Sunday, September 25, 2011

Score Update: Union 1, Airline 0

Don't you just hate it sometimes when you're right?

You know what I mean, you predict something that you actually hope won't happen, but every instinct that you have tells you this is going to go down just as you predict it, whether you like it or not.

That's the way I felt when I read a story in the Globe & Mail last week that said that Air Canada had narrowly averted a strike with their Flight Attendants by reaching a tentative agreement.

Here's the kicker. . .  The tentative agreement was reached as a result of Air Canada agreeing, among other things, to shelve their plans to launch a low cost carrier as a branch of their main operation.

I wrote, in May of this year, in my post entitled; "Air Canada Discount Subsidiary - Does Anyone Really Believe it Will Ever Take Flight," that "Air Canada announced that the launch of their discount carrier would be contingent on the Air Canada Pilots Union agreeing to certain concessions and a two-tier arrangement, as it relates to the pilots of Air Canada and the pilots of the discount carrier."

I had further gone on to say that; "As soon as I read that, I knew the deal was dead.  There is no way that the Air Canada pilots union will agree to anything out of the ordinary.  They have a long-standing history of drawing a line in the sand and then standing on “their” side of that line and daring you to cross it, at your peril."

Apparently, I was close, but I predicted that it would in fact be the airline pilots union that would kill the deal and apparently I underestimated the flight attendants union who have now brought this venture to a close.

I've made it no secret that I didn't think Air Canada should launch another discount carrier anyway.  They've already failed at the experiment on more than one occasion, but I was nonetheless disappointed to see that the deal was dead at the hand of the flight attendant's union.

It is, yet again, a clear indication of when unions have too much power over business, power that can bring a business to its knees, and in some cases, to bankruptcy and closure, but the union marches on, they have nothing to lose, nothing at risk.

I've said it before and I'll say it again; It’s a perfect example of everything that is wrong with unions.

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Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Technology - Friend or Foe?

Sure, I know what you’re thinking; is he crazy?  Look at all the advancements in technology that we have experienced over the last decade, and look at all the great things that have come from those advancements.

Fair enough, but have you also noticed that the technology that is supposed to “make the world smaller” and make us all so much “more connected” is also responsible for creating more distance between people than ever before?

Take a ferry between two cities, jump on a bus, take a look around you the next time you are at the airport or on a plane, or, just look around when you’re walking downtown and notice how many people have their faces buried in their IPhone or Blackberry and how many of them are wearing headphones at the same time, and as a result, how many people are NOT speaking to each other.

The same can be said, to some degree, in the workplace.  That is, that the technology that was supposed to “make our lives easier” and contribute to “work/life balance” is instead increasing peoples’ workload, their stress levels, and their inability to have any work/life balance based on the fact that they are always reachable, and always expected to be reachable.  There is no longer an “off” switch for many people.

One of the additional symptoms of this to me is when you receive an email from someone whose office is next to yours or around the corner about something that does not require a documentation trail.  In short, they could have either picked up the phone or popped around the corner to your office to have had a conversation with you, but who has the time?

As simple as it may seem in the face of this situation, one of the simple solutions that I put in place to increase relationships and connectedness within the workplace in one of the hotels where I worked was to create “email free day” one day a week, every week.

The “rules” were simple and we got everyone on-board with participation.  On email free days you could not send any emails internally, except where there was a sense of urgency around some form of documentation that had to be circulated on that day, such as BEOs or changes to BEOs for banquet events scheduled within that week.

External emails to/from clients, corporate office or other hotels within the company could be responded to, to ensure we continued to comply with our commitment to respond to all correspondence within 24 hours of receipt.

But if you sent an email internally on email free day, you were fined $1.00 and the funds generated from those emails was donated to charity.

