Tuesday, 19 September 2017

Leadership Lessons from Legends!

Leadership is not usually a legacy that we are bestowed upon with. It is a role we aspire to, work towards and attain through experience, intelligence, astuteness and by proving our usefulness for the bigger responsibilities such a stature brings.

Just like in any other industry, in the world of hospitality too, there are several opportunities for us to exhibit leadership at both micro and magnum levels – as department heads, Team leaders, General Managers, Regional Heads, Brand Chiefs, COOs and CEOs.

Therefore, Leaders must always remain answerable, accountable, effective and exemplary. My Maslowian Leadership Pyramid, below, outlines the progression a professional leader must make to self-actualize himself or herself -

Here are ten professional traits that define a true-blue leader –

1. Knowledge  

Leaders aim to be virtuosos. They train themselves to be an expert in their field; be it keeping a guest room spotlessly spic and span or managing a large hotel chain, ensuring that it stays highest ranked in any rating or recognition.

The bank of knowledge keeps them ahead of the game. In their constant striving for excellence, they endeavour to break the glass ceiling. A leader sets commendable standards with his working style, his know-how and eagerness to present his best, always.

Leaders are clued onto the smallest to the biggest things that happen in their business world. PRS Oberoi, the formidable owner of India’s much acclaimed and awarded hotel chain named after his family, is known to let his keen eye miss absolutely nothing when on a hotel visit – from a crookedly placed rosebud in a vase to the temperature at which the finest bottle of champagne is served; from the misplaced crease on the Doorman’s epaulette to the worry line on the forehead of another team member.

2. Perpetual Learning 

Leaders know that the place they have reached has not come easy. They are also aware that the road ahead is going to be tough, arduous and competitive. Leaders refuse to rest on past laurels. They are mindful of the fact that their skills and the business must evolve in step with the dynamics of the world and the changing times.

Besides; their drive and zeal nudges them to push the envelope of learning, mental growth and physical limits of performance.

One of the finest examples of this is the life lesson left behind by Conrad Hilton. He began his hotel business with Mobley Hotel in Texas – a 40-room property that he bought in 1919. His first high-rise hotel was the Dallas Hilton that he opened in 1925 before expanding into New Mexico. However, as luck would have it, Hilton was gravely hit by the Great Depression and was forced to sell off some of his hotels so as to keep away from bankruptcy. But his exceptional hoteliering skills came in handy and he was retained as the Manager of the hotels; which he promptly bought back once the national economic state bettered and he began fairing well.

Hilton went on to build hotels, grow his business admirably; such that Hilton Hotels became the first international hotel chain; no mean feat even today.

3. Being Competitive

Not only with others but with themselves too; in fact, leaders are more with themselves. They must meet their own high expectations and come up to the level they visualize themselves at. Leaders blossom in good, honest competition. There lies an inherent eagerness to outclass and the passion to chart new courses. The excitement of better, brighter goals keeps them motivated and stimulated.

Leaders admire other skilled workers & specialists and must compete with them to get to greater heights of brilliance. This sense of competitiveness gets going the ball of learning, improving, growing into the state of work awesomeness; to the satisfaction of both the doer and the recipients.

Steve Wynn, despite the hardships he steered his family out of, had the steely will and foresight to create a hotel empire that has brought him worldwide recognition and commercial success. Wynn is credited with resurrecting the internationally famous Las Vegas Strip by injecting renewed interest in the area and by creating such iconic properties as The Mirage and The Bellagio, truly among the biggest and the brightest hotels globally.
4. Bottom-line Friendly 

Leaders endeavour to perform such that the outcome of their actions is always profitable. They despise anything that brings loss; in terms of bad service, inability to close the service delivery loop, losing a client, profit deficit, business failure. They are conscious of the fact that for them and others to grow and flourish, the business must remain successful.

What's more, they acknowledge the fact that it is often bad actions, bad planning and bad decisions that lead to bad business. And they wish to be associated with none of these.

Barry Sternlicht often called the ‘King of hotels,’ put his fervent business acumen, background in real estate, fine judgement for prized properties and deep understanding for creating brands to found and grow Starwood Hotels and Resorts into one of the widest, biggest and financially successful hotel groups.

