Why do we really do what we do?
By Dr. John Hogan, CHE CHA MHS
Tuesday, 2nd June 2009
We all adapt to our every day routines and rituals on both a personal and professional basis.  We have certain habits and protocols we tend to follow because we have always "done it that way."

Some business examples include:
  • The regular staff meetings that last X number of hours each week:  They are held in hotels and offices around the globe, whether there is a real need or not.  They frequently do not have fresh and real agendas, and the person best suited to run the meeting is not the one assigned.
  • The volume of reports generated and distributed:  Many of them are outdated, of little or no value, and are seldom read by those receiving them.
  • Sending multiple people from the same department to the same conferences each year:  There is little or no accountability, no reporting back of value gained or of measurable benefit to the organization.
  • Rejecting of requests for continuing education:  Middle management and line level staff  are often overlooked because "they are going to leave anyway" or "they are too far down in the organizational chart to really affect change".
I am not saying these activities described above do not have a place in today's hotels; I am saying they need to be examined.
  • There should be good communication and meetings can accomplish that.  The topics to be addressed should be fresh and timely, with the correct audience in attendance. 
  • There are critical reports essential to every organization, but there are far too many outdated ones that remain. Why? The reason is that no one has stopped to evaluate them.
  • Face-to-face conferences are part of the lifeblood of this industry, but the attendees and the meeting content should be evaluated.  Submitting one-page reports to the direct supervisor is an excellent way to measure the benefit to the organization, the department and the individual attending.
  • Everyone in the workforce today should have the opportunity for some kind of continuing education to improve their personal situation and their contribution to the hotel.  I recall Jack Vaughn (Chairman Emeritus of Opryland Hotel & Attractions Group) and his commitment to learning.  At one point, there were more people certified at the Opryland Hotel than at any other company globally.  Under Jack's leadership, that hotel not only survived the economic downturns in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s, but it was the foundation of what has evolved into Gaylord Hotels.
Jack Welch, the former chairman and CEO of General Electric was considered by many to be both a maverick and a contrarian in his business practices because he was always challenging his organization to improve and innovate. In his 20-year tenure of the one of the world's most diversified corporate conglomerates, he recognized the need for external counsel.

He was influenced by management authority Peter Drucker, who served as a consultant to GE and as a lecturer at the GE Management Development Institute in Crotonville, NY.

"We have got to ask ourselves Peter Drucker's very tough question:  ‘If you weren't already in the business, would you enter it today?'  If the answer is no, face into that second difficult question, ‘What are you going to do about it'."  1

The current economic downturn is the fourth I have seen in my business career.  In the 1970s, high rates of inflation and gasoline shortages dramatically affected the hospitality industry.  In the 1980s, a recession again hit the industry hard.  In the 1990s, the savings and loan crisis from real estate loans that did not have adequate equity caused many of the brands into bankruptcy, mergers or partnerships.  I recall staggering statistics from the American Hotel & Motel Association (earlier name of AH&LA) about the number of hotels that were unable to meet debt service in the early 1990s, yet the industry adjusted and recovered.

Today's challenges are very real and many of us are working to make those needed adjustments. Yet as I speak and work with people and hotel owners, I find that many of them are continuing to do things as they   have always done with an expectation for a changed outcome. 

I have been sharing ideas in columns, the classroom and in professional workshops for many years now, and I recently found a story from a series I wrote for a magazine called HOTEL & RESORT INDUSTRY. It was a 1992 column where (now AH&LA President) Joe McInerney shared some insights.  He was President of Trust House Forte's Travelodge Division at the time, having already served as President of Hawthorne Suites and as Vice President for Sheraton Franchises.   In the 1991 annual Forte meeting, he said, "If you always do the same things the way you always did, you'll wake up one morning and find you've all of a sudden dropped to the third or fourth place in your market."

General Electric at Crotonville and other global learning centers attacked their status quo with a number of strategies.  A very basic but critical and significant way the organization assessed the way "they did what they did" was the use of a SWOT Analysis.

SWOT is not new, nor was it created by GE.  The SWOT analysis technique is credited to Albert Humphrey who led a research project at Stanford University in the 1960s and 1970s using data from leading companies involved in long range planning processes.2 The original goal was to identify why corporate planning failed. Humphrey created a ‘team method for planning' originally called SOFT analysis (Satisfactory, Opportunity, Fault, Threat) which was used by organizations like WH Smith who made it part of their long range planning programs for almost 20 years..

The thinking behind the tool was:
  • What is good in the present is Satisfactory.
  • What is good in the future is an Opportunity.
  • What is bad in the present is a Fault.
  • What is bad in the future is a Threat.
This evolved to SWOT – Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats, which is often used today in both projects and for an entire business.  It involves identifying the objectives of the business or a special project (such as launching a new restaurant) and categorizing both the internal and external factors that support or detract form achieving those objectives.

SWOT is often drafted graphically on a grid or a matrix and requires time and resources to be meaningful and effective.   It should be completed by a team, as brainstorming often leads to the recognition of why the situation now being addressed has come to be. It can also clearly help identify what actions need to be taken to succeed in the future.

SWOT analysis is often included in both hotel business plans and in annual marketing plans, as the activity forces group interaction and specific discussions of all aspects of the market and the competition.

I have personally used this approach successfully in associations, departments, individual hotels and companies.  Please contact me if I can be of service to your organization in updating your strategy for success.

Feel free to share an idea for a column at johnjhogan@yahoo.com anytime or contact me regarding consulting, customized workshops, speaking engagements ………….

And remember – we all need a regular dose of common sense.

1 Welch speech  to financial community representatives "Growing Fast in a Slow-Growth Economy" – at the Hotel Pierre, New York City, December 8, 1981

2 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Albert_S_Humphrey

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

John Hogan, a career hotelier and educator, is frequently invited to participate at franchise meetings, management company and hospitality association industry events.  He is a successful senior executive with a record of accomplishment in leading hospitality industry organizations at multiple levels, with demonstrated competencies as a strong leader, relationship builder, problem solver and mentor. He conducts mystery-shopping reviews of quality in operations and marketing, including repositioning of hotels.

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