“Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” - Albert Einstein
I’m fascinated with talent management. From assessment to selection to development to motivation to engagement, self-actualization and onward. Each one of these stages requires a huge amount of attention and focus. My infatuation with this topic is not solely focused on hotel operations. It extends to sports, business transactions, friends, family and everyday interactions.
Case in point: The 2012 NBA Draft was held on 28 June. NBA teams spend months—sometimes years—analyzing the talent potential of a draftee and whether or not they will fit their needs as an organization.
Think about Kwame Brown and Greg Oden. Once considered the best in the country and drafted as the No. 1 picks in their respective years, Brown and Oden are now considered NBA draft busts. These athletes have one thing in common: They didn’t come close to meeting the high expectations of the teams that drafted them.
On the other side of the coin are players including Kobe Bryant, Rajon Rondo, Tony Parker and Steve Kerr who were drafted 13, 21, 28 and 50, respectively. Between them, they have 14 NBA Championships.
What did the teams that drafted these champions see that others didn’t? I certainly don’t know the answer, but I do have some insights to share about how to relate this concept to owning and operating hotels.
Selecting the right personnel
When hoteliers look to select a front-desk agent, housekeeping manager or a GM, we are not selecting athletes nor are we investing millions of dollars in one person, placing the future of an entire organization on their backs. But we do expect these people to lead and manage a multimillion-dollar asset. We do expect that person to fit the needs of the organization at that particular time. So, what makes a candidate a bust and what makes them a superstar?
The reason this is important to all disciplines of owning and operating a hotel is because hotels are an operating business, not just a piece of real estate. An operating business can increase profits, which increases stock prices, which increases the value of the property. In every instance, it starts with “drafting” the right people on the team.
If I were to recommend only one business/leadership book, it would be Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman’s 1999 masterpiece “First, Break All the Rules: What the World’s Greatest Managers Do Differently.” This book is based on in-depth interviews by the Gallup Organization of more than 80,000 managers in approximately 400 companies.
The book discusses what the world’s greatest managers do differently and the reference the path chart below to get there:
The great managers follow this path without taking short cuts. If the right strengths are not identified first, then it may not be the right fit. There’s nothing a great manager can do for employees hired for the wrong reason, especially if they don’t possess the strengths to do the job they were hired to do. It’s a doomed relationship from the start.
What are managers looking for?
How can a hiring manager make sure the right strengths are identified during the screening and interview process? First, you’ve got to know what to look for in a potential employee.
I chose three character traits that are highly desirable for a hospitality-focused candidate with leadership potential. The three traits are self-confidence, collaboration and courage. Most great hospitality leaders possess all three of these traits. Here are a few questions that will help you discover these traits, especially if they are somewhat hidden like the talents of Kobe Bryant and the other champions above.
Many of these questions I discovered reading the 2008 book “The EQ Interview: Finding Employees with High Emotional Intelligence” by Adele B. Lynn.
Questions to assess self-confidence:
1. If you were going to try to persuade me to do something, how would you do it? Use food as an example. Tell the candidate you don’t really like to eat lobster. Ask them to convince you to try it.
2. Explain a situation where you had to make a decision completely on your own.
3. Tell me about a time when you had to implement a major change. What did you say to your staff, and how did you convince them to follow you?
Listen for a steady voice and a calm approach to answering these questions. Someone who is uncomfortable being in charge will change their body language and put on an act, with their voice getting a bit louder and higher pitched, as if on stage. That is feigned self-confidence. A great way to assess confidence is to role play. Ask one of the questions above but ask the candidate to speak to you as if you were a co-worker. The candidate may have had great eye contact up until this point but loses it once he or she gets into the role of leader. This would suggest lower self-confidence. Potential employees with strong self-confidence will embrace the role play and look at it as a way to better sell themselves and rise to the occasion, not shrink from it.
Questions to assess collaboration:
1. How did you recently solve a work-related problem?
2. Describe a time you sought someone’s opinion or idea about a project you were leading.
3. Have you ever had a role in a team project where your role was not clearly defined? How do you handle this?
Listen for answers that have a narcissistic layer. The identifying factor of great collaborators is the constant praising of other’s work, not always their own.
Questions to assess courage:
1. Tell me about a time your boss had a different opinion than yours. What did you do?
2. Tell me about a time when you felt something was unfair at work. What did you do?
3. Have you ever been in a situation at work where you wished you had said something in a meeting but didn’t? Explain.
In these answers, listen for reasons why they did or did not speak up in their examples. Listen for excuses, such as, “I just knew that my boss doesn’t listen” or “It was a political issue so I kept my mouth shut.” These suggest applicants have the propensity to avoid issues or not stand up for what they believe is right for the organization. On the positive side, listen for assertive actions they have taken in the past. An answer to listen for is, “I knew I was putting myself in a vulnerable position by speaking up, but I felt it was the right thing to do.”
Other desirable traits and talents for the hospitality industry are being responsible, staying focused, being service-oriented, thinking strategically and having strong interpersonal skills. There is a lot riding on the success of a hotel and selecting the right people to do it is the first and foremost task a leader must accomplish without fail. Do failures occur? Of course, but failures need to be assessed the same way we assess people. You’ve got to know what to look for and how to foster that talent.
Adam Zembruski is the president of Pharos Hospitality, a Charlotte, NC-based hotel investment platform explicitly designed to acquire, own and operate franchised upscale select service hotels. Adam oversees all operating entities at Pharos, including Property Assessments and Takeover, Sales and Marketing, Revenue Management, Human Resources and Culture Development, System Implementation, Financial Analysis, and Talent/Performance Tracking. Adam can be reached at 704-333-1818, ext. 12, or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org
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