Wednesday, 30 May 2018

Announcing the introduction of 7 S's of Brand Management!

Thursday, 22 March 2018

The Extraordinary Life of an Extraordinary Leader!

I am very delighted and humbled to share my interview with Eileen Bild - the illustrious Life Coach and Creator of "Core Thinking for High Achievers."

Eileen has interviewed me for her 'Step into their Shoes' Success Interviews Series that appears on Bizcatalyst 360, one of the finest platforms globally for knowledge sharing and thought leadership.

The interview follows - 

In my interview with L. Aruna Dhir, I find a unique person of integrity, wisdom, and strength that goes beyond the norm. Her perseverance through hardships and a determination to be the best version of herself has lead L.  Aruna Dhir down a path that has raised her to the top of her profession. It is apparent that her mindset about herself and life has been integral in the unfolding of her success as a writer, mentor, communications expert, hotelier, and leader. When you read this article, you will be inspired by the choices she has made giving her the opportunities to achieve the milestones set as a child.

L. Aruna Dhir shares her passion for writing and how she followed the golden nuggets set before her, taking each stepping stone with grace and empowerment for maximizing her performance. I hope you enjoy reading about the journey one may take, with unforeseen potential, guiding you up a road of trials, tribulations, joys, and happiness.

1. You have quite an extensive and varied background in education, public relations,
writing, marketing and communications. Share with me how they have all culminated together to assist you in becoming who you are today as a consultant, author, and hospitality & features writer.

I began my career as a Freelance Journalist and Correspondent for a Regional Newspaper, focusing on social, contemporary, developmental issues. This began while I was studying for my Post Graduation and Masters in Philosophy, helping me to consolidate the time at hand and channelize it into the professional arena while still acquiring my educational degrees.

My penchant for writing began at a very early age, as early as Eight or Nine when I wrote my first poem. While in Middle School, my essays always stood apart so much that my English Teacher – Ms. Hemalini Masih - loaned me one of the most comprehensive biographies on English poets from Alexander Pope to WB Yeats. The Red cloth bound Hardcover turned out to be a cornerstone book for me, nudging my spirit and my core towards writing, with leaves from the lives of famous poets as the guiding gauge.

From the beginning, I had eclectic interests, from animals to nature, gardening to geography, socio-anthropology to psychology and Public Relations. This, perhaps, paved the way for me to chart a course in different genres of writing from features to poetry to business writing and then the several tributaries within the realm of business writing itself.

The other two shaping chisels that helped me assimilate, integrate and contribute knowledge-based thought leadership have been - firstly, an innate “pursuit of excellence” that I have doggedly followed and secondly, the “benchmarked, best places” I have had the privilege to work in, that allowed blossoming of talent, creative freedom and an opportunity to present innovative thought and strategy amalgamated with the larger brand ethos.

Then, there has been this discernible DNA to learn, create and pass on that has always egged me to ideate, build and proffer knowledge and expertise amongst teams, peers and protégés; first as an award-winning Manager and then as a globally read Writer. 

2. You are considered one of the finest and highly followed international Hospitality writerswith columns running in best ranked global hospitality publications ehotelier, Hospitality Net, Bizcatalyst 360, 4hoteliers, CFO Connect. Where does your writing inspiration come from and how do the connections impact you as a leader?

The inspiration truly comes from the eagerness to create a webbed world of knowledge sharing, outstanding merit, a bank of thought and experience-based treasure that is available to many in an environment of intellectual brilliance.

It is a two-way street. The more you share your knowledge, the more you learn via interactions of the highest caliber and with intersections of highly experienced thoughts and comments.

Who is really a Leader? It is someone who pursues excellence in work, perpetuates acuity, inspires and inculcates talent, encourages merit and allows for a suitably fertile ground for growth and creativity to blossom in an equalitarian environment.

As people, who may have reached a certain station in our levels of expertness, we owe it to others to build such a healthy, mindful and mentally enhancing milieu.

3. When you were young, what did you want to be when you became an adult? Has yourcareer path aligned with this vision you had as a child? Looking back, do you feel your intentions set at an early age have impacted who you have become?

Even as a child, my favourite pastimes were reading and writing; far more than games and other forms of entertainment. Then; as a young adult, my choice for moonlighting and summer jobs was working with Regional Newspapers and becoming the City Correspondent for National Magazines.

From being a Keats fan to a Wordsworth acolyte and then becoming an ardent disciple of Sun Tzu, Freud, Jung, Maslow and Adler to following the writing styles of Bach, Kafka, Hemingway, Kotler and Carlzon; the realization came fast and quick that I wanted to be able to coach, mentor and guide through the influence and impact of the written word.

After the initial toddler temptations with toy needles and stethoscope and the games around playing Doctor, I began to understand my fascination with words and the interest in people – their mind, their intellect, their behaviour and the uniqueness we as a people bring to the world. Hence, it indeed was a natural veering towards first Psychology, then Public Relations and finally Hospitality – the quintessential business which is of the people, by the people and for the people.

So, it is safe to say that I always wanted to be a Writer and wished to create a professional playfield where I could create, communicate, share, stimulate and encourage insight and produce know-how that can have a lasting value.

4. Business communication is key for success. Please share what you believe are the top qualitiesof communication every business should be practicing. Why are they so important?

Communications is the single most important key to your Brand positioning, Brand awareness, Brand recognition and Brand association.

Whatever you may do – from providing medical care to creating an aspirational lifestyle; whatever you may wish to sell from air travel to Z-plus security, it must be communicated to your target audience. That is what Business Communications is all about - building and cementing relationships with your clientele and strategizing to deliver your Company message to them in the best possible and relatable ways.

When in doubt about how to devise the most effective communication capsules, always remember to adhere to the 7 Cs of Communication – Be Clear, Concise, Concrete, Correct, Coherent, Complete and Courteous. With this simple maxim, you can never go wrong in ensuring maximum reach, frequency and penetration of your messages to the target audience.

