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Spring Engagement:  Best Practices for Engaging Winning Teams

(Originally published during the Winter of 2016 as a Four Part Series (Monday Morning with Marty)


It’s that time of year again! Spring is just around the corner and most attractions are just beginning to ramp up for the busy season. In our attractions world, “ramping up” also means “staffing up” with seasonal hires to help us run the operation through August.


And so it begins…you commence your seasonal recruitment efforts, panel interviews, orientation, and on-the-job training. Finally, you and your shiny bunch of new hires are ready for a fantastic season. Everyone is happy, engaged, and eager to learn. But how do we maintain that energy, enthusiasm, and engagement throughout the dog days of summer?


In their book, Twelve: The Elements of Great Managing (Gallup, 2006), Rodd Wagner and James Harter present 12 essential elements that, when fulfilled, directly correlate with the highest levels of employee morale, productivity, and engagement. Over the next four weeks, we will explore three of these elements at a time, discussing in detail how we can apply them to our own operation. Below is a full listing of each of the twelve elements:


  1. Knowing What’s Expected
  2. Materials and Equipment
  3. The Opportunity to Do What I Do Best
  4. Recognition and Praise
  5. Someone at Work Cares About Me as a Person
  6. Someone at Work Encourages My Development
  7. My Opinion Seems to Count
  8. A Connection With the Mission of the Company
  9. Coworkers Committed to Doing Quality Work
  10. A Best Friend at Work
  11. Talking About Progress
  12. Opportunities to Learn and Grow

Element #1 – Knowing What’s Expected

Were you ever asked to perform a task that you had no clue how to do? How did you feel about it? Did you wing it or did you find someone to ask for clarification? It’s never fun to have to guess at what’s expected of us and it’s even worse when leadership just assumes that their team should already know what’s expected. Teams who clearly understand what’s expected are happier, more engaged, and MUCH more productive.

Here are a few additional tips that can help in providing your team with more job clarity:

  • Start talking about what’s expected during the interview – be specific
  • Continue talking about what’s expected during training – be even more specific
  • Review what’s expected every day of every shift-share examples when you catch people doing things right!
  • Set KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) and other individual metrics that can be specifically measured
  • Using these metrics, be ready and willing to coach, develop, retrain, reward, and/or retask your staff


Element #2 – Materials and Equipment

Just as your team needs to know what’s expected of them, they also need to have the proper materials and equipment to do their job. Imagine being told to go and chop down a tree but then realizing that you had no access to anything that will do the job. Even if you know how to chop down a tree, having no access to something that cuts means you can’t complete the job.

Productivity can also be stifled when equipment ceases to function properly. Have you ever wanted to just take a sledgehammer to the office Xerox machine? Me too. It never fails that the copier encounters a paper jam at the very moment that I’m up against a deadline. Murphy’s Law? Maybe, however, keeping materials and equipment stocked and functioning properly keeps a team engaged, happy, and productive.

What happens when one of your staff members identifies an office supply or piece of equipment that, if purchased, would make their job easier, improve productivity, or positively impact morale? You’d think it would be a no-brainer.

My wife is a superstar at her job. She works as a Client Relationship Executive where she specializes in resolving technical issues for electronic hospitality transmittals. Recently, we realized that my wife may need to take extra time off from work to care for her elderly mother. After explaining the situation to her direct supervisor, her supervisor could get approval to purchase and set up a laptop PC so that my wife could work from home instead of missing days of work. (Her supervisor also recognized that not having my wife around would directly impact the team’s productivity.) As in this example, when we can make reasonable accommodations for our team, it not only improves productivity but it also builds the trust account with the individual.


Element #3 –  The Opportunity to Do What I Do Best Every Day

The secret to unending success within any team rests in finding the “right fit” position for each member of the team. It’s that sweet spot where everything just comes together-an individual’s passion, skill, and ability-and blossoms into fruits of insanely high levels of engagement, job satisfaction, and productivity. I truly believe that it’s our responsibility to find meaningful work about which we can be insanely passionate.

The author of Twelve: The Elements of Great Managing, puts it this way: “For the manager, the problem begins with a simple question: Who would excel in this assignment? But the more a manager delves into that question, the more it spins off additional puzzles. What makes someone succeed where others fail? Is it something innate, something she learned, or is she just trying harder? Can excellence in a certain role be learned? How fast and how much can people change? Can a job candidate be molded to fit the needs of the position, or is what you see during the first interview what you get?” [1]

In our world, the best sales people are just people people. They are individuals who love being around and talking with other people. These individuals clearly understand each of the attraction experiences they are selling. They love to ask questions of the guest in front of them and then to listen for the answers they need to make an appropriate recommendation. Finding right fit individuals for your front gate team begins with identifying passionate people who can balance the fast-paced nature of the sales environment with the personal engagement of conversational selling.