5. Always Respond and Resolve

This is one of the most common grounds on which somebody is called a leader. Leaders bring together their learning, experience and attitude to give sensible, effective and optimum resolution to your issues. Because they have the expertise, they need not skirt the issue and hide behind files and faux reasons to escape the matter.

More importantly, they hold in high esteem the tag they have earned on merit and they are not willing to lose that by being seen as laid back, inefficient, careless and non-committed. Hence, leaders always respond – to situations at hand, to people matters and to larger business issues.

One of the nicer aspects of dealing with such people is that even if it is to decline or regret; leaders leave such a great aftertaste that you wish to do business with them again.

Kemmons Wilson’s personal disappointment with the kind of roadside accommodation that was available for his holiday led him to envision and create the Holiday Inn model of hotels.

Stemming from his own experience, Wilson’s clear-cut brief for his Chain was that the properties should be standardized, clean, predictable, family-friendly and readily accessible to road travellers. From 50 hotels in 1958, 100 in 1959, 500 by 1964 and 100th Holiday Inn in 1968; today the Company has grown to be one of the world’s largest hotel chains with 435,299 bedrooms in 3,463 hotels globally hosting over 100 million guest nights each year.

6. Be S.M.A.R.T

Leaders espouse the principles of S.M.A.R.T working, both in their approach and the results they show. Their performance is, indeed, specific (leaders are focused), measurable (result-orientation is a key factor for them), attainable (leaders are practical and seldom have their heads in the clouds), relevant (their efforts must bear fruits of business, satisfaction, customer retention, problem-solving for themselves, the Company they represent and the guests) and time-bound (leaders apprehend the importance of time and are aware of the ills of non-deliverability or deliverability in an untimely fashion, which may be as good as task not done).

One of the best-known hotel trivia revolves around the genesis of the word “ritzy.” It is an established fact that the usage of the term stemmed from the name of Cesar Ritz and his namesake legendary hotels he founded in Paris and London.

The celebrated hotelier’s life is noteworthy on so many levels. It is said that he started small and then scaled up to skyscraping heights of success with grit, determination, and ingenuity that made him stand apart. Cesar Ritz began his career as a Maître d'hôtel in a restaurant before stepping up the ladder to manage hotels in Lucerne and Monaco. He built a reputation for his impeccable taste and instant rapport with wealthy guests thereby developing a profound understanding of the guests’ needs and desires and pioneering the foundation of luxury as we know today – two tenets that he lent to his hotel brand.

7. Take Charge

Have you noticed how there is that one Server who will outperform and over-deliver should things go wrong with your order at a restaurant? He will assume command over the situation, apologize sincerely, rectify the order, make certain that you are not made to wait any longer and cap it off with a comp side or dessert. He is a professional who knows his work, is in control, values you, is adept at saving the reputation of his Company and ensuring that the business stays with them and does not walk over to the Competition.

In a crisis condition, have you taken note of the Security guy or Guest Relations executive who will go beyond expectation to take stock of the situation, swiftly, and then strategize to provide safety while soothing your frayed nerves with a personal touch. He or she need not be a certified Fire Fighter; it is enough that they are the best in their role, are quick to assume the responsibility for their actions and do not ever mind pulling the weight of others when they fail to match up.

Such professionals have a strong leadership quality even in their everyday work situations. And in times of crises, they are stars that shine out with their rock-solid resolve and stellar skills.

Given this attribute, leaders impart lessons by setting an example, by being there and being available. The irresistible celebrity CEO and Visionary and now the Founder-Owner of Virgin Hotels – Sir Richard Branson has committed to be present at the opening of every Virgin hotel; much like the other great hotelier – Ritz Carlton’s Herve Humler who, allegedly, never misses a hotel opening anywhere in the world, and Ritz-Carlton has so far opened about 90 hotels in 29 countries.  

8. Gain Experience

Several years of hard work – first study, then practice - have gone into shaping the leader into what he is today. The professionals who lead, dip into their rich pool of experience to outshine and often go beyond the brief.

J. Willard Marriott, as the founder of the eponymous chain, has always been considered a doyen of the international hospitality industry. But it is his son, Bill Marriott Jr., who has grown the brand into what it has become today with his insight, inclination towards a franchise model business, innovative spirit, his attention to detail and ideal work ethics.

