Back Of House With Bill

A Series On All Things Hospitality

March 31, 2020

A Series On All Things Hospitality 2.0

My unwavering passion of English professional football was again solidified this week through news of a leading professional club’s actions to protect their operational team members. These actions, unlike those of our own government on any level, Federal, State or Local, found creative ways to ensure the well-being of their front line team members and most importantly formulated a plan for the restart of operations.

The club is Leeds United, a club in the 2nd tier of English football and they truly have not forgotten their invaluable team members (grounds-persons, administrative staff, ticket sales, marketing staff, the kit team dealing with all aspects of player care). For the majority of English clubs, the financial hit is in the millions of dollars and many may not survive. The actions this club took were decisive and immediate. The Leadership team, Owners, and Board Members immediately suspended their pay. The Coaches and Players forfeited what is believed to be 75% of their salary. All of these actions saved payroll funds and money was channeled for the financial support (and by default the emotional support) of their over 250 front line team members.  Kudos to Leeds Untied who amongst losing millions of dollars, focused on the most valuable players, the individuals who run Leeds United.

Leaders across the service industry have a responsibility, like Leeds United, to get creative both emotionally and financially. Additionally, front line team members share in this responsibility and need to be held accountable to do the same. All parties need to ask themselves 1) What can I do to navigate through this interruption? 2) How can I best prepare myself to ensure I am at the front of the line when the rehiring process begins?

Leading From the Top

The past few weeks have identified several organizations who get it, making the right decisions, working to protect their invaluable front line team members. More can always be done. Many have asked, what ideas or actions can senior leadership in the service industry implement to do more in this current climate? Perhaps the following:

  • Set one immediate and prime objective. Preserve as many front line positions as possible, albeit at a reduced income level.
  • Reduce significant expenditure of corporate executives. Suspend any non- essential corporate work functions and reduce payroll exposure to those left by a minimum of 50%.
  • Reduce outside vendor expenditure to essential functions only. Suspending future activities not required in the immediacy altogether or asking the vendor to take a rate cut. Everyone, vendors included, need to be part of the solution not the problem. Remember, it is not about making money, its about surviving.
  • Decide who is essential and suspend positions that are not. Focus on all senior management positions in any operating units (stores, hotels, airports, hospitals, cruise-lines, casinos, etc.) and apply the same 50% salary cut rule to the remaining executives.
  • Budget the payroll cost saving and apply these monies to front line team members. Preserve as many incomes (perhaps at a reduced rate) as possible. In other words, rather than cut the front line team to preserve a corporate balance: reverse the trend, keep the essential corporate functions while preserving the front line team balance. Fact is ….all corporations will need these individuals in spades once the industry reboots.
  • Communicate weekly with all team members. Allocate a point person or point persons (possibly Human Resources) within each property to follow up with each team member, (whether suspended, still on the payroll or not) on a weekly basis. Ascertain personal progress in managing the challenges and generally offer a sounding board for discussion of personal circumstances.
  • Creatively re-purpose your business. If your business has access to a kitchen, ask chefs still employed to prepare two meals a week free of charge as take out for laid off personnel and their families, if in a position to do so. Or, if ambitious, offer some sort of delivery service for those team members without transportation.
  • Encourage and offer assistance to team members. Direct team members to on-line courses (several included below) and assist with the enrollment. Provide training resources or materials staff can access at home and use to prepare for restarting operations or just best practices to stay safe (social distancing, hand washing, etc.).
  • Communicate the plan. Communicate the vision of how you plan to restart, even if the news in uncertain. Think on a weekly generic basis and not to a specific date, (do not fill the team with a false sense of hope). Once it is 100% clear that a date can be established, the plan should be executed by slotting dates into the generic schedule produced. The plan should include a complete schedule of each position (management and team members) returning to work, also the on-boarding, rehiring and retraining of returning team members and the on-boarding, orientation and initial training of any new team members. A completely different schedule of when salaries and pay can return to normal will also need to be enacted.
  • Commit to the industry! Make a very public, solid, concrete and set in stone commitment that if any bailout money is granted to the industry, in no way will this be used for the buying back of stock or other financial activity. Responsibility for protecting and supporting front line service team members lies with stockholders too and as such, financial pain needs to be borne by stockholders as well to ensure teams return intact.

