Wednesday, 8 May 2013

FOR HOTELIERS, THE WORLD IS TRULY THEIR OYSTER! (Part Two – How To – Lessons from seasoned hoteliers on how best to relocate and cope)

Relocation is, indeed, a double edged sword – the proverbial one with which you can either slay the demons that come in the way to superstardom in your career or one with which you can hack your own neck put out on the block of work prospects with your own hands, the moment you make a sorely erroneous decision that stems out of feeble thinking and weaker planning. Yes, the picture can get that gory and the results this grievous because the stakes on relocation are always high. The aspect of relocation has the power to make or break your career in one sharp move. It can land you in plush palaces under the shadow of the Great Pyramids, put you amidst the glitz and dizzying heights of luxury towers in sensational capitals around the world or leave you in the boondocks of dismay, disappointment, despair and anonymity. To coin a quick definition soaked in half zest, ‘relocation can either turn you and your family into children of the world or get you to shell out more than you earn on those evil lawyers of divorce.’

With so much on the anvil, it makes sense to learn how to milk the relocation cow profitably, cope with the challenges that are attached to it and transform them from boulders into building blocks of success, satisfaction and prosperity. “I would say that mobility is in fact critical to the success of being an hotelier!” asserts Christian Clerc, the General Manager and Regional Vice President of the iconic Four Seasons Hotel George V in Paris. A native of Switzerland and a flawless Francophone, Clerc has served postings in the United States, Italy, Costa Rica, Mexico, France and his home country; so he should really know what he is talking about.Jean Philippe Beghin, presently the General Manager & Director General with Princess D’Annam Resort & Spa, Vietnam and a consummate hotelier who has joined the dots at important ports of call in the continents of Europe, Australia and Asia, puts forth a universal truth. “The life of hoteliers has several phases; the early years are made generally of a succession of country reallocations, while later necessity for moving around may not be as high. But it is the early and middle years that help you lay down a strong foundation,” advises Beghin.

Once you have decided to bite the relocation bullet, you must assess the pros and cons of the place you have to root yourself in for the tenure of your stay. On the basis of its culture, climate, safety & security, its people and overall integration with the world at large, there are job locations that are considered soft or hard postings. Timur Senturk, Managing Director of Shanghai based J Hotel Shanghai Tower, who has 24+ years in the luxury hotel business in global gateway cities of London/ New York/ Bangkok/ New Delhi/ Los Angeles/ Las Vegas/ Washington DC/ Miami/ Guangzhou/ Shanghai says that “Soft postings are those that are similar to the environment that you are used to; hard postings are those with a language barrier and significant cultural differences.”

“Hard posting are those associated with one's first relocation experience, venturing to places that are remote, distant, and/or culturally distinct from one's current location,” agrees J. Bruce Tracey, the award-winning Professor of Management at Cornell University and the Editor-in-Chief of the Cornell Hospitality Quarterly.

Biswajit Chakraborty, General Manager, Mövenpick Hotel & Spa, Bangalore, India, has been moving from one Indian metropolis to another and has served for a number of years in the Himalayan country of Nepal. He offers a practical point of view when he states, “A hard or a soft posting would be relative to ones ambition, age and stage in life. Physical and psychological comfort is directly linked to the attributes of the posting i.e. financial and work atmosphere. Every posting has its share of hard and soft enjoyment and challenges; unexpected gains and losses.” Christian Clerc shares a lot of sense from his personal experience. “Hardship is in the eye of the beholder. It really depends on your background, origin and preferences. For a family with teenage children, it is more challenging to be assigned in a remote location than for a couple or single professional,” chimes in Clerc.

It is Beghin who gives a fine definition-in-a-nutshell elucidating a handful of points to describe each category. According to him a ‘Hard posting’ would be “Dangerous / Separated from family / Restricted situation / Difficult environment or staff attitude / Unreasonable owners / Too much travelling / High cost of living compared to salary. On the other hand, the elements of a ‘Soft posting’ are “Happy family / Good working conditions /Reasonable free time /No constraints from the environment /Low cost of living.” Given the large number of factors that ride on ‘relocation,’ it would entail extensive preparation on the part of the hotelier and his / her family. Chakraborty checks out the new environment from Ground zero, prepares a detailed checklist mentally, studies processes and product formats, gauges the circumstances and adapts accordingly. “The best way to prepare yourself is to manage expectations and try to understand possible challenges of the new environment. It helps to speak to people that may have gone through a similar move to avoid some of the pitfalls and benefit from ‘lessons learned’,” advises Senturk.

