Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Orientation - The Basis of a Strong Foundation

I have always appreciated the value and importance of a proper, thorough orientation for new employees, regardless of the level of your position when joining the company.

A proper, well thought out orientation is no less important to the manager joining your team than it is to the first-time employee, perhaps more so.

As a manager, you are counting on him or her to model the behavior consistent with the brand, and in doing so, to lead by example and help to reinforce and instill in your employees the fundamental principles of your brand, and what defines it and differentiates it from other hotels.

That point was probably never more apparent to me than when I joined a new company a number of years ago and received virtually no orientation whatsoever.

Let me paint the picture for you.  My role was at a corporate level, rather than at a hotel specifically.  I had inquired in advance of arriving for my first day if there was anything that I should orchestrate related to my orientation, and was told “no”, that would not be necessary.  I was asked what time I usually liked to arrive at work, and when I said that I like to be in the office by 7:00am or 7:30am, I was asked to come in at 8:00am, at which time I would be met by the president of the company.

I arrived a few minutes before 8:00am and was able to access the floor that the company offices were located on, but there was no one out front, at reception, so I made my way down the corridor to where I had previously met with the president of the company, in his office.  

The president was seated at his desk, in his office, with the (glass) door closed, I approached, knocked and he gestured for me to come in, at which point he invited me to have a seat across from him.  I did so and after a few minutes of exchanging cordialities, he stopped abruptly and looked at me and said; “so, what can I tell you?”  Fortunately, I had prepared a number of questions that I had hoped to have answered through the course of my first day of orientation, and so I began to ask my questions.  

Periodically, during the next 20 minutes or so, as I was going through my questions, the president would stop to check his voice mail, make a few notes, or, make a call, and I could see that he was becoming annoyed as he had other things that he clearly wanted to address, that did not include talking to me. 

Without any warning he got up and asked me to follow him, said he would show me around.  We walked around the perimeter of the offices and he stopped to introduce me to the handful of people that had arrived early that day, first names only and without telling me what their role at the company was.  We continued on until we reached what I was to discover was my office, at which point he said to me; “and this is where you will work out of.”  He gestured for me to go on in at which point he said; “okay, we’ll talk some more later,” and he left.

I spent the next couple of hours with the company directory organizing my own orientation, and I remember thinking at the time what a missed opportunity it would have been, had I not been the kind of person to take charge of the situation, as well as being someone who sees the value of properly orientating people to the specifics of their job, the tools or resources available to them, the expectations for the position, and, the values and guiding principles that are the foundation of the company.

Sure, I managed to flush all of that out over the next couple of days, but imagine how much more powerful it would have been for me to hear that message delivered by the company president.

It’s another reminder of the important role that the hotel general manager should play in the orientation of every employee. 

It has, and continues to be a priority that I meet every employee before they are hired and I have also always played a key role in employee orientations, using my time with the new-hires to focus on our commitment to service and to lay out the foundation of our values and guiding principles and to ensure that each and every employee understands their role in contributing to our mutual success.

Not to do so would, in my opinion, be a missed opportunity.  After all, this is your culture we’re talking about, can you afford to leave it to chance?

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

New to this Blog?  Click here to subscribe by email and never miss another post.      

Monday, March 28, 2011

Are You Making Enough Mistakes?

One of the best interview questions I have ever used is; tell me about a mistake you made and what you learned from the experience?

It’s always interesting to see the response that I get, because all too often people do not want to think about the mistakes that they made, usually any longer than they have to, trying to banish the experience from their memory as quickly as possible, which is too bad, because they are missing a rich opportunity to learn and grow.

Often, when I am speaking to hospitality students and they ask me what piece of advice I might give them, I tell them; don’t be afraid to make mistakes, and when you do, don’t run away from them, but rather use them, as an opportunity to expand yourself.

Unfortunately, people are generally way too caught up in the need to be perfect to embrace mistakes and be willing to share them, and in doing so, to share the learned experience so others can benefit from their mistake.

And when someone tells me that they rarely if ever make mistakes, it automatically makes me wonder whether or not that is true of course, but also, if it is true, then it also makes me wonder whether or not they are risk takers or not.

