Sunday, November 28, 2010

Work Life Balance - In Search of the Secret Formula

Can anyone really define what work life balance means?

(If you think you can, I would love to hear from you, please).

I think it means very different things to different people, and at varying stages of their careers or career progression.

I know, for instance, that for me, especially early on in my career, my thirst for knowledge and progression was insatiable.

Learning, development, and personal growth remain at the top of my priority list and even now I am in the final days of completing my Bachelor’s Degree in Hospitality Management.

I love to learn, I love to be challenged, and as I once said to a friend of mine, I am happiest when I have about 20 things that all need to be done, simultaneously.  

I prefer to be going 100 miles per hour with my hair on fire – giddy up.

But, I also love my kids, and I love my down time, when I can get on my motorcycle and take off for hours, with no particular destination in mind.

I think the key is to be committed to whatever you’re doing at the time, without guilt or regret, and, to be “present, truly present.”

What do I mean by that?

Well, as an example, you can’t be trying to get 20 things done at work, simultaneously, if you are distracted by the fact that you should be at your daughter’s ballet recital right now, and not at work.

Or, if you are feeling guilty about something that happened yesterday, and now you are stuck in the would of, could of, should of cycle of second guessing yourself, or regretting your actions and feeling guilty about how you handled something.

And in either case, you are not truly “present” to what IS going on at the time, and that, is the worst part, especially when it is time to spend some quality time with your kids for example.

How present are you, for example, at that ballet recital if you are already thinking of where you need to be tomorrow, what you need to get done, what you didn’t finish, etc.?

You’re not.

You may be there physically, but you sure as heck aren’t there mentally, you aren’t “present.”

People miss a lot when they aren’t present, and it’s my observation at least, that that shows up more so in peoples’ personal lives than it does at work, although it shows up in your work as well.

What’s the bottom line?

Find your own balance, establish your own priorities, but once you do, be happy with your choice and live in the present.

Don’t live in the past, it’s gone, and don’t live into the future, who knows what tomorrow will bring.

Live in the present and be present.  

I promise you, if you do, if you really commit to being present, you’ll notice a whole new level of what’s possible at work, and, the people in your personal life will notice that when you’re with them, you really are with them, and they’ll appreciate it.

If you think I’m mistaken, ask your wife, your husband, or your kids, if they think that you are fully present when you’re with them.

I guarantee you’ll be surprised to hear that they have noticed that your head is elsewhere much of the time when you are with them.

You want work life balance?

Get present. 

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Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The Simplicity of Service

Have you ever noticed how, sometimes at least, the simplest thing can have an unexpected impact on you?

And, how sometimes the best examples of service can seemingly be the simplest?

Case in point . . .

I live in a new condominium complex in a newer, developing area, where, arguably, there has been quite a bit of development in the last 3 – 5 years.

As a result, my building, which is generally smaller and more intimate, and includes about 60 units in all, is only about 50% sold at this point.

And as a result of this situation, the newspaper carrier won’t go to the trouble to access the building to deliver my newspaper to the door (because I am 1 of only 2 tenants receiving this particular National newspaper at this time).  Instead, they drop it outside the main front door of the complex.

I like to read the local and National newspapers early every morning before I go for my morning run.

So, every morning when I get up, I throw on some clothes and I stumble down to the street to get my newspaper from outside, and some days, as you would expect, it’s raining or very cold, or both.

Now, this isn’t the end of the world or anything, and I have managed to survive this situation.

But recently, a new caretaker started for our building, and he gets in pretty early to start cleaning the main lobby and other public areas of the complex.

I know this because shortly after he started I started finding my newspaper neatly folded on a little corner table in the corner of the lobby every morning.

I didn’t immediately know who was doing this because the caretaker can be anywhere in the building, and all of a sudden my paper just started miraculously appearing on this table every morning.

Then one day, I happened down into the lobby just as he was coming in the building, and I saw him unwrapping my newspaper and carefully placing it on the table.

