Holiday Hospitality and Our Better Angels

How Middle Management Saved Christmas

I heard a story on the radio this afternoon about the second annual running of the Race of the Santas, a charity fun-run marking the official kick-off this week of holiday festivities in the ski resort town of Breckenridge, Colorado.  I was reminded when – years back – I had the pleasure of opening not one, but two new restaurants there, smack in the middle of the holidays.  At Stein Erickson’s Fine Dining – we celebrated our grand opening literally on Thanksgiving Day.  At The Breckenridge Mountain Lodge we opened just days before Christmas. What a mad ride!

To be sure, effective staffing in a resort community presents its own unique set of challenges, but effective seasonal staffing is a perennial hurdle for hospitality and retail industry managers alike – wherever you happen to be.  It’s never easy entrusting seasonal holiday workers with nothing less than frontline responsibility for your brand-image.  Of course with unemployment hovering around 8%, and the ratio of job seekers to job openings at its highest level since the recession began, finding and hiring qualified staff should be the easy part this holiday season.  Still, the hard part remains.  In fact, given our current and persistent fog of disenfranchisement, swirling talk of fiscal-cliffs, double-dip rescission and continued economic uncertainty in general, facilitating good stewardship of your brand may be your biggest holiday challenge yet, but do not despair.  Before you go all George Bailey and start looking for a bridge from which to hurl yourself, consider…

Sooner or later, anyone charged with the responsibility of managing people will eventually find themselves muttering something like “If only we could get our employees to…” followed by something like “provide better customer service…”  or… “become more engaged… ” or maybe… “go that extra mile…”  Sound familiar?  The trick – as exceptional managers know – is recognizing that nobody gets anyone to do anything, which they don’t already wantin some real and personal way – to do themselves.  Then, like Clarence – George Bailey’s gentle angel in the Christmas classic It’s a Wonderful Life – finding a way to enlighten their staff, casting a glow of significance and higher purpose around the enterprise such that employees come to see the organization’s values, and their own as one in the same. Specifically, the desire to be appreciated for our contribution to the creation and support – not only of something good, but of something exceptional, something great [er than the sum of its parts].

First Things First

Even the greenest of managers knows the importance of hiring well qualified staff.  In a service economy, good managers know that the customer – without whom there would be no business – comes first.  We all know that the saga of a single bad customer service experience will spread like wildfire, while an epoch of good service goes virtually unmentioned.  The good manager knows good customer service is paramount.  Leaders, exceptional managers know that not only does the customer come first, but more importantly – that long before that first guest or client ever sets foot through the door, each and every day, the first customer in line will always be the employee.

Inspiring buy-in to the mission of their brands, and respectful, mutual commitment to its enduring achievement, today’s exceptional managers thrive within exceptional business cultures (or they will soon enough)  secure in the simple wisdom that –  first come first served – internal customers (employees of course) come first.  Simple, because – in a service economy – what could be more foolish than treating your first customers each day – and regular customers at that – with anything less than the very best hospitality (customer service) and value that your enterprise can muster?

Possessed with the knowledge that nothing succeeds like success, exceptional managers know the key to successis often success itself.  Okay… by now you’re thinking “Have another eggnog” – Right?  But it’s true. Think about it. Who among us doesn’t long to be on the winning team?  In recent years, a myriad of studies on behavioral reinforcement and employee psychology increasingly indicate that employees today value a broader sense of purpose in their work, beyond financial compensation.  Of course there are those who, if paid enough money, would submit to being a warm body at almost any post, but exceptional managers – inspiring trust and commitment on their winning teams – should never have to suffer from such a weak link (warm body syndrome.)

Take Patrick Sterling –Director of Risk and People Administration at Texas Roadhouse

A 20 year restaurant and hospitality industry veteran, Patrick will tell you unapologetically that the employees – in his words – “…are the center of our Universe.”  Their mission: Legendary Food, Legendary Service.

Or consider the models of Microsoft and Google. Once seen as pioneers in internal customer service and innovation, Microsoft appears to have exchanged its reputation as an employer of choice for one as some kind of employment death star, struggling to fend off challenges from it’s closest competitor, Google, armed with the mantra of “Do no evil” while under increasing scrutiny and the external pressure of shareholders all in the name of maximized wealth.  Maybe it’s time we re-think our notions around the meaning of wealth?  Maybe Christmas… perhaps, doesn’t come from a store?  Maybe Christmas, perhaps… means a little bit more?  And, in a service economy, maybe profit – perhaps – isn’t the goal of an enterprise, as much as the happy byproduct of excellent customer service and exceptional business culture?  Fostering such culture, empowering exceptional managers, exceptional leaders, might we not save a good deal more than, just Christmas?

Pass the Eggnog!

By TJ McDonald, 30 Years Plus Cross Industry Management Experience | Author, Playing Games at Work : 52 Best Incentives, Contests and Rewards for the Hospitality Industry, Pencom Press | General Manager, The Breckenridge Mountain Lodge | Opening Trainer,  Stein Erickson’s Fine Dining | Banquette Manager, The Village at Breckenridge Resorts |  Assistant Manager, The Fish Market Restaurant | Production Manager, Perry & Terry Auto Body | President, Area Remodeling and Home Inspections | Founder and Vice President, Wallaby Kids Inc.

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