I spent a lot of time in my earlier article entitled; Risk, Playing to Win or Playing Not to Lose, discussing this situation and peoples’ inherent need to look good or avoid looking bad, and also one of my favourite quotes on this subject; “in order to succeed you must fail, so that you know what not to do the next time.”

As I said in my earlier post, I’m not suggesting risk for risk’s sake but rather someone who looks for opportunities which may involve some degree of calculated risk, which tells me that someone is willing to risk looking bad, risk making a mistake, in pursuit of an idea – that’s a leader.

If you’re not taking a risk now and again, then maybe, just maybe, you are guilty of playing it safe and living in the world of complacency, and that is no place to live, certainly not for any length of time anyway.

I can certainly appreciate that there are times when it is more appropriate not to take risks, where it may be (incorrectly) seen as being reckless, depending on what is at stake, and especially in volatile or uncertain times in the marketplace where brand managers or owners have no appetite for risk, calculated or not. 

That said, the key is always in communication.  If you are consistently in communication with your brand manager or your owner, discussing and presenting your well thought out ideas and proposals, then you will know when you have their support for your idea or proposal, and they will be fully aware of the potential benefits, AND, the potential risks. 

So, ask yourself, if you were being interviewed right now and someone asked you to tell them about a mistake that you’ve made and what you learned from the experience, what would your answer be?  And, how far back in your career would you have to go to think of an example worth sharing?

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

New to this Blog?  Click here to subscribe by email and never miss another post.      

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Nothing Works Without Integrity

Sounds pretty obvious, doesn’t it?

And depending on how that statement landed for you, you may even be wondering what’s new, or different, that I could possibly bring to this topic.

For starters, put aside your traditional view of integrity, which is still important, and forms part of the conversation on the subject, but what I am suggesting is that you look at whether or not you are bringing integrity into everything that you do, even when you may think that it doesn’t matter.

You see, people think of integrity, as an example, as “keeping your word” which again, is important, but in the leadership group that I have recently been spending my time with, they think of integrity as “honouring your word” which is much more than simply keeping your word.

To compound that further, they consider it giving your word any time you commit to something – in short, if you say you are going to do something, be somewhere at a certain time, etc., they consider that having given your word to the situation.  

Now you may have jumped ahead and thought to yourself; that’s impossible, no one can keep their word to everything that happens, things come up, unexpectedly and out of your control, which is true.  It’s also why they emphasize honouring your word, because they too know that there are times when you are not going to be able to live up to what you promised, or, you simply need to break your word.  Sh** happens.

The difference is, when sh** happens in their world, they are committed to taking immediate action to restore their integrity, by honouring their word and taking responsibility for the impact that not having kept their word has on those around them, and they “clean up” the situation.  They get in contact with the people who have been impacted by the situation, they genuinely apologize for the impact on them, and they take responsibility, without adding any excuses, reasons or justifications.

As a result, people know them as someone whose word is golden, someone who means everything that comes out of their mouth, regardless of whether one item may appear to be more significant than the other, they know nonetheless, that if they said it, they meant it, fully and completely – not in degrees of importance or shades of gray.

Consider another example; let’s say a four-legged chair that is missing one leg.  The chair is out of integrity. Sure, you could use the chair, if you’re careful, which is to say that you can operate when your integrity isn’t at 100% but it takes some effort, and it’s not sustainable, but you could make it work.

Is anyone going to want to sit on that chair?  Not if they don’t have to, because they can see that the situation is not stable, they can see the integrity that is missing, so they’ll use the chair, if they have to, but they will do so cautiously.

Then consider that a lot of the people that we deal with are much the same as that chair, we think of them as people that we can probably count on, most of the time, for the big stuff, but if pushed on the subject, we’d admit that we can see instances where promises were made, that were subsequently broken, phone calls not returned, meetings missed or late arriving, all without so much as a word to recognize the impact on those affected by their actions.  In short – they are not their word.

If you’ve pushed through to this point but seen all of this as a morale judgment or preaching on my part, let me just say that it was intended as neither.   But it is important to remember that as leaders, what we say matters, people are counting on us, and if you are willing to continuously evaluate your leadership, then in this case, it will mean asking yourself if you really mean everything that you say, when you say it, or, are there degrees to which you are your word?

