Equip + Inspire = Successful Staff Training

In this ALSD Member Highlight, meet Chris Bryant, Chief Experience Officer for BGX l Bryant Group Experience, LLC.

With a background in luxury hotels and retail, Chris Bryant knows about service standards. He believes that good service must be actionable, observable, and memorable.  

He’s also discovered that adapting to a new way of learning is not an option. He is currently taking a blending learning approach to education, always keen on behavior-based training. 

ALSD caught up the chief experience officer who is continually coaching teams and venues to improve the quality and consistency of their training for full-time and part-time personnel alike. 

Please introduce yourself and explain BGX also. 

BGX is a boutique consulting firm. We specialize in training and consulting specifically around guest experience and fan engagement and professional sports. We've been fortunate enough to be in business for the last 15 years serving the sports industry for over a decade. We've now been able to serve over 60 different teams and venues, covering every major sport. It's been very exciting to impact sports, help fans, and keep them coming back. 

I'm a prior director of training for the Ritz Carlton Hotel Company. I also worked for Nordstrom in a prior life. I try to bring that elite level service and those principles and best practices to bear in the sports industry. 

What is your philosophy on building service standards within a sports team or entertainment venue? 

When you talk about building a sports philosophy or building service standards, it's first very important to distinguish the standards as they relate to the overall organizational philosophy. Most organizations have got what we would consider mission, vision, and value statements. Those may fly at about 10,000 feet. Then you've got the values, and you may even have a credo, which are more aspirational in nature. 

Standards are more at the ground level. Standards are important because they really get into the behaviors that we're looking for our staff to embody. There's a difference between mission and vision and values as it relates to standards. 

The other thing about standards is it’s a promise to our guests, the fans, visitors, and the community at large. We all know how important promises are. We don't want to get in the habit of breaking promises because when you do you lose trust, and people have a hard time spending money on places, things, and people for which promises aren't kept. So, I see standards as the behavioral commitment: what it's going to be like when you come to our building?

Standards also level set and create the foundation for the culture. This becomes our guiding light. This is who we are. This is what we do, and this is how we do it. If you're going to have a culture that's both quality and consistent, then you’ve got to have great standards that everyone buys into. 

Standards are important in terms of the role they play in an organization that understands what it means to truly be service-centric. 

What’s also important with regards to standards is that consistency is critical. When we don't keep with them, and we start sending mixed messages, we will get mixed results. Every staff member must understand those standards, embodying them every day, with every guest, at every game, every event, every moment. 

How important is the simplicity of the philosophy for all to believe in and achieve one mission? 

Whenever I work with a team or an organization that does not have standards, the first question I always ask is: what do we want people to say, think, and feel when they walk away? 

When they walk away from the building and or any staff member in the building, what do you want them to say, think, and feel? 

That begins a conversation regarding standards also. What do we want the narrative to be? 

Then is has to pass what I call the “grandmother test”. Can my grandmother remember it and understand it?  

There are three service standard essentials: 

  • Are they actionable? 
  • Are they observable? 
  • And are they memorable? 

Actionable: Are the standards set up in a way that any staff member can understand the call to action? 

We think about using verbs. When I help teams or venues to write their standards, we always look at: what's the verb? What's the action that we want the staff to take?  

Observable: Can I see my staff doing it? If I'm walking the concourse, will it be obvious to me that they're doing that? One of the mistakes sometimes made when creating standards is that they can become a) too long and b) too ambiguous. If they are long and drawn out, they won't pass the grandmother test. If they’re ambiguous, they’re concepts that aren't necessarily actionable. 

Memorable: Back to the grandmother test. Will people remember this? They can't be too long or repeated and redundant. The mission and the vision are in there, but people don't know what to focus on. The standards should be clear, concise, and compelling, and certainly actionable, observable, and memorable. 

If you use an acronym to get there, each of those letters should be an actual word. For example, I created one for our digital platform demo game. The acronym is ENGAGE: 

  • E is Enliven
  • N is Notice
  • G is Give
  • A is Anticipate
  • G is Guide
  • E is Ensure

I created that just for the demo game and each element is actionable. If you remember nothing else, remember “engage”. 

