The hummingbird legend in times of adversity

Given the enormity of the mission that awaits hoteliers, it can be intimidating –even discouraging –to approach the big picture. Indeed, the tasks at hand may seem like a mountain difficult to climb. Whether it is the implementation of sanitary measures, the reintegration of staff, inventory management, the reopening of booking platforms or the carrying out of a deep cleaning, these are tasks worthy of the 12 labors of Hercules that await the work forces in the coming weeks.

There will always be people who say that uncertainty is a source of innovation in times of crisis. We agree. It is also true that some privileged people have enough capital, an impressive network, and their backs are strong enough not to be too drastically affected by this vacuum. However, when this uncertainty hits the financial health of the organization, when 90% of the team is on forced layoff, and the occupancy rate is at an historic low, these encouragements can sometimes prove futile, disconnected from reality. This is why hoteliers must motivate themselves to follow the incremental approach –step by step –that the hummingbird courageously demonstrates in the legend that follows.

The hummingbird legend

One day, says the legend, there was a huge forest fire. All terrified animals, aghast, anxiously watched the disaster. Only the little hummingbird was active, fetching a few drops with its beak to throw them on the fire. After a moment, the armadillo, annoyed by this ridiculous agitation, said to him: “Hummingbird! Are you crazy? It is not with these drops of water that you will put out the fire! And the hummingbird replied, “I know, but I’m doing my part.”. This legend illustrates that we are not helpless in the face of disaster: we can all exercise our sense of responsibility, our free will, our power over a given situation that tests our resilience.

We can all do our part. Not to save the world, not because we know that our actions will make all the difference, but simply because our conscience, our values ​​dictate it to us. By taking inspiration from the hummingbird, from the approach of small steps, hoteliers will realize that their actions, however tiny, are essential to the continuity of activities.

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“Choose battles large enough to count, but small enough to win.” – Jonathan Kozol, American writer[1]

A phrase that can serve as a guide for hoteliers in these times of adversity. Experience shows us wanting to immediately tackle a problem that is too big is doomed to failure. Whereas a global strategy made up of a succession of small steps, small strategic objectives, small accessible battles (for example: revising your service design in order to operate while respecting the required social distancing) and won (for example: maintaining the link with the work team by offering training and demonstrating real empathy) can lead to a much more effective way of getting the enterprise back on track. In their own way, Kozol’s words pretty much sum up the Japanese Kaizen method, also called the approach of small steps.

The Kaizen method for organizing action

The word Kaizen is the contraction of two Japanese terms: Kai – change, and Zen – better. To give a more managerial definition: Kaizen is a process of continuous evolution based on small improvements repeated on a daily basis. For this to work, each member of the team must be involved and suggest ideas for evolution. For Masaaki Imai, one of the thinkers behind the approach, by prioritizing the changes to be implemented by focusing on easy, rapid and inexpensive progress, the kaizen method makes it possible to make uncertainty concrete. In other words, to no longer see the whole as a block but as doors to be opened, one after the other, to reach the end of the stage.

In management, speed and quickness are often elevated to the rank of virtues at the expense of reflection and patience. The Kaizen approach is different: by optimizing tasks with the small steps method, we can keep control over the unstable and turn the emergency room carefully and then into action.

What about resilience?

Resilience. Probably one of the most used words –with good reason– since the beginning of this “new normal”. Yasemine Oruc, a fellow professor at the Hotelschool The Hague, has worked a lot on this notion of resilience. For her, it is about “moving forward despite adversity in line with our goals and respecting our organizational vision”. She also encourages us to ask ourselves four fundamental questions:

  1. In what ways can we respond to the crisis?
  2. What actions can we take to adjust to the new situation?
  3. How can we grow humanly and as a business?
  4. How can we rebound during the recovery?

No matter what position we occupy in our organization, these four elements can be the basis for a positive reflection on our contribution to the current situation. Let’s keep in mind the hummingbird in the coming weeks: sometimes it only takes a small action to create a great craze and even put out a fire!

* This article was first published in French for ITHQ. The link is just here.

William Safire, Words of Wisdom, Simon and Schuster, 1990.

Cécile Nadaï, La méthode Kaizen ou le principe d’amélioration continue, Welcome to the jungle, July 8, 2019 (in french).

Yasemine Oruc, extract from the workshop « Mindfulness in Hospitality Business », Hotelschool The Hague, Amsterdam, November 2019.

Tags: crisis, Kaizen method, resilience


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