Element #4 – Recognition and Praise

Great job!

I like what you’ve done here.

You’re really making an impact.

Nicely Done…  Thank you!

When was the last time you received some kind words of encouragement on the job? If you’re a leader, when was the last time you gave someone the same kind words of support? The Fourth Element of Great Managing is measured by the statement “In the last seven days, I have received recognition or praise for doing good work.” Of all 12 elements, providing your team with regular recognition and praise seems to get ignored the most.

Instead of rejoicing in the accomplishments of our team, we justify our failure to recognize this way:

“We don’t have time for that-we’re in fire drill mode!”

“It’s their job to get the work done. If they don’t like doing it, they can go somewhere else.”

“We shouldn’t have to reward this…after all, it’s their job!”

Twelve Elements authors Rodd Wagner and James Harter write:

Businesses could write off this issue as a collection of sad but irrelevant emotional deficits if reinforcement were not so important to motivation on the job. But it is. The effects on the company begin with intentions to quit: Employees who do not feel adequately recognized are twice as likely to say they will leave their company in the next year. There are even more profound consequences for outcomes short of quitting that reflect the energy the employee brings to work each day. Variation in the Fourth Element is responsible for 10% to 20% differences in productivity and revenue and thousands of loyal customers to most large organizations.[2]

The key is to recognize your team and to do so consistently. The question that Gallup asks employees in order to measure this element is specific – “In the last seven days, I have received recognition or praise for doing good work.” The beginning of the question-in the last seven days-seeks to identify a consistent pattern of recognition and praise. In order to best answer the needs of the employee on this element, recognition and praise need to happen on a consistent basis. They must become a part of your culture. Below are some of the better practices that I’ve experienced over the course of my career:


  • Require your team leaders to document and submit a weekly accounting of all positive and corrective documentation.
  • Add a segment to your morning lineup meeting that includes recognizing and praising team and individual accomplishments.
  • Create an awards program that incentivizes positive feedback and rewards it with small prizes or motivational pins.
  • Ensure that we, as leaders, are practicing what we preach–if we expect our supervisors and leads to be providing timely recognition and praise, we must do the same.
  • Talk about the importance of this initiative regularly–from your weekly staff meetings to your one-on-one sessions with your direct reports.  Consistent recognition and praise must become a part of the culture.


Element #5 – Someone at Work Cares About Me as a Person Have you ever worked in a job where you didn’t feel valued? I recall feeling that way during my college internship with The Walt Disney Company in Anaheim. I felt like a small fish in an immense ocean. Being one of thousands of college students who were hired to staff seasonal roles at the theme park, I felt small and insignificant.  I knew my leads at my specific attraction and, to their credit, they knew me but I am certain that none of my managers could say the same.  They didn’t know me by name or take the time to care about me as a person-I was just another number to them. At least that was how I felt at the time…

I never forgot that feeling and I made sure that wherever I went in my career, I needed to get to know the people that I worked with and that worked for me. It’s more than simply learning their names too. Caring about someone as a person mean that you get to know a little something about each member of your team and that you show interest on an ongoing basis. For example, one of the ladies who worked for me at Universal Orlando had a daughter on the local swim team and so from time to time, I made a point to ask her how her daughter was doing with her swimming. Her face would just light up when she spoke about her daughter as she shared her experience.  By showing genuine interest in the topic, I was building a stronger relationship with her and demonstrating that I actually cared.


Element #6 – Someone at Work Encourages My Development

When I was a Sophomore in college at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, I recall sitting down with my advisor in the later part of Spring quarter in order to plan out my path to graduation.  We went through each of the courses that I needed in order to satisfy my degree requirements and we customized my schedule in order to align it with my own interests and passions.  I remember how engaged I was in school after that planning session.  I felt as if I finally had a real path to the future and I was excited about it.  My advisor continued to work with me throughout my college experience, helping me to make adjustments to my path and to keep focused on the future.

Development isn’t the same thing as training. Training is, for the most part, skills-based and job specific.  Development, in contrast, is an investment in the individual and focused on the future.  It’s about planning a path for growth and providing support as a mentor as the individual progresses along the path.  Support might mean providing guidance to a staff member on the kinds of technical skills that might be needed in order to advance upwards.  It could also mean providing very candid feedback on job performance and behavior that must change or adapt before the individual can move up.

