Hotel Online  Special Report

Hoteliers, Are You Planting Corn, Trees
or People?
By Joseph M. Gravish, November 2006

“If you want to plan for a year, plant corn.
If you want to plan for ten years, plant trees.
If you want to plan for 100 years, plant people”
(Chinese proverb)

A hospitality careerist recently brought this proverb to my attention in response to a previous article “Loyalty Is a Two-Way Street”. What a wonderful way to encapsulate the mindset of many of today’s hotel owners/operators! I can’t help but wonder though what percentage of hospitality farmers plant either corn, trees, or people? There’s no way to tell. But I can describe the characteristics of each to help you determine into which group you fall.

To be fair, some hoteliers may be in it for the short term, given that average hotel values in the U.S. are on the upswing (27% in 2004, 25% in 2005 and 15% (estimated) in 2006 according to HVS International) but predicted to continue so only through 2010. Mr. Stephen Rushmore, president and founder of HVS concluded “…that (now) is a good time to own a hotel in the United States”. 

I wonder, in response, is it also a good time to be an hourly wage employee in an average hotel in the U.S.? So permit me to describe what I believe are the attributes of those hoteliers who plant corn, trees, or people.

Corn Planters
Tree Planters
People Planters
Employees are disposables A few good employees succeed (and often leave)  Employees are business partners
Little employer- employee
Haughty employer- empolyee communication Employees need to 
know what’s going on
Everything’s a priority Changing priorities Guests first – always
One among many employers Employer of chance  Employer of choice
Hire air-breathers Hire based upon applicant availability primarily Hire for attitude and skills (only the best)
High turnover Spotty turnover Low turnover
Pay benchmarked at minimum wage “Competitive” wages (whatever that is) Above average wages
No merit/service raises I’d like to offer raises but  (insert litany of excuses) Employees know what’s required and what the rewards are 
Benefits – no way! I’d like to offer benefits but (insert litany of excuses) Provides a suite of employer - employee funded benefits
Bean counters rule  Changing rules Guests rule 
Perfection’s impossible Perfection – only if it doesn’t cost much Perfection is expected
Low or unprofitable  Profitable if the rest of  the industry’s also growing Market leader, year in and year out
Frowns abound – even among fellow managers Grins and smirks Smiles everywhere

And so, it depends. It’s good to work for today’s leading hotels and managers who view human capital as their most important asset – and back it up with action. Perhaps not so good for those workers who are still viewed merely as a labor expense by their employers.  

Whether you like it or not hoteliers, you have been put “on notice”. You are the target of numerous government mandated minimum and living wage initiatives, aggressive union labor negotiations, election promises to enact higher, more sweeping wage minimums, even coalitions such as the National Partnership for Women and Families which are lobbying legislators for a law forcing employers to grant a minimum number of paid sick days to employees.

So, what to do? Now is the time for change. We have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to dramatically improve the image and reputation of the industry. Staying the tired and worn course is no longer a viable alternative. Getting ahead of the tsunami of current (and future) workforce initiatives is the best option.

Don’t let another season pass. Don’t be content to harvest corn. It’s time to plant and harvest the minds and hearts of people.  

Mr. Gravish is a human resources professional with over 25 years leadership experience at numerous organizational levels and diverse environments, both national and international. He is an advocate of building success through, and by, people – first.



Joseph M. Gravish

Also See: Focus on Hotel Hourly-wage Employees; Loyalty Is a Two-Way Street / Joseph M. Gravish / November 2006
Want Fries With That? Hiring Practices in the Hospitality Industry / Joseph M. Gravish / October 2006

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