Thursday, 12 December 2013

Have You Tasted Your Own Pie!



For a family birthday recently, we decided to pick up a specialty cake from a well-known chain of Coffee shops. Gradually they are gaining currency for their fare and we decided to give them a try. We selected a sinful looking type with a heart of butter scotch and caramel, dark chocolate exterior that was topped with more dark chocolate lattices. With three of our favourite ingredients we couldn’t have gone wrong, yet we wanted affirmation from the Cafe staff about the perfectness of our choice. I asked the teller and then the Outlet Manager what they thought about it and they said it was a good pick. I then asked them if they had tried it. The teller drew a blank and the Manager tried to hide behind a non-committal nod leaving my query unanswered.


Then there have been servers working in establishments ranging from a seasoned American pizzeria franchise to the newbie French Patisserie & Boulangerie, who have failed to deliver the perfect order or provide correct information about the ingredients that have gone into making a particular dish. 


We were staying at a mountain resort a few months ago and asked the F&B Manager for his recommendation. While there were a couple of things he could suggest, the rest of the menu he was clueless about.  Yes, it was the F&B Manager and he had not had the chance or taken the trouble to test the entire menu out.  His lack of first-hand knowledge about the wares of his hotel led us to have one bad meal at the place, coercing us to give a mental black mark to the resort in an otherwise wonderful stay. 


The Joys of Knowing Your Own Product

This may or should not happen with larger chains with their big strategies and immaculate planning. I have been witness to elaborate menu tasting sessions where all related folk – from General Manager to the Kitchens and F&B Brigade – spend delirious and divine afternoons testing the restaurant menu changes tasting dish after dish in a state of gastronomic debauchery. Sometimes, our warriors in white have been generous enough to invite the Excom to combine work with pleasure in a benthamitic exercise, getting us to become wiser about what our restaurants offer on the whole, share our opinion and along the way become more informed brand ambassadors.


Yet, I’ve had mushrooms raise their heads in my risotto in spite of telling the order taker that they are anathema to me. I’ve been agreed with for a service in the suite and then have the Front Office Assistant sheepishly backtrack because he didn’t know better. Don’t you recall the times when you went ahead to expect a certain feature tom-tommed by the greeting Concierge only to have the Guest Relations Manager issue an apology on the non-occurrence of it! There have been times in all our hotel interfaces when the General Manager has had to give an explanation just because the ill-experienced PR Assistant had up-sold some facets which we had come to expect but were still a long way off from the Brand’s reach or plan. 


Price to Pay

From a Pizza Hut to a star hotel, there have been innumerable times when we have been served up the wrong fare only because the maître d’hôtel or the man of the moment was ill-advised and inexperienced. In fact, at a competition hotel once, an Editor friend’s husband was presented with a platter of the crucifying crustacean even after the hotel had been informed about the gentleman’s specific food allergy causing him to have a swollen tongue, choking bout and severe reaction. It cost the hotel its reputation and brought upon both, harsh backlash and a bad review. That was a small price to pay; because severe food allergies in some cases can also prove fatal.


It’s not just food. It goes over to the other products that your brand / hotel sells – for instance the incomparable range of beverages, that fantastic tea menu with those exotic names on the list, definitely the rooms & suites, of course the spa or specialty merchandise showcased in your boutique shop.


Ways to Ensure Staff Are Familiar with Offerings

When one of the hotels I used to work for was unveiling its world-class new rooms and suites with all the mod-cons and trappings that any top brand could offer – from French linen and bath amenities, Danish television sets, rich Indian weave throws, crystal vases, Lalique lights, original art on the walls and remarkably super-luxe routine of services covering turndown, in-room and entertainment – the astute VP & GM worked out a roster along with the Rooms Division Head for all the key Executive Committee members and Department Heads to try the rooms & suites out for a night with their respective spouses. We were supposed to try out ALL the services during our stay, the spouse lending the outside eye into the exercise and fill out an exhaustive feedback form on both the hard and soft aspects of facilities and service. I think that was a fantastic way to have staff learn about the new facets, internalize them and then stand on confident ground to sell, promote, up-sell or cross-sell the product, as the case may have been.


My soul child recounted a similar exposure at a Pizza chain she worked with during one of her summer holidays. For every up-sell or for exceeding the target, the trainee would get a free Sundae or Gourmet Pizza. This way, the management not only offered a neat, happy incentive but also ensured that the entire menu had been tried by the front-of-the-line sales staff.


Hotels are in the business of selling experience. Guests come and live in the rooms, eat at the restaurants, relax by the pool or in the Spa, shop in the arcades. These experiences are partaken of by all the five senses. Hotels have a much longer shelf life and recall value. Guests keep returning to places they have had a fantastic stay in. It is a people-centric business, created by people and plattered out to people. So, it really does make sense for the team to have experienced firsthand the product they are employed to serve up and showcase.

What Ignorance Looks Like

Staff who have not experienced their own product cut a sorry figure in front of guests – from close at home quarters or distant shores – who can come up with just about any query – what’s the best soup on the menu, what on earth is oolong tea and what does it taste like, which masseuse has the most magical hands at the health club, which aromatherapy oil works like a miraculous antidote to jet lag, how far is the next-door golf club really, is the award-winning entrée we read about on Tripadvisor still served at the Hotel’s Michelin-starred restaurant and what does it really contain?


