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Lessons from the Field
A Common Sense Approach to Success in the Hospitality Industry
By Dr. John Hogan, CHA MHS CHE, July 22, 2009

Hotel Common Sense –

A New Look at Awards and Recognition ....

Understanding that not all of us are motivated by the same things


By Dr. John Hogan, CHE CHA MHS, July 22, 2009

In the hospitality industry, we often privately and publicly talk about our most important asset as being our people.  We hear that it is not the "polished marble or the lobby waterfalls or the shiny brass" that will make us successful, but the staff that we employ to carry our message, to represent us and to meet the needs of our customers.

It seems that many of us miss the opportunity to recognize our most important asset much of the time.  There are dozens of ways to accomplish this and many of them need not cost much in money, but they do need the "cost"  of attention and managerial/owner time.


“Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls
and looks like work."

Thomas Edison (1847-1931)  American inventor, scientist and businessman who developed many devices that greatly influenced life around the world, including the phonograph, the motion picture camera, and a long-lasting, practical electric light bulb. Edison is considered one of the most prolific inventors in history,  holding 1,093 U.S. patents in his name, as well as many patents in the United Kingdom, France and Germany.  

Most of us have come to realize that criticisms and problems are pointed out and highlighted often.  We are not always as quick to identify what works well.

Meaningful recognition programs that honor the person as an individual are often what gains the attention and at times even the loyalty of the staff, which in turn usually leads to higher guest satisfaction and higher profits.

Awards are important to many people, as they are really forms of recognition that we all yearn for. 

They do not always need to be big cash prizes or exotic incentive trips for sales managers who exceed their annual quota of bookings. 

Some of us have recognition programs, like employee of the month. Some of us have an incentive program that focuses on the sales department booking levels or certain managers' reaching projected financial results.  Yet, many of us still have not caught on to the realization that the occasional "poor attitude" that seems to creep into our organization is at least partially due to the fact that some (or perhaps many) people are not being adequately recognized for their accomplishments and contributions to the organization.

How do we define accomplishments and contributions to the organization?  

In the most fundamental way, it means meeting the minimum standards.  Minimum standards are like minimum wage in many cases, though. If one sets the goal low enough, the target will be reached and then we wonder why our results are not better.

Perhaps a better definition of accomplishment could be in our goal setting process, in that we include some higher targets and include some positive actions that include:

  • specific achievements that require additional effort
  • quality benchmarks met and exceeded
  • success in a defined and agreed upon way
  • improvement in a formerly troubled department
  • return or repeat customers 
  • project completion by date and budget, etc.
Future columns will discuss goal setting in hospitality, but this one focuses on ways to provide specific action steps to recognize even the small accomplishments. It is that string of small feats that create the real winners, because that combination of success is what makes teams.


Write up a press release (with photograph) in the  local paper for length of service, recent promotion, special project successfully completed, etc.  If possible, send this to the person's hometown paper, including smaller town papers and weeklies. This is also PR!  Include it in the staff or company newsletter.

When someone is recognized as Employee of the Month, or receives an acknowledgment for something, cash or merchandise may be frequently part of the honor.  Include a plaque, certificate, picture, etc. as well, though.  It is that keepsake that will keep the memory of the accomplishment alive after the dinner or cash is long gone.  This is something to display, to show to friends, etc.

Summer picnics and diverse activities such as sponsored teams (if open to all interested) are appreciated by most staff.  A twist on the traditional holiday  party is the one sponsored for the management team of Lettuce Entertain You, Inc. in Chicago. These people operate a number of restaurants, including the famous PUMP ROOM at the Ambassador East Hotel. 

On Thanksgiving morning (a slow time for most hotels and restaurants), management couples and children come to the PUMP ROOM (an upscale, sophisticated place) for Breakfast with Mr. and Mrs. Santa Claus.  Years ago, I stayed at this hotel while this event was going on (they allowed my kids to join them-nice touch) and the parents and kids enjoyed themselves.

Not everyone may care to come to company sponsored events and options should be considered. We also need to learn not to get our managerial feelings offended if this is an evolving process.  

Provide a way of obtaining staff input. Give a 10% cash bonus of savings created through a suggestion program. (This "better idea" program has enormous potential)

In these challenging days, consider re-arranging your paid holidays if you're not in a position to add any.  Recognize each person as unique and make each person's birthday a personal holiday.  This can also spread some payroll benefits out, in that the holiday does not all occur on the same day.

Consider providing a night out on the town for that manager or employee who has really performed well under trying conditions, or a pressure deadline or short-staffed. Dinner, theater (plays or movies), free room, etc. can help on the home front, too.

Provide a contribution to charity or community program in their name as recognition for their service. This can be items other than cash.

When we reach adulthood, the only birthday cards many of us receive are from immediate family and our insurance agent.  A system can be easily set up to send every staff member a card, even at big hotels.  A shared cake or other special event recognition monthly at staff meetings is always well received.

