News for the Hospitality Executive
|Lessons from the Field
A Common Sense Approach to Success in the Hospitality Industry
|By Dr. John Hogan, CHA MHS CHE, February 2009|
"A Baker’s Dozen" of Strategies
for Hotel Chief Engineers
By Dr. John Hogan CHE CHA MHS
February 13, 2009
only good intentions unless they immediately degenerate into hard work.”
A point from Peter Drucker is being used to introduce this segment on hotel engineering because Drucker is frequently credited as being the inventor of the “discipline of management.” While he did not address hotels or hospitality specifically in his 39 books, his messages of organized development and conceptual management have endured into the 21st century.
The housekeeping department in a hotel typically has the largest number of staff in most hotels, but it the engineering team that has responsibility for maintaining and operating the ENTIRE facility. Whether it is a 25 rooms-only property, a 5 star luxury resort or a 3,000 room convention/casino hotel, it falls to the Chief Engineer to ensure the facility is comfortable, safe and efficient.
Many smaller hotels do not have full time engineers or what are sometimes called “maintenance” staff. This unfortunate situation often leads to a needless rapid depreciation of the quality of the facility in many hotels that could have been avoided with adequate staffing and attention. Drucker’s point about planning is very appropriate in our industry – it requires focused, hard work to properly care for our facility and guests.
In my career, I have had the privilege of working with four outstanding chief engineers. Each of these people differed in age, formal education and sometimes in resources but each of them had a complete commitment to service and excellence. I have used some of their lessons in sharing this segment on “A Baker’s Dozen" of Strategies for Hotel Chief Engineers.
1. Learn to look at your hotel from an operational perspective as if you owned it. The most successful chief engineers are like the most successful executive housekeepers - they are those who take a “pride of ownership” in their approach to what needs to be done at their property. Chief Engineers recognize how critical a guest’s first impressions is, whether it is the entrance to the hotel, public meeting or lobby space or the guest accommodations. Engineering and Housekeeping share responsibility for lobbies, entrances, hallways, pool and patio areas, meeting space, offices, storage and linen areas, the laundry and many related areas. Engineering must keep the food & beverage outlets properly lit and comfortable, as well maintaining all kitchen and behind the scenes equipment. This means developing and implementing ongoing plans to maintain property, equipment, grounds and other assets in an “up to standards” state of use and repair.
2. Know about the condition of the property from first-hand experience. Personally and regularly inspect all portions of your hotel, including every type of accommodation and the adjacent areas. Being aware of changes in the hotel can also help management to be better aware of potential problems. Strong and successful engineers plan the work of their department effectively, using activity logs, inventory control, setting standards and regularly reviewing maintenance schedules to maximize the life of equipment. This also means regular tours of “heart of the hotel” spaces and out of the way places such as roofs, storage areas and equipment rooms.
3. Know your budgets, costs and results. Engineering budgets usually include energy, equipment, staffing and supplies. The outstanding chief engineers are those who are able to often obtain higher compensation for their staff by effectively reducing turnover and managing their total budgets while exceeding guest expectations. This means detailed preventative maintenance programs for all hotel equipment
Budgets need not be a mystery and most caring general managers should be pleased to share that portion of their operating budgets because it helps everyone. Chief engineers usually oversee a number of vendor contracts that are logically in the day to day realm of the engineering department, such as energy, elevators, fire systems and/or waste removal.
4. Work with the front office management to capitalize on forecasts for long term efficiencies Operating budgets are usually approved by the ownership or Management Company in a remote location. The engineering budgets are partially tied to occupancy, but they do have exceptions for preventative work or repairs. Working with the front office manager and director of housekeeping can allow planning for deep cleaning in slower periods or replacement of capital items on a schedule that does not interfere with periods of high activity. Plan as necessary with special projects and renovations of any kind
5. Share the professional expectations provided to you from ownership and or management clearly with all members of the staff. Newcomers to the industry sometimes imagine huge profits when they compare their hourly wage with the rooms’ rates paid by guests. Those of us who have been in the industry for more than just a few years realize that profits and losses go in cycles, and that it is important to share the realities of the cost of doing business at all levels. All staff should understand the total costs of ownership, including support staff such as engineering and sales, franchise or royalty fees, management company fees, the concepts of debt service and more. Make those expectations understood, explain the value and rationale to all staff and be certain these expectations can be measured fairly.
6. Hold regular one-on-one sessions with all direct reports in this department including the 2nd and/or 3rd shift staff. These sessions should not be formal “reviews” but guide posts to reinforce positive actions or to correct a potentially dangerous course of action. When I first started doing these more than 20 years ago, the 1st time was awkward because people were “gun-shy” or afraid of hidden agendas. When it becomes apparent that these are honest dialogues, they sessions evolved into the opportunities to clear the air on potential problems. In small teams, these are critical.