“Is it” is an easy question to answer. It can be learned from manuals or in training sessions and repeated ad verbatim. It is “how” that can cause all the trouble. Sample this - “Is the mattress good?” asks the guest. The Lobby Manager showing the room or the Executive Housekeeper welcoming the guest or the Chambermaid providing the turndown are all tutored to respond with a standard – “yes, it is one of the best. It is made with medium to firm innerspring coil or is exclusively of fine foam to ensure excellent support and a comfortable night’s sleep.” But wait till the guest hits you with the next barrage of questions – “How firm is it? Will it be easy on my back? Will I be able to get a good, uninterrupted shut-eye? I quite hate the ones I have used at Brand X. I hope yours are not the same?” A cookie-cutter ‘yes’ to all and a standard parrot-like response will quickly sift the chaff from the informed, experienced grain that knows his product like the back of his hand and can help the guest feel confident and comfortable with the product.


Turning
A Staff Member into that Committed Brand Ambassador

It was the autumn of 2001 and I had just returned from a fellowship in the United States. While I was away, the chain I used to work for had fully launched its Vilas top-end properties that we had all been preparing for before my sabbatical. I used to head the Communications Department for the Chain’s property in India’s capital city but had the privilege to work very closely with the Corporate Office. I was in tandem with the Corporate Communications Office for all the international Press visits from our top source markets. Imagine my chagrin and embarrassment at the initial few FAMs when I was quizzed about the exquisite vilases by the visiting journalists and all I could recite was what I was reading in the brochures like them. I was upset at not knowing enough, at not having experienced the peerless properties myself; yet being treated by the unsuspecting foreign media as an expert Brand Ambassador.  For the media, all of us were on the same side of the fence. For them, it did not matter whether I was the Unit head and not from the sanctum sanctorum of the Corporate office. I was a Brand representative; they could have asked me anything expecting the perfect responses to all they wished to know.


Finding myself at a disadvantage I walked into my General Manager’s office, expressed my disappointment and shared how I felt it was embarrassing for the Company too. The bright boss did not wish to spend too much time discussing what was an obvious issue, agreed with the larger objective, got the due permissions from the President’s office and sent me packing on a three-city tour to stay in the three jewels that the Chain had just unveiled. I came back with information that was etched on my mind, reinforced by the superlative services in the ethereally designed edifices of awe-inspiring, spell-binding hospitality. Then on, I needn’t have consulted a brochure. My press releases and backgrounders on these jewels had that extra punch and my personal representation of these products to the media – well what can I say. They saw the Vilases through my eyes and experienced it first with me before setting foot themselves.


If you want to turn a staff member into that committed brand ambassador you must have them experience the product, enjoy its finer elements and identify with it closely for stronger brand affiliation and greater representation that cuts above training manuals and modules.


Don’t make the oft-repeated mistake of training a department or team in just its own area. You must plan out to give cross-training and cross-exposure. I’ve been asked about who does our flowers? Which brand of gold-rimmed show plates are used in the French Brasserie? How does the Hotel store its wine? Is the hotel equipped to handle special ability guests and how? A bellboy may be quizzed about the best temperature control in the rooms and a personal butler could be enlisted for advice on the most appropriate choice for supper to soothe the upset belly or a potion to tame a splitting headache. The permutations are endless. All you can do is rise to the occasion or shine out as a stellar example for housing the excellently trained, most well-informed team that knows its product because they have experienced it themselves!


Let the team have its pie and eat the cake too! 


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Note - Picture Courtesy - Google Images

Thursday, 28 November 2013

SCENT OF A HOTEL - Part Two


The trend of adopting a signature scent is not as new as we may think. Perhaps because hotels have to be enticing enough to have guests really wish to visit them and choose them over another, there must be facets that are distinguishing. Also, hotels are really an experience-based industry; hence they must be able to ensnare all the five senses of the guest, smell being no less important.

Tycoon Steve Wynn set the tradition, as early as 1990, for casinos by using the vents at The Mirage to release a scent. Today, the Wynn Las Vegas boasts its very own olfactory logo in Asian Rain.

Hotel literature has it that, The Westin was the first major hotel brand to globally announce a signature scent for its hotels back in 2005.

Fragrance Experts Are the Secret



It is not uncommon to see hotels contract well-known fragrance experts, perfume inventers and perfumers to develop bespoke house fragrances. La Mamounia in Marrakech and Hotel Costes in Paris have employed celebrity noses to do a bit of sniffing for them. “Here at La Mamounia the unique fragrance has been developed by Olivia Giacobetti. It is an intriguing mix of dates, rose and cedar that rises up to define the essence of the legendary hotel almost seraphically,“ offers Pierre Jochem, the General Manager.

Le Meridian appointed Le Labo, a New York based boutique perfumer to develop an exclusive woody, leathery note for their hotels. Le Labo was also commissioned by the legendary hotelier, Ian Schrager, to develop a unique scent for New York located Gramercy Park Hotel.

Rare Scents and Quality Ecological Products



The more chic and tony the hotel, the more exclusive is the smell it will choose to adopt as its own. While Vanilla, citrus, fig and green tea notes are usually preferred, the more different and hard to find or place your scent, the more it becomes sought after and remembered.

“At J Brand, smell, the most evocative of the senses, is a vital part of the experience. We are commissioning one of Asia’s most famous and insightful “nez” to develop a customized scent crafted from 100% essential oils. With an exceptional range of purely natural products and highly developed room scenting technology, we are creating the optimal scent experience for our spaces. All of the essential oils will be generated using environmentally friendly plants and therefore meet the growing need of people for purity. The high quality ecological products also represent the highest levels of sustainability,” offers Timur Senturk, Managing Director, J Hotel Shanghai Tower underlining his Company’s ‘responsible hoteliering’ philosophy.

The olfactory onslaught, delivered through the hotel’s heating and cooling systems, pretty aroma lamps, tactfully placed atomizers or ingeniously built in lighting diffusers, is indeed a special touch that has a decisively lingering presence on the guest’s mind in the most subliminal way.