It’s just a question, and no one really knows the answer, except you.

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

New to this Blog?  Click here to subscribe by email and never miss another post.      

Monday, March 21, 2011


Aretha Franklin knew what she was talking about, (or, to be more accurate, singing about), when she first belted out the lyrics to her now infamous song; Respect.

I’ll go you one further and suggest that it’s really the issue of mutual respect that makes a difference with the people that we work with, and for that matter, everyone in our lives.

It is somewhat ironic to me that many people walk around perplexed about why they have the challenging relationships that they do with some of the people in their lives, and, instead of looking inward and asking themselves who they are being in that relationship, they look outward, only, at what they perceive is “wrong” with the other person.

I’ve said it repeatedly and I have no doubt that I will continue to reference that I believe, particularly as it relates to the hospitality business, that it’s all about relationships, and if that’s the case, then how can you expect to have a solid relationship with your co-workers, the people who report to you, whomever, if you do not first start with a solid foundation of mutual respect.

It reminds me of a great quote that I came across recently, which said; “putting icing on mud does not make it a cake, it’s still just icing on top of mud,” and that’s like a lot of the relationships that we have with the people in our lives, especially the people that we work with.  We don’t get to the real source of knowing, understanding and respecting people, but instead we try to cover it up by pretending or being nice – icing on top of mud. 

And don’t be fooled into thinking that you’re fooling anyone – you’re not.  Your staff know when you are not being genuine with them, they know when you do not respect them, respect their contribution, and in an ironic twist of fate, as a result, they lose respect for you as a leader.

It’s not unlike the classic golden rule; do unto others as you would have them do unto you, or in other words, treat others as you would want to be treated.  It’s a simple and straight forward concept, and yet many people cannot see it.

I was in what would best be described as a coaching conversation the other day with a person in a significant leadership role within a hotel, and he was expressing his frustration to me that, in his opinion, his employees did not respect him, to which I asked him the question; “do you respect them?”

In the conversation that ensued I discovered that his version of respect was based on hierarchy.  He was running around with the misguided belief that his employees should respect him because of his position in the company, regardless of his actions and who he was being, and whether or not he respected his employees had no bearing on the situation as far as he was concerned.  It served to remind me of how far we have come in the hospitality business, (well, most of us), from the era of; “if I want your opinion I’ll tell you what it is,” to the world that we operate in now, that is respectful of the individual contribution that each and every one of our employees makes when we enable and empower them to be all that they can be.

As I said when I posted my article; Labour Relations – Out With the Old, In With the New, managers, all managers, need to take a new look at the relationships that they have with their employees and remember a few simple facts along the way:

Manage your relationships, all the time, not just when you need them, and,

“People don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care.”  

Want to take your relationships to an all new level, make sure that they are built on a foundation of mutual respect, and not icing on top of mud.

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

New to this Blog?  Click here to subscribe by email and never miss another post.          

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Good Morning, This is Your Wake-Up Call

The recent events in Japan, resulting from the almost unprecedented 8.9 magnitude earthquake and the tsunami that followed should serve as a wake-up call to hoteliers all over the world.

You could argue that there was nothing more that could have been done to better prepare the hardest hit areas from experiencing the devastation that they have.  Earthquakes in Japan are nothing new and as a result, they have implemented a great many technological advancements in this area over the years to protect their people, their businesses and their infrastructure.

But this isn’t about Japan.  This is about you and your business, your employees and your guests.

How prepared are you, in the event of a natural (or man-made) disaster?  Could you, your employees and your guests survive, without any outside assistance, for 7 days?

It’s a tough question, but I would suggest that it is an important one to ask yourself, and, if you don’t like the answer, to take action, now, to ensure a more positive outcome than you would likely project at this moment.

I am confident that if I polled the major branded hotels in major destinations, they would all have an emergency plan and/or a business continuity plan – I know, because I participated in the exercise and helped to write some of them, but I also know that when we first wrote many of these plans, we identified what we would need, as dedicated emergency supplies, in order to withstand and survive a major disaster situation for 5 – 7 days, and it wasn’t cheap.

