Insights from Members

  • 05/20/2016 10:43 AM | Deleted user

    What a Super Seminar!

    Lori Sylvia

    Ten candidates for IACCA certification and recertification gathered at the Life Enrichment Center in Fruitland Park, Florida the week of April 24.  Dr. Charles Wallace opened the seminar by detailing the purpose of the week:  for each participant to create a personal strategic plan in order to refocus energy and meet career and personal goals.  Through this refocus, the candidates were to discern values that are important to them and generate a plan that keeps those values at the forefront.  Dr. Wallace explained that those with a plan can be happier and more productive than those who allow external forces to dictate their choices and behaviors. 

    The Sunday pre-session introduced the framework for developing a personal strategic plan, including a strong focus on values and mission.  Dr. Wallace encouraged participants to step away from the distant demands of their centers and spend time contemplating personal and professional growth.  The knowing smiles on everyone’s faces highlighted the difficulty of executing this concept among conference center administrators.  He patiently reassured the group that no one is so important that he or she cannot step away from work life.  Dr. Wallace acknowledged the challenge of the discernment process and reassured the group that it was more productive to take the time away than to impede the planning process with external distractions.

    Monday through Wednesday brought insightful morning lectures from three knowledgeable mentors, afternoon discussions with those mentors, and evening reflections on the day and the progress of the personal strategic plans.  Lisa Oberreuter, a leadership trainer and owner of Effectiveness Coaching, LLC, led the first session.  She engaged the group in upbeat and dialogue on the characteristics of effective leadership.  She pulled in knowledge of Steven Covey’s Behaviors of Trust, Myers-Briggs style evaluations, and Lisa’s own Leadership Laws.   Through interactive lecture, she kept the participants engaged.  Oberreuter emphasized how to build relationships and counter toxic behaviors.  Dividing the group into sub-groups, she attempted to get members to identify who they were and what values and forces influenced their early development.  Oberreuter’s presentation provided a solid starting point for building a strategic plan.

    Douglas Walker, the Executive Director of the Diocesan Foundation of the Episcopal Diocese of Florida and The Bishop’s Deputy for Advancement, taught the second session.  He explored generosity and the art of developing a strong donor connection.  He engaged in dialogue surrounding the culture inherent at each of the represented centers and what each participant can do to ignite a process for change.  Walker stressed that retreat centers should try to avoid ad hoc micro-constituencies and restricted gifts and move toward legacy opportunities and well-developed relationships with those impacted by the centers.  Augmenting earlier Seminar discussions of values, Walker also encouraged the group to help donor constituencies feel a sense of ownership toward the organization and its mission.  By focusing on mission in a positive way, that is, focusing on what a center does well instead of focusing on needs and problems, stronger donor rapport develops.

    Carl McColman directed the third session and gave his thoughts on spirituality in life.  Starting with questions about why conference and retreat centers are needed, he guided the dialogue toward similarities between monastic life and the culture of retreat centers.  Retreat centers are a throwback to simpler times where people can escape the demands of modern life and find growth and renewal.  McColman highlighted the importance of having a strong vision and mission in each retreat center, and following through on every action in accordance with that purpose.  His guidance provided ample food for thought in refining the personal strategic plans.

    Thursday was designated as a day of reflection, giving the group members time to flesh out their plans collectively and individually, and Friday served as the capstone of the week.  For the final gathering, the group met to present its personal strategic plans.  Sitting in the session, the participants clearly defined their values and where they want to go.  The plans were varied and highly personal.  Some mentioned leaving retreat center work; others looked toward future positions of greater scope and responsibility; and a few reflected on future retirement.  Reinvigorated with clarity of purpose, Dr. Wallace and the candidates adjourned back to their respective centers, thankful for experiencing this process under such knowledgeable and dedicated leadership.   

