. This has been a top-rated benefit among many Go Ape employees.

Tiered PTO: “Unlimited PTO” is a buzzword these days, but often causes workers to take less time off. Go Ape structured time off so that after a certain number of years of service, you earn unlimited PTO. Employees want to earn it (and stay longer) and utilize it like they should.

Paid volunteer hours: One of Go Ape’s values is to “be socially and environmentally responsible.” The company has incorporated paid volunteer hours and group service days for the leadership team.

Mental health assistance programs: Go Ape utilizes an “Employee Assistance Program” that allows employees experiencing mental health challenges to reach out directly to a professional for help rather than going through their manager.

5. Remove mundane tasks via automation.

When it comes to company culture, the happiest workplaces use and prioritize automation, according to a recent study published by Business Wire. Automation allows for staff to focus on more purposeful and creative work—six in 10 professionals believe it leads to higher morale and more interesting work.

Automation can be made easy by understanding the systems you have and the pain points your staff are experiencing. A great place to start is to create a (safe) opportunity for teams and staff to articulate what they “hate” about their daily work, so you can address it and brainstorm ways to improve it.

The Flybook has asked this question in the past. Here are some problems that came up in the responses, and the ways a reservations or software system can solve each via automation:

The problem: Answering the phones for simple reservation modifications. Specifically, it is monotonous for staff to adjust reservations and distracts from more interesting work.

The solution: A guest self-modification feature in your booking software allows guests to make changes or cancel their reservations online without a phone call. Utilizing a feature like this means staff spend less time on the phone and more time tackling bigger issues or doing more creative work.

The problem: Managing large groups. With multiple waivers, restrictions, and logistics, managing large groups is tedious for staff.

The solution: Group management tools allow for shared waivers (internally managed within the software), and customer relationship management (CRM) tools help move a group through a pipeline of tasks to the reservation.

The problem: Managing weather changes. When bad weather strikes, it becomes an all-out scramble to make sure guests are aware or updated on conditions.

The solution: Digitally produced and distributed on-demand rain check and mass text communication tools allow operators to push weather alerts and operational notices directly to affected guests.

Automation tools like these and others—such as text tipping or survey requests—are small ways to reduce headaches for yourself and your staff. In turn, staff will appreciate how you work to make their lives easier. All of which supports a robust company culture, a key factor in effective employee recruitment and retention.


About Author

Megan Langer is the co-founder and head of marketing at The Flybook, a reservation and ticketing software that many adventure parks, zip lines and other activity providers use to support their business operations. Megan works daily with builders, owners and managers on understanding, and helping to solve, day to day operational challenges with software tools. Learn more at

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