To tackle a big goal, start by taking the first step

"Take action.  It can only suck once, or it can be the best thing we’ve ever done."

Action.  Our “action muscles” are arguably the most important muscle in our bodies.  

Too often, I’ve been on the side of caution, waiting for the perfect circumstances in order to take action.  Why take an unnecessary risk?  Why attempt something I didn’t believe I was “qualified” to do?  I was sure someone else would take on the task and it would get done.

I believe we’re all guilty of not taking action just because a goal seems “too big” and we’re afraid of failing.  We cannot let that fear dictate our actions, or we’ll find ourselves on the sidelines watching opportunities pass us by.
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The Opportunity

As a company, our training needed a facelift.  We had attempted to revamp our materials multiple times, but we kept running into the roadblock of inconsistent implementation.  With nearly 1,000 team members across the country, implementation lag was real and I couldn’t be everywhere at once to ensure the right materials were consistently being used. 

Having studied learning cultures and processes, I knew that there were a plethora of exciting technological options available.  However, there were a lot of reasons that I should have looked the other way and not tried. 

I’ve never had any previous experience with LMS (learning management software).  It looked complicated, expensive (and it was VERY expensive), and creating all new training materials to integrate with the software would be a process that would take months.  That doesn’t even get into having to train an organization with almost 1,000 team members on how to use the new processes and technology.

I could no longer accept the status quo.  Something had to change.  So I took the first step and started talking to different companies.  Then I enlisted the help of some key people to support me and looped in my leaders who always were supportive and helped me manage expectations.

I found myself getting excited by the software that was out there. This inspired me to take another step and start working with a free version of the content building software.  With no training, and some self-education from the internet, we were putting together some decent content.

We took the next several months, we continued to take action, step by step: strategically mapping out what materials we’d need to create, working in the field to get input from the people that matter most, training trainers on the new content, developing a rollout plan, aligning with all departments to get their input.  

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The Outcome

With the help of an incredible team, we were able to develop a revolutionary new training program.  It would help with compliance, communication, and consistency of training.  It was everything we wanted it to be.  

Taking action is simply a series of taking the next step.  My leaders removed the “fear” of the unknown, and I did the same for those on my team.  We trusted ourselves and realized that the benefit of continuing to take the next step far outweighed the safety of doing nothing.

It all happened because we started.

 Read more about Chris Barrows

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Teamwork: When a mousetrap is not about the mouse

One day a mouse looked through a crack in the wall to see the farmer and his wife opening a package when they got home from the store. It was an ordinary day like any other for the mouse. She was wondering what food did the farmer and his wife bring home? But instead of delicious food, the farmer brought home a mousetrap. Retreating to the barnyard the mouse warned everyone “There’s a mousetrap in the house, a mousetrap in the house!”

The chicken clucked and scratched, raised her head and said, “Excuse me, Mr. Mouse, I can tell this is a grave concern to you, but it is of no consequence to me. I cannot be bothered by it.”

The mouse turned to the pig and told him, “There’s a rat trap in the house, a mousetrap in the house!” “I am so very sorry Mr. Mouse,” sympathized the pig, “but there is nothing I can do about.”

Then the mouse turned to the cow which heard everything and said, “Like wow, Mr. Mouse a mousetrap. I am in grave danger duuuuh.” So the mouse returned to the house, head down and worried about how it will have to face the farmer’s mousetrap alone one day.

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That very night a sound was heard throughout the house, like the sound of a mousetrap catching its prey. The farmer’s wife rushed to see if they have finally caught the mouse. She was in such a hurry to see if the problem with the mice was finally over that she forgot to turn on the light as she came into the room. In the darkness, she did not see that it was a venomous snake whose tail the trap had caught. The snake bit the farmer’s wife. The farmer rushed her to the hospital, and once the doctors were finished she returned home with a fever.

Now everyone knows you treat a fever with fresh chicken soup, so the farmer took his hatchet to the barnyard for the soup’s main ingredient, the chicken. Even though the farmer got his wife the soup his wife’s sickness continued. Because of that their friends and neighbors came to sit with her around the clock. To feed them the farmer butchered the pig.

The farmer’s wife still did not get well.  She died, and so many people came to her funeral. To feed them all the farmer had the cow slaughtered to provide meat for all of them to eat. While all of this happened the mouse was all alone in the barn wondering what would have happened if only the other animals would have taken some time to listen and solve the situation together. 

Moral of the story:

Situations will arise at work or other environments when your team members won't listen to you because what you will be telling them isn't their "problem" at the moment. Find a way to make them see that what affects a part of the team affects all of them. Otherwise, you will have to find a way to deal with the consequences. Maybe that means finding a new team...

The Power of Reflection: How I Became a Better Leader

 Mistakes followed by positive reflection lead to growth.

