RAISE THE BAR: Six Steps for Elevating Team Performance


Maintaining workplace standards is never easy. Raising workplace standards is even more difficult. I learned this firsthand during my time with Luxor Hotel in Las Vegas. In my early years at Luxor, I oversaw daily operations of the In Search of the Obelisk attraction--a fantastic motion-simulator experience within the pyramid. The attraction, produced by visionary film maker Douglas Trumbull, was an amazing journey into a world of fantasy and adventure. In Search of the Obelisk told a story and I wanted our guests experiencing the attraction to willingly suspend their disbelief and to become immersed within the story. Getting my staff who operated the attraction to be more engaged was essential to the formula...the staff needed to become a part of the story itself. To accomplish this, I developed a strategic plan of attack that included six essential steps designed to raise the performance standard:

Set a New Standard. Setting a clear performance standard is the cornerstone of any successful effort to raise the standard. At Luxor, we established specific performance requirements for each of the five locations where staff would be required to engage with guests. These requirements were specifically tied to the experience we wanted for our riders. For example, in Scene One of the attraction, the premise was that riders would be momentarily boarding an elevator bound for an excavation site deep beneath the pyramid. In this scene, video monitors introduced the attraction's central characters. We defined a specific tone for the scene and scripted a few key phrases and actions that staff were required to perform in order to fit into the action of the scene. We went through the same process for each position where guests came in contact with our staff. Having a comprehensive performance standard is the basis from which each of the other steps outlined below can be implemented.

Announce Expectations. Prior to our official launch of the new standards, we met with each of our Leads to fully explain the initiative and to walk through each position and the new requirements. Then, the Leads and I met with the team in a mandatory meeting where we shared the program goal and the requirements of each position. We answered questions and even ran through a role play demonstration of each position. Training sessions and meetings like this one can serve as the pivot-point from which we transition to a new way of doing things.

Coach to the Standard. We implemented a structure of consistency that included communication, observation, and engagement as they related to implementation of the standard. On a daily basis, our Leads would conduct preshift meetings where performance requirements would be reviewed in small, bite-sized pieces. Then, throughout the day, Leads would move through the attraction, monitor staff performance, provide praise when appropriate, and coach for improvement as needed. Oftentimes, Leads (and their supervisor-me!) would jump into a position and perform the role themselves. Doing this allowed us to not only aspire to the standard but to actually achieve it. Raising the bar isn't easy...but it sure helps when you lead by example.

Infuse New Blood. The busy summer season arrived shortly after we launched the initiative. As we began preparing for extended summer hours, we needed to hire more staff which was an excellent opportunity to infuse new blood and to tackle our efforts to raise the standard in one foul swoop. I wanted people in the position who shared my passion for theatrics and so I looked to Las Vegas Academy, the local creative and performing arts school, to fit the bill. We hired in upwards of twelve people to round out our staff of 37. During the interview process, I told each of them that I needed their help. I shared our performance goals along with the role that I needed each of them to play. I remember specifically telling them, "It's a part time position and I can't afford to pay you much; however, I'm good to my people and I will be good to you. I'll work with you on a schedule you're happy with and when you go back to school in the fall, I'll make it easy for you to stay here and work when you can. If you join our team, I can guarantee that this will be the coolest job you've had." ...and they said yes.

Reward Great Performance. People like to be acknowledged for performing their job well. At In Search of the Obelisk, we created a recognition structure designed to reward top performers and because many of the performance behaviors we required were theatrical in nature, we created a Best Performer award that was given to top performers on a monthly basis. Recognition keeps the energy and effort going strong.

Weed Out Poor Performers. Poor performance pulls everyone down. When top performers work alongside a poor performer, they can become discouraged and lower their own performance based on the lower-performing person. That's why continued observation and documentation against the performance standard is essential. When performance standards are clearly defined and poor performance can be well documented, it is far easier to weed out poor performers. Document, document, document. Then, when it comes time to weed out the bad performers, you'll have a methodical case to support your decision.

Raising the bar takes time and it doesn't happen overnight and you won't always get the opportunity to infuse new blood as I have covered above. They key is to keep consistent with your actions. When new hires begin work, they must immediately be introduced to the process and held to the standard. The new standard must quickly become THE standard. If you give your team any indication that this is a test, many of them will fall short of the standard, holding out for the 'end of the test'. You must commit to change wholeheartedly and make it happen every day.

Have a great week!

"Don't lower your expectations to meet your performance. Raise your level of performance to meet your expectations."

- Ralph Marston