Life Lessons: Blaine Lambert

Staff engagement can save you in hard times

Blaine Lambert, COO, CruiseExperts Travel

Fresh into a job running a travel agency, Blaine Lambert recalls trying to solve a problem of retaining staff.

"I thought, being [a former] accountant: OK, I'm going to offer you a better compensation package than you can get anywhere else in the city, so you're going to stay with me,'" he said.

Except the plan didn't work; employees were still leaving.

Lambert said it wasn't until he started bumping into ex-employees and getting candid feedback about why they left that he discovered the root problem: his employees were getting bored.

In tackling that, Lambert faced a structural challenge: many of the roles in his company were a career unto themselves; they didn't provide employees with the incentive of a management trajectory.

To address that, Lambert said he created tiers of recognition to acknowledge how employees develop their clientele. He said the company has enabled staff to specialize in travel niches and to move departments within the company, where interested. He added that he uses some tried-and-true tricks to engage employees, such as recognizing an employee of the month.

When the cruise industry hit a tough patch last year, battered by assorted industry challenges and the sinking of the Costa Concordia off Italy's west coast, Lambert was worried that lower sales – and lower commissions – would cause staff to leave.

"I have a lot of guys and gals with families working here; it's not people who are semi-retired or looking for a part-time job," he said. "They need to bring home money to pay for their mortgages, so they're dependent on it."

In a bid to boost staff morale, Lambert closed the office for two days to host a training and team-building event. He said the event was so successful, he now plans to hold it annually.

Lambert added that his efforts paid off in staff retention.

"I did have some turnover, but the reasons for turnover were mainly gals falling in love and following their boyfriends. No one left where I was disappointed – where I attributed it to our performance."

Lambert added that he plans to bolster employee engagement further this year by setting up a mentorship program.

On hiring "green" employees | "I've hired people that are a little green, looking for that opportunity. And first of all I benefit from them. They don't command as much of a salary, and they bring the latest in innovations with them. But it also means more time invested in them and them growing. But I think it's total win-win."

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