Shame on Us, We Have Plenty of Jobs, but Everyone Keeps on Leaving.
By John Hendrie
Monday, 5th September 2011
We in Hospitality are at a very interesting juncture, everything has changed – our market, our business model, our guests, employees – really soup to nuts but let's take a look at the big picture, where Hospitality currently operates and a new way of thinking about our business.

I. The Jobs Dialogue

Abraham Maslow had it right with his Hierarchy of Needs.  As we build our lives and careers, certain levels of life's needs must be met before we can successfully move to the next step.  Simple concept, even when placed as a template upon the National dialogue.  Jobs, jobs, jobs make it happen! 

President Obama should bring Steve Jobs back.  He is an entrepreneur, a visionary and has the right name. Plus, he introduced products which helped to define an age, driving innovation, growth and empowerment.  I doubt we are going to find the same inspiration in Washington.  We usually create a committee with the finest of intentions, give them a few years, hear the results and then dismiss the whole package.  Have them design a horse, and you end up with a camel. 

We do not have the time this round.

Hopefully, the President will be bold with his Jobs Plan.  However, the climate in Washington is deadly, suffocating.  Whether an idea makes sense or not, antagonists will bellow "no".  So, worthy projects, thinking and genuine ideas fall aside, battered by the bicker.  Until we right our economic ship, the greatest nation in the world will continue to flounder.
Bold ideas are needed to put Americans back to work on a scale not seen for generations. 

Franklin Delano Roosevelt took the bull by the horn with the New Deal.  Build dams, work the infrastructure, even encourage artists to paint murals in our great and small structures – employ the Nation in gainful effort.  Wouldn't it be great?  But, Congress controls the purse strings and has the legislative clout.  We have seen where compromise and current "adult"   behavior has moved the country – absolutely nowhere.  I am not, however, a pessimist, for I know the population will throw the rascals out in the next election turn.  But what a waste of time and momentum possibilities.  We may think we have all the time there is, but at what cost to the Nation.

No doubt, some effort will be made with the big projects, for our bridges, transportation, roads and cities are a mess.  But, follow the "trickle-down".  The initial assignments will go to our Union brethren, highly paid and benefitted, and sub-contracted from there.  Suppliers enter the fray.  When does Main Street begin to benefit?  The uptown street, Wall, is doing just fine, thank you, coursing right along – not making anything but money.  Who in their right mind wants to grow up to be president?  I plan to just manage my portfolio.

What would happen if we just turned the usual economic model on its' head, and focused heavily on the broad, expansive foundation, of which Hospitality has a major place.  Ah, the Service Sector!  Here are not the executives, the hedge funders, the honchos and CEO's.  These are the folks who check you in, clean your rooms, serve you dinner, cut your golf greens, lead your fishing parties, ring up your latest pair of jeans and bring you another pina colada.  Let's not forget the power of Tourism in our States.  You have a connection with them, for they are us.  Or, maybe a take-off on Al Capp's Pogo, "I've seen the enemy, and it is us!"

We are a service economy, and all this talk and hope about bringing extensive manufacturing back to our shores is just silly.  We allowed the exodus to occur, and in this global village there is not a restart button (only those made in Malaysia). 

So, why not focus on this vast service swath, rather than dream that Detroit will return to former glory.  I mean really – the old Bethlehem Steel campus is now a lively casino.  Follow the thread.

II.  Hospitality's Place in the Service Sector.

The service sector is where most of us began our career path – maybe the newspaper route, flippin' burgers, pizza delivery, making fake IDs, baby sitting and the like.  This was in our formative years.  We had some youthful energy and some cash in our pockets.  Perhaps, we learned a few things, as well – be courteous, honest, responsible.  We also saw that if we did not like the boss, the job or the deal we could go to a competitor to improve our lot in life.  And, if that did not work, go somewhere else – probably same pay, same Management attitude, same dead end.  Keep that revolving door spinning.

Some jobs were not very attractive, barely self-sustaining, working for the cruelest, demanding audience out there – the public – always in a rush, rude, cursory.  We could not wait to get out of this particular rat race and trap.  And, many of us did.  But, who will back-fill this void.  A new service worker began to emerge – folks from afar – strange languages, cultures and looks. 