“There are many ways to prep for relocation.  Of course, doing your homework is critical as is conducting extensive research. In addition, "light immersions" are particularly helpful in which the hotelier visits the new location for a short period of time prior to their assignment as a means for getting a "lay of the land". And finally, some companies have developed formal training programs to help their employees manage the challenges,” prescribes Bruce Tracey.

“We usually go out, my wife and I, to discuss the possibilities and then share the news with the children. The second step consists of breaking it down into a critical path with assigned responsibilities. Most of the time, I would go to the new destination first to prepare the arrival for the family while my wife and children wrap up our life in the previous place : organize the move, finish the school year etc...,” adds Clerc.

While speaking with my industry friends, I wondered aloud about how they sensitized themselves with the place they were headed to! Did they read up, learn about the culture from available literature and contacts that had already been there?

And I found that it is divided into two groups of people – those who do; those who don’t. Senturk believes that “sensitizing oneself, including reading and speaking to subject matter experts, is absolutely essential to get off to a good start.

Key to our success is to understand and appreciate the new environment, people and customs. By now there is ample advice and literature available for most places; though the best lessons are those that you make first hand in the respective environment.” Then there are folks like Chakraborty who say, “Honestly, I do minimal. I learn about the culture to a certain extent, I talk to a lot of people both at work and in the social space about the place - observe a lot on arrival and then begin to make my own conclusions. I feel too much of preparation dilutes the excitement.”

Clerc has his formula down pat. He recommends, “it is fundamental to do the pre-work associated with relocating and we do it in many different ways: we read about the destination, we associate ourselves or discuss with friends or acquaintances of that culture, work with different local organizations to achieve a better understanding. We also show our respect by learning the local language as we did in Mexico, and now in France.”

Is there a ready check-list then, from which these on-the-move hoteliers tick off points for preparation?

Not really a check-list per se, say Beghin, Tracey, Clerc and Senturk. “But we have become very good at planning together as a family, “offers Senturk. “Although we have relocated several times and are geared to; the checklist varies at every stage of life. This has to be prepared each time,” suggests Chakraborty. “Not really a list to tick off from, simply because we have relocated so many times, it has become an easier process over the years! Besides, the Company I work for does offer support and systems to ease the procedure of moving,” admits Clerc.

This brings me to the aspect and extent of companies offering a well-worked out support system, orientation, infrastructure and hand-holding, each time they move around their executives!

 “By and large most companies facilitate relocation through competent relocation agencies, the HR department helps in finding accommodation, at a certain level the company helps setting up the residence as well. A new company, however, does all this and much more since it is a part of “wooing you” and welcoming you for the challenge ahead,” explains Chakraborty.

Timur Senturk agrees that “the best companies are very good at providing the appropriate amount of orientation and support during a transition. That applies to both personal and professional matters.”

Clerc concurs wholeheartedly and concedes that “His hotel, as a global company, is exceptionally well versed at supporting its employees relocating worldwide. There are many well oiled systems to support the employee and his family in this process. The receiving hotel generally handles all logistics in an extremely caring way.”

When hoteliers move from east to the west or vice versa or move across disparate cultural zones, what are the issues they face in the new multicultural work environment with co-workers coming from a completely different culture than theirs? What are their learning processes and coping techniques?

“Being sensitive to cultural differences and responding in a manner that takes those differences into account is important. Learning stems from preparation, and not being afraid to ask for help or insights from one's peers.  Openness and humility are very helpful coping strategies,” proffers Tracey.

Christian Clerc says, “There is that golden rule that centers on treating others the way you would like to be treated. By sharing this simple common value has enabled us to achieve respect and trust on a global scale.”

“Effective Leadership is about the ability to gain trust of the people around you. We must attempt to understand and appreciate the background of our colleagues and as a result adapt our style of communication. A sincere interest in the learning about our colleagues’ culture is essential. To quote Stephen Covey, "seek first to understand, before seeking to be understood"”affirms Senturk.

“The world is a much smaller place today and is virtually “borderless” due to the internet, extensive travel, exposure and global thinking therefore unless there is a language barrier I face no difficulty or need to have coping techniques. In fact I quite enjoy a multicultural work environment, “states Chakraborty matter-of-factly.

The coping strategies sway like the pendulum between philosophical to pragmatic, spiritual to simple, theoretical to time-tested.

