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March 2018

Problem Solving

Mentors Blaise Carrig and John Rice dish on sizing up problems and identifying the best way to solve them. Part II of the SAM Summit Series.

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In the January issue of SAM, we introduced the season-long pilot program for our leadership development venture, the SAM Summit Series—where we create an ongoing mentor/mentee dialogue between industry heavy hitters and a group of up-and-coming leaders. Monthly conference calls each cover an important management topic, with a pair of advisers sharing their experiences with the group of 10 participants. For more information about the program click here.

In our second installment of the Summit Series, we covered problem solving (read our first installment here on management). Renowned leaders—and problem solvers—John Rice, general manager of Sierra-at-Tahoe, and Blaise Carrig, Vail Resorts’ senior adviser, took the participants through a variety of scenarios they’ve encountered in their careers where problems were solved in creative and constructive ways.

Here is the conversation in its entirety:

Paul Thallner: I thought we would start off with each of you telling us a story from a pivotal moment in your career when you solved a problem in an unexpected way. Blaise, would you like to start?

Blaise Carrig: When I was at Sugarbush and I had just taken over mountain operations, we had just put in a snowmaking system. Part of the system was above ground and we suffered a pretty dramatic freeze cycle that froze the line to one of our more notable trails called Stein’s Run. The group seemed to be stuck on how to solve the problem because we had limited resources in terms of the size of our team.

The resolution to this was one of the situations where you’re not thinking outside of the box, but instead making the box bigger. Instead of just having the team of 10-12 snowmakers trying to march up and down the line, which was thousands of feet long and incredibly steep, we put a call out to other departments to broaden the resources to make the group larger to try and thaw it with torches. We called out for anybody who wanted to help out with this process and ended up having 100 people with propane torches. Many hands make a large problem small.

That was part of it, the fact that you reach outside the normal train of thought and people who you would typically use to solve that problem and add to the resources available. This problem itself is not very complex, but it was meaningful to me in the long run because it made me aware of the power of collaboration. When I got into more complex problems, that particular solution still resonates with me today, with more than 100 people on the line solving this problem. And we did end up getting that run open before the holiday.

The other part of this problem that was an epiphany for me was that I felt I had to be there. I didn’t have to be there on the line, we ended up having enough people to do it, but it was an incredibly physical job and I spent every day out there with the group. It took us two days to do it. My torch did not help to solve the problem any faster, but my presence was commented upon by many people there, and it positively affected the morale. So, it imparted on me that the more difficult things are, the more present I needed to be as a leader—and that’s carried forward with me to this day.

Paul: Were those resources all employees of the resort, or did you do an open call to the community?

Blaise: They were all employees at the time, but they were from all kinds of departments: mountain operations, ski patrol, folks came out of the offices, from hospitality where they were waiters and waitresses in the evenings. But because they were also skiers, I have to say, there was a lot of passion about this trail, because it is one of the most popular at the resort. I think that also played into it, but just the idea of the effort seemed to resonate across the resort, and we ended up with this broad group from across the company. And it ended up creating a lot more interdependency within the company.

Paul: I can imagine people who worked on this project together, maybe not knowing one another before, now saying hello to one another and reminiscing about this shared experience and creating a defining moment of the culture.

Blaise: It certainly did. And for me it played into one of my larger theories in terms of more complex problems, which is not necessarily thinking outside the box, but expanding the box, looking in new places for resources, and bringing people in from different areas to help solve problems.

An example of that is we were stuck on reducing snowmobile traffic. It was a huge concern of mine, and it’s a big problem when you have an encounter between a snowmobile and a guest—it’s never positive. For years we had been stuck on trying to reduce traffic, and by bringing some people into the discussion from other departments, we were able to get some different thinking.

We brought some guys in from IT, who were really great thinkers, and they suggested that we flip this thing upside down and have no snowmobiles and start from there. OK, so you have no snowmobiles and we are now going to add snowmobile traffic based on need. You have to justify why you actually need a snowmobile to do your job, and that there are no other alternatives. By turning the box upside down, we actually had this dramatic reduction in snowmobiles. Nobody in the group, including myself, had thought about it that way. But these guys from IT, who don’t even drive snowmobiles, did.