Mistakes put us in a vulnerable place.  After a mistake is made, we have a choice to make. We can feel bad for ourselves and hide, or we can reflect and grow from it.  Reflection is a process that has to be embraced.  It isn’t always easy or pleasant, but I’ve always believed that reflection leads to clarity and truth.

I love hospitality and I love teams.  I worked just about every job you can in a restaurant during my time in the industry.  I’m a “people person”, so service is fun for me.  I’ve also always been active in sports, and loved the team aspect of it.  There is something special about coming together and achieving a common goal.  When you combine these, I naturally gravitated towards leadership and started working my way up the ladder.  I even moved to a different state for the opportunity to help the team and grow myself.  

After a decade of hard work, I finally achieved the promotion to the big GM job I really wanted.  At this point of my development, I believed a major part of my focus was to be on the team’s happiness.  It was highly important to me, but as an unintended consequence, many necessary conversations remained unhad.  Instead of upsetting them or making them uncomfortable, I was looking the other way, protecting their egos and avoiding their weaknesses. 

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It was a very talented, but very young team.  I was new to this level of leadership, so the last thing I wanted while I was figuring things out was to burn bridges with the team.  I wanted to get started on a positive note, not come in and potentially hurt anyone’s feelings.  They deserved to love coming to work everyday.

Deep down, I knew deep down that perhaps I wasn’t really helping my team.  At a certain point, I knew I was enabling some behaviors that weren’t productive, and someone needed to correct them.

It was a difficult conversation with a mentor of mine that really caused me to reflect on my approach. I remember like it was yesterday, and I come back to this moment often as it was a turning point in my career.   "Corey, they think you're a chump".

You read that right, C-H-U-M-P!

This hurt my pride.  My ego was shattered.  I had a choice to make.  Hide and protect my ego, or reflect and be honest with myself.  

I reflected and started asking myself why exactly I was avoiding difficult conversations.  Was I afraid of being that uncomfortable?  Did I believe I was qualified enough or the right person for the job? The team was certainly young and talented, but they needed a leader.  They needed someone to be candid with them as my mentor was with me.  By protecting my team, I was hindering their growth, but I was also protecting myself from being uncomfortable.

I knew I was the right person for the job, but I’d need to allow myself and the team to get out of our comfort zones if we were ever going to grow.  Having a hard conversation is caring about the team.  It took a lot for my mentor to be that candid with me.  My team deserved a leader who cared for them that much.  By not being honest with my team, I was depriving them of the opportunity to reflect and grow themselves

I would be candid, but I would also be there for them to help them reflect and build themselves back up again, just as my mentor was for me.  Through reflection, I saw the truth of my actions, but gained clarity on what I needed to do in order to be the leader I wanted to be.  I’m certainly not a “chump”.


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How differences brought 2 leaders together


Embrace diversity. A unique team is a powerful one.

Great teams are made up of a diverse group of individuals.  This isn’t always an easy process.  It’s easier said than done to totally empathize with an opinion they may never have considered.  When a teammates approach just doesn't make sense to you, it’s easy to become defensive and frustrated with them.  We view the world through our own prisms, and it’s a leader’s job to see the absolute value in these varied perspectives.

If my decades in the industry have taught me anything, it’s that your title is meaningless if you can’t pull individuals together and form a team. I’ve always taken pride in seeing beyond who the person currently was, but seeing who they could be with coaching and support.  Viewing team members as puzzle pieces and helping them fit together.  This philosophy has stretched across multiple concepts and business.  From owning my own small venues, to being a Vice President of a national brand, I’ve always taken immense pride in developing people and growing teams.

At the time of this story, I was General Manager of a very successful ‘eatertainment’ concept.

New leaders are complicated.  Their identities are more influx than they realize.  They’ve achieved their promotion through their single-minded determination.  What “got them there” is the right way, and they defend those principles strongly.  To see things differently can hurt the ego and rattle the delicate foundation of confidence they’ve only recently built.

This scenario was most strongly personified when I had the privilege of working with two strong young women who had two completely different backgrounds and personalities.  There was seemingly nothing they had in common or saw eye to eye on.  Both were amazing teammates and promising young leaders, but they approached communication and problem solving and from completely opposite directions.

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This made the most simple days challenging.  On a daily basis, they would baffle each other over decisions made.  Empathy for each other was non-existent. They were so blinded by the differences they saw in each other, they couldn’t see anything else.

This all came to a head one evening.  Each came to me and vented about the faults of the other.  They had enough of each other and couldn’t take it anymore.

I heard them each out and allowed them to get all of the negativity out.  At the end of each “session”, I asked each one of them to name three things the other individual excelled at, and to their own surprise, they did.

A little later on in the shift, once they had a chance to put the emotional sessions behind them, I pulled them both aside, together.  This time, it was their turn to listen to my “frustration”, and in no uncertain terms, I explained to them that I had enough. I shared with them the impact their nitpicking of each other’s differences was having on the team.  The negativity is contagious and beneath them.  They were too busy criticizing each other to realize the value of their differences.