Simon Harrop, the CEO of UK based Brand Sense Agency, champions the relevance of signature scents in hotels. He gives a time-tested example from the sister travel business when he shares, “Singapore Airlines has a branded scent used in all of its planes, a light sweet scent like pure steam from fresh rice.”  He tells us that scent branding has been used in the travel industry since the mid-1970s. “If you’re booking a flight with SQ, you’ll find it that much harder to go with the competition because the Singapore scent builds the brand in the limbic system,” emphasizes Harrop.

Signature Scents for Sale


Some hotels are milking this already purposeful branding opportunity for larger gain and effect. Like The Plaza, there are others that are bottling up their signature scents and letting the guests buy the vials, sprayers or candles for later use.

Hotel Vermont in Burlington, Vt. enamours its guests with a heady mix of cedar wood and lavender in its lobby along with a signature linen mist – both of which have been developed in consultation with established aroma therapist Leyla Bringas of Lunaroma. As a first, Hotel Vermont also presents a unique aromatherapy menu for its guests to choose from, but more on that later.   

Patrick Hen, in his Study “Emotional Brand management using Scent: the Effect of Scent on the Perception and Rating of Brands”, noted that “a scent which is suitable for the product is seen as fostering trust.”

Remember while the physical experience will become a part of your memory, the smell will get into your subconscious and surface at all those unexpected moments taking you into an effervescent trip of time travel. Scent plays a major part in not only being an instant mood up-lifter but also being a great paired associate and memory mnemonic. 

                                                                    
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Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Learning Fitness from the Hotel Legends!


There is this picture that has appeared in the papers recently. It shows an elderly man standing next to a seated Rev. Desmond Tutu. What caught my eye is that the man is standing erect, in perfect posture and his entire bearing depicts that he is in great health; despite his advancing years. The man we are talking about is Capt. C P Krishnan Nair, the founder of Leela Hotels, Palaces and Resorts. It could have been the fact that being an ex Freedom Fighter and Army Man Capt. Nair followed a strict regimen all his life, ensuring that he stayed young in physical frame and mind even when he became a nonagenarian.

You want more Chicken Soup for your heart and soul then take a note of this! “This doyen of one of India’s top hospitality chains started his first hotel at the ripe age of 65; at a stage when most CEOs contemplate retiring from the frenetic pace of the corporate world and boardroom battles,” writes C.J. Punnathara in his interview of the path breaking Hotelier. “Even today, Nair’s indomitable spirit and enthusiasm have him working on elaborate expansion plans - for both The Leela Palaces, Hotels and Resorts, and India,” says the Company Website. At 91, that is truly an exemplary way to lead your life.


There is something about fit and sprightly men being at the reins of their successful mega empires; always in control, firmly ensconced in the pilot seat. Their life’s principles and philosophies percolate down to the least common denominator and ensure that the organisation as a whole stays healthy in mind, body and spirit. The very few exceptions being The Donald, Jay Leno and the irrepressible Oprah Winfrey; but Winfrey’s ongoing battle with the bulge is legendary and she has stressed upon the relevance of fitness enough times.

Conrad Hilton lived up to a fit and fine 91. The torch bearer of the hotel industry and founder of the standard-setting global business stayed active well-beyond the time he officially retired into the emeritus position of Chairman of the Board. Sol Kerzner, not only married for the fourth time at the age of 65 in Year 2000, but today at 78 he is busy dreaming up ways to add more sparkle to his already illustrious bouquet that comprises Atlantis hotels, One&Only resorts, Sun International and Southern Sun.

Once Richard Branson was asked by a group of his friends how he is so much more productive and manages to accomplish a zillion things more than the average person, while being the master puppeteer of a 400-company conglomerate that spans a wide range of industries from space travel to deep sea exploration, from music to cell phones. His two word answer was “Work out.” This astonishingly simple answer forms a pretty good base for Branson’s life ideology – healthy mind nurtured within a healthy body that works like hell to ensure a healthy business.


I remember a quick informal exchange within the confines of a strictly formal meeting with the legendary PRS ‘Biki’ Oberoi, with whose fantastic Company I have had the good fortune to work. For some odd reason, between discussions about PR budgets and strategies, Newsletter focus and style and Media management, the talk swung to my obsession with my weight. The grand man, who is as fit as a fiddle, advised me on following a certain dietary discipline and pattern – try to eat carbs before seven, never mix rice with lentils, pick up a piece of Indian bread instead, move around as much as you can...........basic stuff but something that we tend to ignore. Biki Oberoi is a sharp man – sharply suited with a razor sharp mind that he employs to best use in running a super fine hotel chain. To this day, in spite of Oberoi being 78, it is difficult to beat his alacrity, attention to detail, a roving eye that never misses a thing – from speck of dust to a wrongly titling rose bud in a vase, close equations with spreadsheets and numbers, hunger for being the best and a unique vision.

These men of will and wealth can eat gold if they wish to, off their silver platters. And forget about just drinking, they can bathe in the finest, expensive wines out there. Yet they believe in living a life of moderation, keeping aspects of health and fitness right on top and not succumbing to temptations as often as you and I would.


It is an urban myth to say that hoteliers don’t have the time to exercise; what with our busy schedules and long, long hours. I have been guilty of using this utterly feeble statement several times, only to my dismal loss.

The guy who uttered these immortal lines, “Where there is a will, there is a way!” sure knew just what the world wanted to latch on to at times of grave lows in motivation. The saying is a perfect tight slap in the face of all excuses – real or imagined.

When I really have wanted to be in shape, I have willingly huffed and puffed my way up three and a quarter flight of steps to the mezzanine floor corner office of the Top Dog. Done over a period of time, I have noticed my steps becoming lighter, the grimace giving way to a satisfied smile and the ‘huff & puff’ getting replaced by steadier breathing and stronger heart. All in a day’s work, really!