This idea of expanding the box came from the snowmaking line and has been carried forward in many decision-making processes, like snowmobile traffic or, even further forward, in reaching out to external resources. There aren’t any problems in this industry that someone else has not had before. You have to sometimes crawl over your pride and reach out. The answers are out there if you are willing to reach out.

Paul: John, can you share a story as well?

John Rice: I will take you back to ’96-’97. I had been in my role as GM at Sierra-at-Tahoe for three years and was still very much in a learning mode under the tutelage of Bill Jensen, which pretty much consisted of a daily conversation with him going through what was working and what was not.

We had the best season of all teed up: we had eight feet of snow on the ground, seven feet of which had fallen in a 48-hour period going into the holiday. Booth Creek had just purchased the resort, so we had new owners who were very interested in how things were going to go.

There was a burn area from a wildfire on highway 50, which is the major two-lane highway that leads to Sierra from the Bay Area. It goes right by our front door, so it’s a key piece for us to get to our business—not just for our guests, but also for our employees. The storm that brought seven feet of snow turned to rain below 2,000 feet of elevation. So that rain hit the burn area and caused a significant mudslide that closed half of highway 50.

We went from, in a manner of seconds, the best position going into the holiday to the worst. The highway was literally buried in tons of mud, trees, rocks—there was even talk that they wouldn’t get it open that winter, and of rerouting the traffic to North Tahoe, which would turn our two hour drive to market into a five hour drive. You can imagine how challenging that was in terms of the magnitude of the problem. The resort ended up being cut off from the market for a pretty significant period of time, through January 17, so we missed the holiday.

Another major slide occurred on January 24, and more material came down with the ground being so wet. We lost a third of our season, and the destination South Lake Tahoe was losing about a million dollars a day.

I was fortunate that earlier in my career I had worked for some pretty amazing people. But I remember when I worked for Jerry Blann [at Bear Mountain, Calif., in the early ’90s] we would have meetings with our senior team, and we would extend the invite to the entire resort, all the way down to front line, entry-level folks. The meeting was basically, how do we solve problems, what are the ideas that everyone has across the company. One time, a ski school instructor talked about the hot dogs we served for lunch, and how the kids would only eat half and then throw the other half away. So, he suggested we only serve half a hot dog, and if the kids eat it and they want more we’ll give them another half, but we don’t want to be throwing away all these half hot dogs. So, the meeting came to be known as the “Half a Hot Dog” meeting, and it kind of stuck.

The beauty of that meeting was it didn’t matter what your role, title, or rank and file was—everyone’s idea was valued, and we found that the value of the collective intellect was much stronger than any individual with a title or higher position in the company. We put that idea into play at Sierra, and we invited everyone into a daily meeting and discussed how we were going to solve this highway problem. The ideas that came in were unbelievable.

We started with using flip charts and coming up with low-hanging fruit things, like ramping down our services, but still having enough that every guest who shows up gets the best possible experience. We were fortunate that we had built relationships in the South Lake Tahoe destination market, and the entire business community was suffering as a result of this situation, including our main competitor, Heavenly. We worked together with the town and started the same kind of meetings in town, which produced a ton of ideas.

We spent a few days putting ideas together on the board, and then a group of us got in the car and we went around the long way to Sacramento. We called every legislator we knew, pulled every card we had to put pressure on CalTrans to not leave the road closed for the winter, but rather go into active work to restore the highway. We also worked with the local media in the Bay Area. We had the weather forecasters working with us and explaining what you would get if you went the extra route.

The ideas were unbelievable. And to go off what Blaise said, we had resources, but to expand the box and reach out to those external resources was incredible. Everyone in the community was suffering as a result of this problem, so we saw that this was a problem we needed to solve as a community. We were able to finally get the road open in February, and we actually managed to squeak out a profit for the season, which no one could possibly believe given the cards we were dealt.

