The Owner – Manager Dynamic

I wrote previously about the various General Managers I have come across in the years of working at the hotel. I thought I would share a bit about the relationship between the owners and the managers.

The owner of the hotels is a limited partnership corporation, with one individual appointed to oversee the hotel operations and report back to the rest of the board of directors. For the first few years of me being at the hotel, my relationship with these individuals was limited, i.e. give them data to make decisions and make reservations for them. For the past year and a half, I had a deeper relationship with the board and the directors of the hotel. Needless to say, I’ve been able to get a pretty good sense of what is happening on all sides of the operation through my conversations with the owners, the General Manager, and other managers.

The Tasmanian Devil

Of course, I speak not of the Australian animal, but the Looney Tunes character.

During the past year and a half, the person in charge of overseeing the hotel operations wasn’t based locally. They communicated by phone, email, and periodic visits to the hotels. The visits were quite regular, but that was the only regular thing about the trips. Once here, the energy was vibrant as the Tasmanian Devil spun around the entire operation, dropping in to talk at the manager’s meetings, with individual managers, before tearing off into the distance to deal with other matters and leave town. Left behind is the dust of its trail, and the starry-eyed looks of the managers and staff wondering what they just witnessed. These visits were terrifying for most, because they never really knew what to expect and whether they were going to be a target, while others thrived within these visits.

The majority of the managers never had regular contact with the Tasmanian Devil, and they were the ones living in fear of it the most. When the Tasmanian Devil approached them, they never knew whether they were in trouble or whether they were just receiving a check-up. It should not have been like this, but like I mentioned with the post about the General Managers, they were not getting regular visits. They were not used to people asking their opinions about things, and when they voiced their concerns, they were not listened to. The Tasmanian Devil definitely stirred things up for these people, listening to their concerns, raising their own concerns, and leaving people with a clear answer on which direction they should be heading.

For people like myself, we looked forward to the times the Tasmanian Devil arrived because it was during these visits that we received an assessment of our positions. I never received a formal performance review, but these visits were close. I was told what I had to do to make things better, had a voice in the direction of the hotels, and had some positive affirmation about the job I was actually doing. I never really received that with the General Managers. I was like the other managers, basically left to do my own thing, but I was sending out twice weekly revenue reports, so someone could always keep an eye on the hotels’ performance. It was through these revenue reports that I earned further respect from the other managers, and most importantly, from the Tasmanian Devil.

There is incredible energy when the Tasmanian Devil touches down, and there is nothing that goes untouched in most cases. When the Tasmanian Devil sees something it should go after, it does not delay and attacks it head on. It puts things in the place where it believes it should be and departs. The biggest fault of the Tasmanian Devil is it never sticks around long enough to make sure things stay in place where it has put it. It will leave thinking it has fixed things, but within a day’s time, things are fixed to be the same as when they originally found them.

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A Rainbow of General Managers

October 12, 2009 1 comment

In my relatively short career, I’ve had the unusual experience of having worked under four different General Managers. I say unusual, because the average length of a tenure has been about ten months. Fortunately for me, all four of these General Managers worked differently, so I have been able to take away a piece of each to develop my own approach to management.

1. The Talker

The talker General Manager is one who is always around the hotel, interacting with guests and staff. Morale is usually upbeat, because the Talker is an energetic person. They’re quick to shake hands with a new guest, talk with the bar patrons, and find out as much information as they can that may benefit the hotels in the long run. The Talker has great charisma, and attracts people in with stories of their wild achievements in the hospitality field and elsewhere – essentially Big Fish stories as no one present can back them up. The energy of the Talker gets passed down to the other managers and staff. Everyone has a certain excitement about coming to work, and they work hard to hear the glowing praise come down from above. The bar will be busy, the hotel rooms full, and staff members will hang out after hours – it’s all fun and games.