I'm going to remember is the grandma test – ha! As we know, in sports and entertainment, the team, F&B, possibly venue management, parking, and others are separate entities. How can we ensure that all are following the same service principles? 

We know that in a given building you may have five, six, seven, maybe eight different entities or partner organizations that are all coming together to engage the guest. And the guests don't know that. How do you ensure that they're all on the same page? Culture and quality and consistency are important. 

I’m going to tell you another story; I call it the big family dinner. Here's how it goes. You’ve got this big family coming together and they're going to have this amazing meal. The only problem is that everybody's got their own ideas about what to cook and what to bring. They don't necessarily talk about it and so they're working in “silos”. So now they come together on dinner day. They all bring their dishes, but they haven't really collaborated. They’ve all got their different ideas of what should be cooked. Some are spicy. Some are not spicy. Some people focus on dessert, others didn't think about that. Some would think about salads, but when they come together, they put all that food on the table and they're coming from all different types of food and then they sit down and eat that mishmash of dishes that don't necessarily go together, and what they might wind up getting is heartburn. 

The idea here, and the connection to an arena or stadium is this: We’ve got all these entities and they all may have different ideas about what should be in at the dinner table, so to speak. We’ve got this stew, this gumbo, and everybody's got different ideas of what should go in it, and it's so important to make sure that it comes together in a way that tastes good and we don't give our guests heartburn. 

How do we get there? 

Number one, we must establish building-wide standards. Now, we’re already talking about standards, but I have seen in some cases where one of the providers already has their own standards. Another group, they’ve got their standards. And they're all well-meaning, but they're not the same. And we talk about, again, consistency and not sending mixed messages. So now we must create building-wide standards that everybody buys into, and everybody owns because there's a big difference between what I call coexistence and cohesion. 

In most buildings, every partner, every organization are coexisting. That's not the same as working together cohesively. And when we're not cohesive, we're only coexistent. That creates a problem. When the building comes together on building-wide standards, all the partners buy in. Even if they've already got standards, we envelop those into an overarching set of standards so that we can be cohesive not just coexistent. 

The other thing that is so important is being careful of the disconnect between the front office and the front line. I've noticed and observed where the front office is operating with a different set of objectives than the front line, and they don't always come together. We've got to make sure we bridge that gap between not only the partners, but also the front office and the front line. 

The other component I think is important is the role of leaders. We can come up with all the standards we want. We can paint them on the wall and put them in the break room. But at the end of the day when leaders walk the floor and walk the concourse, if it's not obvious to both front office and front line then how can we encourage each other?  

Lastly, staff cannot give what they don't have. If we don't create an environment for our staff that's hyper-engaging, then how do we expect them to engage our guests? If a supervisor or a manager is heavy-handed with a staff member, what do you think is going to happen when a staff member goes to engage that guest? 

My saying is this: “Disengaged people disengage people.” 

Our staffs have got to be fully engaged and that's an “all of the above” approach with standards.  

When it comes to staff training and development, what are your thoughts on what makes for effective training? 

Are there different types of training to achieve different objectives? The answer is absolutely yes. 

Training falls into three buckets: 

  • The Building: They’re are going to be a fair amount of new faces coming on board, mostly part-time people. We’ve got to train our people in the building. That includes things like where you park, the employee lot, the employee entrance, punching in, how you get paid, uniform pickup, and break room. This is training for the building, and it’s mostly information-based. 
  • The Job: That's how you do your job. If I'm F&B and I work at a station that sells popcorn, I need to know how to work the popcorn machine and I also need to know how to work the cash register to sell the popcorn. This too is information-based.
  • The Experience: Guest experience training has different objectives and must be approached differently. We’ve got to get folks to buy into something. This is behavior-based training. It's one part information, two parts inspiration. If I don't inspire and inform them, they may show up and park in the right parking lot, walk in the right door, put on the right uniform, and perfectly operate the popcorn machine, and yet not even make a step towards embodying our standards. That's a decision that I've got to inspire them to make, not just tell them what it is. 

