Affecting positive culture change during a hotel takeover


cultureWhen management companies seek to add hotels to their portfolio there are many considerations. Do you own or third-party manage? What are the current financials and how can they be improved? What is the physical condition and location of the asset compared to the comp set? How do the guest satisfaction scores rank within the brand and amongst the comp set?

Rarely is the existing corporate culture taken into account, though. How important is transitioning a hotel workforce to the culture upheld by the incoming management company? The answer is critically so, as culture affects all operations.

To have the entire hotel team understand and live the culture is essential to the success of a hotel takeover or any widespread transition. This starts with the new corporate team during the first all associate meeting. Since culture begins at the top, it’s important for this team to begin the process by clearly stating the expectations. Every interaction between the takeover team and associates must display the core values of the company. Any discrepancy between the stated values and those demonstrated will be duly noted and hinder the overall transition.

The choice of hotel leadership must be made well before the actual takeover. If the general manager is to be retained, he or she must clearly understand the new normal in terms of cultural expectations. In fact, the choice of keeping or replacing the GM should be greatly influenced by his or her willingness to embrace the inscribed culture. While mentoring is a frequent topic for our industry, this process must also include cultural training in tandem with the development of ‘hard’ skills.

At my parent management company, considerable time and energy are spent to reinforce the culture. This can be broken into four key components in order of importance.

1. Associate relations

Our industry is built by hard-working people doing difficult jobs for not a lot of money. Housekeepers, guest service staff, wait staff and kitchen associates all have long, arduous hours. And they are the frontline of our business. In other words, they make or break a hotel. It is the obligation of senior management at both the corporate and the hotel levels to ensure the best possible work environment. Two-way communication, listening and acting on all reasonable associate requests is expected.

2. Guest relations

We must make certain that every hotel associate stays focused on providing the best possible experience for our guests. In my opinion, only 2% to 3% of the traveling public is either trying to milk the system or simply miserable souls. We’ve all met these sorry sacks and, as long as we stay in hospitality, we will meet them again. The danger here is allowing our teams (and ourselves) to become so jaded by these encounters that we start expecting this type of behavior from the 98% of folks who are just fine. Constant reinforcement of the real joy to be found in serving this 98% is critical to a continued hotel-wide attitude of superior guest service.

3. Community involvement and good corporate citizenship

We have an obligation to help make the cities and towns we work in better places. Not just for the benefit of the property, but because it’s the right thing to do. Organize a blood drive, be active in the local chamber of commerce and the CVB, have food drives for the less fortunate, and on and on. Associates will notice these benevolent activities and you may be surprised at the level of participation you will have.

4. It’s called the hospitality ‘business’ for a reason

We have an obligation to always operate our hotels with an eye toward profitability. I firmly believe in being a market leader in RevPAR and the owners of the hotel have every right to expect outstanding financial performance in this regard. The culture of the hotel must reflect this commitment. It should be constantly reinforced by broadcasting and celebrating the successes that have transpired.

Ultimately, there are a lot of nice words here. A lot of ‘talking the talk’. When facing a brand new hotel staff, however, it is crucial to remember how essential it is to ‘walk the walk’.

Set the tone and encourage the management team to be underpin the message. Remember that the staff will be watching to see what’s actually important. What behaviors are rewarded and which are unacceptable? Who seems to fit it and who doesn’t? Who gets promoted and why? Are all employees treated equally?

With diligent effort and a commitment to consistency, the new staff will see that all the pretty talk isn’t just lip service. You’ll know the culture has become firmly entrenched when you start to see the senior associates, and not the managers, explaining to the new hires how things work.

About the author

Bud Nolan Bud is currently the general manager of the award-winning Hilton Garden Inn Providence Airport, regional director for The Stowehof in Stowe, Vermont, and corporate food & beverage director for Newport Hospitality Group. His prior experience includes running a variety of hotels for Victor Management and Lane Hospitality over the course of a career spanning four decades in the industry. Bud has also spent two years as an internal and policy auditor during his tenure at Victor Management. Lastly, he owned and operated Cities Grille and Wine Shop in Williamsburg, Virginia for 15 years.


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