Tuesday, 18 July 2017

11 Business Mantras that make you a Market Leader!

Brand Mission Statements and Brand Philosophy are often common sense rules that help us look above the clutter. They streamline our functioning into significant result orientation enmeshed with the Company or industry Best Practices.

Companies 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, aspects of Brand excellence and discerning factors that separate a great Brand from the run-of-the-mill ones!

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 a list of some of the basic Business Mantras that set a leader apart from the pack –

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 start to finish  

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.     Superlative Service

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.     Staff that understands and embodies 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.     Get the Core Factor right

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 speciality 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 with 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.     It’s all about Guests  

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 door step, 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.     Lose that put on 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 behaviour 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.     New Rules in the Social Media Generation

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 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.     Do not push the envelope

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.                         Go back to the basics of hoteliering with 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!


Picture courtesy - Google Images

Tuesday, 27 June 2017

Would you like to make your Organization the best? Here’s how!

Organizations we work in are much more than structures of mortar, glass and steel. They are actually living things that breathe, inhale and exhale energy and embody characteristics and emotions mirroring all of us who come in and work here. 

The kind of Organizations we represent can be underlined in three important constituent elements – 

Progressive Organizations as edifices of good energy.

Complex Organizations as matrixes of dynamic traits and mindsets of its workforce.

Individual-focused Organizations with significance to the unique disposition and value that each of us brings.

We, as complex beings, need to be mindful of all these elements.

Progressive Organizations as edifices of good energy

People-centric organizations such as hotels, hospitals, educational institutions and the like are a world unto themselves. These are people-rich businesses like no other - both on the inside and out - such that for them to be a successful and harmonious venture there must be thoroughly trained and rightly attuned ladies and gentlemen serving discerning ladies and gentlemen (borrowing from and re-phrasing Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company’s Rule of Business).

A Progressive Organization is where we can achieve more than we could in a mediocre one. A Progressive Organization buzzes with happy employees and happier guests! In contrast, commonplace organizations are those where the only thing that attracts the guests is the off-season discounts.

We all have worked in both kinds of organizations. There, really, is no ideal organization but both companies, leaders and the team endeavour to make it a win-win place by benchmarking brand values and evolving the brand ethos.

Most of us want to work with wonderfully progressive organizations with utopian work environments without realizing that each of us is an essential cog in the corporate wheel. We as micro components and as a whole make the hotel or any other Company what it is – whether in tandem or in conflict with the hotel’s parent philosophy.

We must do a lot of internalization and introspection in order to make our organizations optimum places to be in. So, the buck must stop with us and not the Hotel owner, Corporate Training Manager, the General Manager or our Department Head alone. 

Organizations are complex 

Every place has its mixed dynamics as much as there is a mesh of people who work there and bring in their set of values, drives and energies adding to or depleting the corporate culture.

I used to lament about the deep-rooted politics, credit-stealing, clique driven and yes-man culture in one of my previous hotels. And now when my niece talks about her experience with a Swiss 
MNC or a progressively Indian Legal Services / Development sector and my husband brings his woes from the Consumer Durables line of business, I notice that things are not very different. 

And that the more the companies may be different in their areas and appeal, the more they are the same in their cultural dynamics. 

In the hospitality industry, the issue is compounded by the power of ten. After all, it is a business of the people, by the people, for the people; to shamelessly borrow from one of Abraham Lincoln’s famous thoughts. 

No organization is immune to the extremely complex and intriguing four categories that a group of people put together in a common work environment bring in, viz. - 

There are great and efficient workers with questionable personal attributes.

There are excellent people with a poor set of work-related skills.

There are pathetic workers with deplorable personas, AND

There are wonderful, top notch colleagues with exemplary attitudes.

It is, indeed, a mixed bag of thoughts and feelings depending on the personal and professional characteristics of the people in question. Our response to them, our kinetics of equations at work and the interconnected web of relationships therein is a result of the chain of reactions set off by each of these conductors. Isn't it?

Individual-focused Organizations

This finally brings us to the most important element. We, ourselves!

Individual-focussed Organizations encourage the zeal and enthusiasm, individuals bring to the table. Such companies fuel the passion of high performing individuals and charge up the fire-in-the-belly of employees who strive for excellence and optimal result orientation.

Passion for one’s work ensures that the tiller paves smoothly all the paths that lead to his work or Goal. Be it, then, the path of wisdom or desire or honesty or punctuality or efficiency or being not just able to lead but also always blend well with the team.