With the advent of new Communication channels that are easily searchable, play round the clock and have the propensity for information to be dug out of the archives with just a mere click, it becomes imperative that the Communications professional and all the other Company spokespeople are cautious, clear, honest, conscientious and with a global outlook in the way they communicate, not only professionally but also personally. 

If Communication has the power to build a brand and keep it on top of the mind recall level, it also has the proclivity to break the brand and create reverse value in the minds of the publics.

The best Communications Strategy for any Company would involve the following essential aspects – It bears value for the Brand and its products, carries the promise of service delivery, is coherent and customer-engaging, reliable and realistic and is delivered in a timely fashion.

5. You have been a Cultural Ambassador under the aegis of Rotary International. Tell memore about this prestigious position.

In the summer of 2001, I was selected as a delegate under the prestigious Group Study Exchange (GSE) Program of Rotary International. The role entailed representing India to a select group of opinion-makers in the United States, as a Cultural Ambassador under the aegis of Rotary International.

We travelled through the designated regions of Washington DC and the State of Maryland and interacted with industry leaders, City Opinion makers, State Decision makers, experts, trade professionals and luminaries in their respective fields to introduce the philosophy and essence of India as a Country of huge global significance. The Fellowship was also about learning the American business, professional and personal best practices and community initiatives and to exchange ideas on business, social, cultural, educational and youth engagements between the two countries. 

And in 2003, I participated in the IXth Commonwealth Study Conference held in Australia that was chaired by Princess Anne. The theme of this Conference was ‘People first in the global community.’ It put the individual in the center of the flux of globalization and endeavoured to understand the relationship and integration between the citizen and the community, corporation and nation-state the citizen exists and thrives in.

Both these international experiences have been defining interfaces in shaping thought and helping me to become a more aware, compassionate and significantly contributing Global Citizen.

As of November 2017, I have been inducted as a Board Member into AELD – the Association of Emerging Leaders Dialogues, a Commonwealth Forum for sharing ideas and achievement and presided over by HRH Princess Royal, Princess Anne.

6. What has been some of your most valuable struggles as you have worked your way towardsthe success you have achieved. How have they inspired you to be the best version of yourself?

The most potent struggle that I have faced has been at a personal level. From growing up in a much feted and fawned upon environment as a daughter of a very senior Government Official to falling into a life of anonymity and dejection when my father passed away when I was only Nine, the contrast of the two existences was sharp, rude, harsh, strongly impressionable and with lasting lessons. As we all know, in our primarily patriarchal society, a fatherless world for a child is rugged and unrelenting. 

I had to learn fast to gather all the strewn up bits – psychological, physical, emotional, social – around me and learn to create my own identity in such a manner that I could manage to stand above and outside the crowd. At that age, it was not only an ambitious exercise but one that allowed for survival and brought in the aspect of a social standing.

The second struggle has been the aspect of reaching milestones after milestones in the absence of any Godfather or Benefactor. But growing and developing on one’s own steam brings in satisfaction of the highest order – one that is matchless and has a level of permanence to it.

From being India’s first–ever Creative Writer for the Indian greeting cards giant – ARCHIES Greetings and Gifts Ltd. and coming out with several series of cards sold by my byline – an unprecedented feat that has not been repeated since to being voted as one of the finest Hospitality PR professionals nationally to finally gaining a following of readers for one’s industry writings – the fact that it was effort based and not via external push or endorsement gives one the eternal hope that one can not only dream and aspire but also endeavour to attain.

The third struggle was woven around the battle one had to fight with one’s own self. I had to overcome my own shyness, introversion, fear and insecurities to come out on top of whatever I began to dabble in – whether it was working in the very public and visual mediums of radio and television, or combating my own low confidence levels to try and become a good public speaker and to push myself from being a wallflower and a desk warrior to go out in the open and win my own race in the very glamorous, very ‘in-the-public-eye,’ very exposure-laden industry of Five Star hotels.

The fourth significant struggle came via the opportunity to work in diversified industries – from Social Expressions to Journalism to Education to Diplomatic to Hospitality to finally Writing.  When you work in different industries, you must be prepared to unlearn, learn and relearn; which no doubt is a magnificent teacher but one that brings with it a huge amount of challenges. But if you allow the seed of “excellence” to germinate and grow and if you stoke the fire of “being the best in what you do” then success begins to walk by your side despite the struggles and trials and tribulations. 

7. Tell me three power thoughts you feel have been instrumental in the strength of yourachievements, leading to all the various projects you are involved in, the columns you write for and the high-profile positions you hold. 

Be Discernible

These three definitely have been the personal motivators.

Dream Big. Dream beyond one’s Zone. Dream outside one’s comfort level.

Define one’s personality as distinctive in one’s profession. Define one’s genre that helps stand you apart. Define your style. Define your personal statement. Define your personal mission and Vision.

Finally, cut off from the cookie-cutter conveyor belt and be discernible. Be Different. Present a body of work that is distinct and singularly special. Be distinguishable. 

8. What is your favorite quote?

In fact, I have two. And they are –

“Lives of great men all remind us
  We can make our lives sublime,
  And, departing, leave behind us
  Footprints on the sands of time.”

- Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

“The heights by great men
Reached and kept
Were not attained by sudden flight,
But they, while their companions slept,
Were toiling upward in the night.”

- Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

9. For anyone reading this interview, please share what you believe sets you apart,
giving you the ability to reach a level of success enabling you to be a leader, mentor and highly respected professional.

To be hopefully individualistic, keep myself motivated and not lose sight of my intended targets for life, I have devised a set of two formulae – there is a “G” formula and then there is an “E” formula.

“G” formula comprises of Gratitude, Goals and Gumption.

The foremost thing that I wish to bear in mind is Gratitude. In almost all my endeavours I resolve that I must “pay it back” and “pay it forward.”