In order to meet an individual’s desire for personal and professional growth, leaders should intentionally schedule one-on-one development sessions with each member of their team. During these sessions, leaders can ask questions like “Where do you see yourself in a year from now?” and then, as a follow up, “how about in five years from now?” Leaders can also ask other questions like “How can we help you to get there?”

Development is about taking the time and investing in others.  When we do this, we find ourselves playing the role of mentor, teacher, and cheerleader and it can be incredibly rewarding.


Element Seven:  My Opinion Seems to Count

I began my professional career at the Luxor Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas. I like to say that I grew up professionally there. After starting in attractions in 1993, I moved to ticketing in October of 2000 where I led the ticketing team for nearly six years. That fall, when I was asked to take on the challenge of fixing the ticketing operation–it was indeed broken–I certainly had my work cut out for me. We had just launched a brand new show–Blue Man Group, Live at Luxor, which opened the previous winter. Due in combination to the show’s overwhelming success, coupled with our unprepared infrastructure, we had a small window of time to fix some big problems.

Our biggest problem-and the one that we chose to tackle first was our show ticketing call center. When I took over ticketing, our call center had an abandonment rate of near 40%. The industry standard is somewhere between 3% and 5%. We also had a commitment to our partners, Blue Man Productions, who were also extremely concerned. In fact, they viewed the excessive abandonment rate as real lost revenue–a fair statement. Our initial response had been to simply throw more labor hours at the call center which met with mediocre results.

However, one of our team members saw exactly what the problem was. Francisco had worked in ticketing for just a short period of time when he came to me with his concerns. “Marty”, he began, “it’s hot in there–really hot. It’s noisy and overcrowded too. We’ve got 10 people crammed into a small room that was never designed to be a call center. The ventilation can’t keep up with the number of people and PCs that are in there-all of that makes it a very bad place to work. We need a more comfortable environment for the team to be effective.”

Francisco was right. In fact, the room where the call center had been placed was never designed to be a call center or even a real office for that matter. It was simply a void beneath the ramp way for one of the theaters. Based on Francisco’s recommendation, we found a new home for the call center-one in which we were able to provide ample ventilation, custom-designed work stations, and even an elevated supervisor desk. We finally had a real call center.

Over the next few months, we continued to adjust staffing levels, breaks, and lunches in order to reduce the call center’s abandonment rate. Eventually, were able to achieve our goal of an abandonment rate of below 5%. Francisco’s honest assertion made all the difference.

Keep in mind, it’s not about bolting a suggestion box to the wall and hoping that people will contribute. That’s too passive for keeping the team engaged in sharing opinions. It’s about creating an environment in which suggestions are welcomed, appreciated, and, whenever it makes sense, suggestions are actually implemented. We can do this by scheduling one-on-one’s and town halls with our team. In these free and open environments, we can share observations, ask for suggestions, and solve problems together. When we can successfully facilitate this kind of discussion and sharing, everyone wins!


Element Eight:  A Connection with the Mission of the Company

“If a job were just a job, it really wouldn’t matter where someone worked. A good paycheck, decent benefits, reasonable hours, and comfortable working conditions would be enough. The job would serve its function of putting food on the table and money in the kids’ college accounts. But a uniquely human twist occurs after the basic needs are fulfilled. The employee searches for meaning in her vocation. For reasons that transcend the physical needs fulfilled by earning a living, she looks for her contribution to a higher purpose. Something within her looks for something in which to believe.” [3]

Mission Statements play an important role in our ability to establish and maintain an organization’s culture. An effective Mission Statement is the basis for connecting all employees with a particular way of thinking about what they do, how they do it, and what the end result will be. I could write an entire article simply on the DO’s and DON’Ts of constructing an effective Mission Statement (idea for a future MMM!) but today, the point is that Mission Statements must be more than a collection of well-crafted words. When an organization’s employees believe that their work is connected with the Mission Statement, they are more productive, happier, and thus, more engaged.

Just this past Saturday, Melea and I drove down to Poinciana (about 40 minutes Southeast of our home) to check out a potential placement for her mother. (Melea’s mother has progressing Alzheimer’s disease and needs round-the-clock attention.) When we arrived at the facility, we were greeted warmly by Marie-the owner of the facility. She gave us a brief tour of the facility followed by a thorough discussion of the care that Melea’s mother would receive. As we were standing in the kitchen area, I noticed that Marie had crafted a Mission Statement that was posted prominently. The Mission Statement focused on the staff’s dedication and passionate for providing a healthy, safe, and enriching environment for those who live there.