Enthusiastic employees arm themselves with the essential requisites for the road ahead - such as education or experience – and keep them well honed.

And, if it weren't for the fire-in-the-belly, then serendipity, creative genius, excellence, going beyond the brief and the marvel in the mundane would well be lost.

Individual-focussed Organizations recognize this and inculcate such an environment where these attributes thrive and grow.


Keeping all the above three cogs of the big wheel well oiled and continuously serviced will ensure a smooth and long professional ride in a self-promoted conducive work environment; colour, caste, creed, character, cultural mooring notwithstanding.

The essence of the hotel organization is no different whether you are in an exotic land or by the banks of an azure sea. So employ and integrate these three elements for a winsome formula whether you work in a beach resort in Belize, a luxury Spa in Phuket, the mountaintop  hotel in Swiss Alps, a Palace in India or a Wildlife Sanctuary in South Africa!

Picture Courtesy - Google Images

Thursday, 15 June 2017

What kind of a Leader are you - a Maker or a Breaker?

The dominant traits of the top most leader in any organization, unarguably, define the shape and personality of the organization as a whole.  

So whether the top dog is fair, biased, aggressive, assimilative, open-minded and inclusive or clique and coterie centered, insecure or confident, the organization tends to take on similar features and harbour the climate that screams of the same defining set of behavioural facets.

A Balanced Leader is the backbone of a Healthy Organization

In one’s career history, while growth and better opportunity are often the crucial reasons for moving out from one and into another organization, the other main reason that seldom gets talked about openly is a huge sense of disenchantment or dissatisfaction or unhappiness stemming from a sour equation with an immediate boss or the super boss or the politically charged peer group that makes it difficult for one to perform optimally. 

Complicated and unreasonable bosses or a set of ogre-like colleagues is, in fact, a bigger, often unspoken reason for people to move and seek greener pastures elsewhere. Several HR studies, globally, have proved this fact time and again.  

In the early 1990s, as a young, sprightly fresher with rose-tinted glasses, I joined the Public Affairs Section of a Diplomatic Mission in Delhi. This was my second job and I had often heard that it was Asians who were more cliquey, gossipy, with inherent biases and prone to apple-polishing. So, imagine my astonishment when I found some of my Western colleagues as guilty as their Asian counterparts. My first reaction was, “Hell, Here too!” And the second reaction post some thought, “We all are the same beneath the veneer.”

My first boss here was a grouchy, somewhat mean, cranky man given to favouritism and an unpleasant disposition.  He was tendentious towards one single person – obviously his favourite – instead of treating the entire team fairly; so much so that this person embodied the same attributes as the boss, adding extra doses of her viciousness to it. 

At one time when I was working along with her, she would rejoice in giving me some of the most menial tasks – “just do the filing,” “get me connected to so and so on the phone,” – and had the audacity to keep the official files hidden away and stashed under lock and key lest I lay my hands on them even when I had to file. Mind you, this was no confidential data but the ludicrous behaviour continued, fanned by the boss’ strong inclination towards this person that allowed for many such unprofessional acts to flourish in the department. 

Then one day this boss was transferred out and in came a breath of fresh air in the form of a youthful, dynamic lady who brought in a sea change in the department in terms of how we viewed PR work, how we regarded each other as colleagues, how our work was perceived by other departments and the parent Government we had to report back to. 

What came across bright and clear were two different modes of leadership, two distinct personalities who contributed in their own way to the manner the department looked, breathed, felt and delivered. 

While one was a negative influence, the other used her high standard of skills, fine leadership style, fair & equal opportunity approach to make every work day a fun and productive day and ended up turning the Public Affairs Department into a highly respected and sought after department in the High Commission.

Leadership Traits must dovetail into the Big Picture

My next stint for a period of about two decades has been with hotels. Now, hotels are completely multicultural organizations where the workforce is truly international, hailing from different countries; but of course, the largest base is of the countrymen from the place where the hotel is located. 

Yet, in hotels, it becomes extremely pertinent to know how to work together with people from as far and wide as France and Germany to Sri Lanka and China. Despite the cultural differences, this ends up adding a lot of fun elements to one’s day in the life of the organization as you end up learning about these cultures and understanding what makes the ‘other’ people tick. This, however, is a subject matter of another discourse.

