Social economic trends tell us the spend-first, recover-later mentality is on the rise among millennials in leadership roles.
The independent scene has gone through a cyclical leadership evolution over the last quarter century.
What was first considered a training ground for up-and-comers who did not quite fit the perceived cookie-cutter mold of the major brands in the late ‘90s and early 2000s eventually grew into a dynamic space where tenured and highly successful general managers often gained opportunities and thrived.
As we close out the second generation of this new millennium, we find ourselves, once again, along the fast-paced evolution curve in which a growing number of young, hungry and socially active millennial leaders are stepping into senior leadership roles throughout all disciplines of the independent hospitality sector. Now responsible for taking on critical day-to-day financial and human capital decisions that will affect businesses for decades to come, some can't help but ask if this is a classic case of too much, too soon?
Having served as a voice of this millennial generation as well as a subject matter expert while speaking at numerous global conferences and writing for multiple trades, I have observed this topic has always been met with tremendous contention. Its core challenge to the perennial old-versus-new-school-mentality train of thought often sparks a divisive debate along generational lines. Allow me to illustrate this in an example that we are all operating in even as you read this today.
The dawn of the fall season is a reminder for senior leaders that the budget season is upon us. Executives review strategic plan progress; operations leaders tighten their belts to ensure they hit end-of-year numbers—all while minimizing surprises on controllable expenses in the fourth quarter. Not to mention the never-ending number-crunching that has seemingly become the new daily norm this time of year.
But what if you have a leader that does not subscribe to a belief in saving for the rainy day when it comes? What if you have a leader that believes that experiences should be valued at an even higher rate than the money it took to produce them?
When you step back to objectively review the economics and psychology in the decision-making processes of the younger generation as a whole, what you find can be staggering and even a little scary. Non-essential spending trends are shown to consistently float at break-even or, for many, in the negative. This has been shown to cause an increased paycheck-to-paycheck lifestyle, despite a clear overspend within experiential avenues such as travel, dining out and live events.
Savings habits in daily life are at times non-existent. Remember the long-standing mantra that things would be different when it was your own money that you were spending? Unfortunately, this phrase is seemingly no longer a golden rule if that money is consumed in an effort to create a lasting moment in time.
Without strict brand standard guidelines, independent owners and stakeholders find themselves, increasingly, at the mercy of younger leaders responsible for not only budget creation, but the strategic spend of that very capital. Many relish in the freewheeling and less-structured environment that can sometimes arise out of our operations.
There are, of course, always outliers to this phenomenon. In them, we find a couple of very distinct takeaways to focus on should you find yourself going down the path of financial uneasiness or are struggling with a growing leader yourself.
First, overall financial acumen continues a downward trend throughout the country. This is especially true when it comes to how to successfully operate a business for many students coming out of school. This is where it is critical that as tenured senior leaders, you must consistently help guide and develop.
Young leaders who we refer to as those who “get it” and often are the “rock stars” of our teams, were often guided by someone who took the time to illustrate what goes into those numbers on the financial documents and their importance. Simply having a quick “here’s the template along with the last couple of years for comparison” is not going to work. While I know this might seem like one more thing that you have to fit in during a busy day, I assure you that the payoff of transferable knowledge that you provide will pay dividends for years to come.
Secondly, it is important to remember that trends can be broken. Just five years ago, every industry conference had a breakout session or keynote speaker that outlined a million reasons of why multiple generations in the workplace will just lead to major conflict. Everyone attempted to sell us on having the one magic answer into how to make all millennials great leaders and teach them how to operate within a strong corporate setting. It turns out that half a decade later, we have properties still standing, many businesses thriving, and a workforce collaboratively working together. Hands-on training in the workplace turned out to be the only true key for success that was ever needed.
This younger generation, just like others before them that had faults, remains trainable and eager to make a positive contribution within their workplace communities. We would be silly to not acknowledge the socioeconomic indicators discussed earlier. Yet in the end, it proves itself not to have been a situation of too much, too soon for these young leaders, but instead illustrates the strength of independents around the world to have remained true to our core belief that we are the breeding ground for some of the best hoteliers cultivated anywhere.
Through unique training and growth opportunities, we continue to ensure the new crop of leaders are not only better prepared for these key leadership roles, but also properly equipped to continue telling our stories across different experiential mediums, though in a more financially responsible manner than what they plan to do with next week’s paycheck.
Brandon M. Springer-McConnell is assistant general manager at Lake Lawn Resort, an independent hotel in Delavan, Wisconsin. His experience with both branded and independent properties has afforded a unique perspective of the operational challenges faced on a daily basis to an array of hospitality business models. His expertise includes strategic career development and succession planning for leaders, organizational structure and development, government affairs and hospitality law.
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