The other weekend while enjoying some rare snow this season, in Utah, I had the chance to listen to Bob Wheaton the President of Deer Valley Resort Company give a talk about his management techniques. Bob started his career at Deer Valley as a ski instructor in 1981 and worked his way up through a variety of positions. He came across as a humble, straight shooting leader, and many of the techniques he mentioned were what you would expect from a modern business leader. He makes sure to hit the slopes daily to ask customers and employees how things are going. He has weekly stand-up meetings with his senior executive direct reports to synch up on operational issues. He sends regular broadcasts to all of Deer Valley Resort Co.’s roughly 2,800 employees and he routinely holds open office hours. One tool, however, struck me as relatively unique and powerful even though it is quite simple. It is a weekly meeting Bob calls the Managers Meeting.
This meeting is for all of his direct reports’ direct reports, about 60 managers in all. Interestingly, Bob’s own direct reports are not there, so the middle managers are free from having their own bosses in the room. This serves to remove inhibitions about upsetting or upstaging your supervisor. The minutes of these meetings, however, are carefully transcribed and distributed to ALL company employees so the senior leaders are not in the dark or suspicious about what occurred in the meeting. The meeting is also large enough that it would be inappropriate and self-destructive to air personal grievances about one’s boss. It does, however, give middle managers a chance to be heard by the President in their own voice on a routine basis, and hear directly from the top rather than always through the filter of their supervisor. The fact that the meeting is held weekly means that issues get dealt with promptly and the frequency keeps Bob in touch with operational details he otherwise might not be exposed to. The weekly cadence means they get past the high level and into tangible and actionable topics. It struck me as an elegantly balanced yin-yang leadership method that is both effective and efficient, and would probably work in many other industries. I can say that the level of professionalism and smiling attitude of the Dear Valley team feels palpably different than most other resorts, and I suspect Bob’s leadership, and this particular tool, play a big part in that.