In hotels, while the owner or the CEO of the hotel chain is the defining personality, the GM of the unit hotel where you may work is the lord of his own fiefdom. The team and staff pick out from this leader’s personality aspects and way of running his hotel as much as the top boss’ style percolates down. 

On hindsight, having worked with six different GMs across three hotel chains, I have been fortunate to sometimes thrive and at times strive & struggle in as many organizational climates. And where there has been striving, it really has been a battlefront that has made one as hard as a rock, yet more understanding of the complexities and dynamics of a fire-pit organization.

As a Leader, are you a Maker or a Breaker?

It has also brought home the point that leaders can really make or break an organization. Not just what corporate literature may tell you, from personal experience, too, I can list out the following – 

1. The organization can be a happy and fun place to which you look forward to returning every morning and to which you willingly want to give extra hours at the end of the day. Such organizations create an overriding sense of job engagement and satisfaction. 

2. It can be such that each day, nay, moment is difficult to pass with an impossible boss breathing menacingly down your neck; and a wicked set of colleagues rubbing their hands in malicious glee every time they pull you down like the proverbial crab.

3. The organization can be healthy, conducive to work with unsurpassed functionality and highly ethical work practices. Responsibilities and recognition, exemplary output and rewards go hand in hand in such places.

4. It can be sick, divisive, undermining and demoralizing. What might get you ahead is hoodwinking and proximity to the influential people like the bosses or the boss’ right-hand man; even if such easily ill-gotten prizes are short-lived and open to scrutiny.

5. The organization can be a place that allows you to blossom as a star worker with positive strokes that help germinate your skills and talent into wonderful fruits of productivity.

6. It can also be a place where there is so much of negative energy that all that can flower there is more bad blood splattered about by parasitic employees who eat into the climate.   

7. The organization can be a place where workers breathe in fresh air, enjoy positive influences, are allowed space to make mistakes and grow, have access to information, become a two-way process in clear communication and are given learning opportunities.

8. Then there are organizations that live in the dark zone of fear, punishment, connivance and control. They operate like secret missions where unnecessary stuff is hidden and kept out of reach of the employees thereby acting as a major impediment in the processes and execution of duty.

9. There are healthy and buzzing organizations that promote good work practices, innovation and creativity and encourage workers to take ownership of their actions.

10. And there are organizations where flattery, manipulation, bad performances, terrible attitudes and overall downward slope in almost all areas rule the roost.  

It is widely seen that the top man manoeuvring the reins of the Organization can really lead by example, allowing for the finest personal and professional traits and benchmarked business best practices to shape the organization into an exemplary company; that boasts happy, engaged and optimally delivering team.

Picture Courtesy - Google Images

Friday, 3 March 2017

Surefire ways to kill 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!

Disinterested, nonchalant, ill-trained Staff

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.

Attention to detail is amiss

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 showed 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 on 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.

Staff is technologically challenged or not abreast with the latest advent

Technology, as is the human need, is evolving every nano second. 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 up gradation 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 grossly questionable

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 ends up in 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 up sell – 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.  

Not bringing a closure to 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

Saturday, 25 February 2017

How to instill Brand Loyalty in your Employees!

When I was starting out, Companies, to my mind, were these giant edifices of stone and steel with high ceilings and vast cold interiors, with crisp air of detachment and clipped, formal conversations. 

I felt that I and several other people who went to work were governed by the invisible yet potent forces that swept through the monstrous Goliath we worked for, guiding us tiny Davids by their deft hand of skilful puppeteering.

Soon enough, it dawned on me that there was no such unseen-yet-tangible power that held sway over us and that ‘we’ were the Company. As tiny or big, but significant, cogs we kept the organizational machinery well oiled and moving. 

Over the years I have come to know that employees are the life force of any organization; cold stony interiors, imposingly gleaming exteriors and thick tomes of company bibles and manuals notwithstanding.

While a lot of us, including the Top Dog, make the mistake of thinking that we are irreplaceably important; we come to realize soon enough that our positions are strengthened and our roles made more meaningful by the efficacy, knowledge, cooperation and deliverability of the significant others.

If one must grow, then one must delegate well and help one’s team to grow. If the Company as a whole has to do well, then it can only do so if all the little and big parts work in tandem and with a focus towards the common goal.

Companies would just be buildings and ill-kept ones at that, in the absence of a good workforce. And a good workforce is one that is loyal to the Brand it represents and is in step with the Brand Mission and Vision.

