By Robert A. Rauch
A “business success plan” for the hospitality industry requires a new set of disciplines. Today, knowledge acquisition of the changing technologies alone represents a challenge. Coupled with strong service leadership skills, the transfer of the success plan to each unit manager is made much easier.
Perhaps the most critical items for a business success plan are to have a vision, a clearly defined set of goals and a “glass is half full” mindset. If the vision is to lead the market in revenues and one of the goals is raising revenues through average rate or check average, detailed knowledge of the competition is paramount. The goal should be stated (in writing for emphasis) to the entire staff and accountability for achieving each goal should be determined for the sales department and front desk in a hotel, servers and hosts in a restaurant, etc. If the leader exhibits a positive approach to goal achievement, success is much more attainable. Lastly, this vision should be good for five years or more and should define a commitment to a legacy, culture and/or a brand.
Another item on the business success list is the “Just Do It” mentality. Nike’s ad campaign has served us well. Often, talk is cheap and actions do not take place in the market. Leaders act and get it right the first time by taking action the moment it is required. They also inspire others to do the same. Decision-makers are future leaders because they do not “toss the monkey” back. Leadership talents include caring, giving and building others into leaders.
This mentality is also important when looking for more business. As an example, a hotel finds it is lagging in online reservations. To win the electronic booking war, one must find the playing field. The field is new and dominated by major web sites or Online Travel Agencies (OTAs) – Expedia, Booking.com and Hotel Tonight to name a few. The ability to attack this new market opportunity is not limited to technology experts, rather it is limited to those who passionately want to drive market share. But they must “do it!”
Do sales managers return calls within an hour or two at most? Are requests for proposals sent out the same day they are made? At the front desk, can guest service agents resolve guest concerns and make refunds without the manager? Do restaurant team members know how to promptly handle a food complaint?
Unfortunately for many, hard work and persistence are required for hospitality industry success. A hotel is a 24/7 business. The image that some young people have about the hospitality industry being “all about fun” is only true after years of hard work and even then, it is important to be persistent in the pursuit of excellent customer service.
When looking for talent, we should ask:
- Will their leadership skills grow through “coaching?”
- What is the difference between an individual with “passion and vision” versus an individual who simply takes requests or pleases others?
- Will they grow through their mistakes and creative ideas?
When we hire, we must look for leaders who have self-confidence, ask lots of questions and care for others. These are the types of people who can someday replace us; perhaps they have some unique skills that we do not have. Call that “value-added!”
After we have hired the right person, we must train the team members in the specifics of the job and coach them to do their job well. After both training and coaching, the manager (leader) needs to get out of the way and let people do their job. Delegate tasks, authority and decision-making, but hold people accountable for their actions. A manager who works seven days a week to make sure things get done right is missing the most important attribute of leadership.
Moreover, as was discussed in Ken Blanchard’s One Minute Manager, leadership behavior that acknowledges someone for having done something right will stimulate the team as a whole. Unfortunately, many managers see their role as correcting behavior only when it is wrong. We have all worked for the manager that was always on our case when we made a mistake, was slow to give praise for having done something right and rarely said, “good job.” Good Leadership is always noticing when someone does something right and makes mention of it. Blanchard also promoted “management by walking around” which in our business refers to checking restaurant service in process, inspecting rooms and working “in the trenches.”
In Service, America by Karl Albrecht and Ron Eke, “moments of truth” was a phrase coined by Jan Carlzon, then president of Scandinavian Airlines. For purposes of this article the phrase means, “if you do not define what is supposed to happen when a customer encounters your organization at any given point, the experience will certainly not be a “wow” experience.” Leadership sets an expectation, creates an environment where that expectation is routinely met and ensures that it will carry on over time. Every service encounter that a team member will make and every expectation that leadership has must be communicated and reinforced.
Fiscal health is another leadership responsibility item that requires guiding the organization toward profitability. Line managers and department heads sometimes lose sight of the fact that their decisions have financial impacts on the business. Leadership must always be caring and compassionate but today’s worker’s compensation costs, insurance costs, energy costs and labor costs may cause a business to fail. If that occurs, human conditions like lay-offs, bankruptcy, foreclosure or hostile take-over will be much worse than the stress of dealing with and reigning in expenses.
In the 2006 publication The Power of Teamwork Inspired by the Blue Angels, Scott Beare and Michael McMillan come to realize that “every team member is counted upon to perform their role; teamwork allows teams to meet goals.” The concept of teamwork has been around for a very long time and it has been proven that every successful team needs an apt, motivating and inspiring leader so that goals can be met. The real question is what shift will we be experiencing in leadership in 2015 and beyond?
We are able to draw many parallels between the art of hospitality in modern society and how it was practiced in the good old days. To reach peak performance, all members of a team need to have shared visions and values for a company. Moreover, the leader needs to realize that sacrificing individual gain for the team’s greater good still remains a necessity, as it did many years ago. “Lead by example and walk the talk” are words that have been taught for many years.
Establishing oneself as simply a leader is vastly different than becoming an influential leader. An influential leader is able to create boundaries, purpose, values, goals and structure. Lee Iacocca once said that “the only things you need are people, products and profits. Without a team, forget the other two.” When focusing on people it is crucial to prioritize, execute relentlessly and to not lose sight of the tasks at hand. You must set goals to inspire action; if you aim at nothing, you will hit nothing. Once you start progressing, keep pushing until the said goals are reached and if necessary, adapt and improvise to continue to move forward. Perhaps the most important element is, “do not obsess over your inbox.” Rather, fixate on your personal tasks set in front of you; this type of interaction and communication with your staff will influence them to follow your example as a successful leader.
Not only is it important to be a leader among your team and staff, it is very important that one remains an industry leader as well. Staying informed on the constant, rapid technological advancements within the industry will make all the difference when competing with other companies and organizations. There is a need to compare today’s distribution channels with those that were in existence over the past few years to become aware of the significant differences. The observation of an emerging mobile web, a blossoming social media market and development in digital marketing is pivotal in staying ahead of the curve.
World-class service organizations have proven themselves as leaders in hospitality by finding value in applying certain practices that most companies do not, giving them a strong competitive advantage. They are able to exceed customer expectations by anticipating them ahead of time. This form of customer service needs to be planned and executed with diligence, ease and grace because it is the rule, not the exception. Although this method is seemingly easy, viewing customer service as an attitude and a culture requires significant preparation in the processes of hiring, training and monitoring efforts. As acclaimed leadership expert Mark Stanborn states, “success is based on our ability to change faster than the competition, customers and business.”
At the end of the day, be honest, caring and hard-working or the above will not matter. Be both a teacher and a mentor so that when people learn, they also feel like they have a “go to” source for advice. Our greatest assets are our team members and our customers. If we treat them both honestly, care about them and work hard to preserve the quality and attention to detail that they require, we will have helped to create a “unique selling proposition” that sets us apart from the competition.
This, coupled with sales leaders who follow up with handwritten notes, will help to win the market share war. The all-important profit war will come easier if the revenues are there…and those profits might be the best example of service leadership. To add a quote from legendary North Carolina State men’s basketball coach Jimmy Valvano, “never give up, don’t ever give up.”