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Maximize the performance of your greatest asset… Your Employees

To paraphrase J.W. Marriott, ‘ If you take care of your employees, they will take care of the customer, who, in turn, will take care of the business.’

We spend a great deal of time and money figuring out what our Guests expect, then frantically delivering to meet that need, and finally attempting to validate the experience they received – our performance report. But, who really delivers on our product and services for us?

Who is our Ambassador, our partner in the very real, one-on-one relationship with our guest, the people who represent our passion for the business and level of excellence, the folks who daily protect and project our reputations and Brand? Of course, our employees. And, what do you invest in them, such as above for the Guest, to insure that they are well equipped, trained and motivated to be your messenger? Needless to say, there are not many Hospitality Businesses which are known formally as an Employer of Choice. Marriott, referenced above is one, and I know of another in the Poconos – Woodloch Resort. No doubt, there are others.

What is it about our industry, which has such crucial immediacy with the Consumer, yet creates such a culture of barriers rather than a beneficial relationship with our employees. We are a service industry, so technology, such a transformer in other industries, cannot replace that personal touch. We are labor intensive, with a changing, smaller, more tightly legislated labor pool. Our margins are very tight, restraining our ability to pay much beyond the minimum. And, we measure our performance in this employee realm in terms of turnover, which right now is 6 in 10. Sixty percent of Hospitality employees will seek other employment in a given year. That is staggering! And, the sad thing is that many Hospitality operators just accept this massive turnover as a fact and cost of doing business. Your investment is walking out the door!

To add further realism, there is the imminent dark shadow of unions, organizing coffers filled, ready to pounce, targeting your employee population. The union has a receptive audience (lower paid, primarily female, less educated, member of a minority or immigrant group) to a message which resonates (dignity for the disenfranchised, social justice, raise the standard of living). You are being assaulted on all fronts.

However, you have tools at hand and expertise available to tackle even the most dramatic of organizational issues. Firstly, you need to have an objective assessment of your operation, seeking feedback and information, much like how you should learn about your guests. This time you look internally. TAKE A HUMAN RESOURCES INVENTORY THROUGH AN ASSESSMENT PROCESS.

This can be accomplished in two fashions: firstly, an Employee Opinion Survey and/or Employee Interviews . Each approach can be focused upon issues/topics deemed important to the success of the business, such as communications, pay/benefits, management style, complaint handling, working conditions, and the like.

My radar always goes up when an operator says everything is just fine. My response is okay, how do you know, let`s verify, for the proof is in the pudding. Even in the finest run organizations, surveys, focus groups and interviews are used to continually refine and enhance overall performance. Even Separation Interviews can be valuable, sadly after the fact and loss of talent. Many times, recognizing your demographics, these Assessments can be conducted in other languages, too.

You cannot address an issue until you know what it is and the conditions which surround it. By the way, once you solicit employee response, you must be prepared to answer in kind, or you just further widen the gulf. I guarantee that you will learn from this exercise, perhaps even some things you do not wish to hear. But, at least now you have some concrete information upon which to act.

Some of the responses may not be easy to answer, as they may require capital expenditure, for example. Others can be and should be addressed immediately. Studies have shown that the many nettlesome issues can have a quick fix, for they started out as an irritant and blossomed into a problem. The important thing is that you have reached out, you have shown your concern and readiness to respond – a powerful message to your employees. You care, they care, and the Guest is better served. This should not be an isolated study either and should be conducted periodically to measure your success. Just as you value Guest Satisfaction, Employee Satisfaction is just as important. After all, they deliver the goods!

Concurrently, there needs to be a review of your existing policies, procedures and practices . I believe the following tenet is still true under the law, albeit, a far fetched example: you could require employees to wear light blue socks exclusively, if you apply this code consistently, uniformly, and fairly (naturally, you have to provide the socks). Whether this could be shown as a valid condition of employment is still subject to debate (shades of Hooters), but, the point is, it is known and applied across the board. Deviations and exceptions are where the dissension and legal exposure occur. And, certainly, whatever you have published, posted, and distributed must be clearly communicated and administered equally. These documents also can serve as a ready defense, if used correctly. For example, do you have an Employee Handbook? Are all policies written, updated as appropriate and distributed? Are your procedures transparent? If all your practices are functioning mostly by word of mouth, you have no consistency or fairness. You also have no standards, accountability or measurement for performance.

With these two Assessment actions taken, you have the means to begin to positively change the culture and dynamics of your organization. The Visitor cannot wait to experience what you have framed for them through your marketing efforts. And, your ambassadors and partners want to make that experience memorable. You can become an Employer of Choice, maintain a high retention rate, improve your recruiting efforts, and, most importantly, better serve your Guest. But, if you have not taken care of the home fires, your success will be limited, your product devalued and your service uneven. You will continue to lament what you really can begin to address with clarity, as well as leaving yourself exposed to unionization activities.

John R. Hendrie is the CEO of Hospitality Performance, Inc. HPI measures the performance of lodgings, restaurants, clubs, cruise lines and attractions against reasonable hospitality standards through a comprehensive assessment process, and then helps market the achievement of those standards to a discerning customer.

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