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You Can’t Win if You Don’t Play
Hotel Team Member Engagement takes Participation!

By Jim Hartigan
May 11, 2011

Welcome to Part III in our three-part series on the “hotel team member engagement” journey.  So far, we’ve discussed two important facets of employee engagement: Trust and Communication.  Our last (but certainly not least important) topic is Participation.  While I doubt any hotel manager needs to hear how important it is to build team member participation in your properties, I think it is useful to review some ideas for how to increase the level of team member participation in your hotel.  So, without further ado—the envelope…err, I mean the ideas, please …

Establish an atmosphere of acceptance and encouragement
A hotel property that is accepting and open to new ideas and innovation is a critical first step for every hotel manager wanting to increase participation from his or her team.  Such an atmosphere is one of the most powerful drivers for encouraging participation.  Many team members can be timid or unsure about sharing their ideas.  This is particularly true for new or younger employees, who don’t want to risk being made to “feel stupid.”  On the flipside, a lot of veterans are comfortable where they are … sometimes a little too comfortable.  These old timers might not be as inclined to participate or share new and innovative ideas.  For them, it’s overcoming the “I told you that before” or “We tried that before and it didn’t work” syndrome.

So, how does a hotel manager create this utopian workplace where everyone is suddenly willing to participate and collaborate?  Easy.  Buy a few black lights, lava lamps, and incense; crank some Ravi Shankar and blast it throughout the back office and team member break room; and, of course, establish a “shower and shoes optional” policy – wait that might not be very guest friendly, now that I think about it.  In all seriousness, there’s plenty of stuff you can do to create an atmosphere that encourages participation.  For example, think about how you manage your team meetings.  Does the agenda consistently allocate time to soliciting team member ideas?  Beyond formal meetings, scheduling more casual, ad hoc meetings or brainstorming sessions for issues that your hotel is facing that might involve multiple departments is a great way to create such an environment, particularly if those departments don’t normally “play well together in the sandbox.”  After the recent bout of reductions in force (commonly referred to as RIF), everyone in your hotel is probably working at full capacity these days.  So when planning these kinds of sessions, you should be sensitive to the team member’s workload.  That said it could be immensely valuable to your hotel to take an hour here or there and let everyone put their heads together.  In addition to fostering participation, you might just find that you get some real work done during these meetings!  Imagine that!  

Listen, Learn, and Act … Re-Mix!
If you’ve read a few our previous work in this area, you know about the Listen-Learn-Act (LLA) process.  It comes up time and again because it is applicable to so many different scenarios.  In a nutshell, LLA refers to the manager’s need to “listen” to his or her team members, “learn” from what’s been said, and then “act” based on what was learned.  So how does LLA relate to Participation?  For starters, consider the value a team member survey would have in increasing employee participation.  By following the LLA process as you develop and implement your team member surveys, you’re inviting them to participate in the betterment of your organization.  Team members will feel a sense of empowerment because they are part of the decision making process.  Of course, you must develop and deliver a quality survey in order ensure its success, and you must demonstrate to your team members that their feedback and participation in the survey was valuable to you by acting on the results.

Remember, too, that LLA doesn’t just apply to a team member survey context.  Every interaction with a team member is a chance to Listen, Learn, and Act!  As a manager, you should keep that process in the back of your mind, so that even in your daily interactions with team members as you walk around your property, you are encouraging their participation by showing them that you truly value their input!

Incentivize It!
A wise person once said, “You get more of anything you subsidize.”  I think it was a member of the Tea Party, but I digress.  Management has the power to turn employee participation it into a game, to make it a challenge for those über-competitive team members.  You can incentivize participation by giving your team members a “piece of the action” through bonuses tied to percentages of what they save or make the business.  Directly link participation to your rewards and recognition strategies is a great way to “put your money where your mouth is” as it relates to improving participation in the workplace.

Of course, not all incentives must come in the form of a bonus check.  Praise and accolades can be just as powerful in encouraging team member participation.  This is particularly true during today’s wobbly economic climate.  During the recent recovery, many hotels aren’t exactly flush with cash that they can hand out to team members just for speaking up in a meeting.  Likewise, many team members are still in “Geez, I’m just thankful to even HAVE a job!” mode.  It is in these instances where praise and accolades are worth their weight in gold.  Wait, that doesn’t make sense.  Praise and accolades don’t actually weigh anything.  But hopefully you see my point.  For a team member to hear “’that’s a great idea!”, or “You did a super job with that guest today!” gives them a level assurance and confidence that will hopefully inspire them to continue to exceed expectations.

Well, here we are – the end of the Team Member Engagement series.  I don’t know about you, but I’m kinda sad to see it end.  We’ve taken a comprehensive look at Trust, Communication, and now, Participation…Three cornerstones to building a more engaged workforce in YOUR hotel.  I hope you find the ideas and tips we’ve shared to be helpful as you work to keep your team members motivated and engaged.  If you have any ideas or tips you’d like to share – drop me an email – I’d love to Listen to them, Learn from You, and the Act on what I learn.  Until next time, remember to take care of your customers, take care of each other, and take care of yourself!

About the Author:
Jim Hartigan, Chief Business Development Officer and Partner joined OrgWide Services, a Training/e-Learning, Communications, Surveys and Consulting firm in April 2010 after nearly 30 years experience in the hospitality industry, including the last 18 as a senior executive with Hilton Worldwide. Jim’s last position was that of Senior Vice President – Global Brand Services where he provided strategic leadership and business development and support to the $22B enterprise of 10 brands and more than 3,400 hotels in 80 countries around the world. His team was responsible for ensuring excellence in system product quality, customer satisfaction, market research, brand management, media planning, and sustainability.

Jim Hartigan
Chief Business Development Officer & Partner
OrgWide Services
165 N. Main Street, Suite 202
Collierville, TN 38017
office: 901.850.8190  Ext. 230
mobile: 901.628.6586

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