RV Park Mastery: Episode 53

Who’s Your Buddy? Better Not Be Your Manager

We all need friends, but it’s not appropriate to list your RV park manager as one of them. In this RV Park Mastery podcast, we’re going to review how to have a successful relationship with your manager, but only on a business level to maximize profitability and minimize complications.

Episode 53: Who’s Your Buddy? Better Not Be Your Manager Transcript

Friends are great. We all like having friends, in fact, Harvard found that one of the most important attributes of happy people is having good positive relationships with others. The problem, however, is with your RV Park, you don't necessarily wanna have or count your manager among your friends. This is Frank Rolfe, the RV Park Mastery podcast. We're gonna talk about that sensitive issue of having a successful relationship with your RV Park manager without elevating them to the pedestal of being a personal friend. Now, why is it a problem? Why can't we all just be friends with our managers? Wouldn't that make our life more complete? Wouldn't our quality of life escalate if we could do that? The problem is that when you are too personal with your managers, it can do some really terrible things to your business. Now, the first thing it will do, if you get too friendly with a manager, when you cross that line from a professional relationship to more of a personal friendship relationship is, it's hard to really push them forward because at the end of the day, all employees face is the worst case scenario, being fired. That's what makes them perform under tough circumstances, on days when they don't go on to go to work, to do things you don't wanna do, is they fear that they'll be replaced with somebody else, and you won't be able to fire them if they're your personal friend, it's very hard to fire your friends.

It's hard enough to fire people who are not your friends, but now when you make them a friend... Oh, that makes it really, really hard. And because that is then off the table, your ability to get them to perform is diminished. This was tested once on a PBS special I saw. What they did is they got two basketball coaches. A nice, friendly, supportive one who was friendly with the players, and a second one who wasn't. This person was the tough guy coach, and then they took five college basketball players and they had them each do 10 free throws, the supportive friendly coach would say things like, "Good job, that's great. Don't worry, we'll still go out and get pizza after this is over tonight, no matter what happens." The tougher coach would be, "Oh, come on, is that the best you can do? I thought you were supposed to be a good player, but you're not. If you can't do better than that, if you can't hit the next free throw, I'm not ever gonna let you play on my team." Now, who won in that? 

Well, you probably already guessed, the tough coach substantially better. Just to make sure it wasn't a fluke, they then changed the teams again, they did that several times, the tough coach won every single time, because the friendly coach did not elicit that little extra edge of adrenaline to make those players perform, whereas the tough coach did, and you can't be tough with a personal friend. So since you can't go there and do that, your RV Park will always suffer, it won't have ever the profitability that it would be if you weren't. If you had more of just a business relationship with the manager. The next problem is that when you get too personal with the manager, it can cause litigation issues, because when you cross a line and start getting personal, you'll probably also cross the line of not following everything to the letter of the law.

So the minute you think you're friendly with the manager, then you will let your guard down, you may say things that are wrong, you may work them more hours than you're allowed... Who knows what you will do? You'll think it's okay because you thought they were your friend and they weren't just in it for the money, but then later, for all you know, they'll turn right around and sue you for violations of employment law, who knows what... So you're just kind of inviting disaster in today's litigious world. Now it's sad that we've all gotten so litigious in America that we have to think things like that, no one thought about those kinds of things in the '40s, and the '50s, and the '60s, and the '70s, and I don't know maybe it started changing in the '80s, but today, there's probably more litigation between employers and employees that happens from regular business customers, and there's no greater way to invite that kind of a problem that when you drop your guard by being personal friends and not having a business relationship with you.

And so then how do you guard against it? If we all agree, that being a friend with your manager is probably not a good thing for your RV Park, so how are some proactive steps that you can take to make sure you don't fall into that trap? Well, first thing is make the resolve not to do it. Just tell yourself, "You know what, we all like friends, and I like friends as much as anybody, I am not going to get friendly with my manager, at least not too friendly. I wanna have a good working professional relationship, but I don't want them or need them as a personal friend." And constantly remind yourself of that. Say "No, I'm not going to invite them to go do something, I'm not going to take him on a trip." No, you have to tell yourself, "No, wait, no, this is the manager, and I can't be a personal friend with my manager." So you have to draw that line in the sand and make that resolve. Next, don't engage in random casual conversation with your manager. When you talk to your manager, make sure that it's very directed at the business, it's okay to talk for hours if need be, on what the business is doing. Observations of how to bring in more customers, how to keep customers happier, capital expenditure...