None of us grow up as islands. Neither do we gain, learn and attain while being in a world of one. In our personal voyage, we gather so much obligation and debt along the way – of the world, of our family, of our teachers, of our mentors, even of our detractors and critics and finally of the Almighty. Hence, it becomes imperative to pay back to the world and the Universe what we have so richly reaped from it.

Also, having achieved a certain position, having gathered a bank of knowledge, having accumulated experience of meaningful value, it becomes our moral commitment to pay it forward to those who are our co-travellers in this journey of life.

The second thing is Goals. There are milestones to be crossed, destinations to be reached; flags to be posted on personal Summits that one has garnered ambition for.

The third is Gumption and Grit. One just has to be courageous in the face of all adversity. One must persevere and be consistent in one’s efforts. One must foster a zeal within that is both zestful and full of enthusiasm a zillion times over. That is what keeps you going and prods you on to carve a unique passage through this incarnation. 

The “E” formula helps me define and differentiate my enterprise. I see it as a five-point credo and aim to infuse the following five integral aspects into any work that I take on, be it a project, an assignment or a piece of writing –

Exciting – it should stimulate interest in the reader/end user.

Engaging – it must inculcate participation and free-flowing exchange of ideas.

Exceptional – it should offer a unique value and must be of high merit.

Empowering – it should equip the reader/end user with knowledge, insight and acumen.

Enlightening – it must have a vision, it must impart wisdom, it must bear a “Wow” factor and encourage excellence. 

10. We all have a story and your journey has been blessed with many extraordinary experiences. Along the way, you have gained some wisdom regarding choices, mindset, communication and public relations. What words of wisdom would you like to pass along to inspire others to believe in themselves and reach their highest potential? 

As a keen observer of people from different walks of life and their behaviour, I have come to the conclusion that success is not only the life-force of an Identity but that it is also subjective. 

While each of us may dance to a different music, beat our own course on a virgin path, look at possibilities with our unique pair of eyes and give distinct shapes to our professional destiny moulding the clay of nous and effort in our separate ways; the bottom line for measuring success remains universally the same. You ought to be the best in what you do, deliver to the best of your ability and strive for greater excellence at all times; it is then that you are truly successful. 

The most important quality to be successful remains the age-old one of hard work. If you need to get somewhere you will have to burn the midnight oil to get there. There are no shortcuts or quick fixes. 

The second quality would be persistence, perseverance and a consistent internal push. We would not have had light bulbs or telephones or planes or the revolutionizing concepts of relativity and 
Archimedes principle, to cite a few examples, had it not been for the never-say-die spirit of these zealous, determined folk.

The third most important quality is, undoubtedly, passion. That definitely is the main driver in your path to success. If you don’t let that little light within you extinguish or quell the inner voice that pushes you on and if you keep the fire in your belly alive and stoked then it is the passion that does it for you. It is the passion that keeps you motivated in the face of flak, failure or fear.

Fervour, ardour, enthusiasm, craze, drive - call it by any name but it is the passion that is your undying spirit which keeps your dreams alive and brings you a step closer to your coveted calling.

It is important to maintain a slick intellect, razor-sharp mind and well-oiled mental faculties; regardless of the stressful environment we work in and the exigencies we face day in and day out. In fact, application of intelligence, astuteness, quick-wittedness and mental alacrity differentiate the tough from the beaten, the winners from losers.

Also, develop an affinity with the three Cs of attitude – 

Be Confident in yourself and in all that your qualifications and experience have richly treasured up in you. Be confident to learn, change and adapt. 

Be Courageous. Hone your courage to meet biggest challenges, toughest professional terrains and the harshest of winds that may blow against you.

Be Compassionate. It is imperative to see things from the other’s point of view, treat them kindly and be empathetic in team-work; the last being the prerequisite to ensure that the ship sails smoothly in the same direction with no parts of it divided or torn apart by strife and discordance.

Finally, always strive to be a Professional in whatever you do! And here’s how I would define a Professional – Be a mentor, be positive, make mistakes and learn from them, make no compromises, always deliver, always take charge, be a perpetual learner, be a visionary and always see the Big Picture!

Web link -

Monday, 12 March 2018

The Shiva Slaps!

Since I am a Shivaite, I call these the Shiva slaps.

They happen a lot with me. Each time I let the two-horned, arrow-tailed, spear-holding monster linger on my left shoulder for a somewhat long time, I get whacked by Lord Shiva in His strange ways with a simple, subliminal message that puts me back on track.

2017 was a good year for my writing work. I was productive, prolific and wrote with flourish and proclivity. The Writer's Block remained at bay and I wrote all kinds of things - business writing, poetry, blogs and fed regularly into some of my manuscripts. I wrote at all times with ease, whether it was the dead of the night or wee hours of the morning or the middle of the day.

But 2018 began on a somewhat slow note. I was low and downbeat, given to low energy, feeble enthusiasm and weak will.

And then I get a string of those Shiva slaps delivered across my right on a single day.

First, Andy Alpine, a LinkedIn connection, invited me to write for his rather nice website -

And then Qrius (previously The Indian Economist) sent me the following note.

To say the least, I am impressed with Qrius and their line up of writers. I am also chuffed about the fact that they syndicate to World Economic Forum and Harvard Economics Review.

Yes, I will be writing for both!

And then there has been AELD (The Association of Emerging Leaders' Dialogues) extending their hand and inducting me on their Board.

A US-based Life Coach interviews me for her series of interviews of global professional leaders and calls mine an 'Extraordinary Life of a Leader.'

One of the highest ranked hospitality e-magazines offers me to design their PR Course.

The Shiva slaps keep coming, making it difficult for me to find excuses for shirking my work and not putting in my one hundred percent.

Lord Shiva will just not allow that in my case, it seems!

Picture courtesy - Google Images

Thursday, 8 March 2018

The luxury and the agony of working from Home!

For years, I held a demanding hotel job that saw me clock in time from 8 AM to 10 PM on most days. If I left office at 7 PM, I would have my Boss joke that I was taking a half day.

Then, one day I got onto the other side of the fence and became my own Boss. 