  • 03/30/2016 12:15 PM | Shelly Steinhoff

    I learn from any situation at any moment.  It is interesting what catches my attention.  Just like on my flight to New Jersey earlier this month en route to the annual IACCA Board meeting.  Flying Delta, I read their March 2016 Sky Magazine.  I found this article affirming: Top Profs Talk Business Education From technology to globalization to the merging of business and the arts, professors from a handful of the nation’s top-rated business schools discuss current trends and topics in today’s MBA.   For over 25 years, IACCA has taught the nuanced balance between retreat leaders’ vision and commitment vs. individual needs, clarity in who we are as non-profit centers along with sound mission-based management strategies.  Now, it appears other industry leaders are following the same notes as IACCANS!  Here is how:

    • ·         The prevalent marketing strategy is to collect individuals’ preference data to guide business decisions.  Data collection can be captured technologically or extracted from traditional surveys. 

    As NfP leaders, we must address personal needs within a group or communal setting.  Increasingly, we navigate the line between preparing meals for an individual’s taste while serving groups a common menu.   We work with a leader’s contract constraints while meeting the needs of privacy for guests with sleep apnea.  Regardless of group’s check in time, we often offer flexibility for late check-out to nursing mothers or when groups needs break out space.

    • ·         For profit businesses increasingly focus on ideals of purpose, values and care of the stakeholders.   Profits and finances are less likely to solely dictate decisions.

    As leaders in NfP centers, we understand the need to be clear about the focus of our mission and to successfully implement that mission so our efforts reinforce the need for our existence.  We gather 501C3 identification numbers.  Our guest policies support our desired interactions and atmosphere.  We evaluate if interested groups are right for us. 

    • ·         Today’s leaders incorporate a sense of vocation into their style.  Managing change more often requires integrating shared values, strategies and activities around purpose to motivate people.

    We know when people understand the “why”, the “what” becomes easier.  Conference & retreat centers attract employees who value the environment.  Employees often become unofficially “tenured” through longevity.  When the mission remains at the forefront of the work, it promotes productivity and consistently ties employee contribution to purpose.  

    • ·         Adult students are engaged, life-long learners.   They choose specific paths for action-based learning because they know what they want to do, where they want to go, and what they want to achieve.

    IACCA has long known the importance of support and specialized training. Through membership networking, attendance at the Annual Fall Conference and participation in the Certification Program, we have recognized the need to dialogue about the unique nature of nonprofit conference center management.  For 60 plus years, countless professionals in our industry have benefited from these interactions, hundreds have been certified as conference center professionals, and over $22,000 has been granted in scholarships. 

  • 12/31/2015 12:46 PM | Shelly Steinhoff

    Ideal business solutions require overcoming ingrained habits to generate healthy change.  In the business world, these ingrained habits are known as functional fixedness.  While efficiency evolves from repetition, it also stifles creative problem solving.  In conference center leadership, it is critical to understand the strategic difference.   Knowing when to work efficiently and when its time to mix-it-up empowers us to successfully deliver our mission.

    Over the years, business experts have developed techniques to identify these shifts in innovative thinking and staff utilization.  Changing our approach to a problem can enhance our ability to innovate business practices.  Here is a recap as outlined in the December 2015 edition of the Harvard Business Review:

    1.   Change how you describe an object/task/problem.  Map out your descriptions in a tree diagram.  This systemic approach opens up thinking.  Ask “Can this situation be broken down further?  Does our current definition limit the object's use?  If the answer is yes, find new words to describe the object and its parts.  Strive for generic descriptions to open up possibilities.  On a sheet of paper, write down your brainstorming ideas.  For example,

    • Laundry-linens-guests satisfaction-appearance-soft/stain-free/ironed-cotton/polyester
    • Laundry-linens-in-house/outsourced labor-new machines/partner with another company-wash/fold-storage-water/soap-energy

                   Does any part of these descriptions challenge your established process and invite new ways to approach the situation?

    2.    Look to describe all the elements of a problem.  Consider materials, size, shape, parts AND color, design use, emotions it evokes, energy it generates.  From this comprehensive review, develop checklists for tasks/processes.           

