6 Observations on Finding and Employing Problem Solvers.
By Dr. John Hogan, CHE CHA MHS.
Friday, 12th September 2008
"Good management is the art of making problems so interesting and their solutions so constructive that everyone wants to get to work and deal with them." Paul Hawken, Growing a Business.

We all face challenges. For some hotels, it is the labor force, be it finding interested people, the expense or the need to improve the professionalism of the staff with increased training. For other hotels, it may a slipping occupancy or REVPAR.  Cash flow or a changing market affects others.

Yes, we are all trying to solve the dilemma of  Finding and Employing Problem Solvers;this of course means using improved people skills.

The Guest Perspective

Let's set our problems aside for just a moment and imagine  what a potential guest faces and what their arrival is like at your hotel.

Think about it: when a guest decides to come to your area, what problems are they are tying to address?  Location, ease of making the reservation, cost, amenities, easy access to their destination, loyalty program? 

Some of those may be challenging depending on the guest or market conditions, but we need to look at it from the guest's perspective.

When a guest decides to stay at your lodging facility, s/he has a problem that needs solving.  Away from home, a traveler faces the dilemma of not having a place to sleep, eat, conduct a meeting or be entertained.  How well a hotelier solves that problem determines whether he will get that guest's repeat business in the months and years ahead.

First Things First[1]

In order to solve our customers' problems, we need to start with solving our own.

Staff selection is a major step for ostensibly everyone in this business, whether one is in the luxury hotel or in the economy segment.  In too many cases, our industry has unfortunately selected and employed people as a matter of expediency: a vacancy exists, and we have an urgency to fill a hole. We think first of getting the position filled, and then, secondarily, of how well we filled it.  The turnover resulting from this approach adds to the cost of the department and inevitably in the reduction of customer satisfaction and loyalty.

This cycle can occur when an owner is looking for a manager, as often as it happens when a manager is looking for a night auditor or waitress or salesperson. The use of an inadequate approach in recruiting, interviewing, selecting, training, supervising and generally developing a staff remains one of the most common problems in the hospitality industry. Yet the way those duties are handled is directly reflected in the amount of repeat business a hotel or motel gets.

Guests will be likely to return if their problems are solved; their problems will be solved if we employ problem solvers. To be a problem solver, an employee has to sniff out and understand a customer's needs. S/he  has to draw out those needs with smiles, friendly greetings, a warm "How may I help you?,"  an honest "lt's a  pleasure   to  serve  you," or a sincere "Anything else I can do for you?"

Creating that magic in your property begins even before the selection process, when the initial candidates are still being interviewed. A check with references and interviews with the applicants will show if they have the credentials; explaining that the position is actually one of a professional problem solver will show you, by the applicant's reaction, if he has the ability. But even if you hire a problem solver, the employee still has to be trained and retrained to keep his or her skills up to par.

Consistent and ongoing communication is the ultimate means of success, especially in maintaining a positive attitude.  Schedule regular meetings with all staff members, not just department heads. Make sure everyone knows the communication process is two-way; they are there to give information as well as take it. 

Another way of continually upgrading a staff's problem-solving abilities is by setting an example. If the person at the top is smiling, that attitude is going to pass through the ranks. Most importantly, a manager must not show his staff how to be a problem creator. He can't act stuffy, or too self-important. She can't avoid guests, or appear harried or unhappy.  Contrast that person with the general manager who comes to work in high spirits, with a healthy, warm "Hello!" for everyone, who at times checks out guests themselves, pours coffee in the dining room, or personally conducts the staff meetings, and you'll put your finger on the difference between a good manager and one who should be working in another business.

Feel free to share an idea at johnjhogan@yahoo.com anytime or contact me regarding consulting, customized workshops or speaking engagements.  Autographed copies of LESSONS FROM THE FIELD – a COMMON SENSE APPROACH TO EFFECTIVE HOTEL SALES can be obtained from THE ROOMS CHRONICLE  www.roomschronicle.com and other industry sources.

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

[1] First Things First   Stephen R. Covey, A. Roger Merrill, Rebecca R. Merrill 

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