Clerc lays a lot of emphasis on “traditions, local cultures, political climate as well as social and economic reality on the ground.”

“I strongly believe in “flowing water technique”- water adapts to its terrain and yet maintains its own character. I definitely strive to adapt without compromising too much on my own philosophies and techniques. I however, have deep respect for every culture, custom and comply with it to the best of my ability,” advocates Chakraborty while drawing out a wonderful analogy.

Senturk puts the stress on, “adapting your style of communication and learning how decisions are made in the respective host country.” “Because practices and norms of communication in the West are different to those in the East,” exhorts Senturk.

Mr. Beghin, the quintessential hotelier and inveterate traveller, puts the big point in perspective when he shares a leaf out of his life book. “If you have real experience, then you quickly learn that processes and technical issues are quite similar across hotels, but the people are always different and this will always be a challenge at the beginning,” explains Beghin.

When we as people move into and wish to adjust with a different set of people, the characteristics that stand out the most are affability, high likeability quotient, being pronouncedly lucid and articulate in our communication and easy to approach and reach-out-to personalities with less inhibitions, no or little barriers – physical and in the mind – that bind us within and refuse to let others in, fewer idiosyncrasies which make us appear strange and personal habits that don’t take long in turning us into social pariahs. I strongly believe that the ability to make friends, acquaintances, equations in office and social networks easily is one of the most important for trying to fit into strange climes and stranger cultures.

Beghin says he can make friends easily “but my friends are usually gravitating around my job or they are friends made by my family.” Senturk shares the same sentiment. Says he “We are an active family and have found this helps to find people with similar interests.”

“I am personally an extrovert and can strike up a conversation with a lot of people at work, otherwise too I am widely networked, which I do with ease,” shares Chakraborty.

“I find it more difficult to make new friends as you get older but we have been fortunate to have made a few friends for life in every destination we have lived and this has significantly enriched our life,” volunteers Clerc.

It has become a roaring business for writers to pen down ‘How to do Business in XYZ’ books that become bestsellers based on the fact that the global movers & shakers pour over them as the customary bible. There’s one possibly on every place in the world as people are literally moving between Afghanistan and Zanzibar. What’s extremely pertinent about moving to a new destination and finding a place for yourself under the sun in that city / country is to be accepted in that culture and by its people.

Beghin offers a wonderful piece of advice, “I have spent most of my life as an expatriate. In order for an easy fit-in I do not join an expat club or circles, my friends are usually locally made.” Tracey shares that his “transitions have been fairly smooth as I am, largely, a pretty gregarious person. I have thoroughly enjoyed the learning process that stems from living and working in new places.”

“Acceptance is always a matter of your own personal conduct and attitude. We think of ourselves as global citizens and I have been raised in a multicultural family. That certainly helps with finding acceptance,” suggests Senturk.

“While as an Executive, you will be accepted instantly, more often than not, by the Company; but as a family, making an effort to learn the local language, and understanding and respecting the local culture and traditions, will facilitate greatly the integration process,” recommends Clerc. One of the aspects of ‘homing’ is to bring a piece of home (yes, family makes a house a home and all that, but over the years we find paired associates in objects to give us the much needed emotional support and succour) to the new place and make attempts to reinstate feeling of familiarity and fond memories through, perhaps, that set of old, gilded photo frames, the favourite revolving bookcase that has always travelled with you, the crocheted cushion case that Grandma gifted you all those years back and you now use it to cover your iPad, the good luck charm that you must have by your get the drift! “There are certain artefacts, books, music besides clothes which do the rounds,” says Chakraborty.

“I have found that relocation is always a good opportunity to rid yourself of non-essential things that do not have sentimental value. Most of us accumulate things over time and I find the process of "letting go" liberating. Of course there are some personal items we have collected over the years that are wonderful reminders of shared experiences. Those we take with us to create a sense of continuity,” doles out Senturk.

For Christian Clerc items with “emotional linkages” do the trick but Tracey says he’s “a minimalist. I value experiences much more than tangible "stuff".” So, definitely, to each his own then!

Necessity is, indeed, the mother of invention when it comes to turning a new place into home as fast as you can; for your sanity and your family’s sanctity. A ‘couple’ friend of mine were shifting base from Moscow to Frankfurt recently as the Hotelier husband was moving yet another step up on the ladder. The wife, an ex-hotelier herself and now a seasoned travelling spouse, decided to make the best of the times as she spread out a colourful runner, propped up a breathtaking flower arrangement, brought out a mix and match of crockery, lit a couple of tall candles, opened a fine bottle of vino on, hold your breath, neatly laid out packaging cartons for her first real family dinner in the new place. The truckers, movers and packers could take all their time but the talented wife did not wish to wait before she welcomed her family to the cozy warmth of familial hospitality.