As full-time hoteliers, we go through a grueling schedule. But now, as a full-time Hospitality Industry Watcher and Writer, I feel that my schedule is no less grinding. 

The only difference is that a part of my home turf is also my office space. Is that an easy peasy work life or do we still walk the tightrope? Let’s take a look.

Just the other day, I got off from late night binge television viewing, shut off the Idiot Box and walked over to the designated area, switched on the PC and began working at 4 o’clock in the morning.

There are days when still donned in my PJs, I will work through the night, and wrap up work at say about eight in the morning, only to sneak under the sheets and sleep till midday.

I can take a day off on Wednesday or any other day of my choice, right in the middle of the week. Or, to finish some steep deadlines, I may have to push myself to work long, stretched hours over the weekend.

My daily commute to work entails, walking from one area of the house to another with a mug of coffee in hand. Welcome to the pleasures and privileges of working from SOHO (Small Office, Home Office)!

But not everything is a walk around the park, smelling roses and sniffing the hot brew to stimulate the already relaxed senses!

Working from home brings its own bandwagon of battles. There are a trillion dragons to slay when you are your own boss. 

You need to keep yourself in the reckoning in face of old and new competition, you have to run at double speed just to stay stable in the same place, and you have to learn to wade smoothly and calmly through the choppy waters of insecure and uncertain finances (with no security blanket of a guaranteed monthly paycheck) just to keep your ship afloat!

So, is it easy or tough to work from home?

It is an extremely tough decision to decide to leave one's place in the corporate matrix and go on one's own. A lot of things are at stake - your position on the corporate ladder, your movement up on the ladder to get closer to the Corner Office, the perquisites that come with your position and the host of privileges.

Also, there is the two-pronged matter of the financials. As most people who have bitten the bait of being their own bosses will tell you, one must be very open to the eventuality that you will be earning far less than when you worked for a Company. There are no bonuses, travel or entertainment allowances, HRA, Mediclaim and the like.

The second part is that when you decide to go on your own, you will have to make the initial investment for setting up a Home Office, complete with a tiny staff, should your work demand so.

When you are working with a Corporate, your designation there, plus the profile of the Company makes it easier for you to establish stronger business relationships and wider networks. 

When you decide to work from home, you need to start all over again and build that network from ground zero.

In this ‘you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours, world,’ you will soon realize that a clutch of erstwhile business “friends” or “great contacts” were actually closer to the brand you represented than you and will let you know their leaning fast enough.

On the flip side, you have the opportunity to deliver more, pack so much more in your day. You also have the advantage of not being pulled into office politics and shenanigans and pointless meetings, therefore you can keep a positive and more productive milieu around yourself.

Working from home, if you do not mind a smaller pay packet (until the time your work has begun generating a steady income), brings in the best work-life balance. From small kids to pet children to aging parents, you get to be hands-on for them much more than if you worked for somebody else. 

Also, since you work from home and save the time on commuting and can carry on the work in a limitless way into the wee hours or turnaround your schedule to say, even start a work day at 3 AM when the pressures build up; you have a lot more time on your hands to follow your other passions and pursuits bringing in greater pleasure and satisfaction to your life. 

There are, however, some basics that you must keep in mind while working from home!

a). Earmark a sacrosanct area that draws a boundary for your workspace - it could be one section of the house or an offsite area that you visit every day or even a part of your room replete with your desk and all the necessary paraphernalia.

b). Draw up a timeline on how you want to intertwine your house responsibilities with your professional work. Since you work from home, the lines are bound to get blurred and it is up to you to demarcate and set internal checks.

c). While you have the luxury of working even in your night clothes, but it makes sense to take the trouble of dressing and showing up at your desk. It helps channelize your mindset, keeping it more professional and less lackadaisical.

d). When you work from home and get into the seamless time zone, remind yourself to adhere to a schedule, do not eat at your desk, do not shortchange your exercise regimen, do not cut down on your outside meetings as and when your work demands.

e). Invest in things/technology that will help you deliver in the most efficient manner. Do not scrounge on that.

f). Work out a good Profit Protection Plan to ensure healthier returns.

g) Do not compromise on your work ethics or your expectation of your own self. Sound self-esteem plays a big part in binding your Brand value.

h). Do not let prospective clients ride roughshod over you, disregard your experience and expertise and try to get away by paying you little or not paying you at all. 

When you don't have a Corporate Umbrella over you, many people think they are doing a favour by giving an assignment or project to a self-employed person. 

Follow the following simple tips to make your SOHO decision a Success!

a). When you begin working from home, do not treat it as an extension of a hobby. Accord it the same respect and value you would to a Corporate job.

b). Plan ahead for a revenue model. It is a JOB that you are professionally trained for and are engaged in. It must pay your bills.

c). Working from home brings in the biggest facet of Flexi hours, but you must learn to bring a sense of decorum and discipline. Stick to a schedule, start your work day early, minimize interference from extraneous factors including family members.

d). Endeavour to deliver your 100% each day. Without the nudges of HR or team competition or Appraisals, it is all up to you now to ensure that you do not drop the ball of optimal deliverability and quality of work.

e). Put enough thought into Brand Identity aspects - make sure that your business card, brochure, letterheads, website etc. represent your Brand Philosophy in the best way possible.

f). Build up on your equity by doing a great job for existing clients so that they would become your reference with ease and willingness.

If you too work from a Home Office, do share your tips and trials for minimizing setbacks and compounding gains!

Meanwhile, the clock on the computer reads 4:06 AM. I am calling it a day, after a productive night of some research work, some light reading and one important feature piece finished off to satisfaction.


Picture Courtesy - Google Images / Pottery Barn / Decoist.

Friday, 9 February 2018

Compliments are key to team productivity and talent retention!

