Singing and dancing at work? You bet!
After deciding to leave the security of a corporate career in operations, marketing and development, I established my own consulting company more than 20 years ago. The niche I found most stimulating and in line with my background was the high-energy process of opening independent upscale hotels or working with owners to improve underperforming assets. I thrive on these challenges and the positive and rewarding results from what I call “creating magic” for guests and employees. And I have to admit that it’s gratifying to be regarded as a wizard by the owner for achieving success!
One of the primary reasons I decided to open my own firm was the freedom to adopt an “out-of-the-box” philosophy toward how one approaches hotel operations — from improving financial results to changing a hotel’s culture and employee motivation, two things that are often interrelated. I’ve worked with owners who acquire a distressed, under-managed asset with the intent of renovating and re-positioning the hotel. With this acquisition often comes a de-motivated workforce that has suffered through ever-changing management and an ever-deteriorating product. Changing the physical defects is not complex, but changing the hotel culture can seem insurmountable. Thinking “out of the box” and “creating magic” can, however, make this happen.
One of my favorite examples occurred while I was working with the new owners of a major independent Midtown Manhattan hotel where I had direct oversight of the operation while planning was initiated for a complete renovation. The hotel had gone through many iterations in brand affiliation and turnover in senior management. It had poor employee facilities and suffered through multiple false starts in being renovated or being sold. It was no surprise, therefore, that I encountered a distrustful and de-motivated workforce. It was an unhappy hotel — you could feel it. The hotel operated at extremely high occupancies but at a low RevPAR, so completing interim minor product improvements to change the market mix was immediately apparent and achievable. The biggest challenge was to win over the trust of the employees in order to improve morale, productivity and service standards.
During this time, the TV show “American Idol” was in season, and it was a continual source of discussion in the employee cafeteria; passions ran high as to which performer had the most talent. Everyone was having fun with it, and I noticed that the subject bridged the gap between management and line associates. There was a noticeable change in interaction when this was a topic of conversation.
We knew a lot about our guests’ preferences, even their leisure activities, through database marketing and surveys, but knew little about our own employees’ interests outside of work. Why didn’t we know as much about our employees as our guests? I developed the idea of introducing a talent contest in the hotel and using “talent” to support the efforts the employees made everyday — talent shows, cash prizes, the whole deal. Let’s convert an unhappy work environment to something positive and fun and demonstrate interest in our associates — engaged management.
Once we talked the concept through as a management team, we launched the program, which ran for two years due to its success. The human resources department screened the acts, everyone with a clean work record was eligible to participate and we were never at a loss for participants. We had two shows a year with our annual holiday party serving as the finale to judge the year’s contest winner. The employees voted on the performances, and we all sang and danced along with the contestants, showing support for the courage it took to even get on a stage. The talent was remarkable.
The question I’m sure you have is, what changes did we see as a result of this? Communication with the staff increased dramatically, productivity was boosted, guest satisfaction went up, employee morale showed marked improvement and bottom-line profits hit an all time high. Everyone was a winner.
The next challenge I faced was what to do next for those associates who weren’t about to sing, dance or play an instrument on stage. Stay tuned to find out.