Having led the Chain for more than 50 years, from a family restaurant business to a Monolith with 3100 + properties spread across 67 countries, Bill’s imprint on the Chain and the industry is so indelible that Marriott gets ranked as the “best place to work in” year after year.

9. Be a Visionary

Leaders are on a journey – their destination is ‘being the best in their field and roles;’ higher after higher scales of excellence are the milestones. To be such work wizards they strategize to develop new tactics, perfect their old good practices and draw a roadmap that is onward bound, both in terms of productivity and passion.

Conrad Hilton, one of the finest hoteliers the world has ever seen, was far-sighted and inclusive in his business approach even when his Company had not grown to the mammoth size it is now. In 1944, he established The Conrad N. Hilton Foundation with a mission to alleviate human suffering worldwide. Hilton Hotels International Company followed in his footsteps and furthered his goals by instituting the Conrad N. Hilton Humanitarian Prize in 1996 and The Conrad N. Hilton Chair in Business Ethics and The Hilton Distinguished Entrepreneur Award in subsequent years.

Leaders are far-sighted and that is why they always manage to rise above the small issues and petty people with their sights aimed at bigger, more far-reaching goals.

10. Keeping the Big Picture in mind

Leaders usually do not sweat over the small stuff.

Their sights are set high; hence little everyday battles are simply stepping stones in their way; as it is the war of wisdom, wonderment and world class achievement that they must win.

Born into the extremely wealthy and influential Astor family, John Jacob Astor IV used his rich background and enviable educational and life experience to establish new standards of luxury in the world of hoteliering.

Even today, when an analogy has to be drawn for the finest standards in luxury, it is John Jacob Astor IV’s two best-known creations - Waldorf Astoria and St. Regis - that are cited as benchmarks. It is also known that the legendary hotelier, who the world lost in the tragic sinking of the Titanic, was multifaceted. Astor is the author of a science fiction novel ‘A Journey in Other Worlds’ (1894) about life in the year 2000 on the planets Saturn and Jupiter. With a penchant for scientific innovation, Astor is known to have patented several inventions, including a bicycle brake in 1898, a "vibratory disintegrator" and a pneumatic road-improver. He also helped in the development of turbine engine.

It follows from the lives of these hotel legends that leadership stems from innate passion. It is shaped by the goals one sets for oneself. And it is polished through consistent, diligent and honest practice.

There resides the potential to be a leader in all of us. The honed-over-time zeal, determination, conscientiousness and foresightedness arm us well in our aspiration to become an outstanding leader in our chosen field.


Picture courtesy - Google Images

Wednesday, 13 September 2017

5 Time-tested strategies to be indispensable at Work!

The organizations we work in are populated with a mix of employees, with their own personal traits, focuses (or foci, if you prefer), energies and acumen.

In any Company, there will be plain workers and then there will be the Queen Bees, the simple doers and the strategists, the satellites and the stars, the hammer-hitters and the performers, the team components and the Brand Ambassadors.

The A-listers, the optimal Achievers, the Stellar performers are always considered imperative and vital for the success of the Company by the bosses and the management.

We all, regardless of our areas of specialization and line of work, would like to be treated with such privilege and prestige. And it is in our hands to be the employee that no Company wishes to lose.

Here follow Five time-tested strategies to always stay indispensable, no matter which company or country you work in -

Know the Fundamentals and the Basics 

You must rear this boundless zeal in you to learn all that there is to learn about your product and Company.

How many times, I cannot recall, have I seen a Concierge, Housekeeper, Server embarrassingly fumble and fail to blurt out the correct response! There have been so many occasions when a Sales Manager has given out wrong facts and figures at an important site inspection. There have been a large number of PR people callously putting down incorrect information in their press releases. I have seen Sales Directors and General Managers look towards the nearest saving assistant as they fudge data or spin a yarn to quickly fill in the gaps in the gaping holes of their sell story.

It’s not just us hoteliers. A similar pattern follows with people from different industries – from toothbrush to travel and food to forensics.

But there is no excuse; no escaping the embarrassment we bring upon ourselves when we turn up in our green-horned, half baked avatars.

It is our duty, well almost a moral binding, to know our product and our company like the back of our hands – every factoid, every star performer who is such an astral brand up-sell, every interesting gem of a story that went into making what we are and yes, most importantly all the warts that we must be on a war path to remove permanently.

