By David Lund

If Service is Beneath You – Then Leadership is Beyond You.”

I cannot find an owner on Google for this statement, so I am going to claim it as mine. If someone already coined this phrase I will let it go, if not it is mine. The reason why is because it is the foundation for the transformation I experienced as a financial leader. It is also the basis for the work I do with hospitality financial leaders and their non-financial departmental managers. Let me explain to you what I mean and how these words are the very essence of creating a financially engaged team in your hotel.

I worked inside hotels for more than 30 years. The last 20 were spent in an executive roll as the controller, regional controller, hotel manager and even a four-year stint as a corporate financial director.

For the first two-thirds or so of my time in hotels I thought things worked a certain way. It goes like this: Bosses tell their employees what they expect and in turn employees do the work. The results created from this work ethic were on a sliding scale from pretty good to dismal.

Now, step sideways from being the boss to having a lateral position (that was me). That means you need other managers to deliver on your requests. As the controller or director of finance, this should be your modus operandi and will produce the collection of correct information needed to get the job done well.

As the controller or director of finance you need all the other department managers, directors and even assistants, in certain situations, to give you information so you can do your job. These other managers do not report to you, they report to someone else. So how do you get them to deliver on your requirements for this information?

This was the 64,000-pound gorilla that I wrestled with every day and month inside my hotels. I also know it is the same struggle you have and maybe you tend to do things like the forecast and the commentary in-camera. In-camera means a process or discussion where the public is not invited. For me the in-camera thing was not an option. I was bound and determined to get my fellow department heads to play ball and deliver on their financial responsibilities. I was all about getting the non-financial managers to do their part!

For me to get the forecast done each month I needed the other leaders to tell me what their departmental activity was going to be for the next three months. If they generate revenue, how much? They all had payroll and expenses and I needed to know what they planned to spend based on the latest hotel occupancy and group forecast. I could not sit in my office and dream up what was going down in the kitchen the next month—or in maintenance or sales or any department with any degree of accuracy. If you can, great, I guess your crystal ball is better than mine was, but I could not do this well. In fact, for me many times it exploded in my face—with owners, the GM and other department managers.

For me to close the books cleanly each month meant I needed the same leaders to give me their accruals on time and turn in their expense reports. This was like pulling teeth. I cannot tell you how many hundreds of invoices and expense reports were posted in the wrong period. They literally totaled millions of dollars over time.

The monthly commentary was equally as painful. I think if you have read this far you get the picture.

Annual budget was summer and fall concert tour of same chase for information

This “How can I get the other managers to give me what I need to do my job?” was the bane of my existence. Time and time again I was holding statements that had old expenses, forecasts that were not accurate, and commentaries that lacked great information. Yes, explosion after explosion.

Naively I thought the other managers would be compelled to deliver on the forecast, month-end and budget schedules. Heck, I sent out timely memos and reminders. I even spoke regularly at the executive and department head meetings. I knew all my fellow executives and my GM knew that my schedules were critical, so I could meet the corporate deadlines. But alas, none of this worked. What I received consistently from the other leaders was usually either late, not useful or not at all. But I found a cure.

The cure was service

Service can be delivered in many different forms. In hospitality we see service as front and center. Delivering service to our guests is obvious. Providing service to our colleagues from non-operating departments is a little less obvious, but it is vital for the health of the service culture in any hotel.

The type of service I discovered and ended up providing was different from both of these.

When I found myself complaining about the “lack of information coming to me” traction with other managers, one of my bosses suggested I create a seminar and educate the other leaders on the hotels finances. I remember thinking, “What a waste of time that will be!” I thought it was a stupid idea. The other managers hated accounting and they literally ran in the other direction when they saw me coming and he wanted me to spend a day giving them a workshop on accounting? Was he out of his mind?

But guess what? My workshop created the exact opposite result.

I begrudgingly put together a workshop where I laid out my case for the hotel business. Why we need the information, who needs to see it, what we do with it, why it matters and most importantly why we need their input in its creation and ongoing manifestation.

The scheduled workshop day arrived, and I was pretty sure I would suck and so would my workshop. I remember being scared and nervous. Would they laugh at me? Would I make a fool of myself?

None of my fears were realized. Although I was not a practiced workshop leader, the information I delivered that day was well received. The other non-financial leaders seemed hungry for knowledge. Business knowledge was in demand.

The non-financial leaders gobbled up the content because of four reasons:

  1. They could see immediately that what I was teaching would benefit them. Leaders all want to get ahead and having financial skills in hospitality is a must for their advancement. Their personal prosperity would increase with these skills.
  2. They could now see the financials are not so tough. Getting managers from all different departments together to share and discuss the numbers exposed the truth. It is basically the same thing in each department: payroll, expenses. The charade that the numbers were the hard part of hospitality evaporated.
  3. Leaders could see they have impact. Making a difference in how the hotel was run is the result of having your numbers in the forecast, budget, and having someone read your comments included in the monthly is a powerful motivating factor. Putting them in touch with the fact that owners, corporate and all the other stake holders need their input. They need their numbers!
  4. Once they could see that there was a system to follow and someone to support their learning they were willing to step up.

My workshop and the relationships that were created that day had a profound impact on me, the other leaders and my hotel.

What I did not see immediately was I was providing service to these leaders by educating them. In the following weeks and months things started to change in my hotel. All of a sudden, the group of managers that were in my workshop all had a new respect and admiration for me. The by-product of all of this was now I was moving in the right direction. I now had managers who were willing and able to deliver their forecasts, submit their accruals and write a compelling commentary.

All of this was created by service

Me serving them. I never could have imagined this would happen. But it did and it is the secret sauce for your recipe too. How do I know this? Because, that is the work I do. I help clients like you educate your non-financial leaders and get them into the financial game.

If you are like me, you will not believe it is possible. But like me, you are wrong. I sat on my expectations for a long, long time and as a result I was frustrated constantly with the lack of commitment around the financial piece from other departmental managers. What changed the day I delivered my workshop was service. I was now serving them.

I will repeat my quote again, “If Service is Beneath You then Leadership is Beyond You.”

Your managers are crying out for knowledge. They all want to be leaders with financial skills. What is missing is someone to teach them. Step up or get someone to deliver the goods.

There is no one else in your hotel who can provide them with this knowledge other than you. If you do not want this part of the job, then get some help.

Either way it equates to the same thing. You are providing service to others.