The learning was unbelievable. We cemented relationships with partners that we might not have otherwise, we created relationships with the folks in state governments, created relationships with the CalTrans folks since we fed them while they were working. We worked with every agency, like law enforcement, to really show the human side of what this was costing us. We had good snow, so we did testimonials with the folks who did make it up to ski. We tried to turn the negativity into positivity.

In the end, the lessons learned are ones we still apply today: we come at a problem with every resource in the company—it doesn’t matter who you are, your voice counts. We categorize the ideas into those that cost nothing, those that might cost a small amount and some time, and those that might be bigger fixes. And then we talk about what partners we have in the community that we can talk to and we can leverage with. It was a great lesson for me, early on in my career, about how the power to solve problems really lies in collective intellect and in the ability to have every voice heard.

Paul: I was reminded of the book “The Wisdom of Crowds” when you were talking about reaching out to the group for ideas and the “Half a Hot Dog” meetings. Oftentimes, whether it’s an early experience or the more high-stakes problem solving of opening a road, getting people in a room to understand what their shared interest is, and what’s in it for them to help solve the problem, is an enormous lesson for any leader going forward and encountering challenges at work.

So, you talked a bit about reaching out to the collective to solve problems and making that part of the culture. How do you frame problems for people, so they know to offer solutions? Are these team meetings broad, company-wide communications, or small huddles? How do people know what problems you are seeking solutions for?

John: Well, having the culture that it’s OK to bring a problem forward is key. I have a little note up on my chalkboard that says, “What’s your solution?” So when people come in and they have their list of 20 things wrong, I point to the card. What I really want to hear is what is your solution. Sure, I will solve the problem for you all day long, but what I really want to see is people looking for the answers. That way, when you have a problem, it becomes less of an, “Oh my god, what are we going to do about it?” And more of a sharing of things they are doing to try and solve it. Culturally it has to be OK to come in with a problem, but also come in with a solution or two.

Secondly, in a public setting, if you open your mouth and bring a problem to light, you’re not looked down on. We might not spend a whole hour looking for the solution if we have 40 people in the room. We might pull a group of five to six people together afterward and get to the root of it and get it solved, then as a larger group we’ll circle back around.

That’s an important part of it. You need to circle back afterwards and do an after-action review, like Seal Team Six. Talk about what worked, what didn’t, and have that discussion after the fact about what was learned, so we can prevent future problems of the same type. But really, culturally, it has to be OK to bring things forward first.

Blaise: I think it’s similar for us, and we have a couple pieces in place for that. Beyond just the ad-hoc problems that come up, we have established best-practices groups for essentially every department in the company—lift ops, lift maintenance, terrain parks, you name it, any group—because we’re multi-resort at this point, 14 resorts, 14 ski patrol directors will be getting together on a monthly basis, or 14 lift maintenance directors.

The best practices idea is that people walk in and say, “We’re having this problem at our resort,” personnel, policy, logistics, what have you. The group talks it out and tries to see if there is a practice from someone within that group who already figured it out. It’s an ongoing discussion within that group to problem solve. We also have managerial sponsors of that group that we bring in to offer an outside perspective and direction. For example, we’ll mix the head of our restaurant group in with the mountain operations group for a different way of thinking.

Also, one of the pieces that came out of our re-creation after the 2008 financial crisis was “Reimagine.” So, we keep pushing this value out to keep reimagining and to work collaboratively on that. Somewhat similar to John, when we have specific problems, we reach out to different groups that we think may have an interest in the problem or might have a helpful and different perspective on solving the problem. We may be a bit too large to open it up to everyone, but we’ll let that group go at it.

Like John, the leaders need to bring the resources to solve the problem. It’s not necessarily up to me to come up with the solution, but it is up to me to bring together the resources to do it.

