By Allen F. Weitzel
My first amusement park assignment was at a western park in California. I learned many lessons as my management experience grew, one involving the power of employee pocket vetoes.
Pocket Veto Distinctions
A pocket veto is a way for an employee to disagree with or fails to complete a specific directive from a supervisor. Often times, an employee will stall in carrying out a directive. The employee may alter the directive and change the way the task is done which could also change the result. When confronted, they claim the boss was unclear about how to do the task. Another scenario is for the employee to delegate the task to other employees, and suggest changes to the original order or provide no instructions so the employee doing the task makes their own changes. Some employees twist words and make the directive appear inappropriate or dangerous; then complain to upper management or the HR department. And, of course, some ignore the directive and hope they do not get caught or the boss forgets about the delegated task.
At one industry convention, our general manager became excited about a live Hermit Crab retail program. Since our park had a water element, the GM thought that Hermit Crab sales to our guests had potential. The initial order of Hermit Crabs came complete with point of purchase material and displays to house the critters. When our order was delivered, we set up the display in our highest volume store, knowing that these critters required special care. We had to feed them and clean their display daily. After a few days, it was clear that the crabs were not selling. We decided that a more rustic atmosphere might help the crab sales, so we moved the display and critters to a store located near the park’s lake. At first, the crabs did not sell at this new location, so I reported to the GM that the ‘Experimental Crab Sale Program’ had faltered. He told me to try one more time, so we ordered more crabs. Our park did not have electronic point of purchase tracking systems, which would have tracked the sales of the product sold and kept an inventory. We used a manual system to track inventory and sales.
After about 10 days into our second crab order, we noticed an increase in the number crabs being sold (or so we thought). Many crabs were cycling through our inventory. At the end of five weeks, we noticed a decline in sales. We were also nearing the end of the summer season, and we wanted to reduce our inventory. Due to the sales slowdown and the winter approaching, we did not reorder any crabs.
The Telltale Sign
Years after that park had closed permanently, I learned from former employees why we had an increase in the perceived sales of Hermit Crabs, the second time around. We had a female employee working at our lakeside store who felt sorry for the lonely, cooped up crabs. So, she was regularly releasing them into the park’s lake; a few every night. It also came to light that the second slow down in the sales of crabs, at the end of the summer, was not due to sales decline, but to the fact that our concerned employee had quit working at the park to return to school, and no other employee was releasing crabs into the lake. Our employee pocket vetoed the original directives that were in place for sales and inventory tracking.
Solutions To The problem
Check on the employee doing the task to learn how trustworthy the employee is, but do not be a micro-manager. Advise employees to talk through the task and cite their concerns when a task is assigned. Encourage questions while the task is being executed – be open to change. Make employees aware of the consequences of altering a task. Tell the employee the reasons for the task and the desired results. Reward for tasks well done. If employee has a tendency to pocket veto or negatively question tasks, cover it in their performance reviews. When possible, make the employee a partner in the task and reward if it is being done well. Provide cause and effect and ‘big picture’ discussions with the staff about the downside of any pocket vetoes. All tasks should be equally important as far as the rules governing pocket vetoes.
So the moral of this tale is that no matter how good or bad your sales are, management may not always know the full story until it is too late. Never underestimate what employees are doing when you are not watching.
(Blog Editor Allen F. Weitzel has been a trailblazer in the recreation field for 45 seasons, most recently leading the safety and training department at a California amusement park for 25 seasons.)