Motivating and leading during tough times

Tough times are upon us and hoteliers everywhere have to contend with falling demand, lower revenues and controlling costs.

It is of course tempting at these times to just cut and cut, by which I mean, slash payroll by retrenching employees or readjusting their work schedules.

While there is no denying that such measures will be unavoidable especially in more challenged markets, it would be a mistake to go overboard with cuts.

One, you could end up cutting too much so that it affects your service delivery and two, you could end up with a very demoralized and disincentivized team at a time when you need them the most.

I am often asked how do you motivate and lead a team during tough times. We’ve all been there before and I find these steps have worked for me.

One, I’d want my staff to voluntarily practice expenses control, aggressively seek new business from a shrinking pie, deliver the highest standards of quality products and services to retain and ensure returns of guests.

In return, I have to keep on encouraging and motivating and rewarding my team. Clearly communicate, explain the situation and the dangers/consequences. Rationalise my restructurings whether direct expenses or labor. Lead by example on any action whether it is belt tightening programmes or guests retention programmes.

A content and motivated work force will always be supportive of the organisation that respected it and treated them fairly in good times. A savvy leader always prepares for rainy days.

I also find tough times a good period to retrain staff. And this is especially so in countries where governments are introducing incentives for retraining.

Singapore is a good example of a government that has taken the initiative to help companies through the downturn by encouraging them to retrain staff with generous incentives and subsidies.
And if you are smart about it, this could be a good time to differentiate your property through customer service. While others are cutting, you could be re-strategising on how to come out more strongly on the other side.

There’s been a lot of talk lately about companies using customer service as a differentiator. But I believe very few companies in the world can do this –  companies which already have a proven and consistent track record of official and recognised Service Excellence. I can only think of one company in Asia – Singapore Airlines – that has done it successfully.

Remember, if you claim customer service as a differentiator, any failure is unforgivable.

You can however practise Service Excellence and if it’s consistent enough, you can let the customer judge you as different. Word of mouth is a very powerful advertising medium as we know.

Before you embark on a journey towards service excellence, you must ask yourself these questions:
1. Are you prepared to invest for a long term return?
2. Is there serious commitment at all levels of the organization to succeed, including owners/shareholders? True commitment…?
3. Will it add real value to the business, translated into a significantly improved bottom line? This is a market driven assessment.

To begin the process, you need to embark on these steps:
1. Vision, Mission and Core Values arrived at by a committee representing all levels in the organization.
2. Clear understanding of the undertaking by all stakeholders in the organization and obtain buy in/commitment and support.
3. Change attitudes and behaviors through training and indoctrination exercises.
4. Selection of service minded employees. This is where specific/targeted psychometric assessment comes in handy.
5. Have in place an effective reward and recognition system for employees.
6. Establish the standards based on the guests’ expectations.
7. Keep abreast of changing guests’ expectations and trends.
8. Have in place reliable guests’ satisfaction measurements and feed backs. Be prepared to quickly correct course accordingly.
9. Constant improvements never end.
10. Dissemination of the “good news” media relations, publicity programs, marketing.
11. Returns, recognition, standing in the market/industry instill pride and motivation for all to continue.

Be aware though of the challenges of such a strategy – there’s employee and leadership turnover to start with. Then there’s the fact that employee commitment to learn and consistently deliver will cool off. There could also be disenchantment by shareholders/owners due to slow results, and the slow returns vs the costs involved.

Recognising the fact that high turnover could be an impediment, it is important to have in place solid policies, processes and standards as well as constant training and improvement programs that become the “organisation’s unwavering way of life”

For the immediate term however, it is important to get the most out of your staff during difficult times, and this is what I would recommend if the circumstances allow it.

1 Comment

  • By nintendost, November 17, 2009 @ 5:43 pm

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