Wrapped in that six-word declaration is a lot more weight than you might initially realize.
The idea of leading in a positive, upbeat fashion is nothing new. Managers like to encourage, employees like to be encouraged, and the need for positive reinforcement is even greater with the cynicism that has gripped work forces as the nation’s economy has faltered.
But to Salinas, the general manager of Barona Resort & Casino, positive leadership is about more than smiling, waving and small talk while in public. It’s even about more than dishing out bonuses and prizes to high performers.
To Salinas, positive leadership is a state of mind, a personal core value that he has made into an organizational core value at Barona. Salinas says the mental fortitude to overcome the negativity spawned by the current state of the economy starts with him, his leadership team and the examples they set.
“Always remain positive,” Salinas says. “People look to you as a leader, especially in difficult times. They need to hear that things are going to be OK and that you’re willing to remain upbeat. That doesn’t mean that you bury your head in the sand and pretend that there aren’t difficulties, but you need to also make sure you’re honest and open about the things that you can celebrate. Whenever you can, find the good things that are happening in the organization and talk about them.”
There is no magic bullet for staying positive. You need to make up your mind that you will promote the good news as much as you have to report the bad news. You have to communicate often, which includes allowing yourself to be accessible to your employees. And you have to set the example you want everyone to follow — and do it every day.
Set the example
Leaders set an example for their employees on both a conscious and subconscious level. Even when you’re not speaking or sending out e-mail blasts, you need to remember that you’re still communicating. Employees will watch your demeanor, your attentiveness and other nonverbal indicators in an attempt to read what is going on behind the scenes.
If you are withdrawn, aloof or exhibiting any other kind of counterproductive behavior, Salinas says you should expect your employees to do the same.
“Your staff emulates the example you set — it’s as simple as that,” Salinas says. “They’re going to behave the way you behave, not according to what the core values say on paper. People emulate their leaders.”
With that in mind, Salinas has made it a point to live the culture for his 2,975 employees. “Live the culture” has become something of a business cliché, but to Salinas, it has a very real meaning. It means that he must always remain aware of how he’s leading, the verbal and nonverbal messages he’s sending, and use his perch at the top of Barona’s hierarchy to spur positive momentum throughout the organization. Part of that is frequent communication with his management team — which serves as an ongoing informal evaluation process to make sure all of Barona’s leaders are communicating the same messages to all of the resort and casino staff.
“On the conscious level, what you have to do is make sure that your leaders, the people who report to you, can articulate your core values and what they mean — what it means to be Barona Resort & Casino — and making sure the people who report to them understand the same thing,” he says. “That’s very conscious. You set a communication process in place to communicate your core values down to all levels of the organization and the meaning behind each value. We start at orientation with new folks and we hammer our vision statement and core values into them constantly.
“You constantly have to do that all the time, and I can’t stress ‘all the time’ enough. It has to be in everything you do, every piece of communication that you put out there. Every communication we have will contain a core value, so that there is always a core value or our mission statement or a business imperative in front of somebody’s face all the time.”
On a subconscious level, in addition to communicating through your behavior, you also need to develop an understanding of the feelings you’re conveying with all types of communication. Depending on how a message is worded, it can have different implied meanings to different people.
Salinas says that because subconscious communication encompasses nonverbal communication and implied meanings, it is much more difficult to harness. But it’s something you need to learn to do, because every time you’re in the public eye with your employees, you’re communicating, whether you realize it or not.
“On the subconscious level, you have to make sure that everything you do is aligned with your values,” he says. “The way pieces of communication are worded is really important. The way things are said and how they make somebody feel is really important. Our core values make people feel a certain way, and the stuff I’m doing on a daily basis should be consistent with our core values. In other words, your behavior should make people feel the same way they do when they see the core values.
“That all goes back to how do you look, how do you carry yourself, are you making eye contact with your staff and smiling. Are you stopping and sincerely conversing with people you see each day? It’s a little more difficult, but you just have to doggedly pursue this whole idea of living the culture. It really does start with you and work its way down.”
Set up feedback channels
You can pay attention to all aspects of how you communicate, but the only way you’re really going to find out if your messages are reaching every person in your company is if you give your employees a chance to have their say.