There is this nice, feel-good video that has gone viral on social media. It shows Chris Ulmer, a young teacher at Mainspring Academy in Jacksonville, Florida – a School for Special Children, beckoning his wards one by one every morning. The teacher says to the first boy, “You’re an amazing student. I love having you in my class. I think everyone in here loves you.” And to the second, “You’re funny. You’re athletic. You’re a great soccer player. You’re very smart. You’ve been doing a great job reading.” And so on, one after another to every special boy in his class before sending them off with a high five.

Chris opines that this simple practice helps shape his students’ world view turning them into better human beings. “If they have a mean, jaded teacher, they will think the world is mean and jaded. But if a teacher displays love, harmony and peace, that will become their norm. After a few weeks of this practice, my students started complementing one another consistently. They praise each other for accomplishments as if it was their own,” Chris shares in his video.

You can see the body language of each student change from the time Ulmer calls for them to the moment he High Fives the little tots.

And therein lays a master class in management best practice and one of the finest strategies for talent retention. Sincere words of praise from people of authority – Super bosses, direct reporting, team leads, managers and people of significance – Top management, mentors, industry bigwigs, even prominent peers, are known to have a lasting impression on the recipient.

Several studies have shown that many a times, well-deserved compliments that are truly and well-delivered by the management – conveying acknowledgement of good work, recognition of the value the employee brings and appreciation of his talent – rate higher than even salary and job perks. Moreover, using a public platform or a larger audience to express admiration of a great worker and his admirable output creates stronger bonds, reinforces mutual trust and respect, motivates other team members and instills a higher drive in the recipient.

Compliments and acknowledgements can take varied forms

They can be verbal pats on the back in official forums; they can be written affirmation on those formal appraisals; they can also be very visible endorsements of your special talent put up as showpieces for all to see and emulate from.

I was in a closed door once with my General Manager, the Company CFO and the irrepressible Mr. Oberoi, owner of the eponymously named chain of hotels, easily considered one of the finest in the world. We were discussing PR budgets, decision-making autonomy, our media engagements and some hairy issues when Mr. O’s eyes rested on the latest issue of Chronicle, the hotel newsletter. He quizzed me about how much we spent on it and right away got on the hotline to another hotel GM in his chain. Without batting an eyelid, he told the gent how ‘our’ Chronicle was the finest in the chain and produced at a lower cost too. Of course, our GM’s chest swelled with pride but Mr. O won a lifelong fan in me and an employee who would be a brand ambassador of his fine company whether she continued working for him or not. To this day I remain an Oberoi loyalist.

Compliments or recognition must be genuine and sincere

If they are not, then it is just meaningless fluff that gets blown away easily without having the desired effect. And it should not always be premeditated, practiced and pro forma. Truthful, honest praise comes straight from the heart and is an instant reaction to a job that has been done well and beyond the brief.

During Australia India New Horizons 1996-97, Australia’s biggest country promotion thus far, I was on the media team of Alexander Downer, the then Hon’ble Foreign Minister of Australia. At one of the national press conferences held at FICCI (Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry), the Minister was very pleased with the success of the press meet and the huge number of press folk from prominent media that had gathered there.

At the end of the conference, the Minister turned towards Gai Brodtmann, the Counsellor Public Affairs, who was my immediate boss and also the Head of PR & Publicity at the Australian High Commission in India, to congratulate her for one of the best media interfaces he had ever experienced.

Gai, true to her form and character, got up, turned towards me and told the Minister that she “had nothing to do with it. That it was all my hard work;” in full attendance of the Australian and Indian Government officials and the Mission staff.

With that profound gesture, my mentor-for-life, left behind some indelible management lessons for me and all others who were present – lessons in leadership, being secure in one’s own role and position, being proud of one’s team, giving credit where it is due at the right time in the right forum, best techniques in employee motivation and instilling the highest form of accountability in her team mates.

Compliments need not be direct

Sometimes, a fine word let out by your significant others at work that travels back to you is the finest and most promising music that you need to hear to put your best foot forward at all times.

I was meeting a journalist friend for lunch and during the course of our conversation she recounted that she had met my boss at an art exhibition the previous Sunday and how they got talking about me and how he had such great things to say about the kind of work I did. The fact that I remember the conversation to this day and that what the boss had to say about me still motivates me even when I have had several experiences under my belt since, shows the importance one can attach to such wonderfully inspiring feedback. Fair words of commendation not only serve to be great pick-ups when you are feeling low, but also always serve to maintain your confidence in yourself.

Compliments need not always be verbalized

Often times, actions do speak louder than words and leave a stronger mark. I had just joined this hotel as part of the Change Agent team with the mandate to turnaround and present the hotel with a completely new brand image and positioning. Before I joined the place, the owner and the VP & GM had contracted all PR, communications, publicity and advertising work to two agencies – a PR & image  consultancy and an advertising agency. In my introductory briefing session, Pierre Jochem, the VP & GM (who I call my second mentor) thought aloud, “We will keep the agencies for three months. That should allow you enough time to warm up and begin earnest work on the PR roadmap.”

We had a catching up meeting on the fourth day in his lovely, glass-walled, mezzanine floor corner office. Monsieur Jochem, carrying the Guest Services Directory mock-up I had given to him for his review, was happy to note the media coverage that had started to happen (with luck on my side one had got the hotel covered every single day of those first four days). And this is what he uttered to me, “You seem to have achieved what these folks had collectively done in three months. I guess we will just terminate their contracts and let them go. I think this way you will get more work done.”

Yes, this decision went into his report to the owners. After the initial sense of high and euphoria it brought in a higher sense of responsibility in me. Such trust and conviction must always be proved right.

Compliments are the vocal and visible endorsement of an employee’s good performance that is laudable and to be encouraged

Such validation of commendable work ensures that the employee continues to feel motivated, accountable and responsible. He/she becomes more result-oriented and holds a stronger level of ownership for his role and responsibility; endeavouring to maximize the wins and diminish the fails towards his/her goals achievement.

Compliments are, indeed, one of the finest strategies for retaining good talent

Sincere commendation inspires and also helps reshape average work into stellar feats. Use it often, but judiciously. Compliment your team profusely at every given opportunity but with sincerity and deservingly!