I have seen colleagues, with longer schedules (such as those in Front Office and Food & Beverage), finding novel ways to stay fit if they have set their minds to it. A Director – Food & Beverage would use his break time to go sweat it out in the Hotel Gym (in the non-guest hours, of course), take a quick shower and return to this desk as spruced up in his tie and suit as he was at the start of the day. I have been witness to the ‘shape & shine’ routine of the Director of Sales & Marketing who seldom called it a day before midnight. Every time he, exhilaratingly, talked about getting a new hole punched in his belt, he carved out a fresh motivational standard for us. Yes, it’s the same colleague who marked the ‘one glass every hour’ rule for me and ensured that I had my mandatory fill of water each time he stepped into my office for a business chat or a round of casual talk. Bless the guy! And I can’t thank him enough for setting me on this watery path of enlightenment.


Then there was this Executive Housekeeper colleague, whose role revolved more around walking through the hotel than sitting behind a bulky desk. Yet, in her zeal to keep her contours within a slim silhouette, she would rise up at five every morning and go for a longish round of brisk walk before getting into her day role that involved more walk.

So, what’s your excuse?
 

Friday, 1 November 2013

SCENT OF A HOTEL - Part I


Tell me frankly, what is the first thing that strikes you when you enter the precincts of a luscious hotel? Is it the imposing Baccarat Chandelier with ear drop crystals reflecting a desire and a promise for luxe living? Or is it the ever-smiling staff, starched in shape and fine tuned to deliver that impeccable service? Let me reveal a secret. Even before your eyes have set a target for appreciation or a trained hand has automatically extended to welcome you into the fold of the star hotel, it is the smell that fills you up with a superlatively nice, inviting, warm, nostalgic or breathtaking feeling, as the case may be. The signature scent of a hotel is such a subtle yet significant branding exercise in a hotel’s scheme of things that the management mandarins spend precious hours and pretty pennies in deciding what should define their property.

A luxury brand I used to work for advanced from Citronella and Mandarin essential oils to a fragrance from the house of Fragonard that came to be identified with the hotel and became a conversation starter with the local and international guests.


Religious rituals and incense have an age-old, time preserved marriage and several Indian regional hotels welcome Gods and guests with an overpowering gust of incense usually burned up in multiples. If you are visiting a traditional hotel in South India, the choice of the burning incense or the lack thereof will tell you from a distance what kind of establishment you are about to step into. Same holds true for closer-to-home-base hotels in Southeast Asia, Eastern Europe, the Middle-East, even the Caribbean that cling on to their region-intense aromas, almost as a trademark. However, if you move up the profile ladder, you will find more discerning brands choosing spiffier scents to establish their presence in the space they inhabit.

I remember getting my senses massaged by the bespoke smell that seemed to envelope the lobby of The Pierre in New York and travelled deep into the crevices of my suite. I also remember getting my head sent into a spin by the overwhelming smell of freshly baked Brioche that seemed to be the resident scent of Hotel Tivoli Etoile off the Arc de Triomphe in the heart of Paris.

Several top of the line hotel chains worldwide have developed a signature scent that spells out the uniqueness of their brand and as a Unique Impressionistic Proposition, helps them stand out from the competition. Shangri-La Hotels and Resorts welcome guests with a ginger-and-bergamot-infused room fragrance called Essence of Shangri-La that is held consistently across the chain. Starwood Hotels & Resorts have used signature smell as an intra-brand profiling strategy. Hence, if Bling tells your nose that you will be staying at their uber-luxury Brand ‘W’, then warmth-inducing cinnamon apple pie aroma at the Four Points assures you that you are in the cradle of comfort. Omni Hotels & Resorts have earmarked a space-wise smell for their hotels. So, if you are in the lobby then lemongrass greets you; their Coffee shops are redolent with the aroma of cookies, while the poolside is suffused with a refreshing coconut-ty trail. The famed Le Bristol Paris is ambrosially scented with, what else, its namesake fragrance that is reminiscent of the 85 year-old hotel's Parisian gardens with cut grass, freesia, lily of the valley and white rose.


The Park Hyatts have zeroed on a distinctive fragrance for their variously located properties as an individual signature – so, if it is sandalwood for Park Hyatt Paris then PH Washington has chosen patchouli, violet and rose. The swanky and stylish PH Milan has roped in the expertise of famous perfumer, Laura Tonatto, to develop a special scent which is a deft and delicate mix of amber, vanilla extract, orange blossom and musk.

The Indian behemoth, Oberoi Hotels & Resorts uses Jasmine for the overriding whiff that welcomes its guests from the time guests are offered hot and cold towels in the hotel limousine through the time they stay in the luxurious havens of the Group. Four Seasons’ George V in Paris uses "Ambre du Nepal." Raffles, Singapore, that grand leader of the pack on numerable counts, is clouded under the ethereal waft of Frangipani developed by Fragonard.

For the guests, it is a great reminiscing of a fantastic hotel stay or vacation; for the hotels it is one of the finest ways to stay on top-of-the-mind of their guests in the nicest and most non-intrusive way possible.

                                                               
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Picture courtesy - Google Images

Thursday, 24 October 2013

Are You Dressed for Success? So What Are You Wearing Today?

When I was shifting base from a Diplomatic Mission to hotels, I was not quite aware of how much premium what you wore had on your professional standing; and how essential it was to wear the right threads and look the part one played in this show business-like, people-centric industry. There was a big lesson to learn that the transition had to be accompanied by transformation in one’s choice and style of dressing. On hindsight, I am quite surprised about why I was shortlisted and selected despite my pick of Sunday best that I wore, accessorized by no less garish stuff than terracotta jewellery. Luckily for me, the selection committee bypassed the veneer to concentrate on the baggage I carried within, just this once.

