Tagged: leaders

The Healthy Hotel

May 1st, 2014 in Business Practices, Health and Wellness, Hotels, Human Resources, Spring 2014 0 comments

Recognizing employees  for good work is a great  way to improve morale.

Recognizing employees for good work is a great way to improve morale.

By John D. Murtha

Doctors say that people who exercise, eat right, reduce stress, and have a balanced outlook on life stay healthy and live longer. So, could it be said that teamwork, having the right resources, maintaining a stable operation and fostering a productive culture will make a hotel healthier and more successful over time? Yes. A focus on keeping things “healthy” offers useful perspectives for hotel managers looking to enhance the culture and results of their operation.

Setting the Tone

The hotel I manage is home to a lot of history and more than 30 associates that belong to our 30+ Club signifying 30 or more years of service to the property. Their tenure is an important element of the atmosphere, culture, and success of the hotel. Part of my job is to make sure this special staff attribute is nurtured, applauded and contributes to the overall “tone” of the operation.
What’s a “tone”? It’s a style, a manner of being, or as Merriam-Webster says: “The state of a living body or of any of its organs or parts in which the functions are healthy and performed with due vigor.” Establishing a tone that infuses the operation with health and vigor is a critical step in cultivating success over time.

The GM is the one to take the lead on this, enrolling his or her management team in the tone-setting process. It starts with having shared goals and tactics for achieving outcomes. Then, it means fostering an atmosphere where people feel comfortable, recognized as individuals by everyone in the hotel (especially the GM) and acknowledged for their contributions.

A simple thing like noting an associate’s birthday goes a long way. As often as I can, I do so in person with the associate at their workplace, along with sending a card to their home. I also make a point of congratulating sales managers when they hit their monthly goal, or gently urge them on when they miss it. At those times, I find it works better to be a cheerleader and leave the coaching to their director.

Setting the tone includes being fair and consistent in all dealings with associates and guests, being easily accessible to everyone and telling the truth, even when it’s not easy to do so. But, it also means injecting some humor into the operation. The hotel business—and, it is a business—can be stressful at times, so keeping things light when the pressure’s on allows people to relax and perform better.

A Balanced Diet

Doctors also recommend a balanced diet as a way to stay healthy. The same advice works to keep hotels healthy. What constitutes a healthy diet for a hotel? In my view, it comes down to a balanced “feeding” of the primary constituent groups served by the property, including the owner, the guests, and the staff.
In order for a hotel to prosper over time, it must generate a reasonable return for the ownership entity that risked its capital in the first place. You need to pay bills on time, keep the property in great physical condition and acquire, develop, and retain a professional staff. This all requires sustained profitability.

The guest also needs to gain something from the hotel’s operation. Travelers expect personalized service, cleanliness in everything, modern systems, and good memories of their experience. You may very well be leaving some money on the table to generate high levels of guest satisfaction, but that comes with the territory when you’re looking for a balanced diet.
Your staff must be well served in the process, too. Fair rates of pay, good benefits, opportunities for training and advancement, personalized acknowledgement of their contributions to the operation, and consistent application of rules and regulations are essential elements of generating high degrees of employee satisfaction and low turnover. Again, some profit may be foregone to make sure that the staff is happy and taking good care of your guests. But it’s worth it.

Dual Health Benefits of MBWA

A few decades back, we learned that unstructured management by wandering (or walking) around (MBWA) was distinguished as a valid way to improve the morale and productivity of an organization. I think that MBWA is intuitive to most hoteliers because we know the best way to understand what’s happening in our hotels comes from being “on the floor” and responding to what we directly observe, rather than from reports, documents and other sources after the fact.

Japanese businesses use the notion go to gemba (“the real place”) to highlight the concept of having managers spend their time where the work is done. This approach asserts that direct experience best informs problem solving and process improvement.

MBWA is a great way to catch your associates performing well so you can acknowledge their contributions immediately or provide feedback for improvement, when needed. It also works to increase the amount of time you spend with guests, in the lobby and elsewhere throughout your property. One should use time spent at “the real place” productively and not simply to get out of the office.

The second benefit of MBWA is the health benefit to you, personally, from being on the floor. Some fitness experts claim that staying healthy requires a steady diet of 10,000 steps per day, which for a person of average height is about 4 ½ miles of walking. You may not be able to walk that much each day on-property, but practicing some level of daily, unstructured MBWA can reduce stress, keep you healthy and strengthen your operation.

Checking In

Another benefit of MBWA is that it’s probably the best way to experience how your associates are performing. You can then praise or coach them in “real” time. But there’s an important distinction in how to approach this task. It’s the difference between checking “on,” and checking “in,” with your staff.

Tip: Evaluate everyone involved in assembling and finalized your forecasts, then add to this list. You may find that a “more is merrier” approach will improve accuracy.