But, because it is all fun and games, a lot of things go missed. The Talker is so busy interacting with people, talking big about upcoming plans and goals, that nothing actually gets done. The Talker will delegate down responsibilities, even though they should be the one handling the situation. The Talker brags about how they only work a few hours out of a day, which leaves some people disappointed and wondering why they should try harder. The Talker loves to talk with people, but only positive things. Any time a guest wishes to complain to them, they are unavailable, and refer them to another front-line staff member. Service quality is great until problems arise and the situation worsens, leading to guests and bar patrons never returning. There is also little control of the operation, leading to no one monitoring room rates, labour, etc. So although the operation appears to be running at full-steam, the expenses are out of line and no one makes any serious money. That’s the one thing the Talker will not be discussing.

2. The Loud Mouth

The Loud Mouth General Manager is a direct descendent of The Talker. Both are very much extroverted and love to interact with clients and patrons. The difference is the Talker is there in person, The Loud Mouth makes a rare appearance and would rather communicate over a loudspeaker. Since The Loud Mouth is not in the office area as much as The Talker, there is more activity going on within the organization. Departments are left to do their own thing and people are under the impression that they must be doing a good job, because they haven’t heard otherwise. No criticism or praise equals a good job, in their minds. The Loud Mouth instead spends time in his office working on certain aspects of the operation that no one else has the expertise in. Cost control is in effect, if muted. The Loud Mouth is aware of the problems, but since they are in the office so often, they can’t deal with things properly.

Every now and then, the booming voice of the Loud Mouth comes down from above in the form of an email, a memo, a quick phone conversation – rarely in person. It is during these loud pronouncements that change is expected, but with minimal direction. You may receive the order to cut down costs, but no idea on how to actually achieve that goal. Problems arise when people take the lack of proper communication as an insult, and the interactions turn more and more abrasive with The Loud Mouth. Because the Loud Mouth resides in the office so much, there is no upbeat energy in the departments, and morale drops. As morale drops further, the abrasiveness gets worse to the point where either the managers and staff are leaving, or the Loud Mouth is shown the door.

3. The GTDer

The GTDer is an energetic Talker, but has the evasiveness of the Loud Mouth. They handle the clients and staff well and keep the energy upbeat more frequently than Loud Mouth. They constantly communicate with the staff by phone, memos or email, and always have a strong presence to them when in the work place. They are always clear with their communication, always holding a notebook or clipboard for notes. They have an organized system on their computer or on paper, and like to use phrases like “Action it” or “It’s in the Inbox.” Their enthusiasm is great for all the front line workers, and gives them the impression things are organized and moving ahead. The management and staff may question where the GTDer is, but they firmly believe that no matter where they are, they are Getting Things Done.

While the GTDer is busy getting things done, like the Talker, they are so busy organizing and getting things done, they are unavailable when the staff and management need them most. They would prefer to work in an office with the lights out than in an office with the door open to everyone. Problems may be brought to their attention, and like the Loud Mouth, an answer given but no further direction. As time progresses, the staff start to question if anything is being done at all, and the management are left in the difficult situation of either waiting, or acting without having permission from above. Control slowly dissolves from the General Manager down to the departmental managers, who have no eye on the big picture. There is no forward momentum in the organization, as everyone is left waiting to hear from the GTDer.

4. The Boy Scout

The Boy Scout General Manager is a cross of all of the other three types. They like to talk and interact with people, like to stay in the office to work, and seem like they are fairly well organized – in the head only. The Boy Scout seems to have endless energy, and is always around working on things – they are a GTDer at heart. Since they, like The Talker, are always around, they have a good grasp of what is happening at the ground level. They are always listening to people: staff, managers, clients, and guests. They are always eager to help out in times of need, and put the weight of the organization on their shoulders to make sure things get done.