So how have compliments helped you perform better and exceed targets? Tell me in your comments.


Picture courtesy - Google Images

Wednesday, 17 January 2018

Red Flags to watch out for to save your Business and Reputation!

Business is built on trust inculcated in the customer for the products the businesses sell. The success factor of any business depends on the brand value that the Business promises to deliver to the guest. This value is always defined from the perspective of the guest. The smooth running and profitability of any business is based on the efficient, hitch-free movement of the supply chain taken care of by capable and diligent employees who own their roles and embody the essence of the brand principles. It is employees, who aim to raise their own standard of work and attitude to the level of an exemplary Brand Ambassador, that are the treasured lot upholding the Brand reputation and ensuring a healthy bottom-line.

When these Brand Ambassadors do not uphold the brand flag and become less than competent and conscientious, the Brand value of the business, the Brand promise to the guest, Brand loyalty from the guests and Brand reputation in the minds of all stakeholders take a nosedive.

So what are the prime factors that are bound to put you on a downward escalator making the climb back even more arduous and painful than when you started out!

Nonchalant Staff that is ill-trained and lacks service orientation

When we go out to work – in any job or industry – we cannot afford to be uncaring, perfunctory and uninvolved. It is a moral binding that we bring ourselves fully to our positions regardless of internal irritants that exist or imagined issues that we wrestle with.

And when we are in the hospitality industry – a show business of providing experiential service to guests who come and spend their top dollar with us - such dismal disregard is completely inappropriate and unbecoming.

In the Front of the House areas, I find Reception Desks, Mise-en-place stations and Micros centres to be such terrible breeding grounds for overly germ-y behaviour that I dread being seated anywhere close to those.

We recently went out for Dinner to a popular Italian Restaurant run by a celebrated City Chef. Unfortunately, the layout of this restaurant was perhaps such that you were always at an arm's length from those chit-chat coves. This evening, we had staff joking around, gossiping and doing anything but work at those hubs in a near empty restaurant.

This behaviour pattern is such a dead giveaway for bad training, lack of interest in one's job and lack of respect both for the Company and the guests. The smirking and the smart alec-y attitude does more long-term harm than can be envisaged and undone.

The Missing 'Attention to detail'

Paying attention to detail is a valuable trait in any profession. But in the hospitality industry, it assumes far greater significance because there are so many levels of product and sub-product presentations and so many strata of service delivery opportunities.

Dropping the ball even in the smallest of tasks in any section of the hotel can have a direct repercussion on the guest experience or an indirect one in terms of Brand delivery and reputation.

When we walked into the above-mentioned spiffy restaurant, we were shown to a table that was not clean. Even a Fast Food restaurant with a packed house, pick-eat-go nature of service and fast turnaround cannot afford to seat guests at tables that have not been wiped; this place certainly had no excuse for that.

We were seated at a table that was not ready - missing napkins and sundry other things. Soiled mats is never a good way of showcasing a restaurant and you do make matters worse when simple additions of EVOO and Balsamic Vinegar are missing from the table of an Italian restaurant.

The lighting of the place was abysmally low making it difficult to read the menu. Poor lighting is an oft-repeated mistake committed the world over, in the name of ambience and mood.

How can restaurants miss the basics while planning the structure? Hotels and restaurants have to have a 360-degree view of issues: – light – natural and artificial, temperature control, noise, location, pollution, traffic, accessibility amongst a host of other pertinent aspects.

My biggest woe, however, at any restaurant is their complete negligence of cleanliness – telling-tales in the tines of forks, stain marks on glassware, napkins with stubborn reminders of rather sharp gravy, staff uniforms that bear the stench of climate and callousness.

There are scores of restaurants – stand-alone and those in the confines of glitzy Five Stars – that kill guest satisfaction with their indifferent service and sub-standard offerings.

Technologically challenged Staff, also not in step with the latest advents

Technology, as is the human need, is evolving every nanosecond. A new gizmo is being invented or an old gadget updated at lightning speed for our ease, efficiency and convenience. So it is in our own interest that we stay on top of it, unlearn and relearn so as to give our optimal output.

Many chains and independent hotels and restaurants invest sizeable energy and budget to systems and devices upgradation and to training their workforce in it. At a Bistro in a well-known hotel, a steward thrust a Tablet in front of me for feedback, not knowing how to operate it himself. When asked to return to a previous page he said resignedly in Hindi "woh toh chale gaya. Ab nahin milega. (The page is gone. I cannot retrieve it)."

The steward erred grossly on two counts – first, he resorted to colloquial language while conversing with a guest when he should have stuck to the formal language of communication. Secondly, he or his establishment had failed to provide him with the requisite training. I felt like leaving the same sentence and sentiment as our comment on the contraption!

The Heart of the Matter is not in its place

At places with ill-trained staff, the food and atmosphere can be a great saviour. Suffice it to say that at our ill-fated outing at this 'all shine – no substance' Italian place we were denied even that. The pizza was most ordinary. Domino's does far better. The little accoutrements were missing, the breads were far from fresh - yes all three, the Parmesan was floor dust massed-up in little balls and not freshly grated. And the tomato and basil spaghetti from the eponymous restaurant left a lot to be desired - the sauce was a thick, over stirred mass, overly salty and robbing the pasta of any taste or flavour, the spaghetti was not quite al dente. If you get your two basic dishes so wrong, how would you instil confidence in the customer to try out your trumped up menu that is heavy on the design value and comes out as a piece of literary fiction because your heart is not in its place!

I once had this well-established and feared food critic share her exasperation on how the Doormen made her feel small each time she came to the hotel in a tuk-tuk/auto rickshaw. The disdainful behaviour of one team member made her feel spiteful of the hotel at large.