The biggest difference was that they were eager for the chance to improve their lives and willing to start at the lowest rung of the ladder.  We tried to absorb and accommodate this new Hospitality worker in our businesses, many times quite successfully.  We tried to "enculturate" them.  We found that the typical profile was different, though.  This group tended to be heavily female, less educated.  They also became, quickly, disenfranchised and disillusioned, very open to the promises of organized labor.

During prosperous times, there was not too much noise made, for the Hospitality slots had to be filled – the warm body theory of business.  In certain pockets of the country, the immigration clamor began, exacerbated with changing economics – jobs were being taken away from US citizens (although these citizens could not wait to escape these jobs).  The downsizing of America for the last twenty years has brought this clash dynamic to the forefront, where service related positions are actually sought, still cursed, but now representing the real need to subsist.  Aspirations have adjusted to just getting by.

Hospitality businesses have always been a position to better manage their sector.  Some have made real attempts, such as McDonalds and Marriott.  Most have not.  We accept high turnover as a cost of doing business, just like retail shrinkage and towel theft.  It is still common for a new opening hotel to experience over 100% turnover.  This is nuts and just does not happen in any other industry.

We are captive to the numbers and those who hammer us for better results – not necessarily pushing to enhance revenue, but rather cut those costs – chop heads, change schedules, short shift, no increases, no continuing training and development – you know the drill.  And, call me crazy, but then we expect our doors to open to a flood of guests, awaiting our demoralized service and devalued product.  Yeah, right!

We in Hospitality know the score, as do our employees.  They follow the news, watch TV, stream the internet and text their friends and family.  They also know we and they will never see business as usual.

With apprehension, they watch business intrigue.  Closed door meetings, fleeting conversations, body language with all the wrong signals.  It is surprising that anything gets done correctly in this environment.  Service is robotic, mechanical, almost lifeless; there is no courtesy or attention; there is no passion, energy or care.  Your employees go through the motions, barely.  Who can really blame them for this behavior and attitude? 

A most telling television show has run for over a year, "The Undercover Boss", where Executives, primarily from the Service sector and in many cases Hospitality businesses, learn, anonymously, about their company.  They do find loyal employees, hard workers, creative ideas.  They also find that they are so removed that they have little idea what makes their company work. 

Management has been part of the problem, not the solution.

III.   Call to Action for Hospitality

This is a call to arms for Hospitality leadership, particularly those who run our national, state and local associations.  This is the proper time to make your statement and commitment.  Leadership cannot be primitive and timid.  Hospitality has a proud tradition which has become devalued and demoralized. 

Leading Institutions have become moribund.  Remember the old expressions like what's good for the Big Three Auto manufacturers is good for America; or, we cannot let the banks fail; or big Pharma will come around.  Events have taken those shibboleths down. 

It is time for a new Hospitality Contract, a partnership  –  for our business, our guests and our employees; lenders, suppliers and unions need to be included, as well.  The only barrier here is a leadership vacuum and ennui.  I'd say it is time to start the wave of change, create some career value, reinvent our "touch" and tradition.  As Blutto would say in "Animal House", "Come on, let's do it!"  But, not to create chaos, rather to build a new context for our trade and livelihoods. 

Start with a National Credo – what we are, where we plan to go and how we will get there.  Our old model no longer works.  It is obvious, no one entity has all the answers, and any transformation will need to be accomplished through a coalition of people, ideas and resources – everyone at the table, creating a consortium of energy and insight.  That's right – embrace participation and employee involvement. 

Management's goals and objectives have always been transparent, whereas the employee psyche and motivation is often hidden.  Ask them, solicit their thoughts, create focus groups, employee surveys – tap that great reservoir of hopes, dreams and needs. The Hospitality Agenda will be driven greatly by what you learn from this employee population, even working with the confines of budget and balance sheet. 

By the way, do not invite the finance people to the table.  We have seen where their perspective has led the country into a paralysis.  They do not move us forward, rather they retard growth and innovation – they are the nay-sayers.

This is where the movement starts and you grow the momentum from your own business and community.  A "grass roots" effort can be very effective – just look at the Tea Party.  Although becoming splintered, they did affect change, no matter that the majority did not agree with the platform. 

It was a powerful surge.  Step up to the challenge and restore the pride and the passion in and of Hospitality (which is non-political – we probably catered those Tea socials anyway).

The author believes that Remarkable Service is the portal to the Memorable Customer Experience.  Seek solutions at:  www.hospitalityperformance.com

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