Setting the tone

When I graduated from the University of New Hampshire in 1975, my first job was in food and beverage at the historic Mayflower Hotel in Washington, D.C. Little did I know that decades later I’d be managing the longest continuously operating hotel in the United States, Boston’s Omni Parker House, which opened in 1855. We’re home to a lot of history and more than 30 associates that belong to our 30+ Club signifying 30 or more years of service to the property. Their tenure is an important element of the atmosphere, culture and success of the hotel. Part of my job is to make sure this special staff attribute is nurtured, applauded and contributes to the overall “health” of the operation.

Most general managers won’t be as lucky as me to be able to boast of so many long-tenured associates. But there are always other opportunities to make things healthier and improve results while doing so. I believe it all starts with setting a tone for the property.  What’s a “tone”? It’s a style, a manner of being or, as Merriam-Webster says, “the state of a living body or of any of its organs or parts in which the functions are healthy and performed with due vigor.”

The GM is the one to take the lead on this, enrolling his or her management team in the tone-setting process. It starts with having shared goals and tactics for achieving outcomes — nothing new, really. Then, it means fostering an atmosphere where people feel comfortable, recognized as individuals by everyone in the hotel (especially the GM) and acknowledged for their contributions. 

A simple thing like noting an associate’s birthday goes a long way. As often as I can, I do this in person with the associate at their workplace along with sending a card to their home. I also make a point of congratulating sales managers when they hit their monthly goal, or gently urge them on when they miss it. At those times, I find it works better to be a cheerleader and leave the coaching to their director.

Setting the tone includes being fair and consistent in all dealings with associates and guests, being easily accessible to everyone and telling the truth (even when it’s not easy to do so). But, it also means injecting some humor into the operation. The hotel business — it is a business — can be stressful at times, so keeping things light when the pressure’s on allows people to relax and perform better.       

What have you done or could you do to set the tone in your hotel?