Matt Mosteller is a senior executive with Resorts of the Canadian Rockies.
It is high time leaders of all companies finally get on the right path. Canada, we can and need to be a champion in the well-being economy. The industrial age model of being solely focused on profits, costs and selfish financial metrics is no longer practical or sustainable for the greater priority – our people. Even worse, those humans are a footnote in the costs, often listed as a cost or resource. For starters, let’s begin with the ski industry because this close-knit community which I am involved in, is – absolutely, full stop – totally about people.
If you lead with a hyper focus on putting your people first, then those other areas such as financial performance, safety, environment and community enrichment will organically follow.
I have worked in the ski industry my entire adult life – including a stint as a professional ski bum – and worked my way up to the leadership level. I’ve seen both sides of the coin, figuratively and literally. For years, I had it wrong. I admit that I took too many first tracks, thinking solely about my own interest in powder and fresh tracks before a ski area opened for the day. Accessing the ski lift before a ski area opens to the public for the first chance at the day’s powdery turns or perfectly groomed runs is called ‘first tracks’, a privilege typically reserved for the resort’s upper management and VIPs. Hear me out on this one. What if the hard-working, guest-facing, frontline and behind-the-scenes teams were the ones offered the opportunity to enjoy those first tracks, even just a run or two, before their shift begins each day? It would make a happier workplace for them and a better guest experience for all.
Does leadership have it wrong? Instead of upper management and money-tossing VIPs getting first turns, what if lift operators got a few turns in first and could give you guests live updates in real time to recommend trails as you load the gondola? What if the snowmaking and groomer teams could ski a couple of early runs to learn how they could improve snow conditions for the following day? What if leadership waited until the public began skiing to join and ski themselves, riding the chairlifts and gathering feedback by chatting directly with their core, passionate audience? What if they went to check on their staff during peak hours to ensure all was running smoothly and help expedite or resolve any issues that arise? What if leadership of any company – regardless of their industry – gave their people such perks, such support? And what if it made a huge, positive impact on daily operations and morale? Something as small as giving employees first tracks on the ski hill each day could, without question, snowball into so many great outcomes.
The summit matters. The leadership team, the pack at the peak, is responsible for the culture of a company. Culture, like a winter’s snowfall, grows and shapes over time. But to get it right, consistency is key. A leadership team must strategically stir in the everyday ingredients of culture: support, care, listening, respect, inclusivity, trust and so much more.
Similar to unproperly tuned skis, management must pay attention to the details and direction of their culture for maximum performance and quickly correct any missteps along the way. Hiring or failing to reprimand team members who continually display sour attitudes, disrespect fellow co-workers and create hostile, divisive atmospheres deeply effects a team’s inner workings.
Over time, this leads to a rotting environment, the silent killer of meaningful culture. Rot spreads faster than good, so as a leader, serve your people well. Pay attention, respond responsibly and of course, listen, as your team knows best. In short, be a server, not a taker.
Dig into the snow with your team to uncover and understand the layers and challenges by listening, learning and growing together toward shared long-term success and happiness.
Be a good flake. My early years in the ski industry showed how important those fellow flakes in your life are. Flakes are your people and it takes many different flakes to make a good snowball - so every flake matters. They listened to what mattered to you, they provided shelter when you needed it and shared food; in short, they cared about you. People want to belong. This belonging comes from a feeling of what they have to share matters and feeling like you have their back. That means you really listen and take the time to communicate, follow up and circle back on anything that is outstanding. A trusted, open and caring environment is what we all deserve. Security and belonging creates the highest performance state for the long haul.
Avalanche forecasters and snow safety team members must question everything to build a safe skiing plan each day. So, how can you do the same? Ask lots of questions. Constantly learning is not only good for you, because you add layers of knowledge to your quiver, but the simple and powerful ask of a question shows that you value what your team has to say.
Equally vital is when the take-away or learning from that question leads to positive change and you can acknowledge the source of it with earned credit and recognition for making a difference. Asking, listening, learning, supporting, actioning and celebrating. Regular occurring one-on-one interaction is key, but also don’t forget to have collaborative group sessions as well. Within your supportive environment all voices should be able to share input that helps your company move forward with the best solutions.
Be a snow reporter on social media. Over communicate. Be over the top about this one because people feel better and more supported when they feel they know what is going on. Not just the big strategic decisions, but the weekly regular huddles that relay information.
Furthermore, don’t forget to regularly share the ‘why’ for your company and how each person plays a vital role – their contributions make the chairlift wheels continue to turn.
Don’t just add a beer machine and pinball, get outside together. I am convinced that taking a walk in the local park will do wonders for team members. Make it mandatory to get outside. When people connect with the natural world, their health improves, they are more productive and through their interaction with nature, they gain additional social and environmental resilience.
Add high fives. Celebrate moments that matter for your people. In the ski industry, people get up early and many roles are required to work with inclement weather, or a busy line of people, or equipment that is not running properly. There are many times throughout the day to catch people doing what they do best, this is part of creating the magic for your operation. Let them know you appreciate what they do, single out examples and share those high fives with them. Making someone smile has a domino effect.
Go deep. Fight for what matters and take stances that your team and community believe in.
Most companies find this hard to do and worry they may lose business. That may be true, but it’s far more likely you will gain further support, your team will become more connected and feel stoked about what the company is doing. Plus, your guests will have a more meaningful, loyal relationship with your company, beyond just a transaction.
In the end, it won’t all go as you planned. But teamwork and culture grow better over time.
What if, down the road, when one of your former team members is asked what was it was like to work with you, they say it was the best place they have ever worked? That is something truly meaningful that matters; your company made a positive difference in people’s lives. Now that is success.
This column is part of Globe Careers’ Leadership Lab series, where executives and experts share their views and advice about the world of work. Find all Leadership Lab stories at tgam.ca/leadershiplab and guidelines for how to contribute to the column here.