Where to Find Agents of Change in Your Park


In our parks, as in most organizations, there is a desire and pressure to grow. As business owners, we want to succeed and take our game to the next level. It’s not sufficient for us to set a goal of “flat year-over-year revenue.” Furthermore, we need to grow our businesses to maintain competitive advantage, keep people employed, and improve the broader communities where we operate.

However, growth is hard and getting harder. Performance pressures mean longer seasons and shorter transitions into increasingly demanding and complex multi-season operations. And, of course, critical transitions happen just when staffing levels are at their lowest. A lot of the “fixes” we plan on making during the “off-season” never happen, since there is too little time, too few people, and too much preparation to do.

What would happen if you had an abundance of ideas and resources to execute all these plans? Maybe you do. Typically, seasonal employees are viewed as transient, partially engaged, and fickle. But is that really true? Most seasonal employees—particularly those who come back year after year—work nearly a full 12-month year (with a few weeks off between seasons). These employees have a wealth of experience and exposure to your business, and capturing their insights can mean the difference between a successful seasonal transition and a mediocre one.

So, how do you create a culture in your park where employees at all levels feel a sense of ownership and commitment? Behavioral experts and authors Richard Tanner Pascale and Jerry Sternin pose an interesting theory—you already have it! They argue that tucked away in different corners of your organization, there are people who have already figured out how to do something different and better. Pascale and Sternin use the term “positive deviants” to describe the unrecognized people who are doing things a better way (their way) and are getting results.

They share six ways to leverage these powerful contributors:

1) Make the group the guru. The authors say that a bottom-up approach works far better than a top-down (“you must change”) model. This is supported by decades of research, and summed up in the kitchen table wisdom, “People support what they help create.”

2) Reframe through facts. Reframing the problem and getting to the real issue is critical. Changing how one sees the challenge will allow new possibilities. Using familiar, tired clichés will yield the same old (ineffective) solutions.

3) Make it safe to learn. You’re unaware of positive deviants because they are worried that they are breaking the rules (which technically, they are). They aren’t sure how you as an owner or supervisor will react. You can find and support them by creating an open, safe environment by listening closely and reserving judgment.

4) Make the problem concrete. Avoid meaningless discourse. Endless navel-gazing wastes time, creates frustration, and undermines your credibility. Even though it may expose some operational or business weaknesses, opt for clarity and specificity. Your positive deviants will perform better if they have a clear target to aim for.

5) Leverage social proof. Change is difficult, and most people resist it when it shows up at work. So start with a small win that you can share more broadly. People will see that change is not only possible at your park, but that it’s acceptable to innovate new solutions. Once positive deviants show the way, others will follow suit.

6) Confound the immune defense response. When change feels natural and inclusive, it will stick. The usual way—through top-down decrees—often activates people’s triggers and resistance. They reject change like a body rejecting an organ transplant. Change that comes from your whole organization—including seasonal workers—will be organic and yield stronger loyalty and better results.

So, go searching for your positive deviants. You may find that your business is already poised to grow…season after season.


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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