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3 tips to manage operations
May 1 2012

Challenges emerge in any business, but a solid team and management strategy will keep staff members motivated and prepared for any obstacle thrown their way.

Highlights
  • The entire team should be trained and prepared to shift effortlessly when a swing in business occurs.
  • The NATO Summit and National Restaurant Association Show will impact sales projections and staffing requirements.
  • The only way to keep the staff motivated is by being motivated yourself.
By Birgit Radin
HNN columnist

Within the normal business cycles we experience each year, extraordinary events in our community, economy and industry can cause disruption and affect sales and service if we are not prepared to react fluidly.

The hospitality business is constantly facing challenges, and the key is to remain nimble in your management style, and ever-committed to motivating and preparing your staff to handle changes quickly and effectively. But how do we successfully manage these forced changes and stay on top of our service levels and guest satisfaction? 

I’ve prepared three tips that have served us well.

1.  Ensure your team’s flexibility
One of the exciting guarantees of the hospitality business is every day is a new day, with varied challenges to address and achievements to celebrate. With that in mind, the entire team should be trained and prepared to shift effortlessly when a swing in business occurs, or events outside our control could negatively affect daily operations. 

Chicago is a key destination for numerous high profile events each year. While a traditional business cycle might unexpectedly be affected by big changes in arrivals or stranded guests, hoteliers always must have a contingency plan in place. We are regularly challenged with language barriers, service needs for travelers from varied cultures, and with dignitaries or celebrities that come with their own host of security, protocol and service demands.

At our properties, we are diligent about training and cross-training our team. This not only keeps the staff engaged in what they are doing, but also provides motivation as they are continually asked to learn something new and address a new challenge. With this type of management practice in place, a shift in business can easily be viewed as “business as usual.” 

For instance, an international event coming to Chicago is the 25th NATO Summit on 20-21 May.  Chicago is only the second North American city to host this important event and the city’s businesses are gearing up to accommodate this group of 28 NATO nations’ dignitaries, 40 partner nations, 2,500 journalists, 800 pre-arrival delegates, 7,000 attendees and, potentially, thousands of protesters. One major business change influenced by this event is the Chicago Convention & Tourism Bureau’s need to change dates for the major National Restaurant Association Show, which happens annually in Chicago, from 19-22 May to 5-8 May. This change will greatly impact sales projections and staffing requirements for our hotels and will potentially affect sales for the months ahead as the world’s media attention turns the spotlight on our destination.

Communicating with the city and event planners for these business-impacting events has been critical to our own planning and sharing background information with our entire team will be critical for success.

Another happening that impacts our business flow includes implementation of newly approved legislation for updated Americans with Disabilities Act requirements. Because our property has an outdoor swimming pool, and many other commercial properties have similar facilities, businesses are now struggling to ensure permits, installations and inspections all happen before Memorial Day’s swimming season kick off. This is simply another example of an external influence that can affect our ability to operate “as usual” and one our team is ready to accommodate.

2.  Keep motivation high
The only way to keep the staff motivated is by being motivated yourself. As a leader, you have the ability to build a motivated team when the intention is to provide the best possible service under all circumstances.

At DoubleTree by Hilton Chicago-Magnificent Mile and the Inn of Chicago, we are just gearing up for the busy season—May through October. We are in the process of hiring, moving positions around and promoting individuals to new positions to prepare for the upcoming push. When the season begins to taper off, everyone’s exhausted. To keep our team fresh and to keep energy high throughout the season, we plan and integrate regular, small outings that provide the team an opportunity to get away for the regular working day.

For instance, we just participated in a training event sponsored by the Illinois Hotel & Lodging Association, sending our management team to discover new service-training methods and to increase their wine knowledge and service. We sent front-desk and food-and-beverage department employees; their feedback was encouraging. They were positive in terms of what they learned, and they all appreciated the opportunity to gather off-site, and to interact with their peers in the industry. This type of experience allows them to openly share their ideas and concerns, and to understand their own challenges are not unlike those others experience. These activities also reinforce that what they and their teams are trying to achieve is attainable.

Consider unique venues and events to keep motivation high. Upcoming, we are planning a teambuilding outing at the Chicago Children’s Museum. This scavenger hunt event will provide an opportunity for our team to get out of their usual environment and come together in an interactive and fun environment where we can reinforce team spirit. While the museum is designed specifically for children, we all enjoy being kids once in a while. The museum provides activities that promote thinking and building in a team environment. The activity will be lighthearted and fun.

3. Manage the team’s expectations
I have heard many times there is light at the end of the tunnel. Our employees also hear these comments and they wonder why we, as management, do not increase staffing or begin renovations and projects we’ve delayed. While it is true there are signs of an improved economy, the environment is still fragile and we cannot abandon our financial goals or loosen controls when there is still uncertainty and a long year ahead.

Each business unit has its own unique circumstances that influence the financial picture. Thus, all spending must be carefully evaluated in that context and sometimes it’s not in sync with the perception of an “economic upturn.” It is critical all staff members understand the overall well being and/or challenges so they can relate to what is being asked and expected.

One way to ensure we help our team stay aware of all sides of the economy is to promote social consciousness. Through a company-wide initiative to support local community and build team work, our ownership and management team requires and pays for each team member to volunteer a minimum of 20 hours per year. This year the corporate and company support will be going to Habitat for Humanity. With the goal of assisting people in finding shelter in homes they help build themselves, each hotel under this management umbrella will support its local Habitat for Humanity chapter through building projects and fundraising events. This helps tie each hotel to its local community and provides a rewarding team-building initiative that also builds a closely knit group.

Another way to ensure business expectations are being communicated fully is to reward the team after upswings or downturns  managed successfully.

In between, we celebrate small successes through recognition and acknowledgment, training opportunities and task-force assignments that allow for a different experience. The pressure is still the same. Controls are still in force.

While generally we have become a society that looks for instant gratification and success, we must explain and understand the real value is in long-term planning and decisions must be made so we can sustain. We must lead with confidence to ensure guests’ expectations are surpassed and business continues, as usual.

For over 20 years, Birgit Radin has focused her energy and talents on leading quality-oriented hospitality teams with the goal of creating employee engagement, memorable customer experiences, and maximizing profit for shareholders and/or owners. As a member of the Kokua Hospitality, LLC management organization team, she serves as the managing director for two properties in Chicago, and the Inn of Chicago. Reach her at bradin@doubletreemagmile.com. To learn more about Kokua Hospitality, LLC, visit www.kokuahospitality.com.
 
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