Service Promise not Filled with Staffing Challenges.
By John R. Hendrie ~ Hospitality Performance
Saturday, 18th November 2006
Alas - wie is we - gnash teeth, so what else is new?

This is certainly a new topic, a bit like a record of the story, "the little boy who cried wolf", yet this howl is caught in the vinyl groove, repeating a well known, obvious fact, over, and over, and over again.  Whether you are in operations, staffing, consulting, or even job searching, you know the problem and you know the answers.

For how many years has the industry lived with over 100% turnover?  For how long has the industry fought Minimum Wage increases?  How much thought has been given to Organized Labor, UniteHere, who is salivating at our inability to recruit, develop, reward and retain employees? Gosh, I just shot myself in the foot, again.  Maybe the pain will go away, if I bury my head in the sand.

Glenn Haussman, a perceptive, respected Hospitality observer, presented a summary from the recent annual meeting of the AH&LA, where the lead topic was Staffing Criticality.  He noted that in the next few years 300,000 jobs will be added to the Lodging inventory. 

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that 1.8 million people were employed in the Lodging Industry sector in 2004, with an expected 17% increase (304,000) of available jobs in ten years.  The audience must have winced.  But, no, here's what they proposed, according to Mr. Haussman – let's open the gates for Immigration reform, and invite more folks in temporarily that we can underpay, poorly train and force back out into the marketplace, for, once here, they do not want to leave. 

The answer is always around the corner, always elusive, perhaps a stop-gap, hardly a solution.  We have the Emperor in his new clothes, a dashing figure, imperious and absolutely stark naked – but, he is lookin' good!  I was not at that meeting. However, I have watched this phenomenon swirl for at least thirty years.  The players change, the problem still prominent.

The allegories of the little boy and the regal nudist are what we, as an industry, hold true.  Shouting "fire" with water buckets at hand, hidden; looking for solutions with pointed fingers of blame; resplendent in our royal façade.  Hoteliers, aren't you tired of the charade?  You have the answers at hand, and, if you are not willing to take a leadership role, your government, your labor unions and your guests will.  This sounds Darwinian, but it is business, paying attention to your customer, and excelling in the what truly will differentiate you in the marketplace – Service.

Just as you seek to be a destination of choice, you can also be an employer of choice.  This starts with an objective review of your hiring.  You attract what you are willing to pay.  Many complain about the McDonald's-ization of our entry level employees, but McDonalds does a much better job than you with full emphasis on simple systems, training, orientation, job enrichment and cross disciplines.  The service may not be extraordinary, but you know what you will receive – consistency has value.

Local and State governments will and have been removing your excuses about minimum wage, actually a "Living Wage".  Gosh, just the term "Living Wage" creates a churn.  Much has been written about organized labor.  Their target is the disenfranchised, who I would graciously suggest, for a variety of reasons, is your workforce.  Give me a reasonable paycheck, perhaps some benefits, treat me with respect, talk to me, engage me – I am proud and will serve you to the best of my abilities, if you do not trample on me. 

Welcome to Hotel "XYZ".  Here is your Locker Room (filthy), your uniform (ill-fitting) and your training (follow Felipe around).  We have high standards here, the Guest is King, and we care! Buena suerte!  That surely is the way to fulfill the Service Promise.

So, no polemic here.  The problem is very real and immediate.  Do not seek further excuses.  Take a look at your "house", talk to your employees, pay them a reasonable wage, perhaps with performance bonuses, treat them like adults, invest in Training and Development, and recognize the performers.  And, I guarantee you people will want to work at your establishment. 

As an Employer of Choice, a proud employee nucleus will accentuate the true differentiation – Service, which your Guests will pay for and return.  But, your equation must be balanced, and that starts with your employees.  Sadly, we probably have moved beyond your opportunity to be leaders of an industry.  Now, it is about survival, and the "warm body" mentality simply will no longer work in this competitive marketplace.  An opportunity lost – what a shame.  One benefit is, though, marginal operations disappear, the scrawny runt of the pack, but this does not elevate the industry.  Time to get your House in order!

J. Ragsdale Hendrie believes that Remarkable Hospitality is the portal to the memorable Guest Experience.  Seek solutions at:  www.hospitalityperformance.com
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