Leading Change

Amin came to work for me as the Restaurant Manager in an historic university-owned hotel.  He faced many challenges, not the least of which was the fact that the restaurant was losing money and badly needed repositioning.

He attacked the problem with enthusiasm and energy, and he promptly ran into a buzz saw of opposition.  It seems that many of his customers, including several academics who were powerful shapers of university opinion, thought the existing operation was just fine.

While surprised by their reaction to his plans, Amin developed a strategy to win them to his cause.  He actively courted them, made appointments for office visits, listened to many nostalgic tales of meals gone by, but also heard in all the conversation their distinct desire to maintain the restaurant as a quiet, dignified place where ideas could be discussed over a good, reasonably-priced meal.

He then enlisted a respected professor’s wife and interior designer with a deep sense of university tradition to prepare designs to renovate the restaurant.  He also formed a focus group of key individuals to communicate menu preferences to the Chef.  As the plans began to take shape he was careful to keep his many advisers abreast of developments.

Amin also took great pains to involve the food service staff in his planning and designs.  Not only were their suggestions helpful, but they looked forward to the repositioning with proprietary interest.

Finally, the day came when the restaurant was closed for renovation.  During the three-week closure, a number of our “advisers” stopped by to see how the project was coming.  Most made reservations for re-opening day so they could bring friends and colleagues to see the results of “their work.”

Needless to say, the re-opening was a great success.  Certainly, there were some minor glitches, but the pride and good feeling of our many active participants carried the day.

As this example suggests, a lot of mistakes can be prevented if you take the time to completely think through the ramifications of planned changes.

  • Attempt to understand the impact of proposed changes on all elements of the organization and customers alike.
  • Change can be threatening to employees.  They sometimes do not understand that change can also be an opportunity.  Reassure them.  Much of how change is viewed is attitudinal and can be influenced by the manner in which you, as the leader, approach it.
  • Enact change in a manner that lessens the threat to employees.  Lead your staff through change.  Make sure they understand the reasons for the change and whatever new goals you have.  Brief them thoroughly on new policies or procedures.
  • New processes also impact your customers, so make sure you communicate changes to them.  Start well in advance of the proposed changes and “sell” new services and procedures to your customers.
  • Change isn’t any good unless it works.  Evaluate change and analyze the effectiveness of new systems, policies, and procedures.  Corrections and modifications will inevitably be necessary.  Do not be afraid to admit that things aren’t going as planned or hoped.  Intervene as necessary.  Stay focused and committed until all the bugs are worked out.
  • Communicate well and thoroughly throughout the period of change.  Fear feeds on itself and can get out of hand quickly.  In the absence of information, employees will usually assume the worst.  Listen to their fears and try to allay them.
  • A leader must exude confidence and enthusiasm for change.  Be supportive of the change even if you don’t agree with it.  Leaders usually have opportunities to express disagreement with proposed changes.  Once a decision is made, though, support the idea as if it were your own.  Never disparage the change in front of your employees.  You will doom it to failure.

Work to create an environment where change occurs naturally and the process of change thrives.  It can be essential to your success.

Excerpted from Leadership on the Line – A Guide for Front Line Supervisors, Business Owners and Emerging Leaders, 2d Edition, Ed Rehkopf, Clarity Publications, 2006

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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