Salinas has set up many of the feedback channels widely used throughout the business world. He holds quarterly all-staff meetings with a question-and-answer period. He makes himself as accessible as he can during his walks around the resort grounds. He answers e-mail.
But Salinas and his staff have taken things a step further at Barona. Salinas has continued to utilize a program that predates his tenure as general manager. It’s called the Barona communications team, and it comprises employee representatives from throughout the Barona organization.
The goal is to give employees in every area of the organization a chance to reach management in a formalized manner and to provide an effective top-down means of communicating messages.
“This team is comprised of 40 or so front-line staff members who meet weekly with the senior vice president of human resources,” Salinas says. “I try to attend those meetings when I can, and it’s purely informational. Those staff members on the team come from all areas of the operation, they do updates about what is going on in their areas and if the people in their areas have questions, they put those on the table. The representatives are then responsible to go back to their areas and communicate the information that they’ve learned at the meetings.
“A program like that allows you to get information on the grassroots level. It also allows you to get information to your staff that is accurate, that hasn’t gone through the rumor mill and com
ing out distorted on the other end.”
Feedback is a critical element in allowing employees to take ownership in the direction of the company. If they’re helping to steer the company, your employees will generally exhibit a more positive attitude as they work toward carrying out the company goals and mission.
Feedback is also useful as an idea generator. Even if a particular employee’s job centers mostly on manual labor, it doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t try to harness his or her brainpower. Ideas can come from anywhere.
“Every once in awhile, a staff member will surprise you with a monster idea that could make you a lot of money,” Salinas says. “But those big ideas are pearls that are few and far between. You also need to look for the small things that someone might be telling you about. Someone farther down the ladder that they have this cool idea, and you might not personally see the results, but it might be big for their department. So you make it happen and do it with as much fanfare as you would for a big idea.”
Though you might be more budget-conscious due to the state of the economy, Salinas says you shouldn’t hold back financially if the idea makes sense on every other level. Most of the ideas that you get won’t be million-dollar ideas that cost a fortune to get off the ground.
“If you keep encouraging it, you’ll get absolutely inundated with new ideas,” he says. “People will keep coming to you. If that happens, you might start to get some pretty wild ideas that you know you can’t use, but it really doesn’t matter, because at least people are engaged and they’ll be thinking about what they can do to [make] things better. That’s the all-important ownership piece that you need to build within people.”
Make time for fun
You’re in business to do a job and make money, not entertain or be entertained by your co-workers. But fun doesn’t have to be frivolous. In fact, it’s essential to getting the most out of your employees, particularly as they get bombarded by bad economic news from every media outlet.
At Barona, Salinas has placed an emphasis on creating an enjoyable work environment — but he does it with an eye toward reinforcing his core values.
Salinas hands out star performer awards and cash bonuses at every quarterly company meeting, in much the same way a lot of leaders do. But he takes it a step further with a little something extra. It goes back to Salinas’ belief that little things can make a big difference in the attitude of your employees.
“It’s doing these little things where you can plug away and make people feel good about where they work,” he says. “We have quiz contests on our core values and things that are happening at the casino. It gets people psyched and excited, but at the end of the day, the real key is that someone from management took the time to say, ‘Thank you, and here is a token of our appreciation.’ It’s a simple act, but it’s amazing how that doesn’t happen enough in business.”
Salinas also made it a priority to avoid one of the biggest morale destroyers in business: taking away employee perks. Sometimes you have to get creative to keep employees happy, and that is exactly what Salinas and his staff did.
When Barona moved its casino into a new facility, the old facility was slated for closure, along with its dining hall, which also served support staff working in separate buildings around the Barona complex. Spurred by an employee’s suggestion, Salinas decided to keep the facility open and covert the dining hall into an employee lounge.
“We kept the old facility open, and we added some high-end vending machines, some plush sofas, and it’s now a place where people can just relax,” Salinas says.
“It can be very easy to save some money here and there by taking away or not implementing some of these feel-good programs, but that’s a huge mistake as far as your employees are concerned.”
How to reach: Barona Resort & Casino, (619) 443-2300 or www.barona.com