Know your guests

Knowing your guests is akin to knowing your job. Whatever you do in your different departments – creating recipes or collateral, devising sales strategies, reinforcing security plans, developing innovative standards of service, introducing new concepts and products, changing draperies or dresses – you do it for your guests. In fact, they are the only reason for your existence and for ensuring that your business sails or tanks.

Hotels that make sure that all their staff cross map the guests and get to know them well, not only come out on top at most reader surveys and awards but also have a healthy bottom-line, regardless of the seasonal factors.

Most of the illustrious General Managers I have worked with urged me to work the lobby in order to greet and meet guests and put aside a decent amount of time to spend with the guests. That is one of the sanest times invested in one’s job as you learn so much about what the guests really want and take their feedback and suggestions to the relevant forums. You get to share right information about your hotel with the right audience in the most focused and targeted manner at the right time. This also allows for a two-way feel-good exchange that promises to have a long-standing reach and penetration far more than any advertising or marketing thrust would aspire to have.

Know your Colleagues

Hotels are one of the most people-centric industries. Most organizations have the luxury of a weekend but hotels work round the clock, with the end of the week days getting busier. What’s more, a hotel never goes to sleep. This nature of business ensures that you are in contact with your colleagues all the time and that there are too many of those colleagues around. It then becomes essential to know your colleagues well, more in this work milieu.

Knowing your team mates across departments and cadres is an extremely profitable proposition. Of course you need to know different people to different levels of familiarity – from pleasant exchanges in the corridor (please do get away from the cursory nods and build upon this little window of opportunity) with some and getting together with a sense of bonhomie in the staff cafeteria with few others to building lasting bonds (some of which can grow to include the families) with those that you frequently work closely with. Decide on the level you want to get to, judiciously, professionally and with reason.

Harbouring a sincere and friendly disposition, being approachable, being a congenial personality and a caring person and having a helpful, down to earth nature considerably increases your likeability quotient. This helps widen your circle from top to bottom and creates a good vibe around you.

Knowing your colleagues eases the atmosphere, makes the work environment conducive, dissolves crisis situations, makes things less strenuous and actually injects the element of cheerfulness and fun into toughest of work conditions. Some prominent hotel chains around the world have penciled out an exemplary blueprint for their “know your employee” policy so much that your performance on this attribute can wing its way into your appraisal!

Know the other Product / Company better

This is a two-edged sword in our armoury. By knowing our competition better, we know clearly what we are doing right. More significantly, competition knowledge helps us realize and rectify what we may be doing wrong. And that is a big step forward.

FAMs of new properties and restaurants in town or other cities are such a great learning exercise. First-hand exposure is, indeed, an indelible imprint on one’s mind that promises to stay with you for a long time.

When I was going off on my overseas Scholarship, my boss at the time suggested I get in touch with sister hotels, part of the Leading Hotels of the World association that we were a member of, for possible stays so that I could have an up, close and personal look at some of the world’s best-run establishments. An invaluable tip that has left behind some priceless lessons on the best practices adopted by significant others in business!

No amount of marketing literature, PR collateral, website interface and 360-degree views can take place of what you experience in flesh and blood.

Finally, make yourself indispensable as far as possible

None of us are really that prime and pivotal in any of the personal or professional roles we play, that we or our roles cannot be done away with. That is a sordid fact of life. Yet, we must endeavour to be as difficult to replace as possible if we wish to make a success of our chosen paths.

And that involves shaking up our old, jaded practices; taking ourselves away from the comfort of inertia into the realm of the yet undiscovered. It incorporates restructuring our strategies and allowing ourselves to grow upwards learning new things along the way and challenging ourselves each and every day.

In my last role, I wrote manuals and advertising copy – something that an agency would have traditionally done, wrote out business pitches for hotel chain tie-ups, learned enough about art to conduct an intelligent art tour for an audience ranging from royalty (the Princess of Thailand) to Young Business Leaders and an American Think tank, amongst a host of other luminaries.

 I have seen a Sales Colleague get passionate about making Financial Review presentations and writing Due Diligence proposals. It came as no surprise, then, when he joined a major global company in a senior role in international development and strategic planning.

I have witnessed the blossoming of a shy General Manager who fought and overcame his innate inhibition to transform himself into a fine public speaker.

