The essence and definition of a cynic is that he or she is “bitterly or sneeringly distrustful, contemptuous, or pessimistic.” Indeed there is likely no single employee personality trait more corrosive to a positive working environment than cynicism.
As hotel HR directors continue their outreach to find and recruit the ideal employee, most will agree that cynicism is poison. Even in small doses, once exposed to unsuspecting fellow employees or the hotel’s guests, the cynic’s attitude attacks like a fine mist of carbon dioxide—in the air it’s virtually unseen, but those in the area are nevertheless keenly aware of its presence. The generally positive nature embodied in the best lodging employees can be involuntarily sucked up, and otherwise ambitious, guest-focused thoughts replaced, if only momentarily, by an insidious force suggesting that being positive, forward-looking and hopeful is of no consequence, even foolish.
Once is bad enough, but repeated contact with cynics can prove debilitating, especially to an entire organization. And a cynic set loose in a smaller property could easily influence an entire workforce. Meanwhile, at a 5-star luxury resort, even one such person could take the hotel down a peg (or a star) in guest satisfaction.
Where does all this venom originate? Is there any one person in a company responsible for its growth? Academicians point to chronic job dissatisfaction as a root cause, but what is the catalyst?
Leaders, first heal thyself
More than one expert has suggested that leaders can generate not only goodwill but also an atmosphere of trust by first examining their own behavior.
Cornell University School of Hotel Administration associate professor Tony Simons is the author of “The Integrity Dividend: Leading by the Power of Your Word.” His book is a road map for managers who want to spread trust.
Simons explains that studies have yielded a firm correlation between management’s integrity and the trust it engenders from employees. Integrity and profitability are linked, he writes.
Calling integrity “the single strongest controllable performance factor a hotel has,” Simons offers valuable suggestions for the industry’s leaders on heading off cynicism among employees.
Here are a few of his gems:
- Get into the habit of recording your commitments immediately so you don’t forget them.
- Promise less but do it more often.
- Pick only a few key values, repeat them over and over, prioritize them, talk about where they fit into the big picture and celebrate the victories on those values—consistently.
- Once you adopt an idea, commit to it. Don’t abandon it a year later.
- Balance change with continuity.
- Honor your commitments to yourself. This will strengthen your sense of personal integrity, which will increase your ability to live by your word in general—and increase your personal charisma.
Unions, lawyers and dissident employees often are criticized for fomenting workplace crises and then exploiting employee cynicism by blaming management for its origin. Which comes first, however, the crises or the employee cynicism? How does cynicism get a toehold, much less flourish, if employees are unified behind a hospitality company’s leadership?
Through his tips for developing trust in management by enhancing management integrity, Tony Simons illustrates how bosses can unwittingly create the cynic—the monster—they then must vanquish.
Noted management consultant Chris McChesney agreed, saying leaders “tend to be their own worst enemy, particularly the ambitious, creative ones.” Like Tony Simons, McChesney calls out leaders who try to take on too much, who “always have more good ideas than the capacity to execute.” The constant flow of ideas from the boss can create an “execution gap,” said McChesney. That gap, where ideas die or are picked up again and again, never to be realized, can itself be a root cause of employee cynicism.
Banishing the cynics
Simons and McChesney highlight a recurring theme: to banish cynicism the hotel’s GM or, at the corporate level, the CEO, should talk less and focus more on actions. If the experts’ intuition is valid, what additional actions would help us overcome cynicism? Here’s a short list:
- Pare down the annual list of strategic goals to the few that are the essence of your “wheelhouse,” those that are the core of what you do best and what sets your brand apart.
- Focus on successes where every employee can become involved, where each plays a role in guest satisfaction.
- Focus on the truth, even when it isn’t pleasant.
- Concentrate your energy on developing a leadership team that speaks with one voice, whose words are trusted because they produce results.
- Inspire leaders to care for others, to eschew ruthless behavior while still pursuing excellence and teaching their people to do the same.
And remember: cynicism thrives where leadership fails.
Hospitality HR veteran Chuck Conine, managing partner of human capital consultants Hospitality HR Solutions, works with lodging and foodservice clients to develop practical, measurable solutions to employee workforce challenges. HHRS also provides assistance to clients of HVS Executive Search, Synergy Restaurant Consultants and Cayuga Hospitality Advisors.
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