At first, there were some people who responded as if we had asked them to work with one hand tied behind their back, but quickly people saw that their job was not in fact made any more difficult, and, as you would expect, there was a whole lot more interaction between people, not to mention that people who habitually had been locking themselves in their offices all day were now seen meeting and talking to people all over the hotel, and they turned out to be some of the biggest fans of email free day.

Give it a try.  You may be pleasantly surprised to see how much more liveliness and fun get produced in your workplace.

We spend a good deal of our lives at work.  Is it too much to ask that we have a little fun while we’re there?   I don’t think so.

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Monday, August 8, 2011

Exceeding Conference and Event Clients Expectations – A Full Time Job

We all know that our guests are exposed to a great deal of information every day, through the media, the web., etc., and as a result they are increasingly expectant that everyone that they come into contact with within a Hotel is equally as knowledgeable as they are, perhaps more so.

There is no greater example of this, to me, than the expectations and the role of meeting, event and conference services managers (CSMs).

Conference Services Managers have a tough role, made so by the fact that they will regularly find themselves dealing with multiple levels of individuals charged with organizing a meeting, conference or event – Everyone from the seasoned veteran who has done this 100 times before, to the novice who has never done this before.

As the demands within businesses has changed over the last several years, companies have combined positions, or eliminated positions entirely, sometimes associated with organizing their events and conferences, and the task has fallen on to some unsuspecting individual who may never have organized anything this complex in their history, and as a result, they in turn have come to expect that the meeting planners, or CSMs that they deal with, are experts in their field and completely knowledgeable on all of the latest trends and technology that could be employed to make their meeting memorable.

Although you could argue that the circumstances have changed, the need to exceed customer expectations has not, and as a result, it is and always has been critical to ensure the ongoing education and training of meeting planners  and CSMs to ensure that they are adequately equipped to deal with the increased level of demand being placed upon them, and, the fact that a good or bad meeting or event at your facility could make the difference between securing a long-term relationship with a leading company, or, losing them to a competitor who is in a position to better provide what they need.

So, whether it’s participating in the necessary programs to have all of your key CSMs PCMA certified, or having your team members participating in other training or development that makes sense in your market, it is imperative that meeting planners and CSMs are continuously investing in their training and development.

Your clients expect it, sure, but more importantly, the increased level of confidence that emanates from your CSMs will be evident to them, and to your clients, and it will give both the platform for continued success, and that in turn will translate to bottom line results for your property that will far outweigh any costs associated with providing the necessary training and development to these vital team members.

The ROI on this one is a no-brainer.

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Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Airline Flight Departure Times - It's Anybody's Guess

I recently returned from a quick trip to San Francisco, to attend yet another installment of the ongoing leadership course that I have been involved in for the past 5 months.

Periodically, our group of about 25 participants, which meets locally every week, merges with other smaller groups in a conference like setting for about 150 participants overall, and we meet in either Seattle or San Francisco.

This past weekend, we were in San Francisco.

Needless to say, this involved flying into and/or out of San Francisco for many of us who opted to travel in that way.

As I was sitting in the departure area, waiting for my flight to depart, now into my 4th hour of waiting for what I dared to hope was the eventual departure of my United flight from Vancouver to San Francisco, a couple of thoughts occurred to me.

First, this certainly wasn’t the first time this had happened to me, and,

Second, when did the airline business get to be like the cable company or other utility companies used to be?

We all remember it well, we wanted a utility or service hooked up, and we were told; “we can be there 2 weeks from Monday, either between 9am and Noon, or, between 1pm and 5pm, which would you prefer?”

The day of our installation came around and we spent the day waiting, hoping that if we were lucky, maybe, just maybe, they would come at the beginning of the time slot, not towards the end, and then maybe we wouldn’t have to waste half a day.

But even the utility companies figured out that many of us took our displeasure out on them by going to another provider (where there wasn’t a monopoly on the service provided).

Yet for all the technological advancements that we have made, we still can’t accurately predict the departure (and arrival) times for our airline flights.

