The leaves aren’t changing yet, but the face of your staff has! Most of your seasonal workers have disappeared back to dorms and classrooms, and your die-hard staff are now filling in wherever is necessary. Of course, this comes at exactly the time when families are looking for one last outing before they declare summer over.
From an organizational development point of view, it’s a very challenging time to be a leader. People are stressed out and working long hours, covering roles vacated by seasonal staff. Their stress, or lack of fluidity with a role, could overflow into frustration and impact customer satisfaction.
Since you, too, are filling staffing gaps yourself, it’s difficult to keep your finger on the pulse of the team. And even if you sense discord, you may not know what to do to bring the team back to focus.
This intense time is your wake-up call. It signals the transition from the busy summer season to fall. Fall is critical for setting next year up for success. And your most loyal, valuable, and reliable employees—the ones who carried you through August—are critical in ensuring that you don’t slow down once customer volume trails off. Here are a few things you can do during your transition time to set up yourself and your employees for success:
1) Take stock. Grab a moment to separate yourself from August’s intensity and simply reflect on your season. Looking at the big picture is a helpful and necessary strategy for an accurate appraisal of your employees’ and your business’s overall performance. Appreciate the fact that you get to do this work, and that there are others who are right by your side through the good and bad times. A perspective of gratitude will help you focus on your team’s strengths instead of their failings.
2) Celebrate victories/Create stories. As you think back on the season, it’s important to capture the big wins. Chances are the best ideas came from the field, and you should really be prepared to share how the actions of your employees made a difference (e.g., training new employees, implementing a new social media strategy, or even relocating concession items to achieve higher sales). By doing this, you are building a culture where new ideas are welcome and employees feel valued. They become part of your organization’s success story, which keeps them engaged and happy.
3) Single out contributors. Take time to praise the efforts made by individuals. The old adage “praise in public; criticize in private” is still good advice. Public praise shows that you’ve been paying attention and that you understand and appreciate initiative. You will also be doing something many leaders don’t do very often: praising individuals. Leaders often praise the whole team (which is appropriate), but it’s also important to be very specific about what you saw that deserves your praise, and to point out how it impacts the business.
4) Determine lessons learned. As you reflect on the season with your team, you should also find out what you (as a group) have learned. Don’t waste the chance to capture the key observations and insights from those who were running key parts of the park. What did they learn about customer behavior? About your courses? What questions did they answer over and over again? What were the close calls? What was the best day of the summer, and what made it so awesome?
5) Take business risks. Of course, as you talk through the past season, the assumption is that the conversation will inform next year’s business. Your team will be looking to you to see if their insights lead to changes. This may involve taking some chances and trusting your employees to make something happen. Figure out what your own risk tolerance is, and then take some risks! Allow your team to take ownership of some of their ideas and implement them. This is not only empowering, but you might find that someone has a particular skill that wasn’t evident before.
6) Build a Plan. Lastly, all this reflection and conversation is great for building morale, empowering employees, and getting folks engaged. But it won’t matter unless your staffers put their ideas into action with a plan. Commit to a timeline for implementation and, if necessary, back it up with funding. The plans don’t have to be elaborate, but they should include the main objective, the people involved, their roles, the budget for the project, and milestones/timeline. This will build the team’s capacity to manage projects, deal with setbacks, collaborate with each other, and ultimately see their ideas realized.
This transition time requires a different kind of leadership. During the season, maybe your role was more like a quarterback. During the “off-season,” you are better off taking on a head coach role. Your team’s engagement and loyalty is critical to getting you through the most challenging times. Small acts now will pay off throughout the upcoming year.