Professional sports can provide some truisms and strategies that apply to independent hotel operations.
It’s that time of the year! The fancy ball drop has concluded, personal and professional resolutions have been made—some already broken—and the biggest football game of the year has just been played.
Why do I bring up the playoffs you ask? Well, there is a prominent player that is commonly referred to as the “G.O.A.T.” The comparison is not so much in relation to the cute petting zoo animal, but the acronym for the phrase the “greatest of all time.”
This also happens to be the time that many of us within the independent hospitality world also are looking for ways to be considered as the greatest within our own markets. A common thread that we all have with these elite athletes is the understanding that what we do in the offseason separates us from the competition. But how do we go about doing that exactly?
Within the sports realm, there are a million different catchphrases and analogies within its common nomenclature. One of the most famous is “Championships are won in the offseason.” In hospitality, we should all adopt this mentality and maximize it to fit our own cultures. When our hallways are slightly emptier than normal and pools that are normally packed to the brim are now open enough to support lap swims, this is the perfect time to focus on our most key asset: our own team members.
Focusing on multiple key initiatives such as engagement programs, development of specialized best-practice training, new innovative sales blitz practices and more provides you with a strong differential trait. These traits will not only be welcomed by your current staff but also acknowledged by job seekers looking for a new opportunity, all the while recognizing you as a leader within the space of employee understanding.
Spring training for baseball, two-a-days for football and summer league for basketball all provide an opportunity to learn the playbook before the regular season starts. The non-peak occupancy valleys are our time within the industry to learn, plan and add some new plays as well.
With the rising cost of formalized education, on-the-job learning opportunities have become more valuable than ever to both employers and employees alike. The destination segment of independents feel the occupancy swings the hardest and therefore have much shorter windows of opportunity when it comes to training. With the task of bringing on a large number of seasonal hires in short bursts, often the operational need of putting these individuals directly into their roles outweighs the proper onboarding that is needed. Putting plans in place now to offer micro-sized learning modules—versus the traditional extended classroom training that ensures your core values and positional requirements can still be instilled—should be one of the top priorities across all sectors of your business.
This is also the time to focus in on another key area of your human capital component: your property’s human resources department as a whole. Revisiting items such as having an employee assistance program—either at a property level or in conjunction with your insurance partner—ensures assistance is available for more than just the everyday works stresses that arise and illustrates a true commitment toward believing in a healthy work/life balance.
Take a close look at what your recognition program was this past year. Take a page from top university football programs who feature famous helmet decals or the latest flashy jewelry chain craze to easily draw attention toward accomplishments. Think of ways that your team members can not only receive recognition but can also easily be recognized by the public as a top performer. Items such as different nametags, pins, ribbons and more all provide an opportunity to really allow them to stand out.
Really look at how you springboard from more than the run-of-the-mill recognitions of employee of the month with a picture and plaque to an immersive year-round commitment to rewarding exceptional service on the spot. Examples include instituting a rotating employee leadership group, challenging your front-line staff to brainstorm and help develop initiatives they would like to see instituted, or providing shoutouts for one another. All of these can truly cultivate buy-in on the most critical levels.
It is important to realize that not all offseason changes have to be program-focused. Sports organizations focus a lot of time and effort to ensure the home team locker room is the center for anything an athlete could ever need to make them feel relaxed and prepared to play the game. All of our own properties have similar locations, but unfortunately not at the level of a multimillion dollar luxury-filled space.
We operate within a guest-facing, on-the-floor type of business. It is no secret, however, that we would all agree the few moments we have offstage and in the back of the house can be just as important toward both overall morale and sanity. Use this offseason to take time, either as a departmental or full team, to refresh your employee break space with a new fresh coat of paint, small inexpensive upgrades such as a radio, new seating, larger refrigerator or even an installation of an upgraded communications board or TV monitor to ensure activities, celebrations and interdepartmental team communications are shared. All of these can go a long way toward building a collaborative culture while at the same time providing an instant upgrade to your facility.
In the end, these longer quieter days present themselves as the best time of the year to truly set your strategic plans in motion. While we all have an opportunity to elevate our own team’s greatness, be prepared to put in more hours than you have ever thought to design, evaluate and re-evaluate every process and key interactive point within the operation to truly achieve award winning levels. Maybe at this time next year, prospective guests will refer to you as the G.O.A.T.
Brandon M. Springer-McConnell is assistant general manager at Lake Lawn Resort, an independent hotel in Delavan, Wisconsin. His experience with both branded and independent properties has afforded a unique perspective of the operational challenges faced on a daily basis to an array of hospitality business models. His expertise includes strategic career development and succession planning for leaders, organizational structure and development, government affairs and hospitality law.
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