I made a point of thanking him for going to the trouble of doing what he was doing. Unfortunately, it turns out that his command of English was minimal, but I made sure, nonetheless, that he understood that I appreciated what he was doing.

This may seem like a small thing, an insignificant thing, and maybe it is, but I have always believed that it is in fact the little, seemingly unimportant or insignificant little gestures that staff provide to our guests that have the biggest impact.

You see, the caretaker could easily ignore the newspaper sitting out front, off to the side of the door, it’s not like he has to step over or around it to get in the door, and as a result, he feels that he is obliged to bring it inside.

And once inside, he could easily throw it in the corner, but no, he doesn’t.


I think it’s because of who he is, he takes pleasure, and pride I might add, in what he does, and he applies that to all of the facets of his life.

He simply can’t ignore that newspaper – that would probably be impossible for him.

That’s probably also why he looked at me like I was a crazy person when I went to such great lengths to let him know how much I appreciated him.

You know what they say; "take care of the little things and the big things will take care of themselves."

Regardless of whether you believe that or not, I think we can all agree that attention to detail always pays off. 

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Sunday, November 21, 2010

Uniforms - Making a Statement

How much emphasis do you put on ensuring that your staffs’ uniforms are in good condition and that they are making the right statement, one that supports your Brand?

Gone are the days when there were staff “line ups” where employees were given a quick once over to make sure that they looked like we expected them to, before they stepped out onto the floor to face our guests, and represent our Brand.

From personal hygiene and cleanliness to whether or not their uniform was properly cleaned, pressed, and in good condition.

Granted, those scenes might have been a bit extreme, but what it did do was drive home the importance of how employees looked, relative to their connected representation of the Hotel in which they worked.

What I come across more often now, is not so much employees who don’t recognize the (negative) statement that their torn, tattered, faded or frayed uniforms are making, but rather Managers who see that their employees’ uniforms look unacceptable, but tell me that they can’t afford new uniforms.

I can’t pretend that I don’t know how expensive uniforms can be, especially of course, depending on just how many employees you need to uniform.  It is a significant expense for any business, no argument.

However, what’s often missing in the first place, is a uniform plan, with respect to the issuing, cleaning, maintaining and on-going replacement of uniforms.

As a result, uniforms are often dealt with rather haphazardly and then everyone seems surprised when one day they realize that every uniform needs to be replaced and they are overwhelmed by the potential total cost of such an undertaking.

You need to find a solution to this problem, for two particularly compelling reasons:

1)      Whether you think so or not, your guests are noticing the state of your employees’ uniforms and it is making them call into question whether or not your Brand stands for the level of quality that you have stated, or, whether those are just words on paper.

Whether you like it or not, the two are connected, or at least they are to your guests.

2)      Your employees are embarrassed to be in these uniforms, and as a result, I can promise you that they are not putting their best effort into their job every day, not because they are embarrassed, but because this issue is distracting them from doing their job.

I am a firm believer that as General Managers, one of our most important responsibilities is to provide our employees with the tools and resources to do their job, period.

When employees can work without distractions they are far more productive and engaged, and their level of guest service reflects this as well. 

Lastly, don’t you just feel good when you know that you look good?

Sure you do.

And when you feel like you look good, don’t you stand just a little bit taller, a little bit prouder and more self assured, and isn’t that reflected in your body language, the smile on your face, and on and on.

Isn’t that the kind of person that you want representing your Hotel? 

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Wednesday, November 17, 2010

High Season - A Thing of the Past

I found myself in a debate just the other day, with a group of Hotel and other Hospitality Industry Professionals, on the topic of seasonality in the Hotel business.

My point?

I don’t believe that what was the traditionally busier summer “high season” exists anymore.

That’s not to say that there aren’t specialty destinations and resort areas that have clearly defined “high seasons,” whether in summer or at other times of the year.

Nor am I suggesting that there aren’t client shifts throughout the year where we see definitive peaks and valleys of demand from different market segments.

What I am saying is that for centres that used to see a specific, significant rise in their transient or IT business in the summer, those days are gone, or at least for the foreseeable future.