Sure, those are all great topics, but don't start talking about personal stuff, don't say, "Did you see that latest movie? It was so great," talking about current events, those type of items. This is not the forum for that, this should all be about your business and how to make it better and how to make it more profitable, and you really want the person's input for sure, but you don't need their personal observations on things outside of the business, then you've crossed the line from more of a corporate to a personal relationship, and again, that is not going to work well for you long-term. Also don't talk to your manager too frequently, it's okay to talk to the manager frequently enough to get the job done, but don't be talking to the manager two or three times a day, and often calling them even once a day is overkill, because they'll then sense from that much conversation that much accessibility, that in fact you want more than a professional relationship, that you are looking for a friend, and then it's gonna just suck you into that entire problem of a lower performance just because of what appears to be your desire to have this relationship.

So don't talk too much. Instead, the key is when dealing with managers, you've gotta give them the key fundamentals that make the business work. We all know what those are. Revenue, cost containment. This is how you make money. Those topics are great to have lengthy conversations on, also let them know how they'll be judged, what the metrics of performance are. Have at least once a month, a budget call with your manager and go over each category of your revenue and expenses and what you hit and what you missed. I'm not saying that you shouldn't all the time feel, do you have a good relationship with a manager. You want to have a terrific relationship with your manager, you both wanna be on the same team. It's not a very big team. This is not a football team, it's basically often just a two-person team, you as the owner and the other individual as the manager, and that's it. So as long as your topics are focused on the business and not on personal items, then it's great to talk with your manager. The manager relationship with many sellers is golden, it's great, it's long-standing. People can gonna have managers for years, they can have managers for decades, but you're really not going to have that relationship probably, you're gonna lose your edge, you're not gonna be as profitable as you could be when you start to cross the line.

Now what if you've already crossed the line, what do you do with your manager now, well, start scaling back. The manager will sense that maybe you are wanting to have more of a professional relationship, but you don't call quite so frequently, however, it may anger or frustrate them because they may feel now that you don't like them for some reason. It's okay to explain to them what you're doing to say, "Look, I'm really busy right now, I don't really have time to focus on all the things we used to talk about, so I'm gonna go ahead and reduce down to a number of calls and we're gonna go over these certain topics." And most of them will get the message, but it is possible if you have crossed the line that you may have to sadly ultimately replace the manager. It's very hard to un-train managers who often are also looking for friends, that's no longer your desire if you trained them now for years that you do in fact, want them to be your personal buddy. But normally, most people will pick up on the clues if you start to withdraw or if you even tell them that you now are occupied with other items and you can't devote quite so much time to talking to them about the RV Park.

Also remember that many RV parks change over time. The whole personality changes. When you first buy it, there's plenty to talk about, there's plenty going on, but after you have stabilized and improved it and got it running well, there really isn't that much that needs to be discussed. So it's perfectly natural for the relationship and the amount of contact to change over time, that's a perfectly natural event, so it's also possible as your property moves to the next level, that naturally you won't have as much contact, and even if you have been talking to the manager a lot, it makes sense to just say, "Look, the business is entering a new plateau, you've done a great job. I'm really happy at how things have worked, so here's the new plan, I'm only gonna call you once a week now. I'm just gonna call you on Fridays and check and see how things are going.

If you have any problems, of course, always feel free to give me a call, but I'm gonna reduce down our amount of contact because this property is doing great and it's all thanks to you." And often that will prime you to go to the next level and have again, a much more professional experience. The bottom line to it all is, it's very reasonable to wanna have friends. All of us have the innate desire to reach out and have relationships with others, but just acknowledge when it comes to you and your RV Park manager, that is best left on a professional level. This is @FrankRolfe the RV Park Mastery podcast. Hope you enjoyed this. Talk to you again soon.