    •   Clean the Lobby:   Daily:  push chairs under tables, disinfect tables, stack games and videos in alphabetical order, place remote control on the coffee table, scrub fingerprints off walls, mop floor, recycle old newspapers, straighten magazines on tables, empty garbage, empty dish tub, fill candy dish.
    •   Clean the Lobby:   Weekly:  wash windows, water and prune plants, place full tissue boxes on tables, dust pictures and furniture, purge outdated resource items, vacuum furniture,

    Discuss with your staff how implementing a comprehensive check list will enhance the guest experience.  In particular, pay attention to the emotional experience of the guest.

    3.      Be succinct and use general terms when framing a problem.  State the goal by using only a verb, preposition and noun.  For example,  "Decrease expenses in snow removal."   "Increase participation in our crafting retreat."  When goals are simply stated, it is easier to consider various approaches and develop an actionable list to support your desired outcomes.                                                                                                             

  • 10/16/2015 7:44 PM | Shelly Steinhoff

    Recently I performed a comprehensive overview of our expenses and occupancy to see if I could pinpoint the appropriate price range for our center.    Our practice has always been to compare competitors pricing and perceived value against our own.  This usually resulted in a modest percentage increase to our all-inclusive packages.  However, this year this exercise seemed futile. Increased labor and food costs challenged our bottom line.   Heightened demand from our guests prompted us to deviate from our normal services and offer a more executive experience.  Requests for weddings were on the rise.  So, with the recent closing of a local retreat center, the time was right to challenge our rates and our pricing philosophy as well.

    I researched marketing and pricing strategies.  I reviewed my notes from the rate setting workshop at last year’s annual conference.   The more I read, the less I felt I knew.  I discovered rate setting is a multi-layered discipline and that it is the only marketing application that results in real dollars.   Getting this right presented an enormous opportunity.

    I applied theories, gathered data and crunched numbers.  Then I charted the results in order to compare approaches.  My findings were generated from these perspectives:

    * Fixed & variable cost calculations

    * Annual occupancy percentages and consumer demand for special services

    * Competitor pricing

    * IACCA’s benchmark percentages for food and labor

    * The restaurant rule of thirds 


    The results were illuminating.  Our adaptation in customizing services had outgrown our historical all-inclusive pricing model.  While an all-inclusive price point was tremendously guest-friendly, we had limited our revenue potential with this simplistic model.  In order to realize desired annual gains, we would have to substantially increase our all-inclusive packages, therefore pricing us out-of-the-market for many church groups.


    The answer, for us, I believe lies in the implementation of all strategies: tiered all-inclusive retreat rates for mid-week and weekend stays, premium pricing for special events and services, and cost-driven pricing for large group, extended stays.   This agile approach to pricing will require more thought and adjustments to billing and reservation software.  In the end, this effort will serve both center and guest well.


  • 08/24/2015 10:11 AM | Shelly Steinhoff

    This morning on CBS Saturday News, I heard them report that 53% of people who work 55 plus hours a week are at a 33% increased risk for stroke.  Yikes!  That statistic speaks to salaried staff and most of the workforce in the conference & retreat center industry. This risk is associated with too much sitting, high levels of stress and increased blood pressure.  Considering we manage expansive campuses, I suspect the miles we walk in a day eliminate the cause of inactivity.  But what of the substantial hours clocked, high levels of stress and increased blood pressure?  The answer: how you feel about work affects your stress level.  In short, when you feel in control, the result is less stress. 

    The nature of our work is organic: guests needs arise, equipment malfunctions, weather creates immediate needs, and the broader business/social culture continuously evolves.  The demands are relentless.  What can we control?  Our workload, our productivity, and our goals are critical, manageable pieces.

    Industry is undergoing a massive change.  Not since the industrial revolution has business felt pressure to evolve.  Advances in technology bring efficiency and accuracy. Employees demand life-work balance.  These associated costs run high.  But, we work in a high-touch field where institutionalized work habits keep costs down by maintaining the status quo.  Yet in an ever changing environment, the status quo is constantly challenged.  Stress!  How do we get the work get done if we don’t do it all our self?  More stress!

    Organizationally, here are a few suggestions for minimizing workload, increasing productivity, and achieving goals.