In my second hotel job, as I flew past seven rounds of grilling interviews to finally have an audience with the legendary owner of the Chain, I was fore-advised to dress subtly in chiffons and pearls, tame down the make-up and skip the dot on the forehead all together. For the Company, association and identification with the Brand started from outside-in and, today, I completely endorse that philosophy.

The last place I worked in, eased up our schedules a bit and allowed the team to take two Saturdays in a month off and dress down comparatively on the other two Saturdays at work. Some of us made the slip of taking the little slack in the rule too lightly and started appearing in casual to semi-casual attire. We made two mistakes - first of overlooking the fact that the hotel buzzed the same on weekends as it did on weekdays, actually even more. And the second, of grossly misunderstanding our French boss and his clear cut principles on the sartorial stance we should have continued to maintain. A quick rap followed and we were back on track.

Indeed, dress and deportment are two integral aspects that define our sense of belonging, slot us in the appropriate niche and help us step up for success in our roles. What we wear will always be important in our line of work and rightly so! But let’s look at something that is even more important – how we make-up our mental framework and dress up our demeanour.

Here follow sure-shot tips on dressing up for success, significantly more important than just the outer packaging.  

1. Slick and styled


Let us start at the top. It is a proven fact that well-groomed hair helps us glide by bad days with ease and apparent effortlessness. In the similar vein, 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.

2. Immaculate Make-up


Today even men are so conscious of their grooming, skin tones, shape of brows and choice of creams, so much that make-up is no longer a woman-only domain. However, in these highly competitive times, it becomes even more imperative to concentrate on what lies beneath the pancake. Our focus must stay on exercising those 17 essential muscles in our faces. And whichever brand of make-up we may endorse, its effect must be accentuated by the underlying pleasantness in our inherent nature. It is a given that a pleasant disposition can counter even the ravages of nature, help you win friends and arguments, reach out to the toughest customer and instantly inject your ambient atmosphere with good energy.

A smile and genuine niceness of temperament can help you combat the hardest of situations and confront the most difficult of people.

3. Time on your wrist

A watch has always been a status symbol for us. From heirloom pieces and gem-encrusted Chopard to James Bond-inspired Rolex Submariner or Omega Seamaster; from the no-nonsense luxury of Jaeger-LeCoultre to the snob appeal of Patek Philippe. But what’s more relevant than the piece of bejeweled technological marvel on your wrists is how you keep your time. Are you always punctual? Are your goals met within the set boundaries of time? Do you accomplish work in a timely fashion? Do you ensure that you don’t have the tag of a deadline-chaser?

4. Well-suited


Over and above the branded stitches that nattily adorn you, you must wear a three-piece suit at all times. The first layer must be that of confidence. A confidence in all that your qualifications and experience have richly treasured up in you; and a confidence on your self-sure attitude that leans on your readiness to learn, change and adapt. This, then, is the strongest cloak that you can ever wear to battle any weather or woebegone scenario.

The second layer of your body suit should be of courage. The courage to meet biggest challenges, toughest professional terrains and the harshest of winds that may blow against you!

The third layer of suit has to be of compassion – that makes you 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.

5. Buffed plate of pride


A name tag carries a lot of significance in hotels. It makes an introduction for you, helps guests recognize you, allows people to address you with respect and by name, creates a bona fide place for you in the official matrix; all without you having spoken a word. Therefore, it is not odd for people to keep the brass plate buffed up and shining smart at all times.

But the brass plate must shine more with the polish of our performance and sparkle from the light of the stars we have accumulated along the way through our superlative work standards. The name tag does and must carry the weight of our name on it; a name we have created for ourselves by diligence, sincerity, commitment and hard work.

6. Appropriately accessorized


Just as the top brand tie or the exquisite string of pearls that go around your neck, so must your link of networks and professional relationships; bonded with strongly, secured steadfastly and held in the place of prominence with proper attention and thoughtful caring.

7. Your trademark fragrance


An editor friend recently commented that she has been, at times, put off by the evident lack of “flossing and deodorizing” that should automatically form part of the hygiene routine for the hoteliers – of any level or lofty title. She shares that she has had “a number of brushes with bad breath and body odour in the hospitality industry!”  I, in my own set of smelly experiences, have come across wait staff who have overpowered the aroma of food they are about to serve. When I was on the Change Agent team for a hotel we were set to reposition as one of the finest in Asia, the old order left a legacy of stench-filled, musty uniforms that took away so strongly from the service attitude of the F&B personnel and that just had to be discarded and dumped as soon as we could.

Killing the guest ‘not so softly’ with bad breath and body odour is such a major turn off that you could risk losing current guests who you would have smothered and suffocated but also potential guests who would have heard or read about your smelly reputation.

Hence, how you smell is a significant factor in your overall bearing. Once you have taken care of this, you must move up to the higher notes that must subtly define your personal pheromonal presentability. 

Jostling amidst your choice of Hermès, Dior, Chanel or Jean Patou, must be your unique scent that attracts positive energy and draws in people towards you. The bouquet should stem out of intrinsic goodness and bounce off the charismatic surface of a stellar personality.

8. Well-booted


The polished, shined-up shoes are meant for walking – determinedly and tirelessly. The feet are meant to traverse the planned out, dreamed up path; milestone after milestone. The two together must team up to chart commendable courses and race up to the destination; with distinct footsteps stamped on your unique journey.
The stride is meant to be purposeful and the gait poised for excellence and superior achievement. 

9. Suitable satchels


More than the finest leather, the bespoke and handcrafted prize piece, the monogrammed, expensive bag; your personal satchel must be stacked with strived-for qualifications that showcase your hard-earned merit and a set of exemplary experiences where you have toiled, got more than your hands dirty, lost precious sleep over, endeavoured to give your best shot and earned laurels purely on the basis of your wonderful deliverables.

