Strength in Motion: Reaching Your Potential with Marcus Buckingham

The second General Session of the 2019 ISPA Conference & Expo keyed in on the dominant issue facing the spa industry: workforce challenges.
After starting with a meditative violin performance by ISPA member-favorite Rebecca Sabine, PwC’s Colin McIlheney took the stage for his annual report on the latest ISPA U.S. Spa Industry Study.

As discussed previously in Pulse, every ‘Big Five’ statistic saw positive growth, and $20 billion total revenue is now within reach of the U.S. spa industry. McIlheney noted the record participation in this year’s Study and new levels of regional data for spas. While California still has the most spa locations and greatest spa revenue of any state, Texas is now a surprising number two in both categories and currently seeing strong growth.

McIlheney further noted that this was the 20th birthday of the ISPA U.S. Spa Industry Study, showing off the original 2000 report to the audience. After a surprise birthday celebration onstage with McIlheney, ISPA Foundation Chairman Frank Pitsikalis introduced this year’s ISPA Foundation Mary Tabacchi Scholarship winner: Quincy Reynolds. To learn more about Quincy, see her feature in the august 2019 issue of Pulse. Pitsikalis then highlighted the eight initial recipients of Beauty changes Lives’ ISPA Scholarship before introducing the winner of the 2019 ISPA Visionary award: Jeremy McCarthy.

In a succinct and poignant speech, McCarthy shared the origins of his career, which began 30 years ago. Working in spa was the first time that McCarthy ever felt “a calling,” and he decided to work in spa until something better came along. For McCarthy, “nothing better has ever come along.”

The Freethinking Approach

If Susan cain’s keynote was about how to adapt to the nature of your team members, then Marcus Buckingham’s was about how to take those natures and build upon them.

Buckingham, head of people and performance at ADP, is a renowned expert on increasing performance and employee engagement by amplifying strengths. His high-energy keynote began by encouraging everyone in the room to look at problems with a “freethinking” approach; that is, setting aside one’s preconceptions before examining a problem.

The problem faced by employers worldwide: only 17 percent of workers are engaged at work. the freethinking solution: study how and why those 17 percent are engaged, not why the other 83 percent aren’t. Buckingham did this and discovered that many of the ideas that leaders accept as truth are, in fact lies. For example, the belief that people have potential: “no they don’t!” said Buckingham. “Everybody can get better,” and no one person has more ‘potential’ than another—just a different skillset.

One Lie and One Big Truth

Buckingham zeroed in on one lie to cover in-depth with the crowd of nearly 2000: that the best employees are wellrounded. “When you study excellence,” Buckingham said, “you’ll find that it is idiosyncratic. Excellence starts looking really weird quickly.” The way to bring out excellence in one’s employees and ignite their passion is to further develop their strengths. The goal is to create a deliberately skilled employee, rather than a jack-of-all-trades. Doing so, according to Buckingham, is proven to increase performance and engagement.

Buckingham offered a succinct summation: “Your strengths are your sources of power. All of you can get better, but it doesn’t mean rewiring your brain. It means taking existing patterns and sharpening them…. The raw material for your future goodness is your current goodness.”

The audience was urged to practice “strengths replays” with their teams: rather than correcting poor performance, look at an employee’s work and evaluate what they did well. Then, encourage that strength. “We think good job is the end of the sentence,” said Buckingham. “But it’s the beginning.” after saying good job, one should tell an employee exactly what it is that they did well.

When one imbalances their life—or the lives of their employees—towards their strengths, they’ll begin to “find love in what [they] do,” noted Buckingham. Finding love in what one does is key to avoiding burnout and boosting retention. Buckingham suggested carrying a blank notepad around for a week. When one loves something, they should write it down. When one loathes something, they should write that down too. then, they can use that list to begin shaping their lives around what they love. If one loves even just 20 percent of what they do at work, the risk of burnout is dramatically reduced. Or, as Buckingham quipped, “a little bit of love goes a long way.”