7. When recruiting people, pay attention to the “human” resource role: balance “high touch” and “high tech”. Most engineering teams are relatively small, so recruiting and selecting people wisely is critical to success. An unfilled position is not really a savings as there will be overtime or burn-out from other staff.
a. There is no excuse today for inadequately prepared or untrained staff. There is enormous training support available at very low cost online from the major brands and a wealth of support from CDs, books, newsletters and the internet.9. Cooperate with licensing needs as required Depending on local codes, there may the need for certain staff to possess various Engineer's licenses or to have someone on staff to have certain electrical, plumbing, boiler operations, HVAC (heat, ventilation, air-conditioning) and/or other general maintenance skills required.
10. Embrace the Brand Standards and Suppliers A majority of hotels in North America today are part of a brand, and the trend is growing globally. The Chief Engineer should learn what the brand’s requirements and expectations on engineering, safety and security services and programs.
11. Embrace Reasonable Care and insist on proper safety and security There are so many areas that need attention in reasonable care
13. Be Professional as appropriate. Engineers often
have to perform “dirty” work in repair, but that does not reduce the need
for professionalism. Clean replacement uniforms and a place to clean
up are a small price to pay for both guest satisfaction and staff pride.
There are other responsibilities for chief engineers including reviewing
schedules, equipment and supplies and organizing workflow. Today’s
professional chief engineer needs ongoing knowledge of the principles and
practices within the hospitality profession and they should be a member
of the management team. The ability to make occasional business decisions
as a manager on duty should be guided by established policies and procedures
are supported by solid communication skills.
Feel free to share an idea for a column at firstname.lastname@example.org anytime or contact customized workshops, speaking engagements or me regarding consulting.
Autographed copies of LESSONS FROM THE FIELD – a COMMON SENSE APPROACH TO EFFECTIVE HOTEL SALES can be obtained from THE ROOMS CHRONICLE www.roomschronicle.com and other industry sources.
All rights reserved by John Hogan and this column may be included in an upcoming book on hotel management. The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of this publication
John Hogan, a career hotelier and educator, is frequently invited to participate at franchise meetings, management company and hospitality association industry events. He is a successful senior executive with a record of accomplishment in leading hospitality industry organizations at multiple levels, with demonstrated competencies as a strong leader, relationship builder, problem solver and mentor. He conducts mystery-shopping reviews of quality in operations and marketing, including repositioning of hotels.
He writes weekly columns for a number of global online services (hotel online.com, eHotelier, 4 Hotels, Hotel Resource, etc) and has published more than 400 articles & columns on the hotel industry. He co-authored (with Howard Feiertag, CHA CMP) LESSONS FROM THE FIELD – a COMMON SENSE APPROACH TO EFFECTIVE HOTEL SALES, which is available from email@example.com, ROOMS CHRONICLE www.roomschronicle.com and other industry sources. He resides in Phoenix, Arizona and expects to publish in 2009 his 2nd book based on his dissertation – The Top 100 People of All Time Who Most Dramatically Affected the Hotel Industry.
Hogan’s professional experience includes over 35 years in hotel operations, food & beverage, sales & marketing, training, management development and asset management on both a single and multi-property basis, including service as Senior Vice President of Operations in a specialty hotel brand for six years.
He holds a number of industry certifications (CHA, CHE, MHS, ACI) and is a past recipient of the American Hotel & Lodging Association’s Pearson Award for Excellence in Lodging Journalism, as well as operational and marketing awards from international brands. He has served as President of both city and state hotel associations.
John’s background includes teaching college level courses as an adjunct professor at three different colleges and universities over a 20-year period, while managing with Sheraton, Hilton, Omni and independent hotels. He was the principal in an independent training & consulting group for more than 12 years serving associations, management groups, convention & visitors’ bureaus, academic institutions and as an expert witness. He joined Best Western International in spring of 2000, where over the next 8 years he created and developed a blended learning system as the Director of Education & Cultural Diversity for the world’s largest hotel chain.
He has served on several industry boards that deal with education and/or cultural diversity and as brand liaison to the NAACP and the Asian American Hotel Owners’ Association with his long-term involvement in the Certified Hotel Owner program. He has conducted an estimated 3,200 workshops and classes in his career.
Expertise and Research Interest
Service to the Industry and Hospitality Education includes
working with the Educational Institute Certification Commission of the
AH&LA, the Hospitality Industry Diversity Institute, the AH&LA
Multicultural Advisory Council, the Accreditation Commission for Programs
in Hospitality Administration, the Commission for Accreditation on Hospitality
Management Programs, the AH&LA and AAHOA Education and Training Committees,
the Council of Hotel, Restaurant and Institutional Educators (CHRIE), the
International Hotel Show and the Certified Hotel Owner program for the
Asian American Hotel Owners’ Association.
Dr. John Hogan, CHA MHS CHE
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