The forest and the trees

By Kristi White

Hotels are busy; ask anyone. Demand is almost back to 2019 levels. However, for most hotels, staffing remains an issue. This means, most hotels are operating with an all-hands-on-deck mentality. They are fixated on the now, but who is looking at the future?

Those who work on the front lines are overworked. And, honestly, everyone is on the front lines these days. Those at the hotels think their owners are focused on making up lost profits at the expense of the staff. Owners believe the hotels have their heads buried in the weeds and aren’t thinking strategically. Spoiler alert, they are both right.

Both perspectives are necessary. Someone has to service the guests and take care of the now. But, someone also must have their eyes on the prize, and the prize is the future. If not, the business, the brand and the profits will suffer.

All levels of the organization are likely feeling tension, possibly even competition. But, this isn’t a competition. One side isn’t more right than the other. The truth is that each side has access to different information. The hotel staff looks at what’s right in front of them and makes the best of the situation. Ownership is focused on a profitable hotel so they can invest in the property.

The two sides need to meet somewhere in the middle. The hotels need to focus on both the current status and the future, and ownership needs to invest in staffing to give the hotels breathing room so they can focus on the future and ensure long-term profitability.

Meeting in the middle
It’s time for both sides to start seeing things from the other side. Each side needs to see the forest and the trees. There are five ways to help both sides see it all.

1. Location skews perspective: No single perspective is 100% correct. However, it’s absolutely vital that each side understands the other’s viewpoint.

  • Hotel: Ownership needs to understand the constraint the hotel staff is working under. Are salespeople helping at the front desk, in banquets, cleaning rooms? If so, ownership needs to know. In fact, they need to be aware of every area of the hotel where someone is pulling double, perhaps even triple, duty. Additionally, if you can quantify how this impacts their actual responsibilities, even better.
  • Owner: Create clear guidelines on revenue and profitability goals to return to regular staffing levels. Work with the hotels to identify which roles need to be filled first and set timelines for when they can do so. Accept that you might have to fill some roles before you reach profitability goals. Doing so will, most likely, mean reaching those goals even sooner.

2. Think of roles as more than what they “do”: Too often, we think of roles solely in terms of their job description. However, the best teams aren’t those that out-produce the competition; it’s the organizations that outthink them. Having sales teams booking and cooking business means they are likely missing out on opportunities or threats, ultimately making them less innovative and competitive. Your sales teams need the space and time to do more than turn and burn contracts. They need to be able to prospect and analyze the competition to ensure the future is safe. To do that effectively, they need time and tools. Both come from proper investment.

3. Evaluate existing staff: The goal is to determine if you have the right people in the right roles. Determine where each person lies on a matrix of focus. The four focus areas are ideas, processes, actions and relationships. This will help you understand if the right people are focusing on the right things for their roles. Hiring has been (and continues to be) challenging during recovery. Hotels possibly hired the person who said yes and not the right person.

4. Embrace contrary opinions: Some people think outside of the box naturally. Unfortunately, the business world often penalizes that behavior. It’s vital to create a balanced approach that seeks alternate opinions, not only those who support their point of view. Make it easy for people to bring contradictory information to light. Additionally, give them room to explore and act upon the information.

5. Respond to failure: Every company in the world rewards success. However, all too often, they hide failure. Failure will happen, and it’s essential to acknowledge and learn from it. A defined process on how you respond to failure will help you succeed faster. This is even more important during times of flux. What works today might not work tomorrow. You can recover more nimbly if you have an appropriate response protocol for failure (versus reacting).

Look to the future
Demand is almost back to 2019 levels. Looking at what’s on the books for the next 90-120 days probably makes everyone jubilant. However, what does Q1 of 2023 look like? What does beyond that look like? Are your teams so busy taking care of today that they can’t focus on the future?

If so, it’s even more critical for operations and owners to meet in the middle and address the forest and the trees. By looking through the other’s lenses, it will be easier to understand the details and the big picture to create clarity for all.

Kristi White is chief product officer, Knowland. With two decades of experience in the hotel and revenue management side of the industry, she has advised hundreds of hotels worldwide on improving their business strategy, hotel performance and overall profitability.

This is a contributed piece to Hotel Business, authored by an industry professional. The thoughts expressed are the perspective of the bylined individual.