Doing service training the same way as information-based training is missing an opportunity. When you get into guest experience training, it’s got to be interactive. You’ve got to have gamification. You’ve got to have music. I mean you’ve got to have all the bells and whistles to get them to buy in. 

If not, they're bored, they didn't get it. They went through the training, and we will pay them for that time, and they will come to the building, and they will be the exactly the same as they were before we hired them. And they're not ready. And when they walk in the break room, they'll see the standards and they'll go, “Oh, those are nice. But I never bought into that because the training never caused me to.” 

I cannot stress enough that we got to understand the difference. Each training is important. They are different, each requires a different approach, a different strategy, because we're going for different outcomes. Not information, it’s more inspiration. It’s not information-based but it's behavior-based, and that's important. 

What is Blended Learning? Also, are digital learning solutions working for hourly and full-time personnel? 

When we talk about blended learning and the relevance of digital learning to full-time or part-time folks, I think it's significant. What has happened throughout the pandemic has caused movement in many ways. 

We've had to rethink and reapproach many things and how we do business, how we live our lives. It has affected all of us in multiple ways, not the least of which has been how we approach staff training and development. 

As we got into the pandemic, particularly in the quarantine period early on in 2020, my goal was being a part of the solution. We talk about staff training, development, being good at service. If there's ever a time to be good at it, it would be now. But how will we be a part of that solution for those that we have the pleasure working with? 

I've been thinking about e-learning or digital learning for many years, I just never really dove into it. But with the pandemic and the quarantine, I had time to really stop and help define the solution. I'm a strong believer now that going forward, we are going to have to adopt both an in-person approach to training and development, and have a robust and effective digital way of also training and developing our staff. It just is what it is. The idea of pulling hundreds of people into a room, scheduling training, and just doing it at the drop of a dime is different now. It's just not as readily available as an approach. That goes for some places more than others. 

There's an advantage in blended learning. We understand that nothing will ever fully take the place of in-person training. But at the same time with digital learning, there's a way to do it that is engaging. That was important to me. We’re very deliberate about making our in-person training super fun, super engaging, super interactive. People are having a blast while learning. I wasn't going to be a talking head in front of a camera with a quiz at the end. That doesn't do it for me. And so, I thought, if we're going to do this, we need to do it in a way that's going to be as close to in-person as possible. 

We developed a 3D animation approach. We put characters in the building, in the respective stadium or arena. We create real-life scenarios using 3D, high-quality characters. 

At different points in the season, venue might have turnover. And so, the other thing about blended learning (if you have a really good digital solution), is that you can use it at the time. Bringing new staff in for in-person training may not be plausible, especially with a large number of events in the building and certainly with the schedules of new hires. The digital piece is very powerful and new hires can get that training in real time and you know they're going to get the same thing everybody else got, at least from a digital perspective. 

The next time you're able to do live, you do the live training. This blended approach is working it both ways. Things are live when we can do live, with blended filling in the gaps. Live, blended, live, or live, digital, live, digital - therefore, blended. 

To conclude and in regards to part-time and full-time staff, we need to understand our audience. What engages full-time is not always the same as what engages part-time, if for no other reason than the fact that they do different jobs and have different responsibilities. 

What we found is that in the games and the blended learning strategies is that the front office and the full-time staff enjoy it just as much as the part-time because it's fun and it's engaging. 

Most people are on their phones. Think about the amount of time most of us spend on our devices. We're on them a lot. And a lot of folks have our little games. When I'm in the airport on downtime I’ve got a few games, my favorite go-tos. Even in the grocery line. And so, people enjoy being on their phone and being able to engage in something that's competitive, engaging, and fun. It's just a way of life for us. So how do we bring that video game mentality but make serious learning fun? 

This transcript has been lightly edited for content and clarity.