Messages for hoteliers from the USS Midway

No trip to San Diego is complete without a trip to CV-41, also known as the USS Midway, the largest ship in the world until 1955. The carrier was decommissioned in 1992 and has been turned into a floating museum. As basically an entire town in a boat, the sheer size of this craft defies imagination. Touring her decks and viewing the wide variety of aircraft and exhibits can easily take a full day. Not having a military background, I was in total awe and full of admiration all those who had boarded this great vessel and served in the Navy.

A tour of the Midway is not complete without listening to the living history provided by the many docents who willingly share their experiences. While the information they provided clearly reflected the life on the ship, significant parallels can nevertheless be formed with our world of hospitality. Here are several that I gleaned.

The USS Midway
The USS Midway

1. Expertise is not necessarily coming from the top down. Landing an airplane on an aircraft carrier is as difficult as they come. The coordination of this feat required an entire team of crew members, each tasked with specific duties to fulfill an orchestral procedure to ensure that jets made it down safely. The movies make it seem as if the pilots were in control of everything, but the fact is that they were following the exact requirements radioed to them by servicemen of much lower ranks who guided each plane to catch a deck pendant (cable) stretched across the runway.

From this, the hotel implication is fairly straightforward. Listen to your restaurant servers, housekeepers, bell staff and front desk clerks. Chances are that they have a better pulse on what’s going on than you do, or at least a fresh perspective with insights that can vastly improve operational efficiency.

2. Critiques are vital to continuous improvement. After every landing, there was always a complete debriefing session. All pilots attended and watched video replays of their approaches. More experienced pilots provided the grades, posted for everyone in the group to see. The experience was probably gut-wrenching for those flying, but ultimately they recognized that all share in the responsibility for each other’s success and the quest for continual improvement.

From this, you can inquire about the last time your departmental managers met with their teams to discuss performance, not to be negative but to search for the best way to achieve guest satisfaction.

3. The same position for extended periods breeds complacency. The ‘Air Boss’ directed all aspects of the flight deck operations while the ‘Mini Boss’ was his assistant and in training for the job. Surprising was the length of time in the position of Air Boss: 12 months, with the Mini Boss then assuming his role. If you think of the many years of experience necessary to get to this leadership position, it seems contradictory to see such an early departure. Yet the feeling was that those who spend too long in the boss’s chair will become complacent, potentially leading to shortcuts on procedures.

So think for a moment about how long is too long in any hotelier position. Will your team leaders continue to grow and improve performance? Or should they be shuffled laterally into new roles to strengthen their overall wherewithal through cross-training and new perspectives?

4. Safety is everyone’s priority. High octane jet fuel, live ammunition, fast-moving aircraft and inordinately loud noises do not make good company without strict rules focusing first and foremost on safety. Everyone on board was fully trained and retrained on these procedures including first aid and evacuation protocols. Moreover, regular drills reinforced this knowledge.

As it concerns you, your fellow managers and your associates, safety is just as important in a hotel as an aircraft carrier. It’s everyone’s business. How are you managing safety training with your team? And is it enough?