If I were to go undercover and come to your camp for a weekend retreat what would I find? If I reported to you what I found, how would you react? Yep… I invite undercover retreaters to come to my camp for free and in exchange for the weekend, I ask her to write me a report. I find a very picky lady to come and give us her 2 cents worth on a weekend. She is an undercover retreater!
I want to know what she perceived, what was the reality, how our staff interacted with her, how our food was prepared, how our programs and speakers were presented. Our end of retreat surveys are helpful, but few people really give it too much thought; they are usually filled with nice comments of appreciation for the staff.
Here are some of her comments
All the meals were delicious! Everything was clean, neat, and tidy. There was plenty of food to eat. Nothing was left empty. I heard other compliments from those around us. It was hard to come up with any negatives. I might suggest that the staff scooping the ice cream might try to smile. She looked like she was either tired or bored and did not want to be there. I tried to engage her in a friendly conversation/joke, but she just kept on with her job.
The bathroom has a vent that flaps when the wind hits it. It was very windy that day, so the flapper was going crazy. Flap! Flap! Flap! I am sure that I am the only one who will ever comment on that!
When we arrived at the archery tournament, the male staff looked a bit overwhelmed. No one knew what they were supposed to do. He tried to explain it to a few people, but it looked like maybe he did not know how it should go. Or maybe how to present it to people as they were coming and going.
Wow did we goof…we had the wrong person doing the job… a personality of a toad. We should have had the ice cream scooper doing the dishes. We had poor execution by the program people. The maintenance department didn’t check to see if the building was ready-to-use.
Here was a study from the book by Chip Heath– Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard.
As you watch, a stranger walks into a room and sits down behind a table. He picks up a piece of paper and reads aloud a generic-sounding weather report: “Tomorrow, we’ll see highs in the upper 80s with an overnight low of 53….” He completes his “report” in about 90 seconds and walks out of the room. Next, you’re asked to guess his IQ. You’re part of a psychology experiment, and you object to the absurdity of the request. I don’t know anything about that guy. He just came into a room and read a report. It wasn’t even his report—you gave it to him to read! How am I supposed to know his IQ!? Reluctantly, you make a wild guess.
Separately, the Fake Weatherman is asked to guess his own IQ. Who made a better guess? Amazingly, you did, even though you know nothing about Fake Weatherman. Two psychologists, Peter Borkenau and Anette Liebler, from Universität Bielefeld in Germany, conducted this experiment, and they found that the strangers’ IQ predictions were better than the predictions of those whose IQ was being predicted— about 66 percent more accurate.
To be clear, it’s not so much that you’re a brilliant predictor; it’s that he’s a lousy self-evaluator. We’re all lousy self-evaluators. College students do a superior job predicting the longevity of their roommates’ romantic relationships than their own. Savor, for a moment, the preposterousness of these findings. The Fake Weatherman has all the information, and you’ve got none. He’s got decades of data— years’ worth of grades, college entrance exam scores, job evaluations, and more. Fake Weatherman should be the world’s foremost expert on Fake Weatherman! If self-evaluation hinged on information alone, the findings of these studies would have been impossible.
But self-evaluation involves interpretation, a C- grade becomes nearly a B+ in the eyes of the beholder.
After a weekend retreat, I ask the staff, “What went wrong?” I don’t ask for their interpretation of the weekend. The answer “fine” is not the answer I am looking for. Never ask “how did the weekend go?”
What is to be learned from this? You shouldn’t be evaluating your camp’s service and hospitality! Bring in an outsider with a fresh pair of eyes.