Time was when we could sit back and wait for the (much) higher rated summer season travellers to start trickling in, starting in the latter part of May, and continuing throughout the summer, until the end of September.

You could count on it, you could have set your watch by it, and as a result, we would confidently turn away or limit lower rated business during that period, because this was the time to generate some significant revenue for the year.

And conferences and major conventions weren’t booking during this period either, usually because it was cost prohibitive, assuming that their delegates didn’t mind holding their conference in the summer in the first place.

Now, you just don’t see those dramatic increases in the transient or IT business in the summer, there are just too many factors preventing Mr and Mrs Smith and their 2.5 children from taking that (perceived to be expensive) vacation in the summer.

You could argue what those factors are, and there are lots of opinions about what is causing the current reductions in travel to Canada; increased international competition, strength of the Canadian dollar, the continued negativity in the US economy, and Canada’s reliance on the US traveller.

Regardless of the reasons, it’s a fact, or at least that is my position.

To further support my position, I can tell you that we have had more city-wide conventions this summer than ever before, and, I know what the average rate was for many of them at the downtown 4 star Hotels, and it certainly doesn’t compare with the traditionally higher transient rates that I referred to earlier.

The other basis for my opinion is the market intelligence that I gather on the street.

I am in and out of the downtown Hotels every day, and I always stop and talk to the front staff, the bellmen and doormen in particular, and I ask them how it’s going, and what their telling me just reinforces my argument.

They are very clear that they are NOT seeing the levels of business in the summer that they used to, and specifically not from what was that summer leisure traveller that I alluded to earlier.  It just isn’t happening.

The bell curve just isn’t as dramatic anymore.  Sure, there is still more business, overall, outside of the colder late-fall and winter months, than there is when the climate is perceived to be better in the Spring and Summer, but the curve just doesn’t have that mid-year spike that it used to.

It’s just another reason that I think Hoteliers need to re-think their business models and adapt to the changing demands of the market.

We’re not in Kansas anymore Toto. 

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Sunday, November 14, 2010

Social Media Strategy – Do You Have One?

Every day it seems that I learn something new as it relates to social media.

The impact of social media is everywhere.

The latest issue, is the impact, the use, and the potential use of, social media as it relates to revenue management.  

This latest issue reminds me of what I consider to be the evolution of revenue management.

We all know where revenue management came from – the airlines, and they have clearly mastered its use over the years.

But what I’m referring to is the evolution in Hotels, and specifically, when revenue management started to gain some recognition and respect as an important tool to maximize room revenues.

This also contributed to how a lot of revenue managers were “born”.

Once upon a time we all had reservation managers and as General Managers many of us spent a lot of time with our reservation managers reviewing group blocks, pick up, ROB growth, pace reports and competitive reports.  

We were revenue managing, we just didn’t define it as such.

As time progressed, and technology advanced, our reservations managers were drawn more and more into the technical side of things, the deeper analysis of trends and patterns, and the like.  Most, while still managing the reservations process, the office, the staffing and all the other components of effectively managing a reservations office.

Then one day it occurred to us – this is more than can be effectively managed by one person, and if we’re going to win the game amongst our competitors, we need someone solely concentrating on revenue management.

We summoned our reservations manager to our office, sat them down and gave them the good news . . . congratulations, you’re our new revenue manager.

Now, in my opinion, we are in the same place with social media.  We are asking someone, and in this case our revenue manager, to manage this off the side of their desk, while maintaining their attention on revenue management.

Something is going to suffer, it has to, because social media too is now too big to be lumped in to someone’s existing duties, especially your revenue manager.

Mastering social media, if that’s even possible, requires a special skill set and a dedicated focus.

If you want to win this round, and be ahead of the curve and not simply a follower, you need to develop a strategy to deal with social media, now, and then dedicate the necessary resources to effectively implement your strategy.

The problem, as I see it, is that no one has yet figured out how to truly measure the ROI from the impact of social media, and that is definitely going to keep Hotel companies from committing to add another body to the management structure.