Here follow simple strategies to help you instill a sense of Brand loyalty in your employees - 

1. Pay respect to their designation

Whether it is a bell boy or a valet or the visiting sommelier from that la-di-dah Wine Academy – pay weightage to that brass plate pinned with pride on their jacket.

At my first job with India’s premier company in the Social Expressions Industry, I cannot tell you how proud and appreciated I felt each time the Company owner introduced me to his business associates thus – “Meet Aruna, our Creative Writer.” I felt such a big surge of joy and self-confidence course through my veins making me want to deliver my best.

I often remember two different bosses I reported to at different times when I worked at the Australian Diplomatic Mission in India. Both had distinct leadership and management styles – one was a stellar example of the global best practices and the other falling somewhere at the bottom of the heap with his terrible ways. 

Yet, they both have left indelibly valuable lessons. While one would brush us aside in meetings or go on to say, “This is Aruna from my Department,” the other would make it a point to give the following introduction – “Here’s Aruna Dhir, the Media Relations Officer.” She struck a perfect Ten, first with the full name and then the designation, every time, regardless of who she introduced us to – an upcoming artist from Sydney or Minister Downer, the then Foreign Minister.

Each time I have introduced my staff appropriately – whether it has been our Residence Manager, the able Secretary or the efficient Assistant Manager – I have noticed their body language change. 

The eyes shine, the shoulders square up, the gait gets more professional and the entire deportment reeks of confidence in oneself, self-assuredness and loyalty for the Company they represent.

A designation is descriptive of a person’s role and responsibility and surmises in its few letters the remarkable experience the person brings with him and the journey he has been on so far.

2. Display importance in the role & responsibility they bring to the table

Behind that brass plate is years of qualification, experience and wisdom which enables your company to run smoothly. Show importance, be sincere and mean it.

No person is an island unto himself and no team can work in isolation. It is such an obvious fact that we all would be completely rudderless, disoriented and non-performing if the interconnected webs in the organizational matrix did not bring all the value that they individually create into the big pool of resources which then gives direction, movement and headway to a company’s onward path.

Every role – big or small, front of the house or back of the house, black suited, blue collared or white aproned – brings with it multi-dimensional worth and such amazingly wide range of experience that must always be optimally harvested.

To cite a little personal example – No matter how self-reliant, independent and charge-taking I may be, purely on account of practical reasons and the quantum of work I may be needed to handle, I would find it extremely difficult to concentrate and deliver well if the Housekeeper had not run her magic hands through my office, my Assistant had not helped me pick up some of the balls that I must throw simultaneously up in the air, my Printer had not cooperated in helping me meet the deadline, my colleagues from other departments had not shared information and handled their end of the deal adequately, the General Manager had not given his timely approvals and so on.

With hotels, every minor cog or a big component is essential to the smooth running of the hotel machinery. From Chauffeur to Chef, Doorman to Director – Food & Beverage, Engineering hand to Executive Director, Laundry Valet to Liaison and Finance Controller, Sales Executive to Spa Expert, Concierge to Communications Chief, Housekeeping Head to Horticulture Manager – each individual is integral to the flawless functioning of the hotel. 

Each must be valued for the nous they bring with them. You ignore any part and you end up losing both guests and reputation.   

3. Learn about their fears, inhibitions and reservations

We all have a big set of weak traits, rational and irrational fears, cultural or personal inhibitions that come in the way of our growth.

If I speak about myself, I have this strange, dichotomous conflict of interest. My professional playing field is Public Relations yet I feel I am quite the introvert in large gatherings. 

Once you put the microphone before me in a large setting, I end up speaking rather impressively but put me in a moderate group and I become tongue-tied. For years I have had to battle this strange situation that tears me into two different directions. 

It has not been easy because my area of work pushes me into the feared zone on a multitude of occasions that I simply cannot turn my back on. An encouraging boss and a positive organizational climate have helped me steer smoothly without sinking my ship of reputation.

A rarely occurring case of mental paralysis is quite alright and something that one can get over. I was attending the IXth Commonwealth Study Conference in Australia and was called out to write a formal document on one occasion and participate in a team skit on another. 

Inspite of having been a published writer for better part of my professional life and being known at large for my gregariousness; unfortunately on those two occasions I failed miserably. Neither did I manage to produce any coherent literature, nor did I shine out in my parts so much so that the Team Lead ended giving me monosyllabic words to utter all through the performance. 

Thinking back about the episode still makes me feel terrible about myself. Yet, my Australian Group remembers me for a lot of my other facets and not the two sore thorns in my flesh; perhaps because they were one-off and not a common pattern. 