I suggest that checking “on” is based on an unstated belief that the person being monitored might have done something wrong—even unintentionally—that needs to be corrected. One checks on people to make sure they adhered to established standards and procedures, to verify that specific instructions have been precisely followed or requests have been fulfilled in an acceptable manner. Managers accustomed to checking “on” their colleagues use the phrase “inspect what you expect.”

On the other hand, checking “in” with an associate assumes no wrong-doing, but rather that you care about them and their work. Good morning! How’s it going today? Is everything okay? Can I give you a hand? Is anything missing? Did you get that report you needed? How’s our guest that needed some TLC yesterday? These are the questions posed by a manager checking “in” with, and not “on,” their associates.

The answers you receive and observations you make still alert you to problems that need to be addressed, but your comments based on the checking-in style will more likely be perceived by associates as support for their efforts, not criticism. I think this is a healthier management approach that works to ensure both guests and staff have a memorable experience of your hotel.

Checking in with employees shows support rather than criticism.
Checking in with employees shows support rather than criticism.

Praising Praise

Many hotels have an all-associate meeting, once a month or a quarter, sometimes known as a “Koffee Klatch”. At one of our recent meetings, most members of the
executive committee presented their team’s accomplishments for the previous year.

One member of the committee neglected to do so.

This particular division head knew immediately he’d made a mistake. His team had done quite a lot to improve the operation during the year and they deserved to be recognized in front of their peers. After the meeting, his team politely asked “Hey, what about us?” Be assured that the division head made up for the error at the next meeting.

I’ve normally found it easy to show gratitude to my staff for doing great work but wanted to know if there was evidence that doing so improves their well-being and results. I did some quick online research to see if any studies have shown a connection between showing gratitude and improved employee engagement. It turns out that lots of work has been done on this subject; here are some findings that I found interesting:

  • Praising someone’s good work causes dopamine to be released in his or her brain. Dopamine is a chemical that is credited with generating feelings of pride and pleasure.
  • Showing gratitude also increases feelings of goodwill in the person delivering the praise.
  • People who don’t receive praise for their efforts report having the notion “What am I doing this for?” This implies that it’s not all about the money.
  • Recognizing entire teams of associates for the value they add to the overall operation bolsters the enthusiasm of each member of the team and improves their standing within the organization. This is why we celebrate Housekeeping Week.
  • Faint praise doesn’t work and neither do scheduled recognition ceremonies, at least not for very long.
  • Appreciation and praise needs to happen on a regular basis under typical business conditions for it to be effective.
  • Praise also needs to be very specific. A simple “great job” won’t suffice. Tell them exactly what they did that had you say “great job” in the first place.
  • Rodd Wagner and Jim Harter, authors of 12: The Elements of Great Managing, said “Great managers are extremely effective in figuring out the best form of praise for each person. Some managers worry that they can give employees too much recognition. But the research shows that it’s extremely difficult to do that, as long as the recognition is right for the person.”

Meetings are excellent  places to recognize great  work or suggest ways of improvement to the  group as a whole.

Meetings are excellent places to recognize great work or suggest ways of improvement to the
group as a whole.

Operating a busy hotel can be stressful at times so it’s in everyone’s best interest to avoid stress whenever possible. Here are some common business activities that most hoteliers wouldn’t typically describe as stress reducers but that I find work that way for my team and me:

Accurate Forecasts: If everyone in your operation knows what is really going to happen, then plans and resources will be aligned correctly. This is especially true when scheduling staff. Accurate forecasts lead to department schedules that appropriately match staffing with business levels, thus avoiding the last minute scrambling that occurs when solid information was absent during the scheduling process.Purchasing activities also benefit greatly from accurate forecasts. Haven’t you ever had to jump in your car to fetch something for the chef that he or she needs right now but didn’t buy sooner because the forecast was “off?”

Appropriate Meetings: Most of us who prefer to be on the floor don’t like to be in meetings, so start relating to them differently—as opportunities to reduce stress. The more that you and your associates know about what’s going to happen, the better that everyone can prepare to deal effectively with those upcoming realities. Your guests will benefit as well, from the friendly service that is naturally offered by relaxed, “in the know” staff members.

Handling Issues Immediately: Issues and the stress they create aren’t going to disappear until you and your staff deal with them head-on, so you might as well handle things quickly and completely. It’s the next best thing to having done it right in the first place, the best stress reducer of them all.

Further Reading
This material was originally published on my blog, “The Healthy Hotel”, at HOTELSMag.com. I hope that you’ll check out future postings and take the opportunity to share with other managers what you’ve done to improve the culture and results of your hotel.

