Hotel Online Special Report

Hotel Common Sense
A Bakers Dozen” of Strategies
for Hotel General Managers


by John Hogan, MBA CHA MHS CHE, May 2006
We often see top ten lists, but this has been expanded to be certain that no one is “short-changed.” 

In ancient times, bakers were subject to severe penalties for short-weighting their customers.  In Egypt, for example, bakers were sometimes nailed by the ear to their shop doors when caught selling light loaves. Bakers were “deafly” afraid, therefore, when the English parliament passed a law in 1266 that strictly regulated bread weight. Since it was difficult at that time to make loaves a uniform weight, bakers began adding a thirteenth loaf to each shipment of 12 they sent to a shopkeeper or retailer. This freebie assured there would be no shortchanging, and more importantly, no ear-nailing. 

The number thirteen has evolved into what is called “ baker’s dozen”.

Following is A Bakers Dozen” of Strategies for Hotel  General Managers

1. MBWA – Management gurus Tom Peters and Robert Waterman popularized the expressions “Management by Walking Around”  as a main premise of their book  IN SEARCH OF EXCELLENCE.    They suggested that effective managers should be out of their office up to 70% each day.  Ways to do this include:

  • Vary your daily routine when you arrive and leave and the length of time you spend completing routine tasks. It also makes your days more interesting.
  • Regularly visit the front of the house AND the “heart of the hotel” EVERY DAY. This includes the staff break room, locker areas if applicable, the boiler room, the trash areas, the loading dock and even occasionally the roof.  You will be amazed at what you will see in these places.
  • Use the feedback and observations from these visits in a positive way. 
2. Listen Better. Do not prepare your response before the other person has actually delivered their message.  Mentor those who need it, coach appropriately and increase the two way communication cycle.

3. Take the professional expectations provided to you from ownership and or management company and share them clearly with all staff.  Make those expectations understood, explain the value and rationale to all staff and be certain these expectations can be measured fairly. 

4. Hold regular one-on-one sessions with all direct reports throughout the organization.  These should not be formal “reviews” but guide posts to reinforce positive actions or to correct a course if market conditions have changed.  The 1st time will be awkward because people might be “gun-shy” or are looking for hidden agendas.  When it becomes apparent that these are honest dialogues, they sessions are actually anticipated as opportunities to clear the air.

5. Constantly assess time management.  The 80-20 rule of priorities and value remains true much of the time.  80% of our profits often come from 20% of the client base.  The same hold true for problem areas.  The question needs to be not are we doing things “right” , but are we doing the “right” things correctly? 

6. Set realistic operating budgets.  Budgets are often finally approved by the ownership or management company in a remote location.   Budgets are often controversial and at times seem unachievable.  The best time to project accurately for the next years is right after that  period has finished for this year.   For example, if one waits until July to project the following January to December, there can changes in market conditions, staffing or simply a memory lapse that can seriously undermine accuracy.   If one makes a draft of the budget for following March in April after the incomes statement and market analysis has been reviewed, the chances are that the projections will be able to be justified and more accurate than when trying to prepare 12 months in one action.  Try to lead your company in margins and target new ground, but be reasonable.  As a general manager, you know the cost of turnover from people realizing they cannot achieve unattainable budgets only sets you back farther.

7. Plan, coordinate and implement capital budgets annually.    As the operations team, we  recognize the need for ongoing and short term dividends and results. We also need to be able to justify from a return on investment basis capital projects for ownership. Deferring needed physical upgrades will likely cost more if postponed inappropriately and will probably also cost in lost customer loyalty that recognized the lack of commitment to quality.

8. Walk the talk.    As in #1, one should be demanding but one must also be fair. 

  • Have you, as GM,  explained your management company office expectations and agreed on values and standards?
  • Do you take the time to be visible with as many people as is logical? 
  • As in #2, LISTEN and don’t prejudge.
9. Training must be maintained and increased.   In good times, many hotels claim to be “too busy” to train. When revenues are flat or declining, cutting ongoing training to “save money” will really cost more as it will drive the good staff to consider leaving and the loyal customers to the competition because it appears you don’t care.   The expression holds true that the only thing wore than an untrained staff that leaves is an untrained staff that stays to service your customers.

10. Pay attention to the “human” resource role with increasing intensity.  Recruit and select people wisely.   Pay competitively or better and lead in incentives. Recognize your team regularly with “thank you’s “and expressions of appreciation. Retain the champions by whatever it takes to keep them.

11. Review your income statement, cash flow position and market analysis monthly .   All management companies have audits to their financial books, but you as GM must understand what is facing the owners.  As an effective general manager, you can help yourself and the owner by understanding a system of checks and balances.   Note variances in margins, receivables and market swings regularly and make adjustments.  Proactive managers are those who successfully master this.

