Adding Some Spice to a Stale Relationship

Young couple having relationship problemsPlus 6 tips for better abs, and 7 great ideas for holiday gifts!

We are so conditioned to look for a time saving fix or an easy upgrade to fix anything in our lives that is feeling tired or old or used or outdated – and yet we content ourselves with our current facilities because any change seems too hard, too expensive, or too out of reach.

But have no fear – there may be hope.  in 2009 and 2011 our agency completely renovated two swimming pools – and I mean completely.  We tore out everything down to the hole in the ground – pools, bath houses, utilities…everything.  And we rebuilt.  And the new facilities were a smashing success.  Revenues and attendance more than doubled, and the pools became operationally self-sustaining.  Yay! We met our goals!

But that was, like, so 8 years ago.  The honeymoon is over.  Our community, which used to be super excited at the new pools, is now conditioned to expect that level of entertainment.  So what’s next?  Well, as much as we’d love to spend another $1 million on a flowrider surf machine, that’s just waaaaay outside of the budget picture.aquatics_slide_show_2_0

So how can we add some spice to this stale relationship that the public is having with our facility?  Lucky for me we live in PA and have this thing called ‘Winter’ that lets me do some research and admin work to find solutions.

1. Toys.  Toys are fun.  They cost money – but they can be an easy way to immediately change the recreation atmosphere at a facility.  For the pools, we added a climbing wall and a floating obstacle course (ours is a Wibit, but there are others out there).  We’re also looking at giant hamster balls, log rolling, zip lines, noodle jousting on inflatable ducks – and lots of other ideas.  We had instant success with purchasing these items for public use.  Indoor facilities have many similar features available – just do some research.

2.  Programs.  We regularly try new programs at the pools.  Three years ago we worked with our high school diving coach to add springboard diving lessons to go along with our already robust swim lesson program.  Last year we borrowed the Start Smart program concept and ran swim lessons where our instructor-led parents through a course teaching their own kids to swim.

3.  Events.  Disco night?  Maybe a little outdated, but what about a dance night with a DJ or live band?  Cardboard boat races?  Dog swim?  Fishing Derby after the season?  Pool-o-Ween?  There are lots of ideas already out there – or you can combine some and make your own!

Those are just a few ideas, but really here are the key points:

  •  Make the time to regularly evaluate your facilities and operations.  Get rid of stale programs or events.  Create new ones to replace them.
  • Budget for some new items, even if you have to spread the purchases over a few years.  They can make an immediate impact.
  • Do some research.  Thanks to the internet there are tons of ideas out there already.  You often don’t have to reinvent the wheel, just borrow ideas from other successful facilities!  You can also get a lot of great ideas from conferences and expos.

As for the 6 tips for better abs:

1. Eat Less

2. Eat Better

3. Exercise more

4. Repeat

And the 7 holiday gift ideas?

1. Ask them what they want.  7 times.


Getting the Most out of a Professional Conference

PRPS Fall Mtg17-4. RasmussenProfessional educational conferences offer a wide array of opportunities to enhance your vocation, but it is often easy to miss out if you don’t plan ahead!  Here are some tips to help:

Before you go:

Plan ahead, plan ahead, plan ahead.  Look at the guide – in print, on-line, or via the app (most conferences use one now).  Plan out an agenda for all of the sessions and events that you wish to attend.

1. Plan back up sessions in case your first choice gets cancelled, or is too full, or is a dud.  Be willing to be flexible.

2.  Plan some sessions outside of your primary work focus area – there are some great ideas out there that span vocations!

3.  Create a wish list of solutions that you’re looking for at your job – and actively seek out people who could help you solve those issues at the conference.

4.  Take a stack of business cards to hand out.  It’s a quick and easy way to make a connection with someone.

Once you’re there:

1.  Re-visit your agenda after you arrive to confirm your planned sessions and schedule.

2.  Be social.  I’ve learned just as much by networking and talking to peers at the social events as I have from the educational sessions.  Get out of your comfort zone if you’re not an extrovert by nature.

3.  Go to available vendor socials – they usually get a good venue and will buy you food (and drink).  They also have a great insight into current trends and coming attractions.

4.  Have a strategy to tackle the exhibit hall.  Understand that many vendors are also very knowledgeable in their field and are excellent resources.  They are there to sell themselves and their products, but they also WANT to talk to you about their industry!

5.  Plan to take a second look at the exhibit hall – there’s so much going on, you probably missed something good the first time around.

6.  Get out of your hotel room.  Explore your area.  Get more out of your visit than just the conference.

Once you get home:

1. Review your notes and sort through your literature as soon as possible.  Tackle this before you forget important ideas or connections.

2.  Cement and move on the good ideas and follow up with project leads.  Schedule time to implement your solutions.

3.  Follow up with any connections that you made – confirm contact information and proceed with projects.

Remember that you have a limited time – maximize the opportunities.  6 months from now you won’t remember a nap, and you won’t remember sitting in the hotel room watching TV.  You WILL remember the extra time at a social, the extra session, the extra vendor you talked to.  Make it count.

