Archive for March, 2016

Beyond Oral History

Monday, March 28th, 2016

The term “oral history” is used to describe the practices of early societies to pass on historical and cultural information to succeeding generations in an effort to preserve the knowledge and traditions of the group.  More recently it has come to describe the recording of personal impressions from witnesses of historic events.  But as valuable as these methods were to ancient cultures, as well as to modern day historians, they should never, by default, be the basis for preserving and disseminating the organizational values and operational methods of a business enterprise.

The danger of doing so has long been revealed by a demonstration of the unreliability of verbal communication.  In this lesson a simple written message is given to the first person in a group and then whispered sequentially through a number of individuals to a final recipient.  The transmitted message is then read to the group and compared to the original note.  The result is a surprising and often incomprehensible jumble of words in no way resembling the original message.  If this isn’t proof positive of the unsuitability of oral transmission of important information, I don’t know what is!

Yet this is what many private clubs do when they fail to create written expectations for the performance and behavior of their employees or provide thorough and consistent training based on those expectations.  This is all the more egregious when one recognizes the complexity and nuance involved in quality and service – a far cry from the simplicity of the mangled message from the previous paragraph.

Often it seems that when a club hires someone who has worked in hospitality or service positions before, their experience is viewed as prima facie evidence that they know what to do in all important and expected service situations.  Such an assumption borders on lunacy.  The fallacy of such thinking is exposed in a number of ways:

  • Service employees come from a variety of backgrounds, cultures, learning environments, and experiences.  What constitutes manners, norms of behavior, and the expectations inherent in quality and service are by no means commonly understood.  Expecting that they are is equivalent to playing slots and hoping for a triple 7 with every spin of the wheels – very long odds indeed!
  • Even an applicant with a strong service resume at another club does not in any way ensure he or she will meet the standards of your operation.
  • Many clubs have significant turnover, meaning that successive generations of employees can move through the doors with mind-numbing speed.  Without well-defined (read “written”) training materials, your expectations and standards will be just as fragile and fleeting as the whispered message mentioned above.
  • Since hiring for the service ranks is rarely done in bulk, but rather piecemeal as employees come and go, there is seldom the opportunity for the consistency that results from group training.  The danger here is that any new hire(s) may not get the same orientation and training as previous hires due to the busy-ness of the season and the other priorities of distracted managers.
  • All the same dangers inherent in the faulty assumptions concerning line employees are just as real, only with far greater consequences, in the hiring of new managers and supervisors.  Don’t for a moment expect that they possess from prior experience the unique values, leadership methods, expectations, or standards of quality and service of your club.
  • Lastly, how can the general manager who is ultimately responsible for the club’s performance be sure that the various departments have established the expected standards of quality and service without the ability to review these and modify them as necessary.  While personal observation is helpful, it does nothing to ensure consistency of message and practice.  The only sure way is to have all the essential details of your operation in writing and available for review while also forming the basis for consistent training and transmission of important information throughout the organization.

So what can the conscientious manager do to ensure his or her club is not operating from the communication practices of ancient communities or the memories of long-past events?  Here are some suggested priorities:

  • Establish and continually reinforce Organizational Values as the consistent code for how the club’s staff is expected to relate to and interact with all constituencies.
  • Create written standards, policies, and procedures (SPP’s) for all areas of the operations.  Provide easy access to these by use of some sort of linked policies database.  Use these SPP’s to develop onboarding and training materials to ensure consistency of message.
  • Spell out performance and behavior expectations to managers and employees alike through a variety of onboarding, ongoing training, and reinforcement tools and techniques, such as New Hire Orientations, Employee Handbook, Managers’ Handbook, Training on the Go, Notable Quotables, Daily Huddles, Values Pocket Cards, and ongoing discussion of critical quality and service topics.
  • Prepare formal annual plans for the club as a whole, each department, and individual managers to guide the management team to uniform accomplishment of goals and performance.
  • Use ongoing review and continual process improvement in all areas of the operation to solidify achievements, improve processes, and deeply implant organizational values and best practices in the club’s DNA.
  • Routinely provide ongoing feedback, both formal and informal, on performance and progress.  Reinforce desired performance and behaviors by celebrating “wins” with recognition and expressions of appreciation.

All of the above are common sense solutions to the ongoing challenges of club management.  If so, why aren’t they more prevalent in club operations?  I suspect that the primary barrier to their implementation is the effort and work involved for busy managers coping with the myriad challenges of busy operations.  But if there is to be any type of moving beyond an unsatisfactory status quo, extraordinary thinking and action is necessary.

Hospitality Resources International has developed and offers a wide variety of resources to assist in improving the current operating paradigm of club operations.  Certainly there is a cost and effort involved, but the reasonable investment in ready resources to move beyond the oral history foundation of so many operations is a small price to pay to the immense benefits to be reaped from the effort.  A good starting point is to read the overarching plan described in The Quest for Remarkable Service.  Then go back and review the various linked resources in this article to gain a more detailed understanding of these methods and means to excellence.

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!

 

A Tale of Two Service Experiences

Monday, March 21st, 2016

Most private club general managers intuitively understand the importance of the member experience at their club.  To do otherwise is to put their employment at risk.  Great effort is expended on providing warm, friendly, courteous, welcoming, personalized service to all members.  Despite this effort though, ongoing service complaints from members seems to be a fact of life in many clubs.