I think the other thing that drives the culture to problem solve like this is, for example, sometimes I caused the problem. Maybe I created a program that had unintended operational consequences, and I have to be strong enough to stand up there and admit it. I caused this, I own it, but I need you to help me solve it. Having the candor to do that, as opposed to having the problem out there for people to solve without owning up to the source—especially when you can own up to the fact that it’s you—brings a level of candor to the company where anybody can bring up a problem, even if they created the problem. It’s better to create a culture like that than one where you, as a leader or employee, feel you need to hide your mistakes.

Paul: It’s interesting to hear both of you talk about the shared ownership of problems in your organizations. It’s actually pretty rare in companies for people to commit time and thinking to solve organization-wide problems, or even not-so-organization-wide problems. Being able to do that is a strong indicator of a great workplace and a great company culture when people can feel comfortable chiming in about something they’d like to see done differently or better.

Being able to rely on others to get different perspectives is a huge gift for a leader to have, and something to consider when you think about your careers moving forward.

John: Blaise mentioned their snowmobile issue, and all of us in this industry can improve in that area. Some of our biggest lawsuits, workers’ comp, and liability issues have been attributed to snowmobiles, so we wanted to do something about it, too. Being an independent resort, we do not have the benefit of a larger network of in-family resorts to collaborate with. However, we saw what Blaise and his team had done at our next-door neighbor, Heavenly, and we adopted our own version of the no-mobile policy.

There’s no evil in doing this. It’s a great idea, but we’ll try and add our own spin on it and make it work for us. At first there’s always some resistance to new ideas, but already we can see our culture shifting. People are now calling in every time they get on a snowmobile, they call dispatch and say where they are going and why, and what number snowmobile they’re on. It’s already cut our traffic in half.

If there’s a lesson from this story, it’s that you can’t have any ego involved in this. If there’s a better idea out there, bring it to the table and don’t worry about who gets credit for it. I’ll give credit to whoever stole it from Heavenly’s patrol—it’s a great program.

In our industry, we’re some of the best crisis communication and crisis management solvers out there, between weather, market issues, government relations, road closures, equipment failures, and just our daily operations. Hopefully, we learn from these things and we get smarter as we go. The best answers really lie in the people, whether they get those ideas from another business that they worked at, another ski area, or whether they get them from next door—if it’s a good idea, bring it in here and we’re going to use it as a resource to help solve our problems.

Blaise: I would add another dimension on that. Once you get to that point where people are open to borrowing ideas, I agree with John in that borrowing ideas is a fine idea.

Paul: It’s a compliment.

Blaise: It is! So, early in my career, I was asked to take over lift maintenance, and I really didn’t know a lot about lift maintenance, so I did a lot to learn. I went to Rocky Mountain Lift Association and I met a lot of people who knew about lifts. When I came back home from it my first winter, we kept having one recurring problem on one of our critical lifts. The team was struggling to get it resolved, so I said we should call this person from another place, another entity.

Initially there was resistance to it. Not because the team didn’t want help, but because I think it was a real genuine pride. I had to help people get over it and learn that asking for help is OK—it’s not a knock on you if you can’t solve it. You’ll solve it the next time, and there are probably a lot of other problems that you can solve that other people don’t know the answer to.

Paul: Other managers in other situations might bury themselves and feel personal responsibility to solve a problem on their own, instead of reaching out and communicating broadly and seeking help. What gave you the confidence to solve problems in the way that you’ve described? Was it an example of leadership that you saw, was is a mentorship-type of relationship that you emulated or felt supported? How did that all happen, and why did it happen that way?

John: I have to give Jerry Blann a lot of credit. At the time [early-‘90s], we worked with a lot of type-A leaders. Good friends all, but these guys had strong opinions, to say the least. He was able to pull the group together and make any problem everyone’s problem. Jerry would say if you have a problem over in your area, it’s a problem for the company, because the guests or our employees are being affected. We have to solve this together. It’s not about who gets the credit, it’s about how quickly we can work together to solve the problem.