12. Know your customers.   The legendary general managers are those who know the base of their clients and interact with them regularly.  We have all heard of managers who sometimes pour coffee in banquets or who work the front desk an hour week.    The reason for this interaction is to show both guests and staff that the CEO of the hotel, (the general manager) is attuned to the needs of the business and that they care.    Industry icons ranging from Kemmons Wilson of Holiday Inns, Lord Charles Forte of the UK, Sol Kernzer of international resort fame and Mike Leven of US Franchise system will tell you a major part of their companies’ success is attributable to knowing major customers, regardless of his title. 

  • Do you as a general manager  know the top five customers of your hotel? 
  • Have you ever contacted them by phone or letters to thank them and ask if there was anything else your hotel could do for them?
  • When was the last time you personally interacted with your guests on a regular basis?
13. Know your staff.   Use a meaningful staff feedback or survey  system to “audit” the people values who keep your hotels successful.  The Averys of Vermont  and the Dayals of Tennessee are two sets of family hoteliers who grew their holdings from a single property to become recognized forces in their segments of the industry.  Each of them has unique types of properties.   The Averys are noted independent resort operators in their 3rd generation, while the Dayals have worked with branded properties in multiple states. 

Each would tell you that their success has been substantially based on recruiting and keeping long term staff – that is building loyalty by knowing and caring for the people who meet and greet their guests. 

Think Tank 
Questions of the day
These questions are offered to stimulate discussion about the way we do business.  There is not necessarily only one “correct” answer – the reason for this section of the column is to promote an awareness of how we might all improve our operations.  Consider using these or similar questions at staff meetings encourage your team to THINK!


A Bakers Dozen” of Strategies for Hotel  General Managers
  1. How often do you really visit the “heart of your hotel?
  2. How are your operating and capital budgets prepared?
  3. How often do you as a general manager become actively involved in sales?
  4. What percentage of your staff do you really know other than your department heads? Do you know any of their dreams or frustrations?
  5. How well do you listen?  When was the last time you had an open forum with a group or individual sessions?
Feel free to share an idea and contact me at John[email protected] anytime and remember – we all need a regular dose of common sense.

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of this publication or of Best Western International.

John Hogan, Ph.D. CHE CHA MHS is the Director of Education & Cultural Diversity for Best Western International, the world’s largest hotel chain.  Best Western International has more than 4,200 hotels in 80 countries and is one of the worlds most established and recognized hotel brands, founded in 1946 in California.

He serves on several industry boards that deal with education and/or cultural diversity including the Hospitality Industry Diversity Institute, the AH&LA Multicultural Advisory Council, the AAHOA Education and eCommerce Committee and is the Best Western liaison to the NAACP and the Asian American Hotel Owners’ Association with his ongoing involvement in the Certified Hotel Owner program.

He holds an undergraduate degree from the University of Massachusetts and his Ph.D. in International Business and an MBA via Distance Learning from UNW.  His professional experience includes over 30 years in hotel operations, food & beverage, sales & marketing, training, management development and asset management on both a single and multi-property basis.  He is a Certified Hotel Administrator (CHA), a Master Hotel Supplier (MHS), and a Certified Hospitality Educator (CHE) and is a past recipient of the American Hotel & Lodging Association’s Pearson Award for Excellence in Lodging Journalism.  He has served as President of both city and state hotel associations.

John’s background includes teaching college level courses as an adjunct professor for 20 years, while managing with Sheraton, Hilton, Omni and independents hotels.  Prior to joining Best Western International in spring of 2000, 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 has conducted an estimated 3,000 workshops and seminars in his career to date.

He has published more than 250 articles & columns on the hotel industry and is co-author (with Howard Feiertag, CHA CMP) of LESSONS FROM THE FIELD – A COMMON SENSE APPROACH TO EFFECTIVE HOTEL SALES, which is available from HSMAI , and other industry sources. 

He resides in Phoenix, Arizona and is working on his 2nd book – The Top 100 People of All Time Who Most Dramatically Affected the Hotel Industry.


John J. Hogan, Ph. D  CHA
 Director, Education & Cultural Diversity 
Best Western International -THE WORLD'S LARGEST HOTEL CHAIN ®
6201 N. 24th Parkway, Phoenix, AZ 85016-2023 
Phone 602-957-5810; fax 602-957-5815
[email protected]

"...we all need a regular dose of common sense "
Also See: “A Bakers Dozen” of Ideas for Hotel Management Company Executives / Hotel Common Sense / John Hogan / April 2006


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