Updated: Dec 7, 2020
TAKE A WALK, BE AWARE, ENGAGE WITH PEOPLE, LOOK FOR OPPORTUNITIES.
Reception Lounge, ANdAZ 5th Avenue New York
The discussion in my last post about diversifying and doing this differently, brings me to the opposite question: what are we all doing the same way?
One of the trends I see lately in more and more hotels, no matter what star rating, what type of property, what company vision, is to move further and further away from working at assigned stations and in offices.
The two hotels I recently opened (in 2015 and in 2020) barely had office space designated for certain departments on the floor plan. In one property they even completely forgot to assign any office space for the front office managers, so I ended up sitting in the bell closet and using a tiny table whenever I had to do admin work.
In recent years there seems to be a shift from working in the office to working in the lobby; we used to have interviews and private conversations in the HR office, and now we do so at the hotel bar. We used to have dedicated roles to spend time around the main public areas to engage with guests (Guest Relations, Duty Managers, Lobby Managers, and so on); and now we see every management role leave their duties and their office for part of their day to be a “lobby lizard”.
How do we feel about this?
If you ask me, I think this is one of the most effective strategies a leader can adopt. To be visible!
I have worked at two ANdAZ properties - which we can describe (amongst the other definitions) as the informal luxury brand of Hyatt, the company I worked for at the time. The concept is particularly interesting. Even though when I joined Andaz it was quite hard to comply with those procedures, as I was coming from a totally different environment, that’s where I discovered the power of this new approach.
In all Andaz hotels there is one common element that catches your eye pretty much right away: there is no front desk. Now this is not that strange anymore, but when this brand started several years ago not having a designated area to check-in was quite extravagant.
So we did not have a front desk, and we did not have front desk agents. Instead we had “hosts” who are front of the house staff members performing the role of a doorman, a porter, a check-in agent, a concierge, a bellman. They do it all.
And since there is no front desk, you don’t need to go to the host, the host comes to you, invites you to have a seat anywhere in the lobby while offering you a welcome beverage, using an i-pad to retrieve your registration info, and completing the check-in (or any other transaction) from anywhere in the hotel.
The idea was for the hosts to cover all areas of the lobby and of the main entrance, and engage with everyone. Not having a front desk was a huge help to be able to accomplish this, because naturally when you have a desk or a station of any kind, people will gravitate back to it and devote their attention to the computer.
If we were committed to push the hosts to be the PR agents of the lobby, as their managers we had to give the example. So I started leaving the office behind and spending more and more time in the front of the house, and a lot of great things happened from that approach to the point that I applied it at every hotel I worked at from then on.
I know a lot of managers whose office is clearly the space where they are most comfortable. I, on the other end, am most comfortable in the public areas. Why? Because it allows me to see what’s the general vibe of the day in the hotel. I can see the guests, I can have a quick (or sometimes long) chat with them, I can feel their mood. I can see if anything important, or suspicious, or inappropriate, or exciting is happening because I am there. I can see the staff, I can say hello to everyone, I can ask how their day is going, I can see if they are happy, if they are engaging with guests, if they are being professional, if they need anything.
If you are sitting in your office behind the scenes the whole time, how do you know how the guests are doing? How do you know how your staff is doing? How can you stop a bad behaviour before a guest or someone higher than you sees it? How can you catch something before it goes wrong?
Short story number 1: one day I am walking the guest floors, and I see a couple walking out of the room with their bags. It’s 4pm or 5pm, a bit of an unusual time to check-out, so I ask them if I can help with anything and the woman simply says - no thanks we are leaving. As her tone sounds a bit upset, I need to find out what is going on, and then I realize they have been having some noise issues in their room and they have not been able to sleep now for two nights. After a couple of attempts with maintenance and the front desk, tired from not sleeping and upset with the lack of resolution, they have now packed their bags and they are just about to leave. I quickly rectify the issue for them and convince them to stay.
It was a fluke that I happened to be at the right place at the right time.
Lucky yes, but also if I had been sitting in my office, I would have never seen them and they would have just left without letting anyone know.
Moral of the story? Being present on the floor can allow you to catch and fix an issue before it’s too late.
Short story number 2: one of my supervisors at Pulitzer, is doing his usual round, and as he walks around the floors he finds two guests who got totally lost looking for their room. Now it’s important to say that this was quite a frequent situation at that property, as the hotel is basically a maze of 25 canal houses which maintain the original floor plan and are therefore connected with each other in a very irregular way. You don’t have your classic floor plan with elevator landing and rooms on your right and left. The rooms are hidden, sometimes you have to walk up a level of stairs and down another, then outside and back inside, then around a hidden corner, and then you reach your room. So guests get lost in this hotel (and so does the staff). But it is all part of the experience, because when you get lost at Pulitzer you will find yourself in a maze of secret sections, mysterious areas, extraordinary unfoldings.
Going back to our short story, as he walks around and spots them, they seem quite frustrated with not being able to find their room. So he offers to escort them, but before doing so he gives them a little tour, to show them how fascinating the hotel is if you know where to go, and to prove that getting lost is all part of the fun. He walks them around the different houses, reveals some secret stories, tells some tales belonging to those old buildings, he really takes the time to show them what Pulitzer is all about: storytelling.
When the guests checked out they couldn’t help but mention their encounter with the young man who turned their frustration into pure amazement.
Moral of the story? Being present on the floor can also be an opportunity to turn a situation around and create our famous “wow moments”.
Short story number 3: one very very hot day in Amsterdam, where buildings are not equipped with A/C or with a system powerful enough to support any temperature above 80°F, our poor room attendants start their day and go up on the floors. As it gets hotter and hotter and the housekeeping team becomes more and more miserable, I tell one of my supervisors “We are going to the store next door, and we are buying ice tea, then we are going to put it in a big ice tub and I need your help carrying it upstairs”.
And so we did. It was a busy day, but both of us paused what we had to do for a couple of hours and went up on every floor to find the staff members working and sweating. The ice tea was a good refresh and an easy way to ask what we could do to help. One of them asked for a pillow case, one for a new clean uniform, one for a working vacuum. A simple thing like bringing a cold beverage, helping in some way and sweating with them made their day a bit more tolerable.
Moral of the story? Being present on the floor is finally a super easy way to bond with your team.
So be on the floor, do the work with them and show them how to do it, so they can follow. Do it smart, hit the high traffic spots, where the guests and the staff are, where you can be seen!
Take the time out of your day to leave the office and walk around. Take a walk, open your eyes, be aware, look for opportunities, engage with people, find points of improvement, be visible!
The point is, of course admin work needs to be done, but if it’s not urgent why not postpone it, get away from the computer, forget about that project for a bit, and go out there where the action is happening?
Ask yourself: Do you spend enough time in the front line with the guests? Do you know what happened today by first hand or did you hear it from someone else? Do your people see you, or do they see you only when they come to your office? Are you making yourself visible?