MurthaJohn D. Murtha, CHA, is a 38-year veteran of the hospitality industry. He is currently General Manager of the Omni Parker House Hotel in Boston, the longest continuously-operating hotel in America. He has been an adjunct lecturer in the School of Hospitality Administration at Boston University since 2001. He was recently inducted into the Hall of Fame by the Massachusetts Lodging Association. John graduated from the Hotel Administration program at the University of New Hampshire, where he is currently a member of the Hospitality Leadership Council and Advisory Board. Email jmurtha@bu.edu

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Self-Confidence in the Hospitality Industry

February 1st, 2014 in Business Practices, Health and Wellness, Human Resources, Winter 2014 1 comment

By Michael Oshins

Roman philosopher Cicero believed self-confidence was critical to one’s success: “If you have no confidence in self, you are twice defeated in the race of life. With confidence, you have won even before you have started.” This key to success was reiterated by sports legends Vince Lombardi, “Confidence is contagious. So is lack of confidence.”

In sports, business, politics, and life, the importance of self-confidence is repeated as one of the key components to success. Boston University School of Management Professors George Hollenbeck and Tim Hall define self-confidence as “our judgment as to whether or not we can do something.” They highlight that judgment is the result of our thinking and is based on our perceptions. In addition, they emphasize that self-confidence is task-specific. This aspect of self-confidence underscored by Paul Hersey and Ken Blanchard in their Situational Leadership model, whereby a manager provides more direction to an employee with limited experience (and thus less confidence) for a specific task. In understanding self-confidence, Hollenbeck and Hall also show the importance that it can be changed over time.

How do hospitality managers build their self-confidence? Boston University School of Hospitality Administration seniors take a capstone course in leadership. Each semester, the seniors conduct field interviews to learn how these executives built their self-confidence. The following discussion reports findings from the student surveys collected since 2005. Students met with a wide range of hospitality leaders in operational and corporate positions, from hotel department heads and executive committee members, to restaurant general managers, upscale and luxury hotel property general managers, entrepreneurs, restaurant owners, contract food service companies, and senior-level hotel and hospitality corporation leaders. Participants ran the gamut of experience, including managers near the beginning of their careers and seasoned veterans with decades of experience and success. Over eight years, graduating hospitality seniors conducted more than 450 interviews. Whenever possible, interviews were conducted in person, at the interviewee’s place of business and the student did not have a close, personal connection to the manager. Although the student may work for the same company, the interviewee was someone he or she did not know well (e.g., not a family member, close family friend, or someone who worked directly with him/her). The majority of the hospitality managers interviewed were from the New England / New York area.


Several common themes developed from the industry interviews about the building of self-confidence. The top source for self-confidence in hospitality: experience. Many felt “there is no substitute for experience.” World-class salesman Dale Carnegie agreed in the value of gaining experience—Inaction breeds doubt and fear. Action breeds confidence and courage. If you want to conquer fear, do not sit home and think about it. Go out and get busy. By working in a job, becoming good at it, performing the functions well, and being successful, one can enhance one’s self-confidence in that particular role.

Often the experiences described by interviewees involved making difficult decisions or performing challenging tasks. Their success and confidence propelled them forward to take on more challenging endeavors. One catering manager talked about successful events and was able to increase his budget from 60-thousand-dollar to five-million-dollar events. An interviewee stressed that his successes from entry-level positions to department head, then to executive committee member and assistant GM gave him the confidence and skills to be an effective general manager. This research reinforces the findings by Ireland, Hitt, and Williams from the early 1990s, “Self-confident managers set personal standards for excellence, which are established through a manger’s willingness to work long hours, his or her obvious commitment to excellence, and in the setting and reinforcement of high performance standards.”

Second, in connection to experience, many managers attributed their confidence and success by building upon small wins. Stephen Covey, author of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, calls this baby steps: “Start small, keep at it, and stay consistent until you’re ready to pick up the pace.” This reason was particularly prevalent when managers reminisced about their experiences shortly after graduating college. One restaurant manager, after discovering a poor corporate culture, implemented an employee “family meal” every night at 5. This simple action increased employee morale and enabled him to learn more about his staff.

A director of sales & marketing found out that he was going to miss his sales quota by a huge number. Instead of trying to fix everything at once (an impossibility), he set small sales goals for each month and by the end of the year only missed his target by a small amount. A hotel manager for a five-diamond hotel identified building small wins with his first job as a bell person. Being responsible for making guests feel welcome, he had to learn how to make small talk with famous people, politicians, and presidents of corporations as he carried their luggage and provided an overview of the hotel operations and services.