A mature organization, wise HR people, considerate colleagues and an understanding boss can play such a huge role in ensuring that the employee gets the better of his weak spots. As a step further, they can help him build a success story on the behavioural boulders by the right intervention and assist him in winning his personal hurdle race by turning the stumbling stones into building blocks. 

It is the Supervisor and Company’s moral obligation to combat those demons on a war footing along with the team members. There are no perfect employees. Perfection is a sense of perpetual aspiration. 

A good boss and a great organization can always manage to harness the strengths, weed out the weaknesses to turn the entire team into an envious group of people who deliver one tour de force after another.

4. Build on their strengths

Every employee has a mixed bag of strengths running through the direct – Writing skills, Business acumen, financial proficiency, good in Sales, impressive academic record, technical knowhow; and the indirect – great with people, attention to detail, pleasant demeanour, good in crisis situations, multifariously talented.

I remember my first mentor with a lot of fondness and gratitude. She nurtured us like cherished plants, watering our desires to grow up, feeding us with excellent experiences that she would squarely put on our table, support us only that much and then nudge us to become more accountable, fertilize us with splendid ideation meetings encouraging us to think out of the box, knowing well that we would bear rich fruit.

An Assistant I taught everything from scratch had this Buddha like disposition and she was great with people. She was a wonderful team mate during crisis and was a perfect foil for my Type A personality. It was such a wonderful outcome to help hone her professional skills and fan her inherent facets. The Department fared better as we went along aiding and equipping her; allowing her to blossom.  

Whether it is team building or crisis management or being good with numbers or great in handling difficult people; find the mojo of the employee and turn it into a major strength; which the employee, the team and the Company at large benefit from. 

5. Put thought and feeling into your gifts to them

We all have been recipients of gifts from our bosses and colleagues and givers of similar gesture to our teams. Even though we are told to not look the gift horse in the mouth, just how many more duty-free shop bought Toblerone packs can we eat, how many Pierre Cardin pens will we stash away and how many more perfume miniatures will we pass on as a gift from that trip back. 

Gifts without thought are the number one reason for that other bad habit – what comes around must go around.

Whether it is confectionery from your trip back or Xmas gifts, let the gift speak volumes. Skip the standard chocolate routine (for all you know, the recipient may not be a confection lover) or the other cheap (by that I am not hinting at the price at all) or common gifts. 

Gifts should be thoughtful; even when they are the inevitable chocolates. Focus on suitability – do not try to shove square pegs of inconsiderate and indifferent gift boxes into round holes of individualistic personalities.   

One of my sales colleagues once got me a lovely crushed silk scarf from his trip from Hong Kong. Even after more than a decade and a half, I love the little piece of cloth and enjoy wearing it. Did it cost him a bomb? No. Do I still remember him, even after not having worked with him for more than ten years? Absolutely yes! 

Well, gifts should have this sort of effect on the recipient. That is why they are or should be given in the first place. 

Back in the early 90s, on one of my first few business trips, I was travelling to Mumbai with my Australian Boss. We were staying at the Taj, on the same floor, in suites facing each other’s. 

Imagine my pleasant surprise when my boss dropped in, took one look at my room and ordered me out of my mine and into hers. The reason – she had a sea-facing room whereas mine had a view of the mesh of scaffolding that had been put up and hid indiscreetly by the equally ugly tarpaulin. 

My generous boss wanted me to have the nicest experience at one of my earliest hotel stays so much so that she was happy to shift to the room with a crappy feel. 

One of the nicest gifts I have received was from the Hotel General Manager - my immediate boss at the luxury chain I worked for. It was when he withdrew his name from his place at the prestigious Summer University put together by the Hotel Chain’s Centre for Learning and Development. He put my name instead knowing that it was one of the greatest lifetime experiences for me and that I was very eager to be part of knowledge enhancement. 

He said he had been a part of one too many and felt that I would gain a lot from the interface; which I did, with faculty from some of the finest international management schools. 

But the greatest lesson I learned was to be thoughtful about my team, about being genuine and kind, about nurturing the team and giving them positive growth opportunities and yes being selfless.

The above two bosses have left such a mark on me that I enjoyed the companies I worked for largely because of them. The two have taught me some wonderful lessons that I imbibed into my own style and that I often quote and refer back to when writing out case studies for others to benefit from.