Then came the breakthrough.  I asked them each to share what they had told me about what they believed the other did exceptionally well.  The lightbulb went off and they realized how they complimented each other’s strengths and weaknesses, and saw how they needed each other.

There is a happy ending to this story.  These two incredible leaders developed a relationship that they would describe as “sisterly”.  They helped each other grow in ways that they otherwise would not have.  They began looking for what made team members special, and this allowed them to connect with their teams at another level.

What makes us different makes us stronger.  Diverse backgrounds bring diverse perspectives and help us see the world differently.  If you surround yourself with people who see the world the same way you do, how can you possibly grow?  When teams embrace diversity, they embrace strength and become truly powerful.



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Want to improve your sales? Take action.

"Take action. It can only suck once, or it can be the best thing we've ever done."  -AMP Up1 Culture Values

Sales.  How do we increase sales in an already highly successful 27,000+ sqft eatertainment complex?  We couldn’t build more bowling lanes, and we already built an arcade in an underutilized space during the previous year.  In the winter we were completely booked, essentially from open to close.  Had we plateaued?  Where were our opportunities and what could we possibly do about it?  There was always the summer, but that was hopeless.

Anyone that’s worked in a venue dependent on indoor gaming knows that the summer time is hard.  Who wants to go inside when it’s gorgeous out?  We would cross our fingers and do a rain dance, and when it rained, we’d be busy.  This was the annual cycle.  We would discount for the sake of discounting and hope some clever marketing idea from corporate would catch the eye of the right group.  July would come and we’d hold our breath, hoping it would be rainy and fall couldn’t come to us fast enough.  It’s just the way it was, and there wasn’t anything we could do about it.

 We’ve attempted patio business with limited success.  Some tables overlooking a parking lot with some tv’s was better than nothing.  We took what we got and were happy it was better than nothing.  The irony was, the patio wasn’t a small amount of space.  It was still square footage we paid for, just as valuable as the bowling lanes.  This was frustrating.  Everyday, coming to work and knowing the grind before us.

So here we were.  We could continue to accept our fate, but that isn’t really in my personality.

I started in this industry as a wait assistant/food runner.  I’ve always been inclined to put my head down and work hard.  I’ve been lucky enough to be part of a team where nothing is given, but those who do more are allowed to grow.  If you want to learn or do something, you simply have to raise your hand.  Taking action to help the team is part of our identity.  Fast forward a handful of years, and although my title has changed significantly, the mindset and need to take action is still the same.

There were some interesting trends popping up at this time.  There were “lawns” that were becoming hugely popular using many of the low-tech games we already had in house.  Giant Connect 4, cornhole and Jenga (we had multiple of each) were taking off in popularity. Being outside, under the sun, walking on astroturf with a cold beverage gave the games new meaning.  Magic was happening.

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Why couldn’t we do that?  What was stopping us?

 Well, I’ve never redesigned a patio space or had to shop for furniture and decor.  Not my specialty.  It was a pretty dramatic change from what our patio currently was.  I’m sure our space was the way it was for a reason, right?

I decided to move forward.  I enlisted the help of our leadership team , all departments, and we formulated our plan of attack.  We decided to build more of a social outdoor setting and flip the script with the patio. We wanted it to go from an extended dining room feel to a social outdoor space that was focused around low tech gaming and a laid back outdoor feel. 

We started doing our homework and making phone calls.  We selected an astroturf that felt real and drained rain water incredibly well.   We decided to remove the tv’s, our guests would want to hang out, not watch tv.  No need for chairs or traditional tables either, instead outdoor couches and sectionals where our guests could truly be comfortable.  We were creating a place we’d want to hang out in.  Fun lights were strung across the ceiling, trellises were added and we updated our planters.  Finally, we not only brought out our oversized games, we even invested in more, like a variation on putt-putt meeting flip-cups. 

It was a place where when you drove by, you just had to go spend some time there.  

Once the renovation was done, we had to actually get people to sit there.  We needed a return on our investment.  It was a little nerve wracking wondering if it would work.  Our team put a lot of effort into the transformation, and I challenged the status quo to make it happen.

The space got off to a terrific start the first night it was open.  A group hung out for over 2 hours and had a substantial check.  From there,  we didn't look back.  The space was a hit with after work groups, Monday-Friday.  We had successfully taken a “dead space” and created a destination for our guests.

 All of this happened because we took action and did something.  Not doing anything would have worse than the new patio failing.  We weren’t design experts.  We simply made one phone call, then another, then discussed with each other, then made another call, until it came together.  We took one step at a time.

Don't wait for someone else or “corporate” to address your opportunities.  Don’t let “not knowing how” hold you back.  Educate yourself, utilize your team and move forward.  The only way to strengthen that action muscle is to use it, and take the first step.


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