A third component of building self-confidence comes from goal setting. Repeating the findings by Ireland, Hitt, and Williams: “Self-confident managers…often establish more challenging goals and persist in the pursuit of these goals.” One purchasing manager set a goal of reducing the hotel’s exorbitant food costs to one of the lowest for the chain. A sales & catering manager persuaded the general manager and the hotel’s owner to renovate the ballroom, which would set new sales levels for the property. By focusing on the goal of owning his own restaurant, one of Boston’s premier chef/owners survived year of working in challenging situations for less-than-favorable characters. One hotel manager hosts the same annual charity event; although it is always successful and the client is very satisfied, she makes a list of improvements—even if they are only small changes or tweaks—to ensure the function is better the next year

Fourth, many of the managers recognized the importance of others who helped build their self-confidence. The three main sources of support came from bosses, family members, and mentors (who may or may not have been their direct supervisor). Most interviewees highlight at least one of these people, and many identified two or all three sources as helping them to gain confidence. Often the supervisor provided moral support—a belief that the manager could accomplish the task, trusted them, and gave them the opportunity for success. For example, a relatively new restaurant chain manager’s boss told her he believed in her and let her handle a large event. That belief boosted her confidence that she could take on the new challenge successfully.

Several managers reiterated that their boss’s emotional support and confidence in their ability to succeed helped raise their self-confidence. A director of housekeeping relied on support and advice from the director of operations when dealing with an upset guest for the first time. The director of operation’s explanations and expectations gave her a clear understanding, giving her much more self-confidence when dealing with unhappy customers in the future. A general manager of a luxury hotel feeds off the high level of success and confidence from his senior corporate managers, boosting his own confidence since they believe in him. President Theodore Roosevelt reiterated this attribute: believe you can and you’re halfway there.

The fifth pattern that emerged from the research is that learning from failure developed self-confidence. James Burke, former CEO of Johnson & Johnson, fiercely believes you can’t build a business without making mistakes. Earlier in his career, he was once congratulated by the Chairman of the Board for the failure of a business line. Burke recalled the advice from Mr. Johnson, “Business is all about making decisions. You don’t make decisions without making mistakes. I just want to congratulate for that mistake. Don’t ever make that mistake again, but please make sure you make other mistakes.” Burke took that lesson to heart and taught it to those who worked for him.

Many of the hospitality professionals interviewed openly discussed their mistakes and how they learned from their failures. This factor was specifically mentioned by almost two-thirds of the interviewees. Learning from their mistakes and overcoming their failures were important building blocks for increasing self-confidence and enabling future successes. An entrepreneur learned to carefully check invoices and pay attention to details, after he was once fired for not balancing invoices. A restaurant GM’s career accelerated when he learned to own his mistakes instead of fearing them; in the process he also lost his arrogance. One room’s division manager talked about how second-guessing his decisions caused his employees to not follow him. By following Burke’s mantra of making decisions, right or wrong, and moving forward, he would learn from the results and become a better leader.

Almost every industry professional offered advice for the graduating seniors starting their hospitality careers. Here is a sampling of their advice:

  • Trust in others—which is a large part of self-confidence since in this industry you cannot just pull off fabulous events by yourself.
  • Every mistake is an opportunity to learn.
  • Set small goals and achieve them one at a time.
  • No one is infallible, everyone makes mistakes, so keep taking chances, learning from your missteps.
  • Self-confidence is something that is not given or taught, but something that you have to gain through experience.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for help when you don’t know how to do something, it’s better than not doing it at all.
  • The important thing is to build your confidence by doing things you’re good at. From there, you can slowly build your way up to difficult tasks that you previously dreaded.
  • You become successful when you make others successful.
  • The first step to building someone’s self confidence is to give that person knowledge and respect.
  • Remember, it’s the little chutes and ladders along the way that make the game fun.
  • Confidence is a precursor to strong leadership, especially in a group. Be supportive of situational leadership. Have someone who understands your weaknesses to bring out the best in each other.


Many students were unsure of undertaking this task—perhaps due to their lack of self-confidence in interviewing hospitality leaders. However, the overwhelming response after the task was successfully completed was that it was a worthwhile exercise. Reflecting on the assignment and the lessons from meeting with their interviewees, every student offered their own insights. Several revealed a better understanding of the importance of self-confidence in the hospitality industry. Even the illusion of self-confidence (“fake it ’til you make it”) is important for employees and customers to believe in you until you have real confidence to believe in yourself; the corollary to that is it is okay to have self-doubt as long as you keep trying new ventures. Working with others, setting goals and “level-five leadership” (Jim Collins’ research illustrating the combination of humility and fierce resolve among effective leaders) were additional concepts that emerged. Making mistakes, admitting failure, and using those experiences going forward were also themes many students highlighted. Although there were many more observations and personal reflections, a final important point students mentioned was that to be effective leaders themselves, it was important to build self-confidence for their subordinates, passing on their own experience and lessons to their staff.

DSC_0249Michael Oshins is Associate Professor of the Practice of Leadership in the School of Hospitality Administration at Boston University. He is former Vice President of Integer Dynamics, a hospitality consulting firm focused on operational productivity and technology. He holds a doctorate in human resource education from Boston University and a master’s degree in hotel administration from Cornell University. Email: moshins@bu.edu

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