I have watched the growth trajectory of an F&B colleague who initially performed below par in his own department perhaps because he kept up a lackadaisical attitude; but take on the mantle of officiating General Management with such gusto, zeal and enthusiasm that he won plaudits not just from his fellow colleagues but also the GM, the owners and the guests at large. Today he manages an award-winning resort for one of the top ten hotel companies.

I have noticed with admiration the Executive Housekeeper come out of the shell of her traditional role and expectation and branch out in the area of Revenue Management and the larger Rooms Division responsibility. She pushed herself out of her self-limiting boundaries of satisfaction and contentment and untiringly worked at making herself more valuable and significant.

Go ahead and strategize yourself and your unique offerings such that you become hard to be replaced with.

Your professional destiny is really in the cup of your palms, the lines notwithstanding; and in the set of choices you make!


Picture courtesy - Google Images

Thursday, 7 September 2017

Is your Communication crystal clear? Or does it derail you?

Corporate Communications is all about building and cementing relationships with your clientele and strategizing to deliver your Company message to them in the best possible ways that ensure easy relatability.

Communications is the single most important key to your Brand positioning, Brand awareness, Brand recognition and Brand association. What’s more! in the dire times you need a good mouthpiece to reclaim your positioning and hold on to your territory.

Above the line, below the line, subliminal, suggestive, word of mouth, through the drumbeats over a dense jungle - whatever be your mode of communication, your message must reach the intended lot. And it must be conveyed in the most creative manner with utmost clarity.

As a CEO, you must ensure that your Company operates in an open atmosphere that encourages - along with prospects of growth, milieu of respect, trust and belongingness - a culture of information sharing. This must be followed as a top to down approach so that every employee works in an inclusive environment and feels a sense of responsibility to do the same with his or her team. Not only does this working style build and equip all other brand ambassadors with enough information bases to represent the Brand with; this approach also provides an extremely fertile and fruitful foundation for a Communications person to operate from.

As a Team Player, it becomes imperative to communicate – verbally or via the written word – in the most lucid, clear and cognizant manner possible.

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

Corporate Communications is an integral senior management, strategy-level function. It must be kept in the know-how of all important things the Company is involved in for the following essential reasons –

1. Build its ability to communicate the Company’s messages in the most effective way and for the right customer segment.

2. To devise the optimal strategy to cover a wide audience base, in a direct outreach, and with cutting down of any loss of resource and effort.

3. To be razor-sharp with requisite knowledge of the issues or turn of events so as to handle the crisis situations better, in order to ensure no or minimum damage to the Brand value.

4. To keep up the morale of the internal publics by thoughtful communications strategy encouraging employee engagement and sense of identification with the Brand.

With changing times and innovation of new technologies, the rules of the game have changed. If you wish to remain a dynamic and pertinent player then you must adapt, learn and evolve in the face of new challenges, opportunities and practices. Premium amongst the current need is to internalize Web 2.0, internet-driven PR and Communication strategies and become adept at getting the Social Media to work for you as an able ally.

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

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

Here follow basic and simple rules to help you ensure that your Communications Strategy is effective and above par –

1. Communication capsules must hold value for the target audience.

2. Communication must be purposeful – strengthening the bond with the audience. Generating feel good sentiment and respect for the brand are great purposes to bear in mind.

3. Messages may not always be about business. They can also be corporate socially responsible. You must positively reckon that genuine CSR activities create lasting value for the Brand.

4. Communication must be bottom-line focussed. At the end of the day you must endeavour to run a successful business and all your initiatives must dovetail into that plank.

5. Communication must be meaningful – Untrained, unprepared Brand representatives speaking mindlessly at external platforms just for the sake of occupying space or bandwidth on some media without conveying messages of value – both for the Company and the end user, cut an extremely sorry figure, bringing a bad rep to themselves and their Brand.

6. Communication must generate respect and strong identification in the Brand even from internal customers.

7. All brand ambassadors (read the entire employee base essentially, because one way or another each employee is an ambassador capable of propagating your brand value) must be trained to understand the Company ethos and convey it to the world at large, through their words, actions, demeanour and Brand association.

The right communication tools and the most appropriate PR strategies assist you in building a brand and reinforcing its image consistently in the minds of the relevant publics.

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


Picture courtesy - Google Images