Watch for more details to come soon about the Annual PRPS Conference & Expo on April 2-5, 2019 at the Penn Stater Conference Center, State College. Registration will be open in November. Expo spaces are still available but are beginning to fill up. Reserve your booth soon! You can find more information at

The counterfeit dollar story

It’s a warm summer day at the pool – kids are splashing, families are laughing together, and trouble is headed my way.  It’s a busy day, and our front desk staff is processing a large volume of cash transactions, in addition to credit card runs and season pass holders checking in.

One visitor, we’ll call him John Doe, comes to the pool and pays the daily admission fee to swim.  He pays with a $20, and gets the correct change, including a few $1 bills.

Mr. Doe enjoys his afternoon at the pool, then leaves to go do some shopping at a local mega-store.  20 minutes after leaving the pool – he’s back at the front desk.

“YOU GAVE ME COUNTERFEIT BILLS IN CHANGE!” he barks at the desk staff.

The desk staff look at each other – OK this is new, and definitely out of the ordinary.  One staffer, we’ll call him “Dave” just because it’s short for “David” keeps his cool.  “I’m very sorry, sir, but can you let me know what’s going on?”

Mr. Doe continues “I just went to (un-named local mega store) and tried to buy something with the change that YOU gave me HERE at the pool, and they wouldn’t accept the bills!!  They said they were counterfeit!”

Dave asks, “Can I see the bills you’re talking about?”

Mr. Doe produces a single one dollar bill.  “Here.  This…this one.  They refused to take it.  You NEED to call the police!!  This is counterfeit!”


Dave examines the bill.  It looks normal to him – but this is an unusual situation.  “Let me grab my manager – please wait here for a sec.”  Dave gets the manager, who comes over and also examines the dollar bill.

At this point, the manager and Dave ponder several options:

1. Tell the guy he’s full of BS – there’s nothing wrong with the dollar.

2. Take the dollar, write up the incident, and report it to the main parks office, and let the guy know that someone will be back with him shortly.

3. Call the police and start an investigation.

4. Or – what actually happened…

Dave, seeing the line at the gate growing, takes a dollar bill out of his OWN pocket, and offers “Can we trade?  I’ll take yours, this one just came from (unnamed local gas station).”  Mr. Doe looks at the bill, looks at Dave, nods, takes the dollar and leaves.

OK quick break – let’s do some math.  I’ll round up to make myself look more generous, but also to make the math easier.  Let’s say Dave was making $9 per hour, and the manager $10 per hour.  I’m paying staff $19 per hour to resolve this situation (rather than to help other guests or oversee other staff).  I’m paying 32 cents per minute to resolve this – so anything more than about 3 minutes is not worth the time…for a single dollar bill.  Even if they take just 15 minutes to resolve – that’s $4.75 to resolve a one dollar issue!!

Your time, and your staff’s time, have a dollar value that can be applied to tasks – make sure they are being spent wisely.

So kudos to Dave for quick thinking and quick resolution.  We ended up with a satisfied customer and business could continue as normal.  Many of the situations we are faced with can be solved with less time and effort than they are worth – keep your business plan in mind when training your staff.

Epilogue – Dave was able to spend the “counterfeit” dollar with no problems, and he won $5 on a $1 lottery ticket.  Oh, and he also got a raise.

Some people just need a high-five

Picture3“Mr. Roth, your admission policy is awful.  Do you know who I am?  I’m the Dean of (a local university).”

“Mr. Roth, what are you going to do, call the police on me?”

“Mr. Roth, how dare your lifeguards yell at my child.  They’re racist, and so are you!”

“Mr. Roth, I drug tested my daughter and it came up positive for THC.  You’re her boss, what are you going to do about it?”

“Mr. Roth, the spray features in your pool keep hitting my child!”

“Mr. Roth, you should be fired!”

Ahhh the public.  Don’t get me wrong – the vast majority of the people we serve are wonderful citizens who are generally grateful for the facilities and programs that they are able to utilize.  The VAST majority.  I tell my staff that out of 130,000 visits to our pools in a given summer, we’ll have about 20 really unhappy patrons.  That’s 0.015% unhappy visitors – or on the flip side – 99.985% success!  That’s pretty darn good.

So WHY do the unhappy ones cause us so much grief and take up SO MUCH of our time?  Some patrons are just hot and tired, and some, well some just like to argue.  Some just want something free – and have learned that if they make enough noise they’ll usually get it!

We often struggle to effectively respond to customers when we feel that we are right, and /or when the customer is an idiot.  I’m using idiot here in lieu of several other words.

Is the customer always right?  If you’re working in a for-profit industry that may be an easy answer.  For tax-funded facilities or programs it may be more complex.  Oversight of these may need to consider:

a. Can we just give away free stuff to make a problem customer go away?  Some tax-funded entities may not be able to do this.

b. Is there a slippery slope – if I give in to one customer, do I have to do the same every time this happens?

c. Professionally I KNOW I am right and the customer is wrong.

d. Is anyone’s safety at risk – or is there any liability exposure to a decision either way?

