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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