                    Shift your leadership style from command/control to inspiration/motivation.  Work alongside your team.   Share observations about performance as they arise.   Remember positive reinforcement requires 5 compliments to 1 criticism.  When appropriate, delegate more responsibility.  Promote advancement opportunities to your team.  Dump the task of annual performance reviews as your feedback should be an ongoing conversation.

                    Use your staff wisely.    Don’t be tied to the old organizational chart.  Tap into their creativity and naturally collaborative ways.  Solicit staff input regarding professional development.   Allow unsavory tasks to be shared.  The social component will speed up the work and diminish the displeasure.   When guests are present, allow flexible schedules including longer shifts for better guest service coverage and reduced work weeks. 

                     Redefine processes.  Abandon manual reports by having a customizable report created by your reservation software company.   Move up your date to receive guaranteed information from guests.  Require payment for retreats upon arrival.  Use a wall calendar to schedule all staff.  The goal of redefining processes is to eliminate extra steps such as double entry of information, phone calls for late information, mailing of invoices, and overlapping staffing that come with department “ silo” scheduling.

    Don’t forget there are personal habits we can adopt too. Try deep breathing exercises, eat lunch away from our desks, meditate in our chapels, or walk the grounds amidst nature.  Throughout the day, give yourself permission to take the time you need to switch gears.  Then, take it!

  • 05/21/2015 9:06 AM | Shelly Steinhoff

    I am blessed to work in the retreat and conference center industry.   My days offer countless opportunities to support people in their personal, professional, and vocational endeavors.  This connectedness is a privilege.

    Recently I hosted a tour for three local church leaders interested in a fall women’s retreat.  As we walked throughout the campus, I shared the ways our site could enhance their program objectives: chapel for joyful, music-filled worship, outdoor fireplace for playful, social interaction, and whirlpool and sauna for deep rest and relaxation.  Excitement for the event rose the longer we walked and talked.  While the women discussed possibilities, the pastor quietly hung back.  I asked how his day was going.  He shared he had flown in at midnight after having spent the day at the White House and this morning had started with breakfast with the Governor.   Just four hours later, he was standing with me in our lobby.  Having surmised recent national headlines regarding social injustice and the imbalance of power might be the focus, I inquired about his work.  He briefly shared his background and evolution as a community leader.  This is a gifted, humble man engaged in important and heavy dialogue.  Yet in the quiet of our place, I sensed a culling of his thoughts and an emerging message surely to be included as part of the sermon he would deliver four times in the next 24 hours.    

    Retreating holds inherent value for the human spirit.  Time and space reconnect us to our mission, message and movement.  While the work we oversee as conference and retreat center leaders occurs within our walls, our guests’ intentional and thoughtful work reverberates throughout our local, national and global communities.  These endeavors are powerful.  Our inter-connectedness is truly an honor.

  • 10/08/2013 12:34 PM | Deleted user

    There are few professions that offer the kind of life giving values that administering a retreat or conference center provides.   

    Since conference/retreat centers are commonly located on larger properties, there are often wonderful vistas or waterfronts where sunrises or sunsets can be awe inspiring.   They are frequently located in places apart from urban noise and the ambient light that can obscure the night sky.   In a word, when we take advantage of these features, they bring wonder into our lives.

    In terms of the meaning of work, there is the opportunity to provide life changing experiences to individuals and groups.   Mixing with guests and communicating with them about their experiences can often reveal that having their retreat at your site has been transforming.

    Larger properties provide the opportunity for a healthy lifestyle simply by the exercise of walking or biking.  Canoeing and kayaking are available at some sites.  Taking advantage of these features requires intentionally planning to jog, walk, bike, or paddle and also to avoid the golf cart.

    Since a conference or retreat center uses a significant amount of energy, there are multiple possibilities for reducing the impact on the environment.  Over time this may reduce costs, and offers the chance for teaching about stewardship of creation.  This can also extend to preserving habitat.

    Admittedly, realizing any of these values requires intentional planning on the part of the administrator, and long range thinking.  

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