By the end of the visit, both Melea and I believed in the Mission Statement too. Marie has effectively assembled a team of people who share in her vision and who carry out the tenants of the organization’s Mission Statement on a daily basis. This is apparent both in the words and actions of the staff that we met as well as the tenants who live in the facility.

So how do we keep our teams connected with the Mission Statement? Here are some best practices to ensure that what you’ve got posted is what actual happens.

  • Post your Mission Statement prominently
  • Talk about it daily, connecting the Mission to each team’s work
  • Establish specific, attainable goals that align with the Mission Statement
  • Review your organization’s policy, procedures, and culture to make sure that it matches with-rather than conflicts with-the Mission Statement


Element Nine:  Coworkers Committed to Doing Quality Work

Have you ever met a sloth? They don’t do very much. Sure, they might be cute and look cuddly but they simply hang around and don’t do very much–low energy, unproductive mammals. That’s about it.

Have you ever worked with a sloth? That is to say a co-worker who doesn’t contribute but simply hangs around and takes up space? I think we all have. Did that person simply skate underneath the radar, just doing the bare minimum and nothing more? I believe that there is nothing more demotivating than to work alongside someone who fails to do their fair share of work.

“During a career, everyone encounters at least a few of the people who strive to do the least they can do without getting reprimanded. Few factors are more corrosive to teamwork than the employee who skates through life taking advantage of the much harder work of others. This is the reason that the Ninth Element of Great Managing, which is measured by the statement, My associates or fellow employees are committed to doing quality work, is so predictive of a team’s output.” [4]

So how do we fight sloth in the workplace? Here are some thoughts:

Measure Performance. Find ways in which you can track individual performance in comparison to team performance. Have regular meetings with team members and discuss where they rank. If they are performing below the team average, ask them why and how you can help?

Reward Success. Commission, promotions, awards, and special perks. When we are able to not only measure productivity and performance but reward it on an individual basis, it makes an impact with the team in two ways. First, it lets the person who is working harder know that their efforts are noticed, and two, it sends a message to lower performing individuals that putting forth more effort has its benefits.

Develop the Average Performers. Low performers pull everyone down. It’s essential that we have regular discussions with individuals about their performance-whether low, average, or high. Such conversations should be designed to clearly state the behavior observed and the standard that is expected. Leaders should always focus on improving performance as the best option for moving forward.

Purge Low Performers. Once we’ve exhausted all avenues for improving an individual’s performance, it may be time to make a change. This doesn’t always mean firing the individual. Oftentimes, transfers to a different role are an acceptable alternative. However, keeping a low performing individual on a team simply because it’s the easier option is a bad move. It’s always better for everyone involved to move individuals who simply aren’t cut out for the role.


Element Ten: A Best Friend at Work

Measured by the survey question “I have a best friend at work”, this element is perhaps the most controversial of all of the 12 elements. In fact, when I worked at Universal Orlando, they did not include this element in their annual survey. But this element is important and has a direct correlation to job satisfaction, productivity, and a safer working environment (fewer workplace accidents).

“Gallup itself would have dropped the statement if not for one stubborn fact: It predicts performance. Something about a deep sense of affiliation with the people in an employee’s team drives him to do positive things for the business he otherwise would not do…   Early research that identified the 12 Elements revealed a very different social bond among employees in top-performing teams. Subsequent large-scale, multi-company analyses confirmed that the Tenth Element is a scientifically salient ingredient in obtaining a number of business-relevant outcomes, including profitability, safety, inventory control, and — most notably — the emotional connection and loyalty of customers to the organization serving them.”[5]

That said, here are some ideas for ways in which we can encourage friendship at work:

  • Finders Fees. Ask your HR Department about setting up an incentive program through which current employees are rewarded for new referrals. Perhaps $25 as soon as the new hire reports for and completes orientation and another $50 once the new hire reaches the 90-day mark.
  • Potlucks. Everyone loves food so putting on a monthly potluck can be a lot of fun. Choose a theme and promote it amongst your team. You could do, for example, Mardi Gras in March, Appetizers in April, and Mexican Food in May (for Cinco de Mayo). Get creative and involve the entire team.
  • After-Work Activities. Organize monthly after-work activities like mini-golf night, bowling, and movie nights. It’s always fun when the team can go out together, let their hair down, and to get to know each other outside of work.

If you’re still on the fence with Element Ten, perhaps it might help to ask this question:

How often do your corporate executive types go off for a two or three-day retreat where they golf, team build, and socialize?

Doesn’t that qualify as building friendships too?