Transparency is critical here on an ongoing basis. The worst possible actions that can be taken by senior management are delay in action due to indecision and keeping operational frontline team members completely in the dark. Very critical to communicate good news, it is even more critical to communicate bad news to give team members time to adjust future plans.

Making Yourself Better  

Although it is easy to look to our employers to protect and guide us in these uncertain times, all frontline team members must also bear responsibility to better ourselves. The team members who use this time effectively, will in the end be rewarded and moved to the front of the line, when rehiring or growth opportunities present themselves. Consider, what can I do to assist in the navigation of these times and how best can I prepare for the short and long term? Perhaps the following:

  • Ask for Information. For the immediate and short-term future, proactively question your leaders as to the overall plan and what your organization plans to do over the next three months (whether laid off or not).
  • Stay in touch with Your Organization. If the contact at your organization has not set up weekly calls, call them and ask the questions you need the answers to, don’t wait, Act!
  • Relate with others in the Industry. We are all in this together and so many are experiencing the same struggles. Call your co-workers, connect through LinkedIn with others across the industry and formulate conversation on how to others are navigating or adjusting. A collection of minds or ideas are better than just one.
  • Think Hospitality. As our industry rebounds, our guests will define the speed at which organizations are able to recover. How you make these guests feel once they return and the impressions we make, will continue to build loyalty, determining where guests elect to spend their time and money. Use this time to brainstorm specific ways in your daily tasks, that you can make these experiences memorable. How will you continue to think Hospitality?
  • Call a mentor. Ask those you respect, trust and value their experience by asking for advice on furthering your skill set. If confidentiality is your concern, call or write professionals that you may have met or heard. I would, for instance be happy take calls or emails from anyone.
  • Go Online and Learn! This period represents a perfect opportunity for each of us to further our education or skills on-line. Access on-line training to further hone your skills in your particular field or alternatively, access on-line training sessions for a skill or field that you have no experience in, but have an interest in exploring. Learn for what is next, take a course which may prepare you for your next promotion. The following sites are a helpful starting point:
  • Obtain Certifications. Some universities are offering free online courses open to anyone of any level in our industry who is not working. For example, Florida Atlantic University is offering a Certificate in Hospitality and Tourism Management, free of charge. Click Here to register.
  • Read and Listen. There are many publications or Ted talks that can inspire and reframe your thinking about hospitality. The following represents a few to consider.

            Books

Ted Talks

  • Patient Satisfaction or Patient Experience? Fred Lee –
  • Start With Why – Simon Sinek
  • Plan for Your Next Steps. Many of us may be reapplying to retain our roles. Take this time to prepare for the short term and your long-term goals. Update your resume, collect references, review a job description for a promotion, talk to individuals in different roles, and ensure you are working towards your next step.

Harsh times unfortunately require us to make harsh decisions. No one entity, government or otherwise, will solve individual problems, whatever that problem may be. It is easy to place blame or have disagreements on who needs to do what to assist, but it is wasted energy, particularly in certain service sectors that have been completely decimated.

We all, senior leadership and team members alike, have to be proactive; set our priorities, make an actionable plan, remain optimistic, and act. In addition, wherever possible, assist in helping others thru this time. We need to remain focused each day by plotting a specific course for our company’s and our own personal future.

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Next time, I look forward to examining the different challenges each service industry (Hospitality, Aviation, Healthcare) is facing during this crisis and the approach they should take in addressing these challenges.

March 23, 2020

Dodgy News —

As news has surfaced concerning some wealthy lawmakers in the US Senate who profited from the coronavirus crisis by selling hospitality stocks back in January after receiving what appears to be privileged classified information of the financial impact of the coronavirus, (which of course they are denying and blabbering about how they had no such idea their financial flunkies were making these moves) I cannot help but consider those who are most impacted. Of all the pieces out there during this extraordinary time, this news made me sick and it also highlighted that there are a whole group of workers in all industries that Washington and, to a certain extent, leaders of industries pay lip service to.

The right things are said, but rarely done, and their actions, as in this case, do not reflect in any way or even remotely back up their words. I don’t believe government will forge the way back in the service arena, I believe it will be up to visionary leadership within these industries to act as the moral, financial and strategic compass in returning us to a vibrant and robust service industry economy.

In the industries that we work with: Hospitality, Travel, Gaming and now HealthCare, attention needs to be focused on the wellbeing and safety of our unsung team members, those that are at the front line of customer/ guest/patient service. Leaders in these industries now need to focus attention on communicating regularly with their team members, particularly those that have been furloughed, serving as the starting point and one step in preparing for our way back.