No one is going to want to sit in front of an owner and try and pitch the idea of having someone solely dedicated to social media in their Hotel, without some solid data to support it, and therein lies the problem, at least for the moment.  

Regardless, everyone will come around to this, that much I can promise you.

The question is; where do you want to be when it does?

You know how we’re all waiting for the next big thing, whatever that is?

Well, this is it.  Now that you know, what are you going to do about it? 

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Tuesday, November 9, 2010

When is the Last Time That You Ate in the Staff Cafeteria?

Are you a regular in the staff cafeteria at your Hotel?

If your answer is “no,” you are missing out on a lot of opportunities, and, you are unnecessarily distancing yourself from the majority of your staff.

I have always made it a habit to dine in the staff cafeteria as much as possible, the only exceptions being when I have been entertaining clients, and I have even taken some clients to the staff cafeteria.

This is not something that I have to think about doing – I have always enjoyed my visits to the staff cafeteria, and spending time there has provided me with a wealth of information, while gaining the respect and support of my staff.

For me, this is like walking the floors, which I also try to do every day.

When I come across one of our room attendants on the floor and I ask her how it’s going today, and she knows that I know her family situation as an example, because we have had a nice chat in the staff cafeteria previously, she is more likely to give me an honest answer, one that speaks to the connection that we have made, as people, not as General Manager and Room Attendant.

And that wouldn’t be possible, were it not for the times that I have pulled up a chair at the table where one of my groups of employees were gathered for lunch and asked if I could join them.

From those times we have shared stories about the challenges of raising kids and other information that we have in common and after a time, if I have been lucky, they have come to see me as another “person” through the conversations that we have shared over lunch, or perhaps when I have followed up with them later, when I have seen them on the floors, working so hard as they always do.

And there is no better way to find out what is really going on in your Hotel.

How is that new employee program really being received and perceived, amongst your employees?

Has the roll out been ineffective?  

Have employees misunderstood the information or the intent?

You’ll soon find out, but what’s better, is the fact that now that you know, now that you are presented with this information in a casual conversation in the staff cafeteria, you have the opportunity to address the situation, now, not in a month when the information has finally filtered its way up to you.

And not to be ignored or overlooked as an equally important piece of information; how is the food in your staff cafeteria?

If you don’t eat there with any frequency, you won’t know, and what’s worse, your employees will think that you do know, and as a result, you either don’t care, or, that that’s the reason why you never eat there.  

Either way, it’s not good, and it’s certainly not going to help your relationship with your employees.

So, push back from the table in your dining room, put down your nice cloth napkin, and head for the staff caf, you’ll be glad you did.

And while you’re at it, make sure that ALL of your Managers are taking the majority of their meals in the staff cafeteria as well.

Let’s face it, if there are opportunities and positive messaging from you eating in the staff cafeteria with your employees on a regular basis, imagine the positive impact if ALL of the Management team is eating in the staff cafeteria the majority of the time.  

Doesn’t that send the right message to your employees? 

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Sunday, November 7, 2010

Commitment – How Committed Are You?

I haven’t worked for some time now – 6 months to be exact.

That isn’t to say that I haven’t worked at all for the past 6 months, I have in fact taken care of a couple of smaller one-off projects since leaving my last full-time contracted job earlier this year.

However, it has been 6 months since I left my last significant project, where I was responsible for overseeing 3 existing Hotels, while opening a 4th Hotel for the same company.

As often happens when you find yourself with some time in between projects, you have the time to reflect on a number of factors that you wouldn’t otherwise either have the time to think about, or, you just wouldn’t necessarily be thinking about these things in the course of your normal day.

Such is the case with me and the topic of commitment.

As I said, I haven’t had a full-time, continuous project or job for the last 6 months.

That doesn’t mean that I haven’t had opportunities or job offers since leaving my last job.

I have in fact had about a half dozen offers or opportunities in the last 6 months, but they weren’t right for me, and as a result, it simply wouldn’t have been right to pursue them.

It wouldn’t have been fair to my prospective employer.

Along the way, I’ve had people say to me; “why don’t you take the job, and then you can look for something better?”

