Archive for the ‘expectations’ Category

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.

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