These team members, those most impacted, were referred to me as the underappreciated or undervalued but completely invaluable group to all customer service industries. I could not agree more with this definition of a group of team members whose lives have forever been changed. Over the course of the next few weeks I look forward to sharing my experience and thoughts on how the Hospitality industry (including these individuals) can rebound from these unprecedented times.

The Heart of the Hospitality Industry —

Who are these workers in this industry? These are the guys and gals who do the jobs that we take completely for granted. The group that cleans guest and public bathrooms (toilets and all), bedrooms, public areas, outside doorways. The group that cleans dishes and clears away trash, that fixes everything and anything that is broken, unclogs toilets, and manually sets all meeting space. The group that serves customers food, clears away the food, the group that carries luggage, checks guests in and out, parks cars, serves drinks, deals with drunks and difficult customers. The group that cleans your airplane, that stocks the food onboard, that loads your baggage and fuels the plane. The group that is the front line in dealing with complaints, comments and questions. In short, the group that deals with all the non-sexy essential functions of a hotel, an airline, a casino and incidentally, a great number of this group rely almost entirely on your tips to survive.

Many years ago, I volunteered a shift as a room attendant (I didn’t make it beyond the third room…shame on me.) which validated my feelings of how back breaking, tedious and sometimes just plain overwhelming work these individuals face just based on the state that guests sometimes leave rooms in. Honestly, room attendants earn every penny they make and probably more and the same is true of most front-line jobs. Try standing on a front desk of a casino hotel for eight hours checking hundreds of people in and out and then five minutes before your shift ends dealing with a difficult guest who is complaining about not being able to get the movie request authorized because the credit card put down is maxed out.  Think about a dealer in a casino dealing with a drunk who has just lost $30,000.00 on a blackjack table and is remonstrating at 2:00 AM in the morning. Think about telling a guest at check in that a room for which he/she has paid for is not available and you are ‘walking’ him/her to a hotel three miles away at 11:00 PM at night. These scenarios are real, they happened… and it is the team member at the sharp end of customer service that has to deal with these guests; not a corporate executive, or in lots of cases not even a member of the property’s senior management. When business is open and times are good, we rely heavily on these mothers, fathers, students, single parents and host of others and now is not the time to forget them.   

Lets get back to my weasels in Washington. At some time in the future they may be part of the lawmakers who decide on whether to give a bailout package to the hospitality industry or not. If they decide to award such a package, they need to wake up to the reality that any bailout should only have one requirement; all the money should be allocated to the frontline employees that support this industry at it’s very foundation. That money should be distributed in equal parts to assist out of work employees in these extremely trying times. The overall objective of all business should be to keep as many employed for as long as possible and once layoffs occur (which many have already faced), support them as much as possible for as long as possible. Just for the record….  try maintaining stock prices without these frontline team members …that would be a good trick.

Each company has a moral obligation to support for as long as it is able, all employees financially and emotionally during difficult times, it is this which separates good leadership from poor.  There are difficult decisions that have been made, need to be made now and will need to be made in the future. We all know that. It is critical though that a team member feels fairly treated and also feels that the environment and culture of the company encourages all employees in desperate times, to call for assistance if needed, be it emotional or financial.

I am sure most corporate executives have taken temporary salary cuts (I read that Ed Bastion CEO of Delta took a 100% cut) you may well say they can afford it, I am sure they can but these executives must drive the major cost saving from the corporation and ownership group first and foremost. These salary cuts are the foundation to begin saving these frontline team members and the entire industry as much pain as possible. As a long-term strategy that type of action and messaging pays off in repaid loyalty tenfold.

We all realize that hard decisions are sometimes easy to criticize, but difficult to make. The hard decision here is for senior leadership to push hard for huge savings at the ownership and corporate level, while concentrating on preserving as many of those who belong to the undervalued/underappreciated group as possible. This has to be a priority.

One final thought, perhaps the weasels in Washington instead of defending their actions and wasting all our time listening to that piffle, should be persuaded to give any profits from their ill-gotten gains to organizations that will distribute the cash to the in need, out of work frontline families who are struggling the most………just a thought.

As we all continue to navigate these uncharted territories, next week I look forward to focusing on what Team Members and Corporations can do to best prepare themselves for the inevitable re-opening of our industry.