Principles for Success as a Manager ~ Part 1: Understanding the Organization.
By Dr. John Hogan, CHA MHS CHE.
Monday, 14th July 2008
In our careers as hoteliers, we have all learned there are clear differences between "leaders" and "managers" -

Leaders tend to be more inspirational and often have a vision of where they want to take their organization.  The need for leaders is very clear – without their innovation and motivation, all industry and society itself would tend to be rather uninteresting and monotonous.  

One can look at industry giants from past generations such as Walt Disney, Lord Charles Forte, William Harrah, Conrad Hilton,    Howard Johnson, Sol Kerzner, J W Marriott, Rai Bahadur M.S. Oberoi , Cesar Ritz ,  Ellsworth Statler, Juan Terry Trippe and Kemmons Wilson and recognize their leadership contributions in the evolution of the industry.

While these leaders set their vision in play, every one of them needed other people who could implement the vision through focus, effort and dedication. These people embraced the reality of that vision and primed it to be the success that it became. 

These people, usually titled  " Managers" are the ones often responsible for handling, directing, organizing, monitoring and delivering results through other people.  Each of the above global leaders in hospitality had a group of managers who assisted them in immense ways to launch the vision and thereby change the industry.

Continuous learning drives everyone to find a better way, every day - It's not an expense, it's an investment in continuous renewal.  – Jack Welch , former CEO GE

This is a five part series that will address areas of concern and interest for today's manager.
1. Understanding the Organization
2. Motivating the team
3. Using your management style effectively
4. Communicating with clarity and candor
5. Maintaining relationships throughout the organization

Part one: Understanding the Organization

1. Recognize the "corporate culture" of your hotel or organization          
Whether one works in the corporate headquarters of an international brand or as a department head in a 75 room hotel, one needs to recognize that there is a corporate culture in place.  The size of the organization is not necessarily the determining factor of how that culture may have evolved.

Some organizations tend to encourage competition among departments, while others tend to focus more on collaborative efforts.  Some allow rumor and conflict as a means of senior management power, while others emphatically address this as a counterproductive approach. 

New or long term managers should evaluate their organization and determine how to individually fit in and contribute to the success of the organization.  The culture of your organization will likely either generate high staff turnover or it will encourage dedication and tenure of service.

2. Think like an owner
The hotel industry is one that goes through economic cycles like most others, but it frequently has peaks and valleys that may occur within that cycle.   Successful managers will be valued when they use their knowledge and expertise to contribute to the organization's long and short term goals by thinking entrepreneurial .

3. Launch and believe in the Mission and Business Plans
Thinking like an owner for a manager often means taking the "vision" and creating practical business plans that the staff can "see" in the form of a "Mission Statement." Examples include marketing plans that are actually used, with monthly reviews of action plans and quarterly updates for the following 12 months. 

Staffing guides and payroll figures should be checked at last semi-annually to be certain that our hotels are competitive. Forecasting out for the next 6-9 months should become a regular weekly event to identify peaks or valleys. Revenue management tactics should be part of  daily activity and, of course, budgets and income statements should be reviewed monthly.. 

4. Innovate regularly and fairly
"Innovate" can be a frightening word to both owners and managers.  Leaders excel at attempting innovation, but managers are sometimes tentative at trying something new.

Successful managers innovate by solid communication throughout the organization about what they are trying to accomplish.  If the occupancy is off, there will be a need to reduce payroll ,but there are so many creative ways to address this other than automatic layoffs or assigning people based only on seniority.   Innovative managers will explain the situation to all staff and try to get their input on ways to reverse the drop. 

In earlier LESSONS FROM THE FIELD columns, I addressed this specific topic.  All of our staff have lives outside of work and may very well be able to suggest and deliver ways to increase business.

5. Understand the reality of the markets – including mergers
The 1990s and continuing through the past 8 years have seen a tremendous consolidation of many brands and management groups into larger organizations.  Some of these are global, while others may be regionally located in the US or Canada.  Some are interested in the industry long term, while others may be more focused on growth in real estate values, franchising of under-represented markets or brands. 