If you define a problem as the difference between the actual situation and the desired situation, it’s very easy to identify problems—anyone can do it. I’ve got a whole slew of people who can identify problems. The trick is getting them to pull back to 30,000 feet and look at the big picture, focus on the root causes, and then narrow down to where you are going to focus your resources and ask, “How are we going to solve this?”

As people move through their leadership growth, they go from being a problem identifier to a problem solver. But what we’ve found is, if you can focus on that next level of evolution, then you’re going from problem solver to problem finder. Now you’re searching out problems before they even happen, so you’re moving from a reactive to a proactive mode. You’re taking what you’ve learned—whether it’s from formal after-action reviews or just thinking through what happened—and asking, “How can we have this not be a problem? Are there systems or something culturally we can change so these things don’t keep happening over and over?”

As far as giving credit and praise, even if it’s my idea, I am going to use a guided discovery process to help someone take ownership of the problem itself. I am going to support them, put them in that place, and put them in front of the team and say, “This person knocked it out of the park.” Or I’ll give credit to the team.

I’ll give you a quick example of a small problem: We had all our J-1s show up in the past few days, and last night we had our Christmas party, an ugly sweater party. We expected 150 people, and had 225 people there. Our goal is to feed them a really nice prime rib dinner to really show our appreciation, not just to the J-1s but also to our regular employees, who maybe aren’t getting the hours they’d like or aren’t quite rolling like we hoped. We ran out of prime rib at about 172 people, so the guys in the back thought ahead, saw it coming, saw the line and went and got a whole bunch of brisket out of the freezer and got that going. We started making pizzas, and as a result we never had that “aw, man” moment.

The after-action lesson was always plan to have more. If we have too much we can always serve it as a special the next day. The key is making sure everyone in that group got credit: the servers, the people in the kitchen. Next time this won’t be a problem because we’ve learned from it and gone through it.

The best part is that it didn’t come off as a problem to the employees eating dinner, because they saw the effort behind the line, and everyone had a good time. Small problem, but team effort to solve it, team recognition, and I’ll bring it up again this week when we have our meeting to highlight the heroes behind the scenes, so that they know their work really made a difference.

Blaise: Somewhat similar to John, I had some great mentors. One man in particular, Bob Berry, really showed me the power of egoless leadership. When I was young I probably had a bit more ego than I should have. But watching Bob and how he solved problems by bringing other people into it, and allowing other people to not just help solve the problem, but hone the solution, and then give them all the credit for the solution. You could see that Bob was about the results, but not really concerned about who got the credit for the results.

Once you get over that hurdle, it’s incredibly freeing. You find yourself more capable by sharing the credit and giving the credit to other folks. It gets them more involved, brings you better people and better solutions along the way. I think I also realized at some point that I just wasn’t going to get it all done. At some point there were problems coming my way that I wasn’t able to solve, and I needed help. And I needed to be fine going and asking for help and borrowing ideas.

The last five or six years that I was president of Vail working for Rob Katz, he put a whole other dimension on it for me and helped verbalize some of the things you have to go through to problem solve. Like using the “and.” There isn’t just one way to solve the problem, you can actually have two opposing thoughts solve it together. The manifestation of that for me was during the major recession of 2008. We came into it with Rob’s leadership with the view of the “and,” which was how do we survive this current situation, AND, how do we survive and make our company stronger 10-15 years from today. We found it by coupling those solutions and have them serve both the thrive and survive mode, and actually came up with better solutions for the company. I still learn from mentors, and there have been quite a few of them.

Paul: Why don’t we reframe a little bit and ask you to offer up some advice to our participants. Generally, leaders, managers, and supervisors are asked to solve problems every day. Can you both reflect a little bit on where you have seen leaders stumble, or mistakes folks make along the way that you would advise our participants not to do in terms of problem solving or assuming a leadership role?

John: I’d say there are a few things here. First of all, don’t bring a problem forward without putting some thought into a solution. If you’re going to be the bearer of bad news, if you don’t want to get shot, also be the messenger who says, “I’ve got three or four ideas on solutions we might be able to use here.” Give that some thought before you bring the problem forward.

