Hotel Online  Special Report

Bringing Out the Best in People; Principles to Apply
to the Team You Lead - the Front Desk, 
the Housekeeping, Servers, the Kitchen


by Chris Longstreet, CHA, President & CEO, Society for Hospitality Management, September 2004

Recently, we moved our Society for Hospitality Management office, and, during the process I came across a book I read in college that I promised I would never throw away or get rid of.  The book is entitled Bringing Out the Best in People: How to Enjoy Helping Others Excel by Dr. Alan Loy McGinnis. 

“Have you ever wondered at the way certain people bring out the best in others? They seem to know how to get an extra effort from the people they lead.  We have all known them – some are teachers or heads of companies, others are baseball managers or mothers.  Frequently without good looks or extraordinary intelligence, they seem to possess a knack for inspiring people.  And this remarkable skill at the art of motivation makes them highly successful at almost everything they do.”

Look back over your career. Who motivated you? Who brought out the best in you?  Which managers, which leaders, seemed to bring out the best in the people they served?

In his book, Dr. McGinnis outlines twelve rules for bringing out the best in people.   These principles can be applied to any team you lead:  the front desk, the sales department, housekeeping, servers, the kitchen, or even the management team of your hotel or restaurant.  These skills are valuable in creating a motivational environment where your employees want to work and feel they can contribute to the success of your organization.

In this article, we look at the first four rules and how we can apply them to the environments in which we work.

Rule 1 - Expect the Best from the People You Lead

In the musical My Fair Lady, Eliza Doolittle is transformed from an uneducated woman to a sophisticated lady.  One of the famous lines of the play, Goethe makes a bold statement about human nature: “Treat a man as he appears to be and you make him worse.  But treat a man as if he already were what he potentially could be, and you make him what he should be.”

Do you expect the best from the people you lead? Or do you settle for what they give you and find other solutions to improving the service provided to your guests and patrons?

In the hospitality classes I teach, we discuss motivational theories and strategies.  One theory, the Pygmalion Effect, states that the expectations your employees have of themselves determines how they will perform. If we expect great things as managers, great things will happen.  If we accept and expect average performance, average performance is what we will get.  By emphasizing the positives and what employees can do, employees will believe in themselves and perform at higher levels.  To do this, we must communicate our belief in their skills and abilities. 

Setting high performance and quality standards and communicating to your team so that they can achieve them will yield positive results.  Housekeepers will clean rooms to the cleanliness levels you set. Servers will up-sell menu items because you set the standards and expectations high. Positive expectations can yield positive results.

Unfortunately, when people become managers or leaders within an organization, they immediately feel like a police officer and must watch every employee move to make sure standards are being met. This watchdog role is looking for failure and creates an adversarial relationship between management and line employees.  Good managers, on the other hand, look for the strengths in employees and discover ways to encourage the skills and abilities of each person. 

If we expect good things from our employees, in most cases they take great strides in meeting those expectations. If we expect the worse, they will meet those expectations and continue to disappoint us with their performance.

Rule 2 - Make a Thorough Study of the Other Person's Needs

One of the more enjoyable parts of teaching at the college level is working with students and helping them discover what excites them about the hospitality industry.  When a student makes a true connection with their passion for what they want to do, it is easy to push them to succeed.  Their interest level is higher when studying as they develop a passion for what they are studying.  The fear of pleasing other people, like parents, disappears and the passion for discovering success becomes so clearly apparent.  Whether it be working for a baseball park in the minor leagues, becoming a leader in the housekeeping department, or working toward a vision of owning a restaurant or club, discovering what a student wants makes the educational experience far more motivating for both the student and the instructor.

McGinnis says, “Too many leaders ignore this essential early step.  They see motivation as mere hype – slapping people on the back and giving rah-rah pep talks.  But it is more than hype.  A good motivational plan must be as carefully fitted as a designer dress.  We must ask a lot of questions about where people have been and where they are going, what they believe, what are their sore spots, what they love and what they hate.  In other words, we must make an inquiry into people’s present need systems.”

Motivation is therefore situational. It is unique to each person. Sarah, a server, has a different set of needs than Darren, the line cook. Tamyra, the housekeeper, is motivated differently than Gerard, the maintenance engineer. What motivates you is different than what motivates the employees you lead or the person you report to. 