Even as I write that statement, I can’t fathom the concept, and yet I know that people do this, every day – they settle.  They settle for less than what they are capable of, and, for less than their employer deserves, which is a 100% commitment.

You see, when I take something on, I am committed to it, 100%. 

I am committed to my team, to my Brand, to my Owner, to everyone and everything that encompasses that job and what it means to take it on with velocity and integrity.

So how could I take a job, only to use it as a springboard to get a better job?

And what does that say about my level of commitment, (and integrity I might add), when I am discussing my “next” job with my next prospective employer, and he or she invariably asks me why I want to leave my current position?

Can you imagine looking across the boardroom table and saying; “oh, I only took that job while I was looking for a better job.”

Outstanding!  Now there’s a person that I want to hire, right now – NOT.

I also had a very flattering and generous offer to teach, albeit part-time, in a Hospitality Degree program, and I would have enjoyed that for the time being, although as I mentioned, it was only part-time, and it’s not what I am ultimately meant to be doing.

I realized when I sat down to review the situation that I couldn’t accept the position.

In this case, it was because of my commitment to myself and to finding the right opportunity for me, and for my future, for the long-term.

I know myself and my level of commitment well enough to know that if I had taken on the teaching position, I would have dedicated myself to being an exceptional instructor.

I would have been keenly aware that I had a responsibility to my students, to the College faculty and to the reputation of the College, and as a result, I would have been obsessed with the quality and content of my teaching materials, audio visuals, etc…

I knew that I could not accomplish this without sacrificing on my commitment to finding my next long-term project, and as such, I had to regrettably and respectfully decline.

I remain committed to the school, and to continuing on with my advisory, mentorship and occasional speaking engagements for them, and thankfully, they understand the level of commitment that I demonstrate in everything that I do, and it is one of the qualities of mine that has earned their respect.

Commitment is an important quality to me, and it shows in everything that I do.

How committed are you to what you’re doing right now?

And how committed are the people in your organization?

As a Leader, you have a responsibility to inspire those around you.  To create a vision for the future that others want to be a part of.

Can you do that if you aren’t committed to what you are doing? 

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Wednesday, November 3, 2010

How Can We Change the World if You Won’t Look Me in the Eye?

I was in Ottawa a while back, to visit my daughter, who is in the Masters English program at the University of Ottawa, and she encouraged me to attend a “slam poetry competition” with her.

If you know me, you would know that I am about as likely to be at a slam poetry competition as I am to be found walking on the moon.

That said, you would also know that I have often attended events like this, at the urging of my daughter, because she is a very thoughtful young woman who believes in experiencing as much of life as possible.

Through her, I have experienced many things that I might otherwise not have been as open to, and I have always left a better person than when I arrived, as was the case when I did indeed attend the slam poetry competition.

There was a young man there whose poem was based upon the premise of the question; how can we change the world if you won’t look me in the eye?

It was a very powerful poem that reinforced that our expectations of ending wars and other lesser conflicts are in fact somewhat naive when we consider that we can’t even look each other in the eye.

It’s a simple concept, but it is so true.

Coincidently, a short time later, I attended a training program where one of the exercises was to stand, face to face, with a stranger, and look them in the eye for 5 minutes.

I cannot tell you how many people in the program had difficulty with this exercise, even though by the time we did it, we had spent several hours together, so we weren’t really strangers anymore.

Nonetheless, people had a tough time of it, but once completed, everyone was equally as moved by what they had experienced, myself included, and I would count myself as someone who does look people in the eye, and did so long before this.

Regardless though, it has stayed with me since then, and I have been keenly aware, as I have walked around my city, attended meetings, crammed myself into an elevator with many others, of just how little eye contact goes on in a given day.

It’s sad really, but with the advancement of technology and the prolific use of things like the iPod, people are completely withdrawn from each other, and from the rest of the world that surrounds them.

It does beg the question; how can we change the world if you won’t look me in the eye?

Hotels, I’ll give you, are an exception to this situation, thankfully.