I’m not naive, I know that there are thousands of things that could interfere with the planned departure time, and obviously, weather is a huge factor, but how about when weather isn’t a factor, what then?

In our businesses, we have contingency plans, we plan for various alternate scenarios, and, we COMMUNICATE with our customers, especially when things go wrong, something sorely lacking in this situation.

So it occurred to me that airlines should just come out and admit that they have almost no idea what time our flights are going to depart, and instead of selling us a flight with a specific departure time, they should just offer us a 3 or 4 hour window.  “That’s confirmed sir, we have you on flight #5357 Vancouver to San Francisco departing sometime between 9am and Noon on Friday, thanks for booking United.”

Then at least we would know what we’re in for, and, the airline would have an opportunity to exceed our expectations every now and then when the flight left in the earlier portion of our departure window.  They would have under-promised and over-delivered against our initial expectations, and we, the flying sheep, would be thrilled.  High fives all around.

I’m sure as soon as the major airlines get wind of my brilliant idea, they will be lining up to see who can implement it first.  I can already see the slogan; "United Airlines, we’ll get you there, eventually."

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Tuesday, July 12, 2011

A Sense of Urgency

Do you have a sense of urgency about what you do, or, are you a procrastinator?

I love people who have a sense of urgency; these are my kind of people, people who get things done and produce results.

It’s a delicate balance though, ensuring that those of us who have that high sense of urgency are not misunderstood.  I know that for me, on occasion, my high sense of urgency has been misinterpreted by some and seen as either impatience on my part, or, an unreasonable level of accountability to which I have held my team members.

To avoid this, I have always made a habit of asking people who take on or are assigned specific tasks to set their own due dates.  Sure, I may have to ask them to conform to a certain time table in some instances, but wherever possible, I encourage my team members to establish their own time lines for completing projects, to heighten their sense of ownership and control of the situation and to demonstrate my commitment to empowering them as leaders.

The flip side, and I always make sure that my team members understand this going in, is an associated high level of accountability.  You take on a task and set your own time table, then I expect you to meet that deadline, and the majority of the time, if you have high performers in your midst, they will meet their deadlines and willingly take on more.

You know who these people are if they are in your operation and whether you recognize it or not, you have grown to count on them, and you hate it when they are not around.  (I used to hate it when my number 2, who had a tremendous sense of urgency and an equally amazing capacity for getting things done, would take extra days off or go on holidays.  It felt like nothing that I delegated to anyone else in her absence ever got done.  I was so used to, (and spoiled by), her high sense of urgency and her energy and the fact that whenever I followed up with her on anything, her response was almost always; “done.”)

More so, if you have had a person with that great sense of urgency working with you in a pivotal role, and they have left, usually because their talents and results have been recognized, and they have been promoted and transferred to another hotel, it has felt like the momentum has been sucked out of the operation in the days and weeks that followed.

I think the hotel business just naturally lends itself to attracting a high percentage of people with that sense of urgency about them, there is just too much to be done, too much multi-tasking required, and too many people counting on you for you to able to exist with a lackadaisical attitude.

I also find that, for the most part anyway, people who don’t possess that sense of urgency simply don’t survive in our business, they can’t.  As they try to exist by putting things off, and adding them to their ever-increasing list of things that they will get done, someday, their teams and their peers, grow intolerant of their lack of results, and sooner or later they are held accountable.

And you can’t teach it, you either have a high sense of urgency, or you don’t, it’s just that simple.

I wish you could teach it, then maybe I wouldn’t still be comparing every other leader I have ever worked with with that exceptional woman and expecting them to get as much done as she did.

We work with so many great, talented people that cross our paths, but every now and again, we work with someone truly exceptional who serves to set the bar higher for all those that follow in their footsteps.

"Without a sense of urgency, desire loses its value." ~ Jim Rohn

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Monday, July 4, 2011

Housekeeping Staff – Unsung Heroes

It’s no surprise to me that another survey has just recently come out that confirms that a guests’ number one priority in a hotel is cleanliness.