This eagerness to do things starts to get the Boy Scout into trouble, because just like a regular boy scout, they like to start fires and camp. The Boy Scout Manager is always on the hunt for areas where they can light a fire and make a change on their own. They are stubborn, because they want to start the fire on their own and don’t want assistance. They don’t necessarily tell everyone where the fire will be started or when, either. Some people may know, or some people may know but they all know different times and places. After starting the fire, the Boy Scout likes to set-up camp somewhere to recover. In a sense, this camp because a mobile office for the Boy Scout Manager, as they never occupy the same workspace on a daily basis. This causes great confusion, as none of the staff or management know exactly where the Boy Scout is located, and end up doing things without much guidance. The Boy Scout manager may feel as though he is being usurped, but since he is so busy starting fires and setting up camp, he does not spend enough time making the decisions he has to make.

In light of the above experiences, here is a list of my perfect General Manager and someone I aspire to become:

  • Energetic, constantly communicating the proper things to staff and management, and always available.
  • Organized, likes to get things done and attain goals.
  • Not a Superman – can’t do everything on their own, understands this, and delegates to the proper channels putting trust in staff to do the right job.
  • A hand on the joystick – always aware of what’s going on, and not afraid to grab the joystick to control things if it gets out of control.
  • Personable, easy to get along with.
  • Not a firestarter. Respectful of department heads to do the right job, and not manage their departments without them knowing.

It’s a short list, and I know there are a lot more skills involved, but these are the personality traits I would look for or would work towards.

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Customer Experience

September 13, 2009 Leave a comment

In the hospitality industry, the customer experience is the main factor that builds the hotel’s reputation. That should be self-evident for everyone involved in a customer-service oriented business, but too much thought goes into the design of the environment and not how the customer actually experiences that environment. It is not enough to create a laundry list of services available to a guest in order to build a marketing campaign and attract guests to the hotel. Having the services be available is valuable, but there is more value in having services that work, and the Front Desk agents or other staff members are 100% comfortable working with.

The way around it, I think, is to set expectations early and often. If you’re going to give me your phone number, you better answer it. If you’re going to offer a warranty, you better honor it. If you position yourself as a company with real people eager to make every single person happy–you better deliver.” – Seth Godin

One area that is of great importance for the guest that goes overlooked from an operational standpoint is the Guest Directory. Life in the hotel changes quickly as services change to compete with other hotels, new management teams come in with new ideas, or the season changes so the restaurant menu adjusts to cater to certain meats or vegetables in season. Because of how quickly things may change in the hotel, the last thing to get updated is the Guest Directory. Memos may get circulated to update all the staff members, but those memos will do no good unless the guest has access to the same information as the staff. Frustration will quickly set in for the guest as they check into the room and flip open the directory to find a different pass code for the wireless internet system compared to the one the Front Desk offered them.

To feel completely comfortable at the hotel, the guest should never have to deal with, “which piece of information is correct and up to date?” Confusion and assumptions will lead to many problems during the stay at the hotel. Any changes that are being made have to have a certain evolution before they are actually enforced.

  1. Brainstorm – develop the idea at a manager/owners level, playing out the pros and cons of the idea.
  2. Discuss – bring the idea to the operational staff (lower level managers and supervisors) to make sure the idea can be put in place properly, and to see if there are any conflicts with existing practices.
  3. Inform – tell the staff of the changes to be made; why, how, and when the idea will be implemented.
  4. Update – walk around the hotel and look for areas where the new idea will conflict with existing procedures, signage, and information put into the rooms. Also inspect the hotel’s website, extranet sites, and other 3rd party sites to make sure all information out there is accurate and up to date. Make any changes necessary.
  5. Implement – immediately after updating all the information available to the guest, put the idea into motion.
  6. Follow-up – make sure to discuss with all operational staff and the management team a few weeks/months after the idea has been put into practice to make sure everything is working smoothly. If it isn’t, repeat the steps to correct the problems.

As Seth Godin says, “you better deliver.” To do anything else should be considered a failure to the guests, and the hotel.