Clearly, someone figured this one out a long time ago and it has been a part of our commitment to service since Hotels first began to spring up, all over the world, a cornerstone with which our service training has built upon.

I could be wrong, but I think Hotel people, people who have chosen the hospitality industry as their chosen profession, are up to great things.

These are people, who, at their core, care about other people, so who better to take up the cause.

Ghandi said; “be the change that you want to see in the world.”

So here’s my challenge to you: take your commitment to people and spread it beyond the four walls of your Hotel, be the change that you want to see in the world and inspire others through your actions. 

Need an experienced hospitality professional to help your property reach its full potential?  Contact me.

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Tuesday, November 2, 2010

The Value of a Great Mentor

I’m lucky, I have a friend, a successful designer and colour expert, her name is Maria Killam, and she has been writing a very successful Blog, Colour Me Happy, for the past several years.

It was in fact Maria that initially inspired me to start writing my Blog, about 7 months ago now.   

She encouraged me to take my years of knowledge and experience, and my passion for the Hospitality Industry, and share it with others who share my interest and my passion.

As I mentioned earlier, Maria has been writing her Blog – Colour Me Happy, for several years now, and it has significantly benefited and contributed to the success of her business.

She has learned a lot about Blogging since she began, and luckily for me, she is more than willing to share her knowledge with me in an effort to assist me and to help me make sure that my Blog stays true to me and what I intended when I started out.

It is, in that regard, that I consider her a mentor to me.

What I knew about Blogs when I first started, you could have fit on the head of a pin.

Sure, I know plenty about the Hospitality business, but Blogging, not so much.

But I think what I value the most about my friendship with Maria is the level of our friendship, which translates into the kind of conversations that we have.

You see, Maria and I aren’t what I would call superficial friends, which is, if we are honest with ourselves, the way that most of our friendships are.

Most friends, if you meet them for lunch, or see them socially, regardless of the venue, your conversation sounds something like this:

A: How are you?
B: Oh, I’m great, how are you?
A: I’m great too, thanks for asking.  How’s work going?
B: Work is great.  How about you?
A: Oh, me too, work is great.  The kids, your family?
B: Great, kids are great, husband’s great, everything is just super.

Superficial.  Everyone is WAY too busy worrying about looking good, and avoiding looking bad, to ever admit that they are having any difficulties or challenges in their life.

When Maria and I get together we honestly share how things are going in our lives, where we might be struggling or challenged, what’s working and what’s not.

The level of integrity that we bring to our relationship, and to our conversations, is without compromise.

As a result, when Maria gives me feedback on my Blog, and various articles that I have written, I know that she is genuine and sincere in her feedback, and she knows that is what I want – honest feedback.

There have been several occasions, since I started writing, where Maria has called me up and said; “I just read your last post and I didn’t get it, at all,” or, “that last post didn’t sound like you,” “don’t preach, people don’t wanted to be lectured to.”

So, conversely, when  she has called me up to tell me that she loved my last post, or that it really spoke to her, or reminded her of the importance of a particular issue, I KNOW that she means it, she didn’t just say it to make me feel good.

She knows, and I appreciate, that no one benefits from feedback that isn’t honest.

Maria understands, as do I, that I can only get better from hearing ALL of the feedback, not just the good stuff.  She knows how to deliver the bad news when it's called for.

That is why I value her, and her opinion.

And that, is why I constantly seek out her opinion, I know that she knows much more than I do about Blogging, and, I know that I will get her honest and direct feedback and suggestions.

To me anyway, that has the makings of a great mentor relationship, (and in our case, a great over-riding friendship, period).

I have always made a point of aligning myself with people who know more than I do and that are generous enough to share their knowledge and experiences with me, so that I might continuously improve. 

It’s also why I have always been active in providing my mentorship to hospitality students and junior managers, in particular, as they seek to learn and grow.

Do you have a mentor, or perhaps more than one?

Or are you mentoring anyone in your organization?

No one knows it all and we can all benefit from a little help along the way. 

Need an experienced hospitality professional to help your property reach its full potential?  Contact me.

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