Element Eleven: Talking About Progress

Giving feedback can be a challenge for any new leader. Heck, even seasoned leaders often dread writing and issuing those annual reviews. What’s the reason for all of the angst?  When we are not the ones who normally interact with the individual being reviewed, we lack the real, intelligent facts that are needed for the review to be meaningful and substantive. In my first few months of working at Universal Orlando, I recall being assigned a number of reviews for Team Members with whom I had never worked. It was an awful experience. How are you supposed to give someone feedback if you’ve never even worked with them? The preferred scenario is one in which there are no surprises and the individual receiving their review knows that their observed actions over the past year are being acknowledged and rewarded.

The art of giving feedback to your team can be incredibly challenging–after all, we all have areas of opportunity on which we can improve. Likewise, we all hope to be doing at least some of our job correctly and so when leaders acknowledge these areas, we appreciate it as well. Therefore, it’s important to strike the right balance. But getting NO feedback at all can be incredibly demotivating to the individual.

The Eleventh Element is measured by the question “In the last six months, someone at work has talked to me about my progress.” When Gallup dug deeper with respect to this element, the uncovered something interesting:

“For all the complexity of performance appraisals — the balanced scorecards, the 360-degree feedback, the self-evaluations and forced grading systems — the statement that shows the best connection between perceptions of evaluations and actual employee performance is remarkably simple: ‘In the last six months, someone at work has talked to me about my progress.’ The statement does not specify that the discussion is an official review, but an appraisal can be one ingredient in creating the requisite feedback. The two are related, but not synonymous.” [6]

What it ultimately boils down to is this: leaders need to conduct regular, informal discussions with their Team Members about progress. They need to be plugged in and to understand how to communicate effectively.  The better dialed-in and engaged that leaders are with respect to the individual’s performance on a consistent basis and the better that these leaders are at communicating their observations, the more effective the feedback.


Element Twelve: Opportunities to Learn and Grow

On a snowy Paris evening in 2008, Travis Kalanick and Garrett Camp had trouble hailing a cab. So they came up with a simple idea-tap a button, get a ride. And with that simple, innovative thought, Uber was born. What an amazing blend of innovation and technology!

Of all the fun and clever catch-phrases I’ve heard in my life (and now, seemingly every day on Facebook), I like Think Outside of the Box the best. The idea of individuals being challenged to think differently, to invent, and to innovate is truly an American story. Imagine a world without the lightbulb, airplanes, or the personal computer. By challenging our people to become the best version of themselves, we can change the world–and it all starts with an investment in the growth and development of people.

Over time, an increasing number of organizations are doing just that–investing in their people. At the Walt Disney Company, Disney University has become the global training program for Disney Cast Members. It is a place where Disney can publicly share their renown philosophy and culture. With a vast library of online and instructor-led content, The Walt Disney Company is an excellent example of an organization that is committed to the growth and development of their people.

You don’t have to be Disney to be effective at developing and grooming your people for growth.  As leaders, we must take on the role of mentor, advisor, and teacher. Through regular one-on-one conversations, leaders work with the individual to identify where their passion lies, how they can help, and the programs and services that can best meet the needs of their growth and development plan.

“When employees feel like they are learning and growing, they work harder and more efficiently. This element, while linked to nearly every important outcome Gallup has studied, has a particularly strong connection to customer engagement and profitability. On average, business units in the top quartile on the Twelfth Element surpass their bottom-quartile counterparts by 9% on customer engagement and loyalty measures and by 10% on profitability. These superior customer relationships and profits may occur because employees who are learning and genuinely interested in their work have better ideas — which is another demonstrated correlation to the Twelfth Element.” [7]

[1] Wagner, Rodd, and James K. Harter. 12: The Elements of Great Managing. New York, NY: Gallup, 2006. Web.

[2] Wagner, Rodd, and James Harter. “The Fourth Element of Great Managing.” Gallup. Web. 21 Mar. 2016. <>.

[3] Wagner, Rodd, and James Harter. “The Eighth Element of Great Managing.” Gallup. Web. 28 Mar. 2016.

[4] Wagner, Rodd, and James Harter. “The Ninth Element of Great Managing.” Gallup. Web. 28 Mar. 2016.

[5] Wagner, Rodd, and James Harter. “The Tenth Element of Great Managing.” Gallup. Web. 01 Apr. 2016.

[6] Wagner, Rodd, and James Harter. “The Eleventh Element of Great Managing.” Gallup. Web. 01 Apr. 2016.

[7] Wagner, Rodd, and James Harter. “The Twelfth Element of Great Managing.” Gallup. Web. 01 Apr. 2016.