My grandson had a birthday. His parents decided to celebrate in two places. First we all took a ride on a pirate ship. Then we went to a Chuck E. Cheese restaurant, which offers a plethora of mechanized, carnival-style games and a kid-friendly menu. The contrast between the two organizations was instructive.
We set out with three children to ride the pirate ship. Before embarking, each child was asked to show his or her muscles, and each was given a pirate name tag. The children then had their faces painted and they were assisted in putting on pirate clothes. The 20 or so children then got in a circle and learned to yell pirate words at Captain Ruby and Captain Rusty, who were inspiring, humorous, and joyfully expressive in everything they did with the kids. The children marched to the ship, learned the safety rules in a minute, and then set sail.
Every moment was a moment of full engagement. The kids found a lost treasure map, pulled a bottle out of the sea with a message in it, used water cannons to shoot Blackbeard out of his small boat, found the key to his treasure chest, and located and pulled his pirate booty out of the sea. Each child got a part of the treasure, and then they pulled a bottle of pirate “grog” from the water.
At the end of the trip, our grandchildren spontaneously approached their parents and sincerely thanked them for giving them the experience. The rest of the day, at home, they talked about pirates and played pirate games.
I found out that during the warm months, this business runs six trips a day, seven days a week, and they are always full. On the way home we stopped at the local swimming pool. A number of young families were there. My son-in-law made sure to tell each set of parents about the pirate ship and how it was one of the best things the family ever did. Each couple paid careful attention and it occurred to me that they were likely to become future customers.
Next we went to Chuck E. Cheese restaurant. We were greeted efficiently by a young woman who went through a checklist of what would happen. She was doing her job, but she was less than excited about it. We seemed to be one more family in a long day of families. There was no personal connection of any kind. The kids received tokens and then enjoyed using them to interact with machines that mechanically rewarded them with tickets. Then we went to the birthday area and engaged in a ritual programmed by videos. The young woman stood next to Chuck E. Cheese and the two of them waved and wiggled as the video dictated. We did a few other well-organized things, cashed in our tickets, and went home.
The kids were pleased with their experience at Chuck E. Cheese and would be glad to go back. But my son- in-law had a different perspective. He said, “I have always been a fan of Chuck E. Cheese, but after the pirate ship, it just does not measure up. In fact, I was miserable most of the time.”
His wife challenged this, and he reconfirmed his position. This led to an interesting discussion. I asked him to compare the two experiences. He pointed out that the “pirates,” Ruby and Rusty, were fully and creatively engaged with the children. The children felt safe and stimulated, cared for and challenged. Because they were fully involved, their imaginations were completely stimulated. They left with a vast number memories and new ideas in their heads. They felt great. The delighted parents then spread the word and new families are likely to show up to buy the same memorable, meaningful experience.
I responded that it was not just the kids and the parents who were delighted. Ruby, Rusty and the rest of the staff also seemed to be delighted.
The Chuck E. Cheese visit seemed to be driven by conventional assumptions. It seemed that the management at Chuck E. Cheese made the assumption that if the employees were scripted well enough, customers will have a good experience. They were successfully scaling entertainment. Most children want to go back to a Chuck E. Cheese experience. It is a good organization and a money maker.
On the other hand, Chuck E Cheese is not an excellent experience. A positive organization is a place where people flourish and exceed expectations. This happens because they are fully engaged.
In a positive organization people feel valued. They feel invited to engage in experiences that ignite their potential. They sense that they are becoming more courageous, competent, intelligent, caring, unified or visionary. Since they are getting extraordinary value they are willing to make extraordinary commitment. The result is a system in an upward spiral. Everyone is fully engaged and performing beyond conventional expectations.
What is the most engaging organization I know?
How can engagement be increased?
How could we use this passage to become a more positive organization?