10. Perfect grooming


In our line of work we are in guest contact and dealing with people all the time. At one time or another, we are either under the arc lights in the public areas or under private scrutiny by those who matter.  In any case, it helps to nurture a fit body rested, SPA-ed and exercised, to be well groomed with manicured hands, to ensure personal hygiene of the highest order and to have not a strand of hair out of place.

The above is a commonly accepted fact of work life. But what is also most essential is impeccable mental and spiritual grooming with not a principle out of place, with best practices observed in our code of ethics, gold standards maintained in our set of virtues, highest level of integrity and righteousness adhered to, such that our elevated value-system guides us at each step and on every juncture.

If we get this soul dressing right and ensure that we are attitudinally, fundamentally, spiritually best made-up then the cosmetic will beautifully rise up to join hands with the cosmic and we would not just aspire to but also attain what we wish for from our professional and private personae.

Finally, a satiated and satisfied being attempts to give back as much to the universe as he takes from it. And that is a beautiful equation to maintain!


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Picture courtesy - http://www.fubiz.net


Wednesday, 25 September 2013

The Pleasure Principle!

“How are you?” – an informal, routine ‘asking after’ I did with my cousin holding a serious, strategic and stressful position in the Navy had him telling me instantly, “I am really enjoying my job.” He could have answered this commonplace question variedly but this was his instantaneous response.

I’ve had my spouse’s temperament, mood, behaviour vacillate with the periods of highs and lows at work. From euphoric to ebbed, delighted to devastated, sunshine optimistic to solemn, the dynamics at our places of work manipulate us like puppets on a string.

With anywhere between eight to 10 to 12 to 18 hours spent at work (depending on the outpost you man in which corner of the globe), and with work related matters or its influences lingering on the remaining 12 or eight hours too, it is our professional lives that have such a stranglehold on the rest that remains of us.

In general, everyone’s life and work-life has its share of crests and troughs, sometimes fair, many times not so.

With so much at stake on the work table, it only makes wise sense to create a set of pleasant, happy experiences in that all-important zone.  Let us look at the times we ride the high wave and reflect on the reasons and contributing factors intently, so that we can endeavour to extend the ride for greater times much more than the lows we are bound to hit upon.

Here are my examples and the related influencers that have helped me enjoy my work to the hilt and stay happy in my other roles as well. Each of them have created a deep sense of pleasure that then translates into enthusiasm, commitment, dedication and desire for excellence. See if they resonate with you too!

1. Faith –


I have been wildly ecstatic and driven when my employers or bosses have shown their faith in me, my perspicacity and the entire package I bring in.

Earlier on in the day, I was somewhat disenchanted with the proceedings at a Diplomatic Mission I used to work for and applied for transfer to another department whose chief was trying to poach me for some time. My immediate boss had a closed door with me where he conveyed what he felt about my contribution. He further added how he foresaw a long and productive career for me in Public Relations, given my inclination and skill set. On hindsight, I am, today, grateful for his faith in me and glad that I listened to him.

Another time, while with a leading hotel, I was dealing with a snooty Celebrity Fashion Designer who was just so full of himself. That would have been fine, if he had not tried to take advantage of the hotel’s association in hosting his Annual Fashion Show. He wanted to short change the hotel on branding opportunities, take away the Backdrop exposure, tilt the number of guests in his favour………basically he wanted to  get away from his part of the deal and wished for free hosting. I dug my heels; he felt offended and threatened to speak to the Owner of the hotel chain to get the door shown to me. Mind you, he did carry out the threat once the show was over. In stepped the General Manager, my immediate boss, who conveyed our side of the story to the Owner - an intelligent, impartial and objective man.  Both of them showed faith in my loyalty to the Company, my sincerity towards the responsibility entrusted in me and my track record in handling guests with sensitivity. As a result, I continued working for the Brand for a sizeable time, felt duty bound and principled enough to give it my best at all times and once I stepped out, I continued to harbour a great feeling for the Brand and its people so much so that I carried on being the unofficial ambassador of the chain.

Aren’t we all good ambassadors for the great companies we get to work with even when we are no longer with them, on account of our experiences? On the flip side, we will seldom have good things to say about places that have sent us to hell and back!

2. Value –


 This factor works in two ways. We must bring unique value to the table to gain recognition and feel a deep sense of employee engagement. On the other hand, the system must be fair and the sheriffs wise to value good work and cherish good people.

Every time I have felt valued, I have gone beyond the brief to deliver much more than what is expected. Contrary to this, if my work and efforts have been viewed with a jaundiced eye and under the shadow of biases, I have felt my enthusiasm sapped and my energy depleted.

At a certain hotel of repute with a substantial marketing budget, the General Manager asked me to conduct Focus Group based surveys and develop a tome on ‘Image Study and Positioning Analysis’ for the Brand at large and three key Points of Sale that influenced the image and brought in revenue. I felt so valued and well-regarded that for a period of little more than a month, I burned the midnight oil at work (pretty late even by hotel standards!) crunching numbers, drawing charts, analyzing responses to develop a Study that would be benchmarked against in the times to come. My boss, like the proud mentor, presented it to the Board and the positive feedback that gushed down to me created a huge reservoir of pleasure and satisfaction.

Not only did my boss convey his belief in me but also showed conviction in my ability, so much so that I tapped resources and nous and reached up to such levels of competence that I did not know existed within me.    

3. Respect –
There was this indirect boss I had once, who would storm into my office, sit in my chair, take something I wrote to the MD and present as her own, not introduce me to industry folks she would meet along with me, behave like a Diva at Press lunches and ignore the lesser known media.

