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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Tuesday, June 28, 2011

How Long is Too Long?

If you’ve been involved in the recruitment process at any time in your career, you have undoubtedly gotten in the habit of looking for gaps in employment in peoples’ resumes, and, given the opportunity to do so, you have asked the applicant to explain those gaps.

Not a bad thing to inquire about.  

Often there are good reasons for people to have had gaps in their employment, which are easily explained, and other times, those gaps in employment are not so easily explained, and can draw your attention to problems that deserve greater attention, if they are to be overcome, or, they may have led you to decide that this was not a risk that you wanted to take.

But how long is too long?

That’s the dilemma that I am currently facing.  It’s been over a year now since I finished up my last full time, long-term project, which has as a result created a sizable gap in my employment history.

I have no problems speaking to that gap, given the opportunity to do so.  I have in fact been very busy over the last year and taken on and completed a number of short-term projects and initiatives that I am very proud of, but, they have yet to produce the opportunity that I am ultimately looking for – the opportunity to once again lead a team, either as a Hotel General Manager, or in some other senior capacity within this industry, and so, I continue to look for that position that is the right fit for me, where my values and work ethic are appropriately aligned to that of my prospective employer, and where I can make a difference.

I mean, that’s it, isn’t it?  Isn’t that what we all want?

And to be frank, there have been opportunities along the way, but as I have delved further into them, I saw that they were not the right fit for me, for any one of a number of reasons. 

When I speak with my peers about this, they get it, they understand the importance of creating and being a part of a company culture that is inspiring, that lights you up, and in turn inspires you to go beyond that which you previously thought was possible, to produce exceptional results, for yourself, and, for the teams that you are leading.

But how long is too long?  How many people will potentially look at that resume, (or others like it), see the gap, and never go to the next step?  Never engage into the inquiry about why the gap?  Therein lies the dilemma.

I’d love to get your feedback on this.  Let me know what you think.  Have you been in this situation before?  Or, have you been or are you someone who is responsible for the recruitment process in your company and you have come across this situation before?  What did you do?

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Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Graduation Day

I love to learn, and I welcome the opportunity to participate in engaging and interesting ways to expand my knowledge, in general, and, as it relates to the hospitality industry and leadership in particular.

It’s one of the reasons that I went back to school a couple of years ago with the intent of obtaining my Bachelor’s Degree in Hospitality Management.

I started out in this business over 25 years ago now, as a bellman, and at that time you could still advance in this business on the basis of hard work and commitment, and I was also fortunate enough to work for managers who saw my potential and embraced the concept of promoting from within, and so I was able to continue to advance over the years, to eventually reach the positions of general manager and asset manager, learning along the way and taking individual courses that complimented my experiences.

But, I did not have a degree, which is I confess something that I always wanted to obtain, for a number of reasons, and so when I was presented with an opportunity to obtain my degree, while continuing to work, I jumped at the chance and I enjoyed every minute of the experience.

I officially finished my degree program in November 2010, but the convocation ceremonies weren’t held until the middle of June 2011.

I had debated whether or not to attend, with mixed feelings of both pride for my accomplishment, and a little embarrassment at the fact that I anticipated being about twice the age of most of the other grads that would be in attendance, but I did attend, and I’m glad that I did.

As I suspected, the majority of those in attendance were probably about 22 or 23 years old, if that, and I found myself in my cap and gown in the midst of a sea of giggling young women who were obviously excited about this special day that they and their friends had worked so hard to reach.  Their friends and their family in the audience snapping off photos whenever the opportunity presented itself, all of us waiting anxiously in line to proceed to the stage, hear our name called out, and receive our degree.

Eventually, the waiting was over, my name was called, and I proceeded across the stage to receive my degree and congratulations from the faculty and president of the college.

Afterwards, someone asked me if I was glad that it was done, the work that is, the classes, the papers and other projects, and my immediate response was “no.”  I am glad to have completed the necessary work to have obtained my degree, but I am always looking for new opportunities to expand my knowledge and stay current in our industry, which is one of the reasons that I am involved in some of the initiatives that I am at present, and why I will continue to look for ways to learn and grow, to expand myself, and to share what I have learned with those that are just starting out in the hospitality industry.

"Intelligence plus character - that is the goal of true education." - Martin Luther King, Jr.

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Monday, June 20, 2011

A Few Bad Apples

We’ve all heard it before and most of us have seen it in action at one point or another, the inescapable impact of “a few bad apples” in the bunch.

That thought came to mind for me the other day when I awoke to news reports and newspaper articles that detailed the circumstances of what was reported as the overnight riots in downtown Vancouver just last week following the 7th game loss of our beloved Vancouver Canucks to the Boston Bruins for the coveted Stanley Cup.

I couldn’t believe what I was seeing when I turned on the morning news, and they were showing the scene from the night before; store fronts being smashed, stores looted, police cars lit on fire, people fighting in the streets, with each other, and, with police.

I was saddened and disappointed to see these images and know that they would be broadcast all over the world - such is the impact of the media in the era that we now live in. 

