Goals and challenges

Supervisors at the Wave Waterpark have their work cut out for them. The facility employs 110 lifeguards, all at minimum wage, but even though the guards earn the same amount as the kid ringing up your frozen yogurt, they are tasked with watching over people’s lives. Managers say they would not be able to find lifeguards willing to show up for that pay without highly creative methods of keeping them motivated. Those methods were what stood out to the judges.

It starts with an overall philosophy that a staff member will only give good customer service if they themselves are treated well and feel valued. Supervisors at Wave are trained on one simple truth: Lifeguards do the most important work in the park and management is there to support them.

How they did it

One of the most successful programs dreamed up to inspire lifeguards is the yearly theme. This concept is front and center in hiring, training, recognition programs and employee events. In 2014, the theme was the Olympics. Each lifeguard was assigned a “country team,” which earned “medals” for good work performance. Prizes were awarded daily to the country with the highest medal count. In addition, employees earned Olympic Rings (a circle of beads) to display on their lanyards. The rings were color-coded as follows to highlight who stood out in a specific area.

• Red: Uniform and grooming

• Blue: Audit

• Green: Outstanding service

• Yellow: Attendance / Covering shifts

• Orange: Cleanliness

• Purple: Attitude

Employees enjoyed receiving them and by the end of the summer, the strongest performers had multiple multicolored rings hanging proudly from their lanyards.

In addition, management hosted four events throughout the summer where employees competed to earn additional prizes.

But nothing may be as memorable and fun as the Just Ducky Awards. For this celebration at the end of the summer, employees dress up in their prom clothes and are awarded for their efforts throughout the season. Some of the recognitions are meaningful while others are more humorous. The event closes with a slide show of the summer, adding just a tinge of nostalgia to the party.

Another highlight is Wave’s Supervisor Lifeguard Competition.

This internal challenge was created to address a decline in staff attendance and performance at the end of the season when school had started. Each supervisor is challenged to create a team of six lifeguards and required to do their own recruiting from the staff. Teams are allowed six hours of paid training to prepare for the competition, which is in September. But there’s a catch: All participants are required to stay active on the schedule through that date, thereby solving the attendance problem.

The competition involves a relay race of water skills and two challenging emergency scenarios that aren’t unveiled until the event. The winning team is awarded prizes, and all teams also are graded on spirit. Staff members have grown to love this event in the past two years, and they even come up with team names and design T-shirts. Supervisors start looking for quality team members from the beginning of summer and staffing is no longer an issue once school starts. Best of all? The employees love it.