Her behaviour was such that it always felt that she was utterly disrespectful. Whether it was insecurity or a swollen head or greed for more power and control, the lady was seen to be insufferable and lacking respect towards others. And she was definitely one of the top reasons why I decided to move out from that hotel, despite her pleading and promising to mend her ways.

On my first real job, two years down the road, I was part of the integral team organising Australia’s first ever and biggest country promotion in India. As part of the big plan, I found myself on the media team of Australia’s Foreign Minister. At the end of a highly successful media briefing that was extremely well covered and beyond the Minister’s expectation, Minister Downer (the F.M then) turned around to the Counsellor Public Affairs to thank her publicly in front of the entire august assembly. I was taken by surprise when the Counsellor told the Minister that it was not her but I who was responsible for the show and deserved the credit. She needn’t have done so because I was just doing my job and was part of her mega team. But she did, openly and proudly. She not only showed that she was consummately confident and self-sure but also displayed a fine attribute of leadership, thus imparting a valuable lesson for life – that she highly-regarded good work and more importantly respected her colleagues regardless of the corporate rung they stood on.

The pretty, dynamic, fair and knowledgeable Public Affairs Counsellor became my first mentor and I am so proud to state that she has left behind such wonderful lessons single-handedly that even text books of profound theory and practicals at other places of work have failed to imprint collectively. 

4. Bonhomie with other team members


Because we spend so much of our time at work and with colleagues that it would be counter-productive and unhealthy – both for the body and the mind, to work in unfriendly, unhappy, stressed and strained environment.

Whether it has been spending a little time joking around with people from the other teams, bonding at the Bowling Alley, having a colleague step into my chamber to coax me to have my daily fill of water or share anecdotes from his latest business trip, spending the extra few minutes at lunch exchanging notes on strategies or shopping sales with another set, having a co-worker good-naturedly pull my leg about a common incident, stepping casually into the Financial Controller’s office to informally learn how to read the balance sheet but at the same time getting to know his wife and new born just that tad better, enjoying an impromptu pizza party after a serious day of inter-departmental training programme, making plans with a bunch of like-minded people to catch that wonderful art exhibition after work – the riding spirit of bonhomie has created a sense of joie de vivre, helped beat inherent stress, led to better work relationships, facilitated smooth working on common projects and has been instrumental in ensuring less absenteeism and more happy work days.

5. Positive challenges

For most of us our work must be stimulating, exciting and far removed from the cookie-cutter hum drum of monotonous activity. And for all of us, there have to be experiences that we learn from, that stretch our skills and knowledge to fascinating limits which help us expand our base.

The milestones - when I first imparted media training to talents in the hotel, handled research for launching the new Patisserie or Spa, designed my first Newsletter or Menu, wrote the Keynote address for the international Chain’s Top Dog, wrote my first manual, scripted the Art Tour for the historic property I worked with, created a unique Celebrity endorsed event to garner greater sales for a sagging restaurant and all the others - are etched in the positive zone of my mind. They have created happy memories, delightful mnemonics and such wonderful pockets of pleasure that I enjoy re-visiting them often and reap the learnings repeatedly.

For retention, for extraordinary performance, for employee commitment and involvement, for overall learning and development and for sound organizational health, companies must throw up positive challenges that the best people will shine in, the somewhat weak people will gainfully learn from and the weakest links will fall off from, thereby reinstating a fruitful balance.

6. Growth

Most of us, in our distinct areas and diverse companies are standing on different steps of the ladder from which we must grow, horizontally and vertically. Growth is sought as much by the entrant as by the General Manager of the Hotel, Chief Executive of the Company or Owner of the Chain of hotels.

In face of all the problems, trials and tribulations, vicissitudes, rough patches and coarse paths that beset our journey on way to our respective goals and destination, it is the promise of growth that keeps us tilling the fields. It is the prospect of growth that pushes us to keep the soil fertile with the knowledge gained along the way and our set of rich experiences to, then, be able to reap the fruits that come in the shape of satisfaction, success, rewards and recognition.

It is the elements of growth that bring us back to our work stations day after day. Even when we hit the lows, it is the aspect of growth that ushers in positivity of hope and helps us tide over the difficult times making sure that we do not waver our glance from the fish eye in the bigger scheme of our life and career goals.

What is rather nice and satisfying is that when we move up we grow; also when we acquire a new skill and increase our base of knowledge we still grow horizontally. When we must leave a familiar area and are coerced to chart a new course in a direction not tried before, we have to reinvent ourselves; and that again means growth.

Growth, then, becomes the life blood of our existence and is the foundation for our sustenance.

Would you agree with me that these six essentials of pleasure principle not only help us ride the crests with enthusiasm and aplomb but also send gusts of wind beneath our sails and give us wings to fly over any situation, how hard or harsh it may be!

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Picture courtesy - Google Images

Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Do you want to be Successful? Here’s how!


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 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.

Defining Success


While to the world, in its most generic manifestation, the rich entrepreneurs and businessmen, the heads of organizations, famous people in sports, media and entertainment are all supremely successful, I have a skewed view on that. To my mind the cobbler-by-the-street corner who has been practicing his craft over all these years and has become the block / colony favourite is a successful man. The deft nurse who gets asked for by most of the patients, the one who does her work with utmost sincerity to the Hippocratic Oath and ably assists the doctor in saving many lives yet many a times remains nameless, is a successful health provider. The teacher who has earned a reputation of churning out students who go on to become stars in their chosen profession, who however stays on at the same school year after year content with practicing her job to the best of her knowledge and with a rare sense of commitment, is a highly successful Guru.

In the hotel scenario, would a hotel be able to justify its luxury, five-star tag if it were not for that immaculate bottle washer,  the finicky, squeaky clean housekeeper, the superlatively creative chef brigade, the committed and competitive sales force, the safety conscious and energy saving engineering team, the finest florist whose handiwork leaves such an impression on the guests that they may return to the place just for the fantastic arrangements that stay on the conversations long after the guest has gone back to his native place.

