Lessons from Coach: Running Your Park Like a 100 Best Company


Each year, Fortune magazine lists its “100 Best Companies to Work For” in the United States. This list was one of the first of its kind, and remains the industry standard for comparative evaluations of what makes companies attractive to employees. In order to get a coveted place on the 100 Best list, companies need to submit comprehensive applications to Great Place to Work, a consulting and assessment firm that crunches the numbers, creates the list, and sends it to Fortune for publication. Part of the evaluation includes grading the company on its “people practices”—or, more accurately, how leaders treat their employees.

I recently interviewed one of the adventure park industry’s leaders in attracting and retaining park staff, Bruce “Coach” Brown. Coach is the director of operations and training at Royal Gorge Zip Line Tours and Castle Rock Zip Line Tours in Colorado. His parks enjoy very low turnover, very high return rates of key staff, and a very high percentage of staff who stay the entire season.

During my interview with Coach, it dawned on me that many of the strategies he uses are very similar to those used by Fortune 100 Best companies—only adapted for the adventure park industry.

Below are six strategies that Coach is using at his park that are also being used at some of the most successful companies in the United States.

1. Behavioral Interviewing

When conducting interviews, Coach engages in a conversation rather than a Q&A. He gives interviewees a chance to get comfortable and “burn off the nerves.” He probes candidates’ purpose rather than their qualifications. He looks for examples/stories from interviewees that show they have taken responsibility for something that has gone well, or has gone wrong. This is a test of character that he says indicates how the interviewee may behave when the boss isn’t around. He also listens very carefully for clues that may reveal the interviewee’s passion and excitement for the job, which he sees as an indicator of how he or she will interact with customers.

2. Proper Vetting

Coach invests time to learn about his interviewees. He tries to find their online presence (e.g., Facebook or Instagram profile) to get a sense of how they spend their time. If he sees something he does not like (excessive partying, inflammatory language, etc.), he knows to steer clear.

3. Benefit of the Doubt

We talked a lot about an interviewee’s personal history as a predictor of future performance. Coach believes in people and is comfortable giving people the opportunity to succeed, even if they’ve made a mistake or two in their lives. Giving the benefit of the doubt—assuming the best in someone—is a key driver of workplace trust. He also noted that he never lowers the bar for anyone, and all employees are held to a high standard of performance, regardless of their back-story.

4. Tuning-in to Employee Needs

Being aware of what employees want is an important aspect of maintaining high morale and employee retention. For example, some of Coach’s staff asked if they could set up an archery range in a remote, employee-only area so they could do something fun during downtime or after their shift. He OK’d it, and the staff love it.

This outlet is a “win” for the staff, but it also provides opportunities for people to connect and get to know each other in an informal environment—a key component to park safety, as well as building a consistent culture.

5. Smart Rewards and Recognition

Recognizing employees is vital to keeping them engaged for a full season. Coach believes that, at minimum, employees know how to do their jobs and know how to treat guests—but it takes a little more than that to make a guest’s experience special. At his parks, if an employee’s name is mentioned in a 5-star TripAdvisor rating, he or she earns a free lunch at a local restaurant. This also encourages employees to maintain a professional standard of behavior even when the boss is not watching them.

6. Career Pathing

Finally, Coach encourages his employees to think beyond the “seasonal” aspect of the job by showing them pathways to future employment in the industry. In particular, he encourages all of his park staff to obtain ACCT certification, as well as to work at other parks for a few months. This gives staff a foundation of transferable experience, which they can use to build a career of their own. Coach believes in building the capacity of his staff even though he knows some will take their skills elsewhere.

Take a lesson from Coach and you might just find your business in Fortune magazine one day.

Paul Thallner works for Great Place to Work. Your park can put itself on a path to greatness by becoming a certified Great Place to Work (a highly marketable designation that can attract the kind of talent Coach talks about). For more info, please send an email to [email protected] or call Paul at 267-566-8985.






About Author

Paul Thallner is CEO and Founder of High Peaks Group, a U.S.-based consulting firm that helps leaders and organizations tackle the tough people challenges in order to accelerate business performance.

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