How do we study these needs in the work place? We talk to our employees. We ask questions during performance reviews and interviews that give us a clue as to what our employees feel, believe, and value. We sit at breaks and listen. We ask questions. We seek information. We talk and get to know our employees. We have staff meetings where people have a chance to voice ideas and opinions. By doing this, we can more clearly identify individual needs and use them in creating a motivational environment for them to work in.

Rule 3 - Establish High Standards of Excellence

“So far,” says McGinnis, “I have been saying that the best way to bring out the best in people is to treat them in a positive, encouraging manner, capitalize on their gifts, and begin with their present needs and desires.  But that does not mean that the good motivator is soft.  To the contrary, most highly motivating leaders are hard as nails on standards of excellence.  They hold to certain values tenaciously, and they set out to build a group of like-minded persons who share those values.”

The best-run restaurants, the best-run hotels, the best-run food service facilities allow for individuality in their teams while enforcing certain standards.  It is important that restaurants and hotels set standards and enforce them.

While working for a family-style restaurant in college, I worked for a company that had very few standards. Each manager did what they thought was right. I worked hard to make sure that the dining room was set the same way each night I closed so the opening team would see the difference. Employees thought I was making them do extra work. The problem was that no other managers were setting the same standards that I was using. Today, this company no longer exists. A chain of 14 restaurants failed, in part, because there were no standards for managers to follow and employees to work towards. 

Employees like to have clear-cut objectives that are attainable. We can’t as managers set out standards so high that our employees can’t achieve them or are always falling short. People want to have their skills and abilities challenged and tested – stretched, so to speak – but they must have regular successes to feel that their efforts are valued. 

McGinnis concludes this rule by communicating an important lesson:  “In pressing for excellence, we must be careful to have goals that are both challenging and realistic, and we must devise a graded progression of objectives so that our people can enjoy the regular feedback of success.”

Rule 4 - Create an Environment Where Failure Is Not Fatal

People handle failure in different ways. Failure, in some cases, is motivational and ignites a fire within to learn and not repeat mistakes. Others, however, start with such great energy only to have the motivational fire extinguished after one failure or miscue. What we want in our organizations are people who, when they stumble, pick themselves up, learn from their mistakes, and move on to finishing the task at hand.  If we as managers in the hospitality industry can help our employees handle failure effectively, we will create an environment that is motivating and encourages high performance.

A student who worked at a theme park one summer told me how one of the worst managers he worked for followed him around and regularly pointed out all the faults in the performance of his job duties.  Many times he heard the phrase, “If you don’t get it right, I’m firing you!” 

Managers are faced with a unique challenge: creating high expectations and expecting high performance while still tolerating failure at times. Harshly criticizing a new employee for not performing a task correctly will only create a feeling of defeat and discouragement. Effective managers use whatever tactics are necessary to help employees identify the failure, what the cause is, learning from the mistake, and moving on to a higher level of performance. At times, we may need to cheer them on to try harder. Other times we may have to simply push them back into a position forcing them to start over and create a series of successes that will instill confidence.


Do you:

  • Expect the best from your employees and those you lead?
  • Understand the needs of your employees and use this information to create an environment that builds their motivation?
  • Establish standards of excellence that are attainable for your employees and those you lead?
  • Create an environment where failure isn’t fatal?
Evaluate your own performance in these areas. 

Chris Longstreet, CHA, is President & CEO of the Society for Hospitality Management.  Chris is also a Visiting Instructor in the Hospitality & Tourism Management Program at Grand Valley State University in Allendale, Michigan.

Bringing Out the Best In People: How to Enjoy Helping Others Excel was written by Dr. Alan Loy McGinnis (1985) and is published by Augsburg Publishing House, Minneapolis, Minnesota.


Chris Longstreet, CHA
President & CEO
133 Port Sheldon Road
Grandville, MI  49418
(616) 457-3646

Also See: Managing Human Resources in the Hospitality Industry: Putting Values Into Practice / David Wheelhouse and Chris Longstreet / July 2004
What It Takes to be a Hotel Professional: The Things You Can Control / Chris Longstreet / May 2004
Quality and Value – The Trademark of the Society for Hospitality Management / February 2004

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