On the other hand, I fondly recall the spotlessly liveried Doorman of The Pierre (a Four Seasons Hotel at the time of my visit) who was such a joy to have the first interface with as I got down from a public transport that was carrying me from around Newark Airport to the heart of Manhattan. The wise, well-behaved, thoroughly groomed Gent set the tone for one of the best hotel stays in my life.

When up-selling leads to short-selling

Spaghetti Kitchen, the Italian Restaurant, we have been talking about in this article messed up so badly on staff that were not only ill-trained but also wrongly trained.

Now, we know that all hotel staff is tutored to upsell – from the Sales & Marketing representatives and Front Office folks to the Food & Beverage personnel. But up-selling is an art form and a fine-tuned strategy. Its art lies in making subliminal suggestions to the guests who then think that it is either their own choice or have been done a favour by being sold a higher priced service/product.

The good fellas at Spaghetti Kitchen were appallingly trained to be pushy and aggressive about all that up-selling they unleashed on us and other guests – from pushing heavily taxed bottled water to diners who do not drink water with their meals, to openly snickering at our small two-course order for the late, late-night quick meal we went for, to pushing desserts to a table that was disinclined towards them, to at least try to shove overrated coffee to the couple that wished to finish the meal with a simple tiramisu – these Brand Anti-Ambassadors managed to short sell their reputation and image, pushing the guests even farther from their brand.

Failing to close the loop on a Guest Issue

Hotels and restaurants, since they are a people-centric industry – by the people and for the people – fall open to a multitude of issues and crises that revolve around the troika of human ability, attitude and emotion. Nobody likes to be short-changed in their service expectation and product usage. In technological things, one can still blame the science or physics but in the service industry, it is thinking, rational and able people who are at the centre of it and cannot get away by saying that the hardware malfunctioned or there was a systems error.

In the case of the Italian Restaurant we have been referring to, we let our displeasure known several times during the evening. Our complaints seemed to be falling on uncaring, unwilling ears. It was only when we let the strange people at Spaghetti Kitchen know that we were "industry folk," that some sense of respect was brought forward and the erring waiter quickly replaced by the Manager and the Maitre'd. This sort of knee-jerk reaction leaves a lot to be desired and robs the guest of any confidence he may have in your brand.

Since there were a plethora of issues we faced on that fateful "so-called" fine-dining dinner, we scaled up the matter to the Company's Image managers. The PR Reps., who call themselves PR Pundits, picked up our rant on the Food Forum and came back with too little, too late and too dispassionately. I gave the PR lady a reminder (reminders are sacrilege in the PR world of work); she gave me a passing apology perhaps only to go back to write her nth note to the restaurant management. The Management eventually wrote to me with the standard invite to 'come try them again "on the house"' without realizing that faith is never won with a free meal.

In our line of business, there are warning signs that flag out much before they become crises for the guests. We must learn to read them in time and draw out our plan of action to keep our SOPs well-oiled much before we are coerced to get into the battle zone to do the damage control.

Picture courtesy - Google Images

Tuesday, 2 January 2018

At the start of 2018, follow these 11 essential Mantras and NEVER see yourself or your business fail!

Companies and individuals that succeed as market leaders are those that fine-tune the smallest aspects and fit them well and cohesively into their Big Picture. It could be such a small thing as flowers placed straight in a vase on a guest table, or maintaining the right temperature of the hot/cold towels in the Hotel limousine or making sure that the steward is well-trained in serving at just the right angle, without letting his livery brush against the guest or the dish he is serving from.

Strung together, these small things shape up to become service standards that guide the brand ethos and strive for Brand Excellence!

Market Leaders know that they need to be flag bearers of their Brand essence and must never drop the ball, while continually raising the bar with their unmatched standards, both in service and their trained team of stellar performers.

Here follow 11 essential Business Mantras to ensure that you never let yourself or your Brand fail –

1. Attention to detail

In the trade of Hoteliering, there is no space or scope for tardiness and lack of attention to the tiniest detail at all the multitudinous levels we function in. At least here, we must sweat the small stuff in order to present our best selves forward to the guests.

2. From arrival to departure

A memorable stay or dining indulgence starts at the entrance of the hotel/restaurant and ends at the exit. Well! let me take it a bit further and state that it begins from the very first interaction, yes, the time the booking was made – by whatever mode – and ends with the hotel/restaurant acknowledging the feedback the guest leaves on a comment card or on TripAdvisor, with a personal response sent to the guest.

That is the ‘full cycle’ of the guest-brand interface we must bear in mind and ensure immaculate experiential and service delivery to.  

3. Matchless Service Standards

For a Market Leader, there is just no other way. Service has to be outstanding, with delivery standards benchmarked to the best there exist globally, and delivery processes fine-tuned to faultless levels of precision and delightedness.

Astral or botched up service and winning or erring attitudes can decide what part of the memory – good or bad - the experience rests in. Sadly, bad memories tend to linger on and resurface easily!

4. Synching Staff with Brand Ethos and Brand Value

The staff which is not trained to be brand proud and customer-oriented, Staff that lacks passion and commitment and is there to do just a job but fails even to do that, completely destroys the brand value and ruins the reputation of the Company for good.

5. Work on the Core

Every business has its core area and in some cases, ancillary interests. The company’s Vision and Mission, the blueprint for future growth, existing R&D, all training initiatives and service delivery standards are brought into a fine, strategic interplay of cohesive and conducive thrust to ensure that the core of the Company is always geared towards performing optimally for the end user.

For instance, much before experience, ambience, aspirational value and lifestyle statements, restaurants are about food. To present the finest of its core essence, restaurants go the long stretch to hire specialty chefs and specialized supplementary team members such as the distinguished sommelier or a Barista. They make huge investments in F&B training, menu creation, planning and execution.

Sourcing of exotic and exceptional ingredients, importing of fabulous flatware, appointing of renowned entertainers who are believed to stimulate the appetite and stir up the spirit by their pulsating music – all this is brought into a grand performance to present the main act, the act that defines the raison d’être of restaurateuring.

