“It always seems impossible until it’s done.” Nelson Mandela
When a hotel’s culture is hurting, the idea of changing it can be quite daunting. It takes hard work, dedication and commitment to turn around a team’s culture, and it may seem impossible at first, but once it’s complete, there’s nothing sweeter.
If you try to draw a picture of hotel culture, you’ll be sitting there for quite a while staring at a blank piece of paper. You can’t draw culture, you can’t even see culture. Though, culture defines a hotel’s performance. Culture drives service. Service drives guests’ intent to return. Guests’ intent to return drives revenue. Revenue drives profits. Profits drive value. Trying to improve guest service without improving the culture is like trying to get over being sick by taking aspirin. It may relieve the symptoms, but it doesn’t touch the underlying cause and core sickness.
Cue the Beach Boys song, “Wouldn’t it Be Nice.”
Wouldn’t it be nice if all of our staff members were superstars?
It certainly would be nice, but that’s not usually the case, is it? When a hotel’s culture is in a downward spiral, it seems like nothing can make it better. It’s much like when you start feeling sick. But when a hotel’s culture is sick, it will not get better without a superstar leader with a super plan. However, before the plan can be implemented, you must have the right leader in place.
Assuming the right leader is in place, here’s the plan:
Step One: Create a vision and “brand” your culture turnaround
Like Yogi Berra said, "You've got to be very careful if you don't know where you're going, because you might not get there." Having a vision of where you want to be is crucial. It’s OK if you’re at point A and want to get to point Z. As long as you can see point Z in the distance, you’ll get there.
Gather your most positive team members and create a vision statement describing the culture you want at the hotel. A good vision statement starts like this, “We commit every day to creating a positive, service-oriented culture, which … ”
When the vision is determined, ask your team to brand it, as if they were going to sell it in stores. Have them describe the package, the name, the colors, the celebrity most likely to be the face of the company—really make it your own brand. Make buttons, brochures and have a “launch party” to announce it. Most hotels want a culture that supports and inspires good service to others. Many focus on attracting and retaining top talent, employee relations, guest satisfaction and running a successful business. Every hotel wants a good vibe. Describe that vibe, then sell it and live it every day.
Step Two: Identify the problems
“In the book of life, the answers are not in the back.” Charlie Brown
It’s time to dig deep. Be prepared and be open to realizing some harsh truths. Assess your team using a “Roster Review” process. All the major sports teams do it before drafting their next crop of talent. The only difference is your criteria. Instead of “ability to hit to the opposite field,” it’s “service attitude,” “communication” and “quantity of work.” Use a 1 to 5 scale, with 5 being the most competent. See the example below used for front-desk agents:
It is important to complete this form for all departments. For this example, it is a front-desk staff. The experience and tenure of the employee is important to consider when analyzing the scores. With a score of 4.8, it is clear that Nora is a superstar. With a score of 2.4, Aiden is struggling in this position. Sally and Josh have similar scores (3.4 and 3.5) but are competent in different areas. Also, note the averages of each competency. With “Service Attitude” being the worst average at 2.75, a manager can assume his or her staff is struggling with satisfying guests. Nora, scoring a 5 in Service Attitude, must be very frustrated working with three others that do not share the same attitude.
Step Three: Eliminate the problems
The world of hotel performance assessment has two hemispheres: people and processes. When fixing the culture of a hotel, most of the time it’s a people problem. Some people were just not made for the frontlines. Therefore, it’s best for the hotel to remove the underperforming individual from a position that has a high degree of guest interaction. This step must involve your HR team. Aiden, the employee with the lowest score may simply be in the wrong position. (There is more investigation that is needed before terminating an employee.) In this case, it is clear that the front-desk agent position is not right for Aiden. There may be a different position that is more suitable for Aiden, which is why the HR department and other managers need to be involved.
A one-on-one meeting with superstar Nora would be helpful to gauge where her attitude stands as a result of working with team members that are less service oriented than she is. She may have suggestions that support the brand’s culture vision. Either way, for a service culture to exist, the two scores need to be between a 4 or 5. Training or removal must be acted upon swiftly. Based on his low scores in most categories, my vote would be to remove Aiden immediately. This takes time, which is why point A and point Z exist. There are many steps involved. Be patient and follow the plan towards your vision.
Step Four: Rebuild with emotionally intelligent people
“It’s not the most intellectual job in the world, but I do have to know the letters.” Vanna White
In a turnaround situation, you are turning it around for a reason. It means the hotel was headed in the wrong direction and it needs to be flipped upside down and realigned. Once the Negative Nellies and Debbie Downers have been removed, concentrate on back-filling those positions with service leaders. Do not make the mistake of dismissing applicants who have no hotel experience, as you may have in the past. We live in the new normal today. People are career transitioning like never before. The five criteria you should be looking for are the five hallmarks of emotional intelligence. They are: self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy and social skills. Notice computer skills and local hotel knowledge aren’t on the list. In 2004, Daniel Goleman wrote an excellent article published in the Harvard Business Review titled What Makes a Leader? His answer is a high degree of emotional intelligence.
Identifying and attracting emotional intelligent applicants is not like everyday recruiting. The best advice I can offer is that it takes one to know one. Therefore, be sure your hiring manager, or GM has a high degree of emotional intelligence, or they will struggle to identify this particular type of individual.
Step Five: Long-term Care
“Be who you are and say what you feel because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.” Dr. Seuss
By now, your culture should be clicking well toward the positive. You feel a sense of accomplishment and wonder how you ever allowed it to get so bad knowing how good it could be. Don’t forget to set up mechanisms and processes that drive the culture to new heights for the long term.
Use unique and innovative techniques to engage and interact with your new superstars. Offer them benefits that they aren’t likely to find elsewhere. For example, offer them “social networking” breaks and turn the “employee of the month” luncheon into a celebration.
Set up monthly “Temperature Reading” meetings with your team members. Talk about the future and thank them for being a superstar. These conversations, also called Pulse Meetings, need to be about them, how they feel working there and where they want to go. This is the time to develop your talent and seek feedback on how your organization can continue to improve. This also is a good time to discuss opportunities for further growth and responsibilities.
Complete a new Roster Review every six months. A company’s culture is fragile. It just takes one negative person to join the crew and steer the hotel off course. These monthly mechanisms ensure you have the finger on the pulse of your team and won’t lose site of the vision.
To make this culture turnaround successful, you have to be two things: honest and patient. Be patient enough to understand that you cannot to go from point A to point Z in 30 days and be honest enough to know when patience is not the answer. Remember, this is a turnaround. It’s not going to be easy. But when it’s done, it’s sweeter than honey.
Good luck and have fun!
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 email@example.com
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