That, at the time, created a problem – the cost to adequately stockpile the necessary amounts of bottled water, blankets, flashlights and other essentials was cost prohibitive, and then there was the challenge of identifying a dedicated space to store these supplies, where they would (hopefully) be accessible in the event of a crisis, depending of course, on what that crisis was.

So what was the answer?

In many cases, the answer was to develop a long-term plan to purchase the necessary supplies over time, to offset the costs, as well as identifying and preparing a space to store the supplies, and to develop some sort of policies and procedures to deal with the need to rotate the stock to some degree, to ensure that any of the consumables, along with things like flashlight batteries, were not rendered useless over time.

So what has happened since then?

I would speculate that the honest answer would be; “not much.”

In the face of the economic challenges that seem to have plagued our industry for at least the last decade, I would wager, with considerable confidence, that most, if not all, of the items that were once deemed necessary to survive a crisis, have repeatedly been deferred in favour of more immediate demands on limited funds.

So, what’s the answer?

The answer will vary somewhat from property to property, to some degree, but I would argue that the case needs to be made, now, to hotel owners and/or management companies, while the horrific images coming out of parts of Japan are still fresh in peoples’ minds, that this issue needs to be dealt with, now, because continuing to delay on the necessary emergency preparedness essentials is akin to playing Russian roulette with your business and the lives of your employees and your guests.

Many hotels and/or hotel companies share a common commitment, which manifests itself in the statement that; “the safety and security of our guests and our employees is our #1 priority.”

I believe that’s true, so now it’s time to walk the talk . . .This is your wake-up call . . .

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

New to this Blog?  Click here to subscribe by email and never miss another post.          

Monday, March 14, 2011

Fine Dining - The Death of an Era

Earlier this week the news was all a buzz about 2 major restaurants, owned by renowned chef Daniel Boulud, that announced that they would be closing in the next few weeks.

Daniel, and his partners, were quoted as having blamed the closing on the “perfect storm” of economic factors, which they have been unable to overcome, and certainly I can empathize with restaurant and bar owners who have had to deal with the new HST, and the tougher drinking and driving laws that have recently come into place.

Everyone knows that the profit margins in restaurants are low, and in particular if your restaurant’s food to liquor ratio is quite high.  At least if you are serving higher percentages of liquor, beer and wine, you have the benefit of higher yield from beverage sales to at least somewhat offset the low profit margins from food sales, but if the majority of your sales is food, good luck.

The other friend of the successful restaurant is volume.  If you can turn the restaurant over two or three times an evening, the majority of the days that you are open, and assuming a decent average check as well, you are doing well.

Regardless, some restaurants will make it, and some will not.  As I sited in my previous post; “Opening Soon – Are You Crazy?” 80% of all new restaurants do not survive past their second anniversary, but these two restaurants had several good years under their belt at this point.

I believe that they were doomed to failure for another reason – a failure to adapt from what was “fine dining” to what a truly memorable dining experience has become.

People are no longer looking for white table clothes and fine linen napkins as the definition of the environment of an exceptional dining experience.  In fact, I would argue that in many, many cases, the sight of an overly formal “dining room” can be enough for people to turn around and promptly exit stage left in search of an alternative location.  Who hasn’t been turned off by finding themselves in an overly formal room, where you feel like you need to be in a suit and tie and that whispering is the only form of acceptable conversation over dinner.  The serving staff looks like they have just come from the opera and everything about the restaurant screams pretentious.  

What people are looking for are any one of a number of variations of a simple common theme; good, fresh local ingredients, prepared and presented in a unique and captivating manner by knowledgeable and friendly staff, highlighting and celebrating the region where the restaurant is located.  Sure, the setting plays a role, but not one of pretentiousness, but rather a clean, warm and inviting room where people feel truly welcome and comfortable to settle in for a while, to enjoy the company of their friends and family in an environment where the food is the star, not the room.  It’s about the experience.

That’s the formula for sustainable success in the restaurant business today.  The time for table clothes and stuffy rooms where you feel like you need to pass a social status test in order to enter is over.  Special occasion restaurants, as many of these tend to be, are not sustainable.  If it takes an anniversary or other special occasion, for everyone to feel the need to dress up to go out for dinner, that won’t be enough to keep people coming through the doors, and your days are numbered.