The same goes for rooms, spas and the kind of hotel business you are in – business or leisure or MICE or resort or destination or wellness and so on.

The core of existence for the Brand and its sub-products must, therefore, be strongly moored and kept in focus while carrying out business, both in a day-to-day setting and while working on long-term goals.

6. Guests – the centre of your Universe

The central gravitational force for the business of hotels is, unarguably, the guests. It is the chief reason why mega monies were paid to renowned architects and builders to create those magnificent edifices. Bundles of bucks are put into defining and plattering out the perfect branding. Pretty pennies are paid to hire the right mix of staff. All kinds of material are brought in – from Italian marble to mood lighting, expensive crystal to aromatherapy candles, special ingredients to spa treatments – and many man hours put into presenting eclectic experiences under the single parent fold.

In today’s times, when the guests are spoiled for choice with the hotel/restaurant business having bloomed so much as to bring in the best to even one’s doorstep, it is professional hara-kiri for staff and establishments to assess guests from the front desks or make small talk about diners at different tables and generally be offensive in their attitude towards the guests.

It is the guests that are at the heart of hoteliering. It is the guests we put out our services to, who come and spend their income with us, ensuring that we keep our bottom-line healthy and stay afloat in the marketplace.

7. Polish the right Attitude

Five Star hotels, all over, have such a chip on their shoulder. I have seen hotel staff size up guests on the basis of clothes or jewellery they wear, the cars they alight from, the kind of luggage they carry, the choice of food and beverage they order and so on.

A lot of people working in starred hotels, up the hierarchy, thrive on such affectations. But at the bottom of the day, it is actually a training thing and a decision made by the mandarins early enough on what the ethos of their brand philosophy should be and how should it be breathed out by one and all. 

Underlining what I state above, there are these two distinct anecdotes I love to share as tall examples of both kinds of attitudes – guest attentive and respecting on one end and not even self-respecting on the other!

In the first example, I was, on one trip. alighting at The Pierre in New York from a ram shackled public transport with unbranded luggage yet the Doorman - in cahoots with the Concierge - helped me disembark, greeted me enthusiastically and ushered me with great showmanship into the gilded precincts of the iconic hotel.

In the second case, I had a very senior Food Critic cry hoarse about the despicable behavior of the majestically attired Doorman, at one of New Delhi / India’s finest hotels, who refused to allow her auto rickshaw to enter the hotel gate.

Rules being rules, the Doorman should have been taught how to handle such cases with respect and sensitivity, without letting the guest feel cheap and disgusted which this hotel employee ended up doing. Several man hours were wasted in salvaging the situation with me as their Director of PR and the General Manager getting into the crisis-handling mode to win the guest back.

A lot of heartache and bad blood could have been avoided had the hotel concentrated on training the Doorman well and teaching him how to employ good reason, rational thinking and deft delicateness in handling different kinds of guests.

8. Learn the New Rules of exposure in these times of  Social Media

With the surge of the Social Media, every guest is a potential hotel or food critic, with the power to put out a good vibe on the web or destroy a brand with an acerbic comment that has the propensity to snowball into a major issue.

While, earlier, making a complaint in print would have required a huge amount of time and energy investment with major follow-ups; today you can create news or a buzz right there with just a few touches on the screen.

And what’s scary is that; that little piece of news or complaint put compactly in as little as 140 or 280 characters can reach all corners of the world at the same time. Moreover, since bad news travels faster, a juicy piece of negative publicity of an established brand can easily go viral and keep returning with every comment and share to bite the Brand.

But, if you do your job well and present the finest facet of your Brand to maximum guest satisfaction, you stand to gain from the same principles of Social Media, garnering all that free publicity and goodwill for your Brand and its myriad points of sale.

9. Bite back the urge to Up-sell

Up-sell by all means but first and foremost understand what the guest really wants and then move around that parameter; scooping in and pulling out with finesse, élan and refinement.

And drop the hard sell like the proverbial hot potato; it is known to dispel guests far, far away.

The business of hotels and restaurateuring has to be about grace and decorum, subtle hints and subliminal suggestions; leaving the guest as the main orchestrator of the experience that you double up to deliver on a silver platter of fine food and finer service.

10. Bring the spotlight back on Guest Focus

In the present times when the written word has the power to travel all over the globe with just a click of a button and the guest feedback can garner quite a momentum in the virtual world with strong repercussions in real life, guest focus and guest orientation are paramount like never before!

But more importantly, you must learn to be earnest in your service to guests for your Company’s good and for your own sake!

The true touchstone of a great place is how it treats and behaves with only five guests who do not run up a big bill.

Great places do not put their sparkle on only for that big table ordering the most expensive items on the menu or the costliest bottle of Champagne. They treat the low spenders in the same way they would the high spending ones; with sincerity in service, respect for their own brand and pronounced guest attention being supreme in their scheme of things.

This is not only the correct Brand Philosophy but also a win-win scenario, both for the Brand and the guests.

Next time those five guests want to recommend a great place to their contacts or wish to spend mega bucks on a special evening, guess who will they recommend and where will they make their reservation!

11. The Golden Rule of Hospitality

Regardless of the Draconian sword of the social media / traditional media, the service industry has a moral obligation to serve the guests with honesty, respect and enthusiasm. Otherwise, they are definitely in the wrong game.

I remember ordering only Spaghetti sans any wine or a side dish at a rather fine restaurant run by an immigrant Italian in the heart of Engelberg, the tiny sleepy town in Switzerland. We were accorded as much respect and attention as they would have given to someone ordering a six-course meal, with the Owner stopping by to ask after us. Now that is what is called impeccable attitude and perfect training.

The ambience, the attitude, the food, the concentration on guests was such that we returned the next evening and the next to try out their menu. They had made quite an impression on us with their complete package of good food and hospitality standards of the highest order.

The best part is; they were really not trying hard to impress. All they were doing was carrying on with their job and presenting their brand in the best way possible, and with integrity, passion and guest orientation.

In most cases, that is all that you are required to do!