Fostering Initiative in Your Organization

Do your department heads demonstrate initiative in the operation of their individual departmental “businesses” or do they sit on their hands waiting for you, the general manager, to tell them what to do?

The latter situation is detrimental to your enterprise because it:

  • Puts the burden on the GM to know what’s going on and what needs improvement at all times and in all areas of the operation,
  • Slows down any efforts toward continual process improvement as the GM’s plate becomes full and mired in operational detail,
  • Takes focus away from the strategic duties of the GM,
  • Requires the GM to have an in-depth understanding of all operational disciplines which few, if any, possess, no matter how experienced and competent,
  • Robs subordinate managers of the opportunity to exercise judgment, gain executive experience, own outcomes, grow skills for greater authority and responsibility, and experience the satisfaction of success and accomplishment – a significant driving force for most people, particularly the gifted and ambitious,
  • Demonstrates a lack of trust in subordinates,
  • Is the primary symptom of the doomed-to-fail “genius with a thousand helpers” leader – the one who feels that only he or she is capable of doing the job right and who promotes a cadre of “yes men” while driving away the most competent assistants,
  • Damages the future of the enterprise by putting all the leadership strength and decision-making in one basket, thereby creating the potential for catastrophe when he or she moves on,
  • Inevitably burns out the individual who is trying to do it all.

The intelligent alternative to these consequences is to put the responsibility and accountability for operational areas into the hands of capable subordinates who know and understand all aspects of their business specialty.  But to work effectively, the general manager must first:

  • Establish and reinforce organizational leadership and values,
  • Spell out expectations for performance,
  • Establish annual operational goals,
  • In conjunction with individual managers establish departmental goals, develop meaningful work plans, and hold them strictly accountable for results,
  • Bo open and approachable for consultation as necessary,
  • Monitor progress toward goals and work plan completion by using milestones and timelines,
  • Meet at least monthly with department heads to review progress,
  • Offer ideas and assistance through mentoring and professional development of subordinates,
  • Praise and reward wins,
  • Constructively review failures with the goal of educating and improving.

When all these things are done on a continuing basis, the performance of the entire operation is maximized, the operation shows continual improvement, and members/guests/customers are provided an ever-enhanced experience that rewards and delights their ongoing patronage.

A few caveats:  When embarking on a course of greater subordinate initiatives, experience and trust are paramount.  Therefore:

  • For those subordinates who are new or relatively unknown to the organization or who by past questionable action warrant a degree of caution, use a process of specific direction and close supervision until they’ve demonstrated the requisite skills and judgment to exercise broader initiative.
  • For those who’ve already demonstrated sound judgment, competence, and professionalism, give them a freer hand while being ever ready for consultation and brainstorming.

When mistakes happen, and rest assured that they will, use them as learning experiences and move on to the next challenge and initiative.

Summary:  Initiative is one of the primary components of sound leadership.  Hospitality enterprises operate in highly competitive environments and are too complex to allow any portion of the operation to tread water.  Continual improvement and the necessary initiative to move forward on a broad front are critical to ongoing success.

Thanks and have a great day!

Ed Rehkopf

This weekly blog comments on and discusses the hospitality industry and its challenges. From time to time, we will feature guest bloggers – those managers and industry experts who have something of interest to say to all of us. We also welcome feedback and comment upon the blog, hoping that it will become a useful sounding board for what’s on the minds of hardworking hospitality managers throughout the country and around the world.

Hospitality Resources International – Management Resources for Hospitality Operators!


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