Provide reimbursed seminar costs for attendance at approved professional workshops for self-development.

Participate in paying tuition, books, etc. for staff member. Many hotels cover Educational Institute courses after the staff member passes the course. This encourages active participation.

Create special or advanced titles, based on performance i.e. Senior Receptionist, Towers housekeeper, Chief Electrician, etc. Be careful to be accurate and fair.

Selection as member of hotel committee- safety, holiday party, quality assurance, awards, etc. Be certain that these are working committees that get results and are FUN!

Create matching funds account for IRA or other retirement funds. Many of us may not be in a position to do this now, but to keep good people; this should not be permanently overlooked 

Consider a "shopping spree" for a special job well done, i.e.  Set a time or financial limit. Take pictures and post them!  If you belong to a franchise group or with a large management company, send them to that company's newsletter. Staffs do read them!

The saying goes that there are "different strokes for different folks”. Scholarship or Trust Funds in their name for a school or cause they consider important has real meaning for certain members of your staff.

In this industry, we frequently have the ability to arrange for what is perceived to be all expense paid trips and time off.  Ways to do this effectively in these challenging difficult times include bartering and trade-outs with other hotels, transportation companies, attractions, etc.  Many of those groups could be or should "partners in hospitality" and are also having challenging times:

  • A weekend at nearby resort for most consistent quality
  • A 3 or 4-day long weekend for contributing most to property profitability or for exceeding booking or revenue goals by 20, 30% etc., if it is demonstrated this booking came from the individual’s drive or initiative and not a call in or lead from the CVB.  This is best redeemed after the group has left and paid their bill.
  • This category could cost money-make it one that can be rewarded on the basis of significantly improved quality and/or profitability

    Create an assertive upsell program for any department that deals with revenues, i.e. reservations, desk,  food/beverage service, audio/visual, pool, health club, etc. Make sure everyone understands the rules and make the time period judged short enough to be effective, yet long enough to make it profitable for the hotel

    18. BONUSES 
    Specify an amount or percentage for certain achievements.  These need to be achievable and equitable:

  • $xx for most days without an accident
  • $xx for most consistent/highest scores on performance
  • % of savings in reducing loss of linens, china, etc.
  • % of increased sales/ADR over predetermined goal
  • Most number of guest rooms cleaned this week/month
  • Lowest turnover in departments with more than 10 staff
  • There is no single answer, just as there is no single hotel style, design, or operation that is the only one that will be successful.  It is the realization of Edison's thought on missed opportunity that limits most of us.
    SHARING BEST PRACTICES – An Interactive Exchange 
    Understanding that not all of us are motivated by the same things: 

    A new look at awards and recognition 

    If you have a best practice, you would like to share on the topic in this column or in another area of the hospitality industry, please send it to me at for possible future inclusion in future articles.  If your best practice is mentioned in an online article or other future publication, the person who submitted the practice will be credited in the column and that will be the only form of recognition or compensation.

    Feel free to share an idea for a column at anytime or contact me regarding consulting, customized workshops, speaking engagements …………. 
    And remember – we all need a regular dose of common sense.

    Autographed copies of LESSONS FROM THE FIELD – a COMMON SENSE APPROACH TO EFFECTIVE HOTEL SALES can be obtained from THE ROOMS CHRONICLE 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.

    Expertise and Research Interest
    • Sales Management and training
    • Turn-around and revenue management
    • Professional Development & Customer Service
    • Hospitality Leadership and Executive Education
    • Making Cultural Diversity Real
    • Accreditation & Developing Academic Hospitality programs

    He writes weekly columns for a number of global online services 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, ROOMS CHRONICLE  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. 

    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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    Do You Know Where Your Customer Is? Or Knowing Where Your Business Originates / Dr John Hogan / April 2009
    Understanding what we measure and making it count! Strategies for Hotel Controllers / Dr John Hogan / April 2009
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    A Different Appraisal of Our Biggest Challenges in 2009 / Dr John Hogan / April 2009
    Reflections: Mentors and Friends - Vermont Hoteliers Borden and Louise Avery and their Son Allen / Dr John Hogan / March 2009
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    My Definition of Hospitality. What’s Yours? / Dr. John Hogan / September 2008
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    10 Hotel Sales Mistakes to Avoid in Today’s Competitive Marketplace / Dr. John Hogan / August 2008
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    Principles for Success As a Hotel Manager - Maintaining Relationships Throughout the Organization / Dr John Hogan / August 2008
    Principles for Success As a Hotel Manager - Part four: Communicating with Clarity and Candor / Dr. John Hogan / July 2008
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    Understanding the Differences Between Marketing and Sales / Dr. John Hogan / April 2008
    Identifying Your Customers / Lessons from the Field A Common Sense Approach to Success in the Hospitality Industry / Dr. John Hogan / April 2008

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