The Soft Stuff

Roger Enrico, former chairman at Pepsico, famously said, “The soft stuff is always harder than the hard stuff.”  As one who has worked in hospitality leadership roles for over thirty-five years, I would say that truer words were never spoken.  In the detail and people rich environment of the hospitality business, it is the absence of well-developed “soft” skills at all levels of organizations that create our greatest challenges.

So what are we really talking about when we speak of the soft stuff?  In short, it’s the people skills – those aptitudes and abilities used to get the most out of our human assets.  It encompasses all of those things we talk about when discussing leadership – the highly nuanced interactions with a diverse workforce that result in motivation, morale, enthusiasm, focus, commitment, initiative, productivity, teamwork, organizational cohesiveness, and group success.

What makes it all so hard is the complexity of human psychology.  People are complex and struggle with the unique and sometimes overwhelming challenges of their lives.  Put together in a group dynamic with any number of other people coping with their own daily difficulties, both real and imagined, and it’s a mind-boggling challenge for any leader.

So what are some very real things that you can do to improve the soft stuff at your club?  Here are three basics:

Leadership training for all managers to ensure they understand the absolute importance of leadership in all they do.  My own experience points to a service-based style of leadership and the importance of building a unified and consistent approach to leadership on the part of all managers and supervisors within an organization.  The ongoing example and performance of your leadership team is THE most important driver of your club’s success.

Well-defined organizational values and constantly reinforced culture of service are an absolute must.  Don’t expect that all your managers and employees will understand your vision, values, or even how to go about providing service to your members.  Without clearly articulated values and club culture, your efforts to provide high levels of service to your membership will certainly fail.

Training, training, and more training is a bedrock requirement in the hospitality industry.  There’s just too much that needs to be done right every day by everyone on your staff to leave the details to chance.  Without training for managers and line staff, it’s a hit or miss proposition and you spend all your time responding to complaints from members, dealing with staff issues, and struggling with high levels of employee turnover.  Given the cost and effort of thorough, ongoing training, you must commit to the development and discipline of “on the go” training for all areas of your operation so you can take advantage of the spare moments during every shift.

The “hard stuff” – the buildings, golf course, and other amenities are certainly important to a successful club experience.  But without the soft stuff they are just expensive shells and monuments, lacking in the reassuring warmth and human touch that is the heart of hospitality and service.

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 managers throughout the country and around the world.

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