4 at 4: Tea time with the GM

I started this game-changing HR program on my second day as the general manager of Avari Towers Karachi, where it continues to the present day, nearly six years later.

Here’s how it works, for general managers willing to take the time to really connect face to face and heart to heart with each and every member of their teams on a truly personal and meaningful level.

The program is simply called “4 at 4,” but it could be called 3 at 3 or 2 at 10 or it can simply be called Tea Time or Coffee Time with the GM. Just adapt it to whichever best suits your needs and the size of your brigade, to ensure that you meet with each and every member of the staff at least once in a year, in your office, to ask the all-important question: How can we help each other do a better job?

The first step is to plan your days so that you always block the allotted time. In my own case 4 p.m. works well, so if I meet four staff members at 4 p.m. at least twice a week, usually on Tuesdays and Thursdays. That means I will meet eight team members each week in my office, 32 each month and 384 in a year, which is the exact number of our staff members below the rank of department head and assistant.

How many general managers or business leaders reading this article can put their hand on their heart and say they have also met face to face, in their office, with each and every member of their team over the period of one calendar year? More importantly, can they say they have asked the following questions and provided the following information after the welcome process has been completed and all are seated, cup of tea in hand, personally served by the general manager?

Items to be assembled before the meeting are the invitee’s personal files and the tea trolley, with the GM’s computers, cell phones and office telephones switched off or rerouted, with a DND sign hung on the door. This is all crucially important to the success of the meeting, which normally lasts no more than 60 minutes.

Question 1. Have you ever visited the GM’s office before?

Most said no the first time, even those with 20 or more years of service, which was a bit of a shocker. I then go on to let them know how happy I am to be able to meet with them and to be able to talk with them face to face about their progress and about our business results.

Question 2. Do you all know why you are here?

Most did not really know the first time we met, so I immediately put them at ease by telling them that I just want to find out how they are doing, if they are happy and if we can all help each other to do a better job.

Question 3. Do you all know each other, and do you know what each other’s role is in the hotel?

Most say no, so we spend a few minutes having each invitee explain precisely what they do on a day-to-day basis, whether it’s the garbage man, the security guard, boiler man, butcher or director of finance. Although the invitees are randomly selected, I do occasionally try to ensure that any senior manager is seated next to an operations person so they all understand that as far as I am concerned, all play an equally vital part in our success, and that as such each must understand, respect and value each other’s roles and contributions. While each invitee is telling the others and me what their job entails and what they have all done that day, I take the opportunity to look through their personal files, making quick notes for later reference and for one-on-one career counseling if it is required.    

Question 4. Do you all know what I do as a general manager?

Most say yes, you are our GM, but few have any real idea of what my role is, so I try to explain in simple terms that I am responsible for developing people and profit and HAPPINESS. This revelation usually solicits big smiles all around as I go on to say that my job is to develop our people and our profits, in that order, and that in order to do that I need to make our staff, guests and owner happy. I then go on to explain that without happy staff, our guests will not be happy, and as a result, our owner will not be happy due to lower earnings and profits, which leads to my next question.

Question 5. Are you happy? If you are, please let me have an indication of your happiness factor on a scale of 1-10.

At which time we ask the invitees to open up about a range of issues such as communication, training, development, fairness, equality, pay scales, personal issues, work conflicts, relationships with their supervisors or managers, uniforms, locker rooms, staff cafeteria food, health care, personal finance, et cetera, limiting each one to five minutes of response time. My PA then records all answers for entry into their personal files, along with my responses. 

Question 6. How can I help you to reach and climb the next step up your career ladder?

Most ask for better-structured and more frequent skills training, and for a clearer explanation of what’s available in terms of career development, at which time I show them all the photograph on the office wall, which shows me as a diminutive commis chef in 1972 Scotland, along with many other photographs of me meeting and greeting the world leaders who have stayed or dined at my hotels around the world over the past 40 years. It’s a gesture that illustrates well the point that nothing is impossible — if a young college dropout can make it all the way to the lofty post of GM of a 5-star hotel, then so can they if they want it badly enough, and are prepared to learn and apply what it takes to become a success.

Question 7. Do you know what to do in the event of an emergency being declared in the hotel?

This is particularly important in Pakistan, where we dodge bullets and bombs on a regular basis. 

Some say they do, in which case they are quizzed, having gone through regular evacuation, life-saving CPR and fire-fighting drills held each month, but some say they don’t, in which case their names are included for compulsory attendance at the next drill. We also talk to our cooks about the correct methods of fighting cooking-oil fires, and remind everyone to be alert to the presence of suspicious-looking people on our premises while impressing upon them the need to report such people immediately to our security team. 

Question 8. Do you know how our business is performing at the moment in terms of revenues and profits versus the same time last year?

Most say they don’t, although I do talk about the general business trends at our monthly town hall meetings, so I provide a little more detail in general terms, covering the need to match and supersede inflationary costs in order to grow our profits, and to be able to give everyone a pay rise and a bonus every year — something we have managed to do every year despite severe business downturns.  

This last point in particular usually hits the spot and solicits questions from them at the next departmental monthly communication meetings, at which time they check to find out if we are on target, now that they clearly understand that our overall financial performance directly relates to them in terms of the end-of-the-year benefits.

Question 9. Do you know how your department and the hotel are performing in terms of our YTD market share, GSTI and our profit-and-loss results versus budget and last year?

Most say they don’t, so I briefly cover in very simple terms our market share positioning, the departmental GSTI (guest satisfaction tracking index) and the pertinent points of our P&L summary in terms of revenue growth and operating-cost increases versus the previous year.

Question 10. Would you like to offer me and — through me — our owner any suggestion that may result in significant improvement to our performance and profit results?  

Again, I have to say that the suggestions given can often be astonishingly astute and useful, as they open up with a treasure trove of ideas they want to put forward, which they may have held back in the past as no one seemed to want to listen to them, especially the junior employees.  

Question 11. If I could do one thing for you personally or for your department to improve your job satisfaction, productivity and happiness, what would it be?

Most say all they want is recognition and respect for their efforts, and some kind of long-term assurances for their job security and career development, at which point I promise to do all I can to ensure their dreams become a reality if they keep learning to keep earning.

The meeting ends at this point with me thanking the invitees for their personal contributions to our success, while also conveying the sincere thanks and best wishes from our chairman, Mr. Byram Avari, who asks me to inform each and every one of our employees that although he is very proud of his hotels, he is even prouder of the people who continue to create the magic for his guests.

Each invitee then has a photograph taken with me, which is later framed and handed over at the monthly team talk as a souvenir of the occasion, along with a box of handmade traditional Pakistani sweet treats, which is usually given to wives, mothers and children.

Then comes the good part — we do it all over again the following year, at which time each invitee meets three different invitees, and I review their files to see who and what has improved since our last meeting.

Tea never tasted so good.