Fail to adapt and you face extinction.

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

New to this Blog?  Click here to subscribe by email and never miss another post.          

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Leadership, Even When No One is Watching

I’ve just returned from what could best be described as a leadership conference, where people from Western Canada and the Pacific Northwest of the United States met for 3 days to discuss a multitude of leadership issues – to expand our thinking, challenge our preconceived notions of what it means to be an effective leader, and in the process, develop ourselves to be better leaders as a result.

This conference wasn’t singularly about leadership as it applies to business, and as such, there were leaders in the room from every walk of life, with a wide variety of interests, but all of us were clearly focused on the common traits of great leaders, and what it takes to lead a life committed to leadership, and in doing so, to change the world, one person at a time.

One of the themes that we spent some time on over the weekend struck a particular chord with me.

We’ve all heard the expression; “do the right thing, even when no one is watching,” in one setting or another at some point in our lives, but what we spent some time talking about this weekend was the need to “be the great leader that you are, (or are aspiring to be), even when no one is watching.”

You might think that the leap from “doing the right thing even when no one is watching” to “being the great leader that you are, even when no one is watching,” is not a leap at all, but a given.  Surely, someone who is committed to being a great leader would consistently do the right thing, even when no one is watching, but what I’m asking you to ask yourself, as we did this weekend, is; are you being the great leader that you are, in every facet of your life, all of the time?

As an example, do you demonstrate your commitment to leadership, and what it means to be a great leader, to your children?  Do they know you as a great leader?

Take the morality out of what you’re thinking right now, this isn’t about right and wrong and teaching your children the important differences.  

THIS, is about who you are, who you are being in life, and how you choose to approach your life.  Are you standing as a leader in your life, or, like many people, are there times when you turn your leadership on and off, choosing instead at times to take a back seat, let life unfold and “see how it goes,” leaving it instead for others to take the lead.

I found it to be an interesting question, one worth spending some time on, and I encourage you to do the same.

For me, it brought a whole new meaning to the expression; leading by example.

Leadership is a life-long learning and the path to mastery lies in the questions and our ability to be open to experience new things, challenge ourselves, and allow ourselves to be challenged by others, and in the process to continue to learn and grow.

What kind of leader are you, even when no one is watching?

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

New to this Blog?  Click here to subscribe by email and never miss another post.          

Monday, March 7, 2011

What We Can All Learn About Leadership From an 18 Month Old

I went out to visit my long time best friend, Richard, at his new house on the weekend.  He had just recently moved there with his wife Alison and his two children; Lauren, who is 4 years old, and Justin, who is 18 months old.  

When I arrived, I was greeted by my friend and we chatted briefly at the door, at which point Richard looked at his son Justin, who was cradled in the safety of his father’s arms, and said; “can you say hi to Uncle Dale?”   

Justin’s response; “why?”

Sensing an opportunity for some fun banter with Justin, I launched into a conversation with him that went something like this . . .

Dale: “Why, because I came all the way out here to see you and your sister, your Dad and your Mom.”

Justin: “Why?”

Dale: “Because I like your Mom and Dad, and I think you and your sister are pretty cool too, so I thought I’d come out to see you.”

Justin: “Why?”

Dale: “Because your Dad told me he’d feed me if I came out to see you.”

Justin: “Why?”

Dale: “Because he knew I wouldn’t drive all this way if he didn’t bribe me with food and wine, lots of wine.”

And so our conversation went for about another 10 minutes with me trying to think of ever increasingly creative answers to his single continued response to everything that I said, which you might have guessed was “why?”

On my drive home later I was reflecting on my conversation with Justin and it reminded me of the power of that question; why?

All too often, and even when time does permit, decisions are made, action is taken, without anyone ever asking the question, why?  Why is THIS the right decision?  Why is THIS the right course of action?