Today's successful manager keeps current on trends, opportunities and market realities.  Online research and learning is incredibly easy and affordable today.

The informed manager will be able to be successful in a merger or able to move to another position if the merger is not a logical fit for both parties.  The key message here is "the informed manager" – just showing up every day will not lead to long term success.

6. Recognize the reality of politics
Few of use enjoy "office politics" but it is a reality.  Many hotels today are owned and some managed by families, which can add an additional variable. On the other hand, many family businesses have outstanding track records in building loyalty and results.

Successful managers deal with politics by being prudent, communicative, tactful, and knowledgeable in their work. This means a balance between anticipating what the organization will need with what you and your area may need.  There are only so many resources available and those who are viewed as contributing to the company consistently are likely to be able to avoid the worst of negative politics.

7. Embrace time management and priority setting
The world of today's hotel managers has evolved from activities to results.  This means measuring the benefits of those activities, and making priorities from those measurements. 

Neither occupancy or average rate alone represent success today, but ignoring the benefits of building one or the other can  quickly affect cash flow and potentially staff.  Revenue Management strategies means examining the trends, the forecasts and the marketing mix and acting prudently. 

8. Be 100% committed to quality – every day
Many of the major brands today are reducing the number of corporate staff conducting pure, on site "inspections" . This does not mean they are lowering standards, but are using the benefits of technology.  Services from AAA assessments,  guest feedback at TRIP ADVISOR and other sites combined with email guest surveys are providing everyone with the potential of information overload.

Today's successful hotel managers use the first seven points in this article to make  their staff aware of what is important.  Commitment to quality has to be part of everyone's responsibility.

9. Learn something NEW every week
There are two restaurant "gurus' that I have admired for years.  Both Bill Marvin, The Restaurant Doctor"  www.restaurantdoctor.com and Jim Sullivan , www.sullivision.com have in person and through their online services constantly remind all of us that we need to continue to learn and improve as managers.  Check their sites out for a huge selection of materials and ideas. 

10.  Work with Budgets and the bottom line
One of the goals of literally all hotels and businesses is to make a profit.  There are times when economic cycles make it easy to exceed budgets.  In other times, the cycle makes meeting budget a struggle. Record gasoline prices, expensive airline tickets,  and business cutbacks in travel are all making profitability a challenge. 

On a personal note, I discovered that I learned more about how to effectively manage hotels and watch cash flow in times of economic uncertainty than in good times.

I will be writing a specific column on this topic next month , but for today let me offer two quick observations on the bottom line:

  • First, be certain to carefully forecast the next 12 months on a rolling basis and determine the peaks and valleys. Compare them to the past 12 months and look at the financial results accordingly.  You should do this every month
  • Second, regardless of your cash position, imagine you could only buy new items on a COD basis.  I am not suggesting you go to a cash only basis, but the exercise will let you as a manager to better align your potential purchases with the forecasted volumes
Feel free to share an idea at johnjhogan@yahoo.com anytime or contact me regarding consulting, customized workshops or speaking engagements.

All rights reserved by John Hogan and this column may be included in an upcoming book on hotel management.   The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of this publication.

John Hogan is a frequent guest speaker at industry events and advises hotel management groups and owners, lenders, asset managers and operators on industry 'best practices' and conducts reviews of quality in operations and marketing.

John's background includes teaching college level courses as an adjunct professor at three different colleges and universities over a 20 year period, while managing with Sheraton, Hilton, Omni and independent hotels. He was the principal in an independent training & consulting group for more than 12 years serving associations, management groups, convention & visitors' bureaus, academic institutions and as an expert witness. He joined Best Western International in spring of 2000, where over the next 8 years he created and developed a blended learning system as the Director of Education & Cultural Diversity for the world's largest hotel chain.
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