Like I said, companies are not concrete and mortar. Companies are caring set of people who create outstanding organizational climates for all those around them. And strategies to instill a deep sense of Brand loyalty in one’s Brand Ambassadors are one of the most crucial and profitable best practices.

Picture Courtesy - Google Images

Friday, 24 February 2017

How to win employees and influence them!

Back in the 80s, when I was in School, two writers significantly became the flag-bearing keepers of our soul. They, with their path breaking works, became mentors to help us iron out the intensely complicated relationships we had personally and officially.  

For any teenager coming out into their own and for young professionals wanting to get a foothold in their work settings, Dale Carnegie and Norman Vincent Peale became the guides who would coach us to weed out differences, work towards a state of harmony and make our equations less chaotic and more conducive. 

Carnegie’s bestselling book, ‘How to win Friends and Influence People’ became a bible for a whole generation when it was published in 1936 and stays relevant till date.

The success of such books has always underlined the fact that it is absolutely essential to get along with one’s significant others and develop a healthy, mutually beneficial and psychologically rewarding relationship with them. In the work atmosphere, employees become one of the biggest and most important stakeholders.

When one is younger and perched on the first few rungs, one is brash enough to think that things will not function smoothly if it were not for one’s brilliance alone. 

As you move up and along, you realize that there are several people and things that contribute to your growth process and keep you in the reckoning. It is the other employees, your company colleagues and inter / intra departmental teams that help pave the path for your company’s and your advancement.

I have seen the wrong set of employees break the best of places and happy, positive, motivated teams take even small establishments to great heights of fame and fortune.

So how do you win employees and influence them positively for the greater good of the Company and the people that make it what it is!

Here are five simple tricks that pack quite the punch - 

1. Call them by their name

With this practice I have seen strangers step easily into my circle of acquaintance. They feel that they have an equation with me. Leave alone educated, well-bred folk, even the construction workers I have been dealing with, for the better part of the year, feel identified and accepted. Imagine what this simple habit can do with people who are well-exposed to education and are advanced enough by experience.

The moment you address someone by name, they feel recognized. It is an affirmation of their vital presence. It signifies that they are important enough for people to recall their name. It is a vocal acknowledgement of all the things – background, experience, responsibility – the name brings with it. 

Four Seasons Hotels & Resorts have made quite the art of this corporate philosophy. Many Four Seasoners have told me that it is imperative for all senior executives to memorize the names of all employees and their spouses. 

Think about how much positivity, a sense of bonhomie and professional bonding, mutual respect and just the right dose of familiarity this injects into the organizational climate, decidedly making it a better place to work in.

When you call somebody by their name you establish a direct line of contact with them and make them more accountable to what your need or expectation is of them.

Calling somebody by their name is the easiest way to show respect and the quickest strategy to convey inclusion.

2. Get to know them

In the service industry at large and in hotels in particular, we end up doing long hours and work on shifts that never seem to end.

When an organization is so much about people – on either side of the table – it makes a whole lot of sense to invest in this software and make genuine efforts to know the team members.

That is why there are employee meets, Annual Sports Days, birthdays that are celebrated collectively, Employee-of-the Month Recognition, Staff parties, Team events, Departmental outings. Also the formal appraisals and reverse appraisals. Make use of these tailor-made occasions; or else create special opportunities to really get to know your people.

Learn about their ambitions, aspirations, drives; encash it where necessary, employ the talents where they fit in and carve a path of succession for them.

Your people pool is one hell of a goldmine of talent and experience that can help you reap rich business benefits. In turn, you give fillip to the vertical and horizontal growth trajectory for the people who bring power to the organization.  

3. Get to know them up, close and personal

That is why Bowling events, Staff day outs, Quarterly Picnics and the like were invented. 

That fellow in the starched uniform is actually a fun guy with a special talent for singing or mimicry. He is the heart of any party. That lady Housekeeper who makes the beds perfectly has a great hand with origami. No wonder then that she churns out jaw-dropping works of towel art that take the breath away of guests from around the globe.

At almost all the hotel chains I have worked with, there are these two important fixtures on the HR Events Calendar – the Annual Staff Party and the Departmental get-togethers. 

The Human Resources, Sales and PR Departments go all out to make these events a resounding success by creating fantastic party themes and mini events that keep the evening buzzing right through and by going to lengths to ensure wonderful gifts for as many employees as possible. 