I was telling my friend Richard that I was going to write this article, based on my conversation with his son, and after we had been speaking for a while, he told me that one of the best managers that he ever worked for, early in his career, used to ask him why all the time.  He told he that at first he resented the fact that she always seemed to be questioning his decisions, but then he realized that by asking him why, she was creating an environment where she was making sure that he had the proper background for his proposals and such, and as a result, when he had to brief a member of the government on a sensitive issue, (which he needed to do regularly), he was exceedingly knowledgeable on the topic, which always led to a positive outcome because he had done his homework.  He had made sure that he could answer the question of why, even when it was never asked.  He felt that this in turn had contributed to making him a better manager.

For me, it is always important to ask why, but perhaps in particular when it comes to decisions that are made on a repetitive basis, almost as a reflex.  You know the type.  An issue comes up and everyone immediately says “this is what we need to do,” and when you ask why, the automatic reflex again is for everyone to say; “because this is what we always do.”  That, in my opinion, is one of the most important times to ask why, to challenge the status quo.  Maybe the answer is to do the same thing as you have done the last few times that this issue has arisen, but maybe it’s not.  Maybe this is just the easiest, most convenient way to handle the situation without making waves.

When I work with the hospitality students that I mentor, I make it a habit to ask them why, to challenge their assumptions, all the time, and I have spent the time to explain the importance of that question to them, and how they, as the future of our industry, must challenge the status quo, and overcome the question of why in order to take the hospitality business to the next level and to be effective leaders.

We can all benefit from asking why more often, from challenging the status quo.

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

New to this Blog?  Click here to subscribe by email and never miss another post.          

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

The Evolution of “Human Resources” (Surrounding Yourself with the Best)

Many things have changed since I first entered the hotel business, now over 25 years ago, and many roles within the industry have also changed, as a result of the evolution of our business, and perhaps most significantly, the evolution of our workforce.

I can certainly recall with great clarity the shifts that I have seen over the years as I have been in various discussions and meetings over the years, where we have been discussing how to work with baby boomers, gen x’ers, gen y’s, as well as having witnessed the shift in the employee’s mentality and what was and is important to them in an employer.  This too has changed dramatically over the years, and then there are the unions, or lack thereof, depending on where you are in the world.

This and many other factors has contributed to the shift in what it means to be an effective Director of Human Resources in today’s hotel business, although I would argue that the fundamentals have largely remained unchanged – look after your employees, and they will look after the guests.

Still, the role has changed, there is no argument.  Our human resource professionals have had to evolve to keep pace with the changing needs, and the changing demographics, of our employees.  A director of human resources who once spent a good deal of his or her time managing benefits and organizing the occasional staff recognition event or party and concentrating on managing the flow of paperwork in support of progressive discipline, now spends his or her time largely functioning in a capacity that I call relationship management.  It is, in my opinion, the future of human resources, and our industry.

Sure, benefits administration is still important, as are employee recognition events, but far more important is the responsibility to manage the relationships within the hotel in pursuit of a truly harmonious environment where employees feel valued and appreciated, and as a result, they in turn deliver the highest level of service to our guests, while providing unconditional support to each other.

This takes a commitment from everyone in a leadership capacity, and it could be argued that it is equally incumbent on all of the members of the leadership team to work to achieve this goal, and I would agree.  That said, I also believe, in as much as we surround ourselves with “experts” and “champions” in different roles and with different responsibilities, that it is ultimately the responsibility of the director of human resources to champion this cause and ensure in doing so, that it is indeed a key focus of all of the members of the leadership team – without exception.

That takes a special person, a person who must be confident in their role, they must know that they have the support of the general manager, and everyone on the leadership team for that matter, to hold the general manager and others accountable when he or she sees something that deviates from their path, something that threatens the very relationships that are the foundation of their commitment to their employees, and to each other.

The director of human resources was always an important member of a successful team, but perhaps now more than ever before in the evolution of the hotel business, it is imperative that you have the right person in this role in your hotel, and, that they be given the support that they need to fulfill on the obligation to maintain a harmonious environment where employees can flourish and relationship management is a top priority.

At the end of the day, this is the service industry and certainly one of the most important groups to focus on providing the highest level of service to is our employees.  Take care of your employees and they’ll take care of your guests.  It’s all about relationships.

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

New to this Blog?  Click here to subscribe by email and never miss another post.