Sometimes if there’s urgency, like you have a broken pipe and the lodge is flooded, then yes, go running. But generally speaking, come in with some solutions ahead of time. Pull back to 30,000 feet, and whether you are going to speak with your immediate supervisor, your department head, or the GM, come up with a few solutions—don’t just drop the problem and run.

Second thing is a pitfall where people have a problem and try to solve it themselves. We’ve talked a bunch about this, and both Blaise and I agree that you should be using the collective intellect of the people around you. Don’t be afraid to reach out. As for who gets the credit, be humble. You can be the one with the idea, but you need to recognize others who made that idea work, and make sure you thank your peers and people that report to you.

The next mistake that we often see is folks don’t take away key learning from it. They don’t do the after-action thinking or have the discipline to understand where the learning opportunity was so you can solve it the next time, or even prevent it. You can start looking at things with a different goggle lens on and say, “OK, that problem happened two years ago, it was a similar situation, we can get this thing solved.”

The main thing I can say is that if you can get from reactive to proactive, that is where you’re really going to have value as a manager. You can tell everyone to get in a room and bring 10 problems with them and, trust me, everyone will bring 10. Let’s go in there and let’s work together to find the solutions, and that’s where the real magic starts to happen.

Paul: Blaise, do you want to add some learnings from along your journey for these leaders?

Blaise: I have a couple things. One is to detach, if you can. It’s very hard to solve a problem if you’re always stuck in the middle of the problem. As John said, getting to 30,000 feet and looking down, you have to be able to go back and forth—be in the problem, then step back to view the scope, and then be able to dive back in with the solution. It gives you a better perspective and clarity about what the real problem is.

Second thing would be to know your stuff. Some people bring the problem and they don’t have all of the facts, so they’re giving you half the information. As you start to query into it, you start to find that it might be a little bit half-baked, and that’s tough. So, make sure people really take the time to understand the details, to gather facts, and understand the implications of the problem that they’re bringing forward. It’s fine for anyone to bring a problem forward, but make sure that you really know what you’re talking about beforehand, or at least understand what you don’t know.

Third would be not emotionalizing a problem. You need to try and be level-headed, and that helps you to not complicate the problem. I had a call this morning where we had an issue with one ticket system not talking to the other ticket system. The resort that was dealing with it thought this problem would present issues on a huge scale—we were going to have lines and waiting and it was going to be this major disruption during the holiday, and everyone was hyper emotional about it.

So I kind of let the call end and called our IT people to talk it through and asked, “What is the real exposure of this problem? What is the real risk?” Because it seemed to me that it was being blown out of proportion, and people were trying to grab at solutions that were going to be incredibly complex and resource-draining in the holiday. I was able to go back to that person and walk them through, taking the emotion out of it, to see that the actual scope of the problem was much less than we were thinking it was. If you take the time and take the emotion out of it, you can see that maybe the scope of the problem isn’t as big.

Lastly, one of the biggest mistakes I see people make in trying to solve a problem or an issue is they go to the comfortable solution. The comfortable solution might be one you can do fast, or one that might make people feel really good, either in your company or in your community, but that solution really may not be the best solution for the company. What I’ve learned is you have to be comfortable with being uncomfortable. I’ve seen people make decisions that really haunt them because they’ve gone to the solution that made everything easy and relaxed for the time being, but at the end of the day was really bad for business.

Paul: That last one reminds me of the “principles of innovation and design” thinking, which is to think uncomfortable and take risks and propose solutions that might be a bit outside the normal set.

You both have commented on your mentors helping you learn these skills, and a couple of our participants have asked about mentorship. How does one find and develop a relationship with a mentor?

John: There are formal mentoring programs, but anyone can be a mentor, whether it’s your boss, a peer, could be someone in the company. I’m sitting here writing down ideas as Blaise is talking, he’s become a mentor for me and I bet he doesn’t even know it. It could be books you’ve read, people you admire and studying where their success was. They’re all around you, you just need to search them out.