In spite of all the trials and tribulations that beset ‘relocation,’ – the stress, the anxiety, the frustration, the expectation, the disappointments and disenchantments – it brings with it exciting challenges, fascinating experiences, the allure and attraction and a great deal of novelty, learning and un-learning. “A new environment throws up excitement of new colleagues, new customers, new markets - the sheer effort that goes into adaptation, in my opinion, gives a sense of high,” declares an exhilarated Chakraborty.

Christian Clerc espouses the utter goodness of ‘relocation’ rather well when he says, “Every time you relocate, it is the beginning of a new chapter! It is an opportunity to discover new cultures, new people, new additions which will enrich your life. It is the reason why I feel blessed to be an hotelier! As a family, we feel that it has given us and our children a better understanding of the world and has made us more tolerant and open minded. When looking around, you realize that a lot of the global problems that we face are due to a lack of understanding and appreciation for other people's beliefs and cultures.”

Relocation impacts the family much more than the executive who has agreed to take on the challenge; because for him the support system that his Company provides is a great foundation to build upon. Besides, the executive finds huge amount of comfort and familiarity in his work environment. But for the family, it is nothing short of getting uprooted from one place where they had grown deep bonds and to be planted anew; with the fear that they might not blossom as well in the new place. Hence, it is extremely important to the success of the hotelier and his family as a whole that the spouse engages herself soundly and gainfully in the new place.

There are the wives, partners and girlfriends of Hoteliers who find merriment in marriage and mahjong, whilst their significant others are ‘culturalizing’ themselves in a new part of the world with all the baggage – happy and hard – that comes with the territory. There are the other better halves who have successfully turned their latent talent into flourishing business ventures from cupcakes to caricature classes, Papier-mâché art to stained glass painting.

Clerc and his wife have managed to keep the see-saw well balanced and happy. He tells us, “My wife keeps herself engaged in many different ways! Through school first as she is engaged in the ParentsTeachers Associations where she gets to meet and interact with other parents, then through my professional circle as she participates in many of my work/social functions from entertaining dinners to private events and finally, through charity associations as she is actively enrolled in several of those. Depending on the location, she has also managed to work and pursue her own professional projects. Having a mobile career, that of a Montessori school teacher, has helped matters a lot.”

“In our case my spouse gave up her career to concentrate on our children right from admission to coaching them and mentoring them. This in itself is a full time job and it is important that one of us took on the responsibility,” relates Chakraborty. But most hoteliers, who have been perpetually on the move, strongly agree that ‘relocation’ has changed them for the better. Beghin says, “These consecutives experiences have shaped me at a deeper level.”

“I have personally benefitted a lot in terms of confidence, exposure and learnings from different cultures. As a person I respect people much more now and am far more empathetic. As a professional, the learning in each city, country and company has been monumental. As a hospitality professional I definitely consider myself having an edge over people who have remained in one company, one job or city,” chips in Chakraborty.

Timur Senturk is a strong proponent of ‘relocation.’ He states, “Over the past 24 years, I have lived and worked on three continents in 11 cities, where I have grown both personally and professionally as a result of being exposed to highly talented individuals with rich experiences and diverse background. I do believe that one of the most fascinating aspects of our profession is the ability to live, learn and lead across the globe. A professional with global leadership experience has undoubtedly "a deep tool box" to successfully face the challenges of today's fast paced world.”

Both Tracey and Clerc feel that ‘relocation’ has made them better people, better citizens of the world, and has given them a lot better perspective on life. “I have developed a much greater appreciation for and knowledge about the diverse and distinctive qualities of the people and places I've been around the globe,” mentions Tracey.

“It has reinforced my instinct that there is endless beauty and goodness in every corner, every person and every culture of this amazing planet,” adds Clerc sounding almost philosophical.

It really boils down to being open in mind and attitude, showing respect for the new culture and acceptance of its people, taking it all in as a wonderfully invigorating exposure and a matchless learning experience and approaching the whole thing with zest, enthusiasm and excitement. After all, here is one career choice that looks as spectacular on your curriculum vitae as on the résumé of your life!

Picture courtesy - Google Images