Each complaint starts a familiar cycle of apology; investigation to pinpoint failure; corrective or disciplinary action as necessary; and renewed emphasis on training.  Often, the ongoing investment in management time and effort in these service matters precludes adequate focus on larger and more long-term operational objectives.  Yet for all the effort put into resolving service failures, there never seems to be a permanent solution as they continue to crop up again and again.

While there may be a variety of institutional causes for service failures – lack of consistent leadership, lack of organization, lack of well-defined service culture, and lack of training – one of the most damaging can be the attitude and commitment of the service staff as a result of the club’s employee experience.

The following story relates my own early experiences many years ago in three different hospitality properties – a club, a hotel, and a fine dining restaurant.

What was most distressing was their similarity – no onboarding, no welcome, no introduction to purpose and means, no spelling out of expectations, no employee handbook, and no adequate training.  What little effort put into orientation at the club was a sheath of worn photocopies with disjointed information from a variety of sources that spoke vaguely of service.  But this material lacked the larger context of what, when, why, where, or how and provided no introduction or segue from topic to topic.

Even more disturbing was the introduction to the fine dining restaurant where new employees were treated with open disdain.  Unforgettable was the abrupt response to one bold question about treatment and training – that we could leave if we didn’t like it, that there were plenty of others who could take our place.  In hindsight it was more like induction into the military than working for an organization whose business was predicated on service excellence.

This early introduction to hospitality motivated my leadership and managerial efforts throughout a long career.  It just seemed commonsensical to provide a more welcoming and supportive introduction to the very people who would deliver service.  Instead of alienated and cynical employees locked in an adversarial relationship with management, I wanted willing and committed team members to help advance the aims and purpose of the organization.

In contrast to these experiences is the example of the Ritz-Carlton Company that operates luxury hotels worldwide for the Marriott Corporation.  They view their employees as indispensable partners whose daily attitude and actions form the basis for the company’s legendary service.  As a company, they purposely invest as much focus and effort in their employee experience as they do their guest experience and the results are remarkable!  Read Service the Ritz-Carlton Way for more detail.

While the Ritz-Carlton employee experience may be reasonable for a large company with deep pockets and wide-ranging resources, the basic premise of their success is built on the simple notion that if you care for your employees (providing them all the necessary tools, training, resources, inclusiveness, engagement, and leadership example), they’ll be motivated to care for your customers.

First and foremost in Ritz-Carlton employee experience is the attitude that their employees matter.  From this attitude flows a commitment to value and treat employees with the same consideration and respect they provide their guests.  All the rest is just the details of how to do it consistently in all departments and properties.

With a little creative thinking and a lot of consistent Service-Based Leadership, this model is just as achievable for any private club.  The resources to do so consistently are at the heart of most everything provided on the Hospitality Resources International website.

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!

 

 

 

Listening to the Line

Monday, March 14th, 2016

Because of my interest in military history, I frequently come across the impact of leadership as the essential ingredient and foundation for winning military campaigns.  I recently finished reading General Eisenhower’s Crusade in Europe recounting the Allied military efforts in Europe in World War II.

His perspective is unique in that, as the Supreme Commander of Allied Forces in the European Theater, Eisenhower’s authority eventually encompassed 3 million men and women from over a dozen countries in both fighting and support roles on land, sea, and in the air.  The enterprise itself was, in size and scope, the greatest single endeavor of the 20th Century – the defeat of Hitler and the Axis Powers.

While military leadership is distinct in purpose – the winning of wars; the broader role of inspiring and directing followers to the accomplishment of a goal or venture is universal in application and entails the same needs that we as club managers face daily in directing a service organization – how to get the best from our workers.

Among the many lessons to be learned in Eisenhower’s book is the following quote,

“There is, among the mass of individuals who carry rifles in war, a great amount of ingenuity and initiative.  If men can naturally and without restraint talk to their officers, the products of their resourcefulness become available to all.  Moreover, out of the habit grows mutual confidence, a feeling of partnership that is the essence of esprit de corps.”

This observation resonated with my firm belief that an open and unimpeded flow of information up from employees to the leaders is just as important as the direction and guidance that goes from the top of the organization to its line staff.  This exchange of ideas and information can only come about when leaders at every level inherently recognize that such openness is a critical success factor for the organization.

But senior leadership must understand that this recognition does not spring by happy and universal coincidence from the minds and consciousness of subordinate managers – it must be taught and modeled continually and consistently to everyone who fills a leadership role.  Without this effort, the critical concepts of success will not be faithfully communicated to those who serve the club’s members and, conversely, the ideas and innovation of front line employees will never reach the decision makers.  The end result is a lack of mutual confidence and that spirit of partnership so essential to any effective group effort.

Bottom Line:  To be successful in the challenging world of club management and to avoid organizational dysfunction, a leader needs every conceivable advantage.  None is so important as good leadership and its attendant openness to ideas and innovation.  In the words of Bill Robinson, noted business, technology, and entrepreneurship journalist, “To be able to regularly solicit, capture and execute upon the strong ideas of those on the front lines who really know what the customers want will be the panacea for the 21st century business world.”

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!