It was particularly disappointing in light of all of the incredibly positive images and articles that had been generated just last year as a part of the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver and Whistler.  Before, during and after the Olympics story after story had been generated about what an amazing city we lived in, for so many reasons, not the least of which was the hospitality and demeanor of the residents of our beautiful city.

And now, instead, we will be remembered for the hooliganism of a few bad apples.

The mob mentality is a fascinating thing, on some levels.  It fascinates me on the level of how easily influenced some people can be by those “bad apples” where they might otherwise use their good sense to either head in the other direction, or, better yet, help to put a stop to the unacceptable actions of a few people who were obviously intent on causing trouble no matter what the outcome of the game had been.

From a hotel perspective, it also served to remind me of the importance of consistent and effective communications and the value of relationships in our business.  Without that foundation in place, a few “bad apples” can get a foot-hold and influence others with their own agenda, which is almost certain to be a negative agenda, meant to cause or further inflame disharmony in the workplace.

Don’t let a few bad apples spoil the whole bunch in your workplace.

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Monday, June 6, 2011

Destination Marketing Funds – Who Doesn’t Have One?

The list is getting shorter every day.

I picked up a newspaper the other day and saw yet another City in Canada that has added a destination marketing fund (“DMF tax”) to their room rates.

I certainly don’t fault the hoteliers in this or any other City for implementing such a tax, in an attempt to offset declining commitments from Government, at all levels, for the marketing of their destination.

What choice do hoteliers have?

They certainly can’t afford to ignore the problem, and it is widely accepted that you could lobby the Government until the end of time and they would still not increase the funding to the necessary levels to properly market their special and unique destinations.

I have a couple of problems with this.

The first, and arguably the biggest problem that I have with this continuing situation, is the fact that the Government either does not know just how much tourism generates in the way of tax revenues and jobs, or, they just don’t care.

In short, this industry does not get the respect that it deserves - it never has.

Tourism, in its many forms, creates billions of dollars of revenue for the economy and more jobs than anyone can really accurately estimate, due to the number of secondary or support jobs that may be once removed from the obvious link to tourism, but are nonetheless in business as a direct result of primary tourism businesses, yet the Government seems blind to this.

One of the reasons may be that tourism always finds a way to survive, in spite of the circumstances thrown at us, we always find a way to keep moving forward, to overcome adverse situations, compared to some other industries that have failed entirely, or, been on the brink of failure, and the Government sweeps in and makes special concessions, or subsidizes their operations, to keep them in business.

Should we (tourism) be punished because we are resilient, problem solvers?

My other problem with this issue is that it always seems to fall to the hotels to find the solution, to come up with the money necessary to offset the latest shortfall in funds.

What about the other tourism businesses?  The businesses that obviously benefit from tourism, and, from the guests in our hotels, such as attractions.  Why aren’t they part of the solution?

One can easily make the argument that there are several other business sectors, besides hotels, that benefit directly from tourism, and yet, repeated attempts to convince these business sectors to add their own “tax” to their admission price, or the like, in aid of marketing the destination, have largely fallen on deaf ears.


Unfortunately, the reason is simple – they don’t need to do anything to be part of the solution.  Attraction owners, and other similar tourism business owners know, (much like the Government), that the hoteliers will not allow the situation to deteriorate to such a level as to negatively impact the flow of visitors to the destination.  They can’t.

It’s the ultimate irony.  The only way for hoteliers to prove their point would be for them to allow visitation to their destination, and to their businesses, to decline, to fail, and they will never do that, so we can expect more of the same – hoteliers coming to the rescue while others stand by and watch.

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Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Gossip - What You Permit You Promote

Hotels are notorious for gossip.  It’s inevitable when you have so many people working so closely together day after day.

Gossip is defined as; “casual or unconstrained conversation or reports about other people, typically involving details that are not confirmed as being true.”

I’ll add one more component; when the person in question is diminished by the content of the conversation.

Gossip can be cancerous is an organization.

It’s often been amazing to me how many unfounded rumors can circulate around a hotel, based on absolutely no facts, but strictly on the basis of conversations pieced together by people who think they know what’s going on, and who then go about telling everyone as a point of fact.

And it’s never good news, what these people are spreading around amongst the team, and that is one of the ways in which I draw the comparison to cancer, which I also realize is a serious topic unto itself.  But think about it, it starts out as a whisper between one person and another, and then it starts to spread, conversations in the designated smoking area, in the staff cafeteria, and one by one individuals and groups are infected by this garbage.  And once it has taken root, it’s twice as hard to remove.

It’s one of the things that I have found frustrating, on occasion, as a General Manager, when a junior manager has approached me and told me of a conversation that they have heard, and I have asked them what they did about it, only to have them respond by telling me that they did not contribute to the conversation, as if that was enough.

What you permit, you promote.

Doing nothing, taking no action, is not the same as taking action.  Even in your silence you are speaking, loud and clear.

Don’t tolerate gossip.  Make it clear that it is not acceptable in your business, as a part of your culture.  If people are the foundation of your business, your culture, what can be more important than preserving their self-esteem and supporting them in whatever they may be facing?

“The time is always right to do what is right.”  - Martin Luther King Jr.

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