At one such event, my Assistant won the ‘Miss XYZ Hotel’ title, the euphoria of which stayed with her for a long time giving itself away in the spring in her step, the twinkle in her eye and a radiant smile. From iPods to Chanel first edition scarves to trips to Maldives or Dubai – we have had hotels think up the best tricks to make these bonding events difficult to forget. 

Then there are the out-of-station get-to-know-your-team trips from which colleagues come back knowing an impressive lot about the boss or the direct supervisor or the cubicle neighbour – all in the way to create happy, productive, non-conflicting work atmospheres.

If you know your people well you not only know what keeps them ticking, you have the knowledge to utilize their best attributes in the right place at the right time making them feel more involved and appreciated. 

You can also do an easy SWOT analysis to see what are the traits that can be underplayed or aspects that can be trained upon to improve or shoved under. 

I knew this Sales colleague who was extremely good with numbers and had a keen business sense. He was always the one to make the FRM presentations for his Director. He went on to do due diligence for the Hotel Owner in his next role and eventually moved into international strategy and business development for a multinational chain. 

On my part, not only my command over the language but my interests in training saw me offer tailor-made capsules to a wide range of people from the telephone operators to chefs, engineers to the HR folk.

Therefore, knowing your employees is an integral baseline to a happy organization and a healthy bottom-line.

4. Get to know their family and the family dog

This actually happens at some of the best international chains. Even the Dog bit is true, I am told by an ex-boss who worked for Four Seasons for a long time. 

Not just Indians and Asians, I have seen people from all over the world gush over their families and enjoy sharing about their spouses and children. Making an attempt to know the families has several pluses. 

With the family getting to know the place of work, it infuses a happy and healthy energy for the organization in the minds of both the team member and his significant other. In the times of professional exigencies – in the tough-scheduled, round the clock hotel jobs this is more a rule than an exception – the family is much more understanding of the occupational pressure and willing to support. The employee on the other hand is less stressed and more mentally free to engage in the work at hand.

A French boss was so proud of his lively wife and would talk about her with such glee. The rather nice lady had a bent for interior designing and readily extended help to the F&B team when they were doing up one of the restaurants for a food festival. 

Then there was this French-Australian Executive Chef whose Australian wife would help us put up a great show during Melbourne Cup celebrations or the Oak’s Day with her wide network and first-hand knowledge.

Knowing the family of your people provides you with so many more options to connect with them at different levels. It helps you become that little bit more familiar, which comes in handy when you wish to dissipate tensions, reinforce bonding and ensure the two-way loyalty – the company’s towards its employee and vice versa.

5. Get their family into the work place

I think this is the nicest and surest way to seal bonds, earn loyalty, reinforce brand affiliation, cultivate trust and leave an increasingly warm feeling for the Company in the employee. There is also the bonus - that of turning the family members into extended brand ambassadors.

When I was about eight, my Dad would take me to his office on certain days of the year and fill my day at his place of work with a set of unforgettable experiences – I could watch him work, have a site visit when he was in meetings, get to draw exciting stuff with those official red and blue pencils, walk the corridors with him and meet people who handled different roles. 

At the end of the day, I was so proud of what my father did, happy to see a wonderful place of work, learn about new things and in the process have an ineffaceable impression from the first-hand experience that would definitely stay with me for a long time.

Many years later, I was a visiting fellow to the United States and was meeting with the head honchos at the World Bank. On the day of our visit, guess what they were observing! A happy, energized, exhilarating Daughter’s Day Out! The biggest conference room had been done up for the special visit of the little VIPs. The Buntings and the balloons had been put out to give a facelift to the dreary room, the activity stations had been laid out and the elaborate menu planned for the lunch party. 

But most of all, I am telling you, I saw all the executives – even the senior most – strut their stuff about to impress their little wards in a fair attempt to leave lasting impressions. The working Mom or Dad was showcasing their company and their work to their impressionable children; in turn the kids would have one of the finest and enduring lessons on the goings-on at the World Bank. 

I truly believe that getting the family into the work place through the various HR tactics – Kids’ activities, rewarding meritorious children with certificates, gifts and scholarships, get-togethers where spouses are invited, Christmas and New Year parties where the employee’s family is the special guest – is one of the strongest ways to keep the employees happy, proud and bonded with the brand, which they would truly wish to promote from their heart.

Do take a minute to share with me the tactics you and your Company have employed to win over your employees and to keep them engaged and positively influenced. 

I would love to hear about all the great things you do.

Picture Courtesy - Google Images