One of my mentors, Steve Covey, I actually got to meet one time after one of his speeches. I still get ideas from his writings. John Wooden, a basketball coach who died years ago, had amazing little nuggets, things that I can apply and use and share. I often will call people and we’ll talk about different things. Prior employees, prior bosses—they’re everywhere, it doesn’t have to be a formal mentoring relationship where you’re calling once a week. Those things are great as well.

We have what we call a big sister/big brother program here at Sierra where new employees are assigned a big brother or big sister and that person guides the new staff through all the myriad things you need to learn about the culture and how our systems work. But outside of that, they know that doors are open, my door is open, and they can go dive a little deeper if they need to on things. Young leaders should not shy away from things. There’s a direct relationship between not understanding, not getting what you want, and not asking for it. So, we encourage people to be open and to seek answers.

Blaise: I would concur with John. Throughout my career I never had a formal mentoring relationship. By engaging with people that I respect what they did—whether I worked directly for them or whether they worked somewhere else—engage them in conversation on a regular basis and ask them how they might approach certain things. And observationally you can take so much in by watching.

I’ve had good and bad mentors. Even the bad mentors can be good mentors. Watching people, particularly early in my career, how they did things, you can see when it’s not the right way. I just learned not to do that, not to treat people like that, not to approach things in that way. You make your own basket of things that you are collecting and learning along the way.

If you don’t have the ability to get into a formal program and you want something more beyond observation, go up to someone you think would be a good mentor for you and ask the person to do that. This group that’s on the phone has been selected by their resort or their resort group to be part of the program, so my guess is if they went back to their HR department and talked about, well, how do I take this to a more formal relationship within my company, a more formalized mentorship program could be put together for each of them.

Sarah Borodaeff (SAM): We have a question from our mentees. As a young manager leading a department, it can often feel like you need to be the solution for all problems and be the person solving those problems. As we’ve talked about on this call, there’s a lot of emphasis on the shared-problem-solving culture. What criteria do you feel really warrants the manager to solve a problem versus reaching out to the community at large for assistance?

John: I would start with going back to the idea that when someone brings you a problem you ask them for solutions. You know, you’re closest to the problem, what do you think, what’s your take on the issue? If it’s a lift-maze management problem and guests are complaining, let’s go out there and talk to people and come up with half a dozen ways we might attack this problem, and let’s deploy the ideas and evaluate as we go.

The beauty of it is, the person grows through the process of helping solve this problem and realizes you’re not the guy behind the curtain pulling the levers; you’re the one facilitating the resources to help solve this problem. We find ourselves in leadership more as facilitators gathering resources together so people can find their own solutions. If the problem is big, then you take it up the line, and it’s OK to take it up the line, and you should. You shouldn’t try to hide it from upper management because they’re going to find out about it anyway. You should engage people across the resort at a peer level and say, “Hey, you seem to do a great job with maze management in the rental shop. Do you have any ideas on how I could apply that out at the lifts?”

It’s taking the issue or the problem across to other people and tapping into that wealth of knowledge that’s right at your fingertips. Yes, you are expected to have answers, but you aren’t expected to come up with every solution. You can be the facilitator to get the answers.

Blaise: I agree with John. I do think that you are expected to solve day-to-day problems, personnel problems that you’re expected to resolve, but then there are always going to be problems that you can’t solve on your own, and that’s where you need to create a network. You don’t necessarily need to pull a whole group together. Maybe the problem doesn’t call for a fully collaborative solution. But have people in your organization who you respect, and network to people in your role outside of your business.

I encourage people in our company to know the folks who do what they do at other resorts, and to not be afraid to call them up and say, “Hey, I’ve got this issue, this is what I am thinking of doing. What are your thoughts? What have you done?” I often find that it’s a very giving industry. There aren’t a lot of trade secrets in our business, and people are willing to share. Especially when it comes to problems, people are glad to share how they’ve dealt with those issues and share their solutions.