Staying Connected Through Stories

October 10, 2011 2 Comments

Allen F. Weitzel has spent 45 seasons in the recreation field and is safety and traning manager at a California amusement park.

By Allen F. Weitzel

People ask me how I collect so many business and personal stories. Well, our family has been blessed with good memories and the ability to gather events from daily life; applying them to lessons learned.

Why Are They Needed

Social network organizations identified that we were becoming a socially fractured society. Facebook, Twitter, Linked-in, and the like are bringing people together. Businesses are retooling to make social networks functional inside the work place. However, companies like Facebook and Twitter only provide tidbits of dialog. What is missing are the meaty discussions that help employees learn and grow.

Then and Now

We need to look forward, but we can still learn from the past. Before the technology boon, I worked at two successful entertainment facilities: Frontier Village Amusement Park (www.frontiervillage.net) and Winchester Mystery House® (http://www.winchestermysteryhouse.com).

It was before the time when each employee had an electronic pass card to enter the property. Management met the workers at the entrance and let them into the facility. Those moments lead to pre-work conversations about the previous day’s activities, stories about how tasks were completed and customer service incidents. These episodes being collected by management were re-told as training tools. Some stories were humorous and some not.

In operations today, facilities are automated and departmentalized. There are just as many stories, tales and work-related experiences out there, but there is no central place where the stories are collected and shared.

Why Stories Are Important

If trainers can collect stories and incorporate them into training programs, not only will they customize training to be specific to the operation, but also the employees will relate better to the message. Training is more effective when it is fun. For a half-day leadership class, I insert 12 to 14 stories with each one being a two-to-three-minute tale. Each story relates directly to the message being relayed. I insert new stories now and then. If I uncover a new example, I will use it to see how well it will be received. If a particular story does not work for most audiences, I remove it for a better one. Some stories, though well accepted, may become inappropriate as the times change. The more stories I can collect that are specific to our facility, the better. When workers remember the stories you tell in class, it helps them remember the principles they also learned.

Freshening stories on a regular basis helps employees enjoy the class the next time, when they go through your 24-month retraining of veteran workers.

An Example

Here is a story I tell about planning ahead. When I was a rookie supervisor, I discovered that on a busy Saturday, my two relief employees were wasting time and not all our employees received their allotted breaks. I was furious! The next day when the relief guys came in to work, I fired both of them. Then it hit me! There was no one left to do relief except me! I had failed to plan ahead!

Story Collection

When using a story obtained from a co-worker, be careful not to insult anyone when retelling it. You should even ask permission to use their story. You might poke a little fun at nameless guests you have encountered years before, but never poke fun at or insult an employee. If you do, employees will stop providing you with material, the fun of attending your classes will disappear, and your reputation will be tarnished. Mostly, use stories that are original to you and poke fun only at you. Sharing your personal stories will impress your trainees and show that you, too, are human.

Communication

Once the word gets out that your training sessions are fun, personalized and educational, employees will communicate with you more often. They will share stories, and this synergy will bring you closer to your staff. Training classes send a message that you value the employees and you want them to learn and improve the work that they do. If you offer all the elements of a world-class learning experience, employees will give their best efforts when handling the daily task of serving your guests.

Links:

There are many training resources available to our industry. Always research and select outside trainers that fit your style and philosophy of training.

Practical Productivity Solutions
http://www.pracprosol.com/

Creative Operational Concepts
http://www.creativeoperationalconcepts.com/index.htm

International Theme Park Services
http://www.interthemepark.com/

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2 Comments to “Staying Connected Through Stories”
  1. Paul Warren says:

    Dear Allen: I can relate to your article and comments. I have the
    nice situation where many of my employees drop into my office from
    time to time to grab a piece of candy from the candy jar and we chit
    chat on an informal basis. They tell me what’s happening in their
    area, and we share stories. I usually learn more from the them, but
    once in awhile I’ll share a story from my past which helps them in
    solving a problem or learning something new about life, business,
    people, or themselves. I applaud your approach of keeping the
    lines of communication open by encouraging one-on-one dialogs.
    It is important for good business communication. Great article.

    • Paul, Thanks for the compliment It looks like you have the management/employee communication situation dialed in. Managers can learn more from workers when there is no planned agenda for conversation, rather than a pre-set, pre-scheduled meeting. I used the snacks for employees system for years. It only backfired once, when I had my office door open one night after closing and a big, fat raccoon from the park came in looking for a handout. I had to re-think my treat storage location, and “who gets handouts” policy. Mama raccoon was not about to take “no” for an answer. Thanks for your support. Best, Allen

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