In the long run we as professionals need to realize that these issues are not likely going away.  We can tweak policies and procedures each year to try to minimize them, but we’ll need to have some strategies to help.  Here are some ideas:

1. Recognize that it’s not personal.  You’re just the face of the organization.  Keep the emotion out of it so that you can calmly and rationally work through the issue.  (I recognize that this may be a phenomenal challenge in the heat of a discussion).

2. Keep your overall goal in mind.  Safety should always be #1.  Responsibility to your company, department, brand, and tax-payers are next.  Giving away free stuff may not always be the most responsible course if you rely on tax dollars for funding, but there will be times when it is the most effective way to resolve the situation.

3. Have a social media response plan.  Unhappy customers will bash you anywhere they can.  Have procedures in place to handle that.

4. Keep the value of your time, and your staff time in mind.  Are you or your staff spending an hour of their time (let’s say at $10 or $20 per hour) to resolve a $4 issue?  Or are there some issues that are worth fighting for, regardless of the cost?

On the flip side – understand that at some point you may be threatened with legal action.  Legal fees typically START in the $2,500-$3,000 range, just to sit down with an attorney.  Is your resolution of an issue worth that?

Every situation is different.  Every customer is different.  Over time, and with help from our fellow professionals, we can hopefully find strategies to work through them.  For the record – the quotes at the beginning were all real and each came with a wonderful story, and each was resolved in a different manner.  In each case, when it was resolved, I went to the pool, took a deep breath, and found my solace in seeing that vast majority of people – who were just happy to have a great swimming pool to enjoy on a sunny afternoon.


Successful seasonal staff management

Key points to be a successful boss and leader

Seasonal staff can drive you crazy!  They’re often young, easily distracted, have goals and issues unrelated to the workplace, and can be unreliable at best.  But most of them can be trained and coached to be great employees if you take the time to work with them.

To be successful as a manager, leader, teacher, or coach, there are some key points that can help.  To start:

  • Determine your definition of success with your employees – what are the characteristics that make up the ideal seasonal staff member? Remember these traits as you train them.
  • Determine your own strengths and weaknesses – so that you know where you are confident in your training and where you may need help from outside sources.
  • Understand that every employee is different and may require differing coaching strategies to successfully manage them.
  • Set realistic goals for your employees.
  • Create an environment in which they can be successful.


On day one, engage your employees.  Be prepared and welcoming, and have clear expectations in their job description or staff handbook.  Give them the information that they need, and use power words with them such as please, thank you, you’re doing a good job, I appreciate your work.  This will all create a positive environment with informed employees, who will then be easier to coach towards your ideal.


Your employees will take their professional cues from you.  So have a positive attitude (or fake it), resolve conflict quickly and professionally, and focus on the issues that caused the problem rather than on how to fix the blame.  Sometimes you need to be a boss and sometimes you need to be a leader – know the difference!

Every employee knows the absolute minimum effort that it takes to not get fired.  They know that if they just do this minimal amount they can keep their job.  Some socialists argue that the gap between this minimum and their potential may be as much as 70%-75%…so it takes many employees only about 25%-30% of their potential to not get fired.

Every morning your employee will negotiate – with themselves – how much effort over that minimum that they will put into their job.  That vote is largely determined by the ENVIRONMENT in which they work.  The challenge of their manager is to create a situation where employees will VOLUNTARILY give more than the minimum required.  Here are some ways to help with that:

  • Create a positive atmosphere and working environment.
  • Compliment and praise when appropriate.
  • Use formative feedback or teaching moments to replace negative feedback.
  • Coach them – prod, motivate, encourage, and teach.
    • Recognize that you may need different coaching strategies for different employees.
    • Some staff need a simple and swift kick in the butt – while others need you to explain the ‘why’ before they buy in.

When it comes to discipline or correcting issues – remember your definition of success!  YOUR immediate reaction to a situation may not be what THEY need to improve.  Approach it as a coach – “How can I help you improve” may be more effective than “Get your head out of your rear and stop screwing up!”

  • Make sure the duties and expectations were clearly defined
  • It’s not personal – don’t let it be
  • Praise in public, criticize in private
  • Be clear and concise with communication
  • Let them know the next step (whether an action plan for improvement, or an appeal for discipline if available, or anything moving forward in the process)

Successful managers will recognize what is important to their employees and will work toward creating those opportunities.  There are many ways to be successful with this, but here are some ideas:

  • Higher wages – or a good explanation as to why you can’t (for most of us!).
  • A social media policy that allows employees to be involved but keeps your agency out of their posts – and promotes a healthy work environment among employees.
  • On-line or app-supported scheduling and communication.
  • Teaching best practices on customer interaction.
  • Use post-season surveys to solicit honest and open feedback on staff issues – then work on improving them.

When working with your seasonal staff, keep your focus on your definition of success.  It’s not your way or the highway, its all about coaching them to fit your ideal.  This may involve differing strategies for some employees but in the long run you’ll create an environment in which they can thrive – which will make YOUR professional life better.