Many years back we had a lady who used to work for us at home, tending to our domestic needs. Like other members of her profession, she worked in several other houses besides ours. But what stood her apart was that she was never short of work. People asked for her to come and join their households, she was bestowed with a lot of gifts both on occasions and otherwise. We took turns in giving her money if she ran out of cash or needed the extra buck for getting herself or her husband treated. When she decided to leave this line and join a school as an administrative support, we all gave her glowing references – all true, mind you. Even now she visits us and is welcome anytime. And I think she is one of the most successful people I know. She is not rich, mighty or famous, but she IS successful.




If Sunita Williams is a successful astronaut and Neil Armstrong the first successful man on Moon, so are the set of skilled workers who work hard to ensure that every cog in the wheel of their spaceship works smoothly. If the flamboyant striker in a football league team is successful then so is the goalie who does not drop even a single ball.

If we must take names of the very famous from the world of hospitality, then Cesar Ritz, Conrad Hilton, Bill Marriott Jr., Barry Sternlicht, Jay Pritzker, PRS Biki Oberoi, Ian Schrager, Isadore Sharp, Horst Shulze are such legendary stalwarts who have shaped the way we will ever view hotels. These geniuses have changed the rules of the game uplifting simple inn-keeping to the art of selling desire and dreams, luxurious living and hedonistic lifestyles. But would these greats be such impresarios and game changers if it were not for the army of successful valets, hops, attendants, Chauffeurs, chefs, bakers, bed makers, sentries and sales people – all led to business victories by star General Managers who remain the chief custodian of the brand image and ethos!  


As said before, way to success is individualistic with personal preferences defining the modus operandi to get to the final destination. Perhaps, one hotelier is a populist, has a lot of yearning and ambitious desire, is hungry for recognition and for being the best in whatever he does and plays unabashedly to the gallery. He has a deep need to be the number one in whatever he chooses to dabble in – casinos, cruises, adventure resorts, even awards and the recognized lists of the rich and famous. The second could be more niche, like to do only what he really likes to do; runs wonderfully innovative and creative hotels yet shuns the arc lights and turns down millions of bucks offered by Corporates wishing to partner with him. He may have a maverick inclination in his business sense, follow his heart and break several moulds in the process. The third hotelier may cash in on his personal strengths – flamboyance in personality, ability to attract media attention, developing creatively out-of-this-world sub-models within his brand and is a trailblazer in his thoughts and product development. All three hotelier types have been seen to be superbly successful in the world of hotels, yet each has a different approach or strategy. Three distinctive personalities, three strategies and three success stories!

It is an established fact that caste, creed, colour and social standing have no bearing on success. However, there are several common threads that run through successful people in their respective ilk and genré.

Four Attributes of Success –

Hard / Smart Work


The first thread or quality definitely is hard work or smart work. If you need to get somewhere you will have to burn the midnight oil to get there. There are no short cuts or quick fixes. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow uttered the following famous words, definitely my favourite quote –

Lives of great men reached and kept
Were not obtained by sudden flight;
They while their companions slept
Were toiling upwards in the night.

That was then, but even now look at the success stories of the geek-entrepreneurs dotting the Silicon Valley skyline and you will discover that many of these young guns end up sleeping for only a few hours putting in 18 working hours to realize their dreams. I am not advocating less sleep. What is being said is that one must be able to deliver more and surpass expectation.

If you want to be promoted, if you want to move up the corporate ladder then you need to be a fast, smart worker who packs in quite a punch in terms of his deliverables, quality and quantum of work.

Perseverance



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. How many times have we been told by our seniors – If you try and fail once then try again. Would any of us have learnt any of the stuff we did while growing up, be it academics, sport, dramatics, elocution or hobbies had we just tried them once and not gone back, again and again? Ask the innovators, writers, scientists, manufacturers and entrepreneurs and they will reel off some mind boggling numbers for the times they tried, failed, tried again, failed once again, re-attempted ………………till they finally succeeded.

With persistence I would link in grit and tenacity that keeps you in the groove of your chosen activity.

So go for it and keep going till you get there.

Passion
 
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 eggs you on and if you keep the fire in your belly alive and stoked then it is passion that does it for you. It is passion that keeps you motivated in the face of flak, failure or fear.

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

Vincent van Gogh, Christopher Columbus, Johann Sebastian Bach, King “Tut” Tutankhamun, John Keats are some of the world’s super famous and successful who either died poor or unknown and gained fame only posthumously. But it was their unstinting passion that kept them at it as they went about churning masterpieces after masterpieces.

Serendipity

If I could get to vote a fourth quality then it would be serendipity. The streak that sees the need, that truly believes that necessity is the mother of invention, that takes risks and craves for finding the extraordinary among the ordinary.  The DNA that stays dynamic and active in the subconscious yet yields happy, useful, accidental discoveries by chance. It is the curious, insatiable spirit and the un-accepting diehard mind that urges you to pave a new road, YOUR course in a direction uncharted before.

The ‘W’ Factor

 

To sum up, lets coin the ‘W’ factor – Winning attitude with a high winsome quotient; Want as in desire or ambition; Way as in methodology, strategy, action plan; Wisdom as in assimilation of knowledge with practicality; Why – the curiosity, the thirst to know more and do more; Where to – the vision, the far sightedness; Will as in determination and fanaticism and finally Worship – by that I mean faith, veneration of the one above (whatever shape and form he or she takes for you) and a belief in yourself as an integral part of HIS universe.

Therefore, success is an attitude and a way of life. And yes, nothing succeeds like success!

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Note - Picture courtesy - Google Images