Monday, July 23, 2012

Manager Mondays: Motivational Quirkiness

Welcome to Manager Mondays, a weekly feature that explores strategies for effective workforce messaging.  Today's post is about motivating staff using unconventional messaging methods.

If your summer plans include a trip to an amusement park, you'll probably encounter skee ball lanes, shooting galleries, and other so-called "games of skill" when you stroll down its midway arcade.  The young hawkers behind the counters will urge you to knock down pins, shoot water pistols at targets, or throw balls into cans.  Many times those hawkers look lifeless and uninspired, and for good reason. It's a fact that vacationers pay to go to an amusement park for the rides, not the games.  Guests have already spent a lot at the front gate for hefty admission fees, then at the concession stands for overpriced food.  By the time they make it to the midway, how many of them want to spend the few dollars left in their pockets for a slim chance to win a stuffed animal? Yet the arcade workers' summer-long mission is to try to wring more cash out of them.    
You might feel sorry for those kids who run the gamesYou might think, what a monotonous, thankless way to spend summer vacation.  Could there be a more depressing job?   

But if you happen to be visiting Worlds Of Fun, an amusement park in Kansas City, you'll encounter a different breed of young carnival barker.  The kids manning the Worlds Of Fun game kiosks will seem hilariously happy.  They'll arrive at their posts highly energized and stay that way all day.  They'll engage in all kinds of hi-jinks to cajole you into playing their games.  

If you ask them why they're smiling, you'll get a surprisingly consistent answer.  It's because they love their boss, a thirty-something college drop-out named Cole Lindbergh.   

Once a summer worker at Worlds Of Fun himself, Cole's been running the park's entire games operation fulltime for over ten years now.  He has to make sure those sorry little kiosks turn a super-sized profit.  And he does.   How?  First, by hiring extroverts; then, by making their jobs enjoyable to the point of mythical.  

Actually, Cole never outgrew the role of summer carnie midway pitchman.  Instead, he elevated it. He now pitches to the pitchmen. Cole has figured out how to creatively cajole his workers to play his game. And as he does, he becomes their role model for success.

What are Cole's key motivational strategies that help him consistently surpass his business targets?
  • Competition:  Divide workers into four teams, then lead them in a friendly sales contest that grows in intensity as the summer progresses.
  • Fun: Convert daily mandatory employee meetings into rousing pep rallies, with plenty of comedy, interaction, encouragement, and affectionate relationship-building.  
  • Originality:  Do quirky stunts to underscore best practices, including making funny music videos and posting them on Youtube.  
Yes, music videos.  Cole Lindbergh's videos about Worlds Of Fun games have become legendary, garnering thousands of Youtube hits. Parodies of popular songs, they're frenetically paced and exude tongue-in-cheek coolnessHis games workers are fanatical contributors to these projects: they help shoot, edit, and create special effects for the videos, plus they sing, dance, and act in them.  Then they watch them over and over with pride, memorizing Cole's offbeat rap-style lyrics. 

And by the way, the songs happen to be teaching tools.  They contain sales principles and scripted pitches that Cole's kids can personalize to create winsome -- and revenue-generating -- banter.  The approach may seem over the top, but it definitely works. 

"Believe me when I say, I make winners every day!"  goes a line from one video called I'm In A Game.  The kids sing along, not realizing that as they do, they're pouring a powerful identity boost into their psyche, and aligning themselves with a positive corporate mission statement.

Another video's lyric pays homage to the power of persuasion:

Sometimes people just don't play games. 
I'm asking how they're doing and they say 'No way!'
But I persist -- and I say,
'You could win a prize', and they say 'OKAY!'  

There you have it.  Effortless indoctrination into the sales technique of overcoming objections. 

The videos have also become recruiting tools, going viral in the high schools of Kansas City and guaranteeing Cole a steady stream of smart-alecky super performers.

Cole succeeds because when he selects his unusual motivational methods, he makes sure to target his specific workforce.  
  • His summer jobsters are a social, fun-loving, media savvy crowd.  Therefore, he engages social media to make their job enjoyable.  
  • Young people worship coolness and peer acceptance, so Cole gives them plenty of ways to feel cool and admired.
  • Teenagers are rebellious.  Cole has crafted a boss persona that is awkwardly hip and endearingly anarchistic -- and as far from parental as you can get.  
  • People in this age bracket crave variety and succumb easily to boredom, so Cole presses the Refresh button constantly: he roams the arcade wearing outlandish disguises, brandishing goofy props, and pulling surprise stunts that keep his gamesters in a state of good humor and anticipation all season long.
  • Young people have identity struggles and want to feel significant.  Cole dispenses recognition in many ways to shore up their self-esteem and foster a tribal atmosphere of belonging and trust.    

Can you learn from a Cole Lindbergh?  Others have.  He's made a video of leadership tips which you can view here.  In it he shares his advice to other managers who have trouble motivating their employees.  Among his tips: four serious principles for getting the best from your staff: 
1. Be honest
2. Be loyal
3. Be enthusiastic
4. Treat others the way you would want to be treated.

For a behind-the-scenes portrayal of Cole's approach, click here for a link to an audio podcast that aired last year on the PBS radio show This American Life.  

As he plays the role of lovable loser to his staff of one hundred young carnies, Cole Lindbergh shows us a workforce communications style where witty meets wise.  Some managers might draw the line at appearing silly, but Cole boldly crosses that line to get big results. Ask yourself:  What am I willing to do to make a connection with my employees and motivate them to succeed?

With a little midway luck, I bet you can think of your own original, fun, and good-natured competitive ways to help your workers love what they do, and in the process turn them into your dream team.  

Are you game?  Step right up and give it a try! 


  1. This was a very interesting perspective on what I do at Worlds of Fun. I enjoyed reading it.


    P.S. - I'm 26.

    1. Hi Cole,

      Welcome, and thanks for your comment! I'm so honored, and more than a bit abashed that I got your age range so wrong. What can I say? I guess I must think you are wise beyond your years. I hope the rest of the commentary here appropriately represented the magic you do. The purpose of Remarkable Messaging is to help average people overcome barriers to good communication and get great results. Your original approach to reaching your employees is a great example of this, and I hope everyone who reads about it here gets freshly inspired. By the way, your videos totally rock. I only wish I could get over to WOF and play the Duck Pond while singing your Lady Gaga parody. - - Beth