Sure, free internet and complimentary coffee is nice, and everyone appreciates a great bed with lush linens, but none of it matters if your room is not clean, if you look over at your beautiful bed and it does not immediately say “clean” to you, and I admit, I like it when my room smells fresh and clean as well.

And who is responsible for delivering on this imperative unspoken promise of cleanliness?  A dedicated group, made up mostly of women, who are responsible for cleaning an industry average of 15 rooms a day, each expected to exemplify, without exception, your company’s commitment to cleanliness.

And yet, I find all too frequently that the housekeeping staff are largely taken for granted.  Maybe it’s because they are largely not seen in the operation, in the same way that front office, bell and concierge staff are.

I’ve always had a soft spot for the housekeeping staff, especially the room attendants.  Maybe it’s because I worked during a strike, many many years ago, when I was first starting out in the industry, and when the staff first walked off the job, we were expecting a full house and as a result, the managers on duty had hundreds of rooms to clean.   I remember distinctly because I myself cleaned about 40 rooms during the next 16 hours after the strike broke out, and I have never worked so hard.

I don’t know if that’s what it was, I never thought about it specifically, I just know that one of the habits that I seem to have adopted early in my career that has stayed with me to this day is regularly walking the floors, from top to bottom, stopping at every room where the room attendant is working to chat for a few moments, see how their day is going, if there was anything that they needed, and so on.

Periodically, I would walk the floors with the director of human resources, on particularly hot days, and the director of human resources and I would hand out ice cream bars, or bottles of cold water.  The team was always so appreciative whenever we would do this.

But really, think about it, could you clean 15 rooms a day, in an 8 hour shift, every day, and clean them impeccably and to the standards that are required?  Not me.  I have cleaned rooms on several other occasions since that strike in the early days of my career and I am always struck with the same thought – how do they do it, every day, consistently and impeccably, and, with a smile on their face and a warm and welcoming demeanor?

Everyone works hard in a hotel, there is no denying it, but if for whatever reason you don’t find yourself in the heart of the house with any frequency, recognizing your unsung heroes, make a point of doing so today.

After all, these are the people consistently delivering on your brand promise, even when no one is looking, and a little encouragement goes a long way.

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Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Crisis Management at an Unprecedented Level

I read with horror recently of the terrorist attack that took place at the Hotel Inter-Continental Kabul, in Afghanistan, that ended with a NATO rocket attack on the last of the terrorists who were making their final stand on the roof of the hotel.

11 civilians were killed in the attack, excluding the terrorists, and needless to say, the hotel has sustained significant damage from the initial attack and the battle that followed.

While I was horrified for a number of obvious reasons, I could not help but wonder what it would be like to be the hotel general manager in this circumstance.  What must he or she have been through in the last 24 hours and what were they facing now, in the aftermath of this crisis?

Like many hotel general managers that have been in this business for any length of time, I have seen my share of crisis situations over the years; political protests, labour disputes, bomb scares, floods, fires, deaths, and terrorist threats, but it all pales in comparison to what this general manager is experiencing.

And having prepared crisis management plans, and as I said, having had to execute those plans at various times in my career, I wondered what the crisis management plan might look like at the Hotel Inter-Continental Kabul.  Did they in fact have a plan for an event of this scope and magnitude?  I hate to say it, but it is highly likely that they did, given their location and the state of unrest in Kabul and much of Afghanistan.

Still, I cannot really think that anything would adequately prepare you for this.  Who gets up in the morning and goes to work expecting that their hotel, and their guests, will be attacked by terrorists later that same day, and, that the fighting will only be stopped when a series of rockets are launched at your hotel rooftop?

Maybe, if nothing else, it reiterates the importance of always having an up to date, relevant crisis management plan, and ensuring that everyone knows their role in the event of a crisis – whatever that crisis may be. 

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