Written by Philippe Rossiter FIH, Chief Executive Institute of Hospitality 2009.Philippe Rossiter writes: 'Yes we can' thinking has come a long way since children’s television character Bob the Builder first came on the scene to introduce the principles of conflict resolution, co-operation and socialisation with his 'Can we fix it?' catchphrase.
Philippe Rossiter writes: 'Yes we can' thinking has come a long way since children’s television character Bob the Builder first came on the scene to introduce the principles of conflict resolution, co-operation and socialisation with his 'Can we fix it?' catchphrase.
Thanks to President of the United States, Barack Obama, 'Yes we can' has become a powerful motivational slogan, propelled into admiration and popularity as the buzz-phrase of his 2008 campaign for office. If that’s not conforming to the ‘keep it simple, stupid’ principle, we’re not sure what is. But what has become clear is that a straightforward philosophy like 'Yes we can' does perfectly underpin a model attitude for life and business.
With the global economic crisis taking its toll on UK business, it is prime time for operators in all sectors to pool resources internally, recognising talent and empowering it. As an association that unites hospitality professionals worldwide by their common desire to deliver exceptional levels of service and business excellence, the Institute of Hospitality firmly believes that the entrenchment of the 'Yes we can' culture should be fundamental to all operations, internally and externally, not just to those perceived as being front-line.
An advocate of the infectious service philosophy is Kurt Ritter, President and CEO of The Rezidor Hotel Group, which employs more than 30,000 people in 55 countries. “We have always believed in 'Yes I Can!' as a driver of people’s attitude and an instrument in achieving results," Ritter says. "It is especially important to us that research now shows that our long-held focus is right. We have always said that we hire by attitude and train for skills. It now turns out that attitude can also be trained if you have the right concept. It becomes, as we like to say, a way of life.”
Moulding employee behaviour is no mean feat and through the Institute’s service sector specification, Hospitality Assured, we have, for many years, been providing an effective framework that can be used by all sorts of customer-facing businesses to create a service culture that delights and supports business sustainability.
As facilities managers, you will understand the impact your profession has on the overall operation of your clients’ business and performance. It is a vital ingredient in the overall delivery of high quality service, where multiple disciplines combine to ensure functionality of the built environment by integrating people, place, processes and technology. Adopting the principles of the Hospitality Assured Standard is proving a fundamental stepping-stone towards positive change, not just for hotels, restaurants and leisure operators but also for a number of ‘non-traditional’ hospitality-focused companies engaged in facilities management, both in the purchasing and supply of services, who are increasingly aware of the need for a win-win environment for their customers.
In the hospitality industry, change is endemic, especially in the hotel sector, with properties frequently the subject of changed ownership and re-branding. It is against this backdrop that the hospitality manager confronts a range of additional challenges, where legislation and corporate governance play a greater role than previously in shaping a company’s culture. Within this environment, the financial business imperatives remain extant, with sound business planning and clear budgetary control essential qualities of the modern manager.
This highly-tuned commercial culture has given rise to the emergence of a more complex customer. Today’s consumer is better informed and more adventurous than before. Skilled in the use of technology, the customer is able to exploit the various media at his disposal to make last minute decisions about destinations and purchases. Faced with this universal reality, the successful facilities manager will be one who can innovate and adapt rapidly to meet the needs of a discerning clientele. The path to excellence lies in taking a long-term view of business development and involves constantly questioning what it is you are doing and why you are doing it, with a view to continuously improving every aspect of your operation.
Creating one team
Harnessing the logic that employees perform better in an environment where leadership is strong comes the recent transformation of a complex facilities setup at the headquarters of global banking giant HSBC, in London’s Canary Wharf. The 500-strong squad of staff, united under the brand name facilit8, are responsible for the seamless, professional delivery of catering, maintenance, housekeeping, mail and logistics, fitness facilities and hospitality across the 44-storey, state-of-the-art tower; and they have just reached the end of an emotional 15-month journey that saw its broad range of management operations accredited for the first time with the Hospitality Assured Standard for service and business excellence.
“I’ve been in this industry for 18 years and when I started here in May 2008, it was clear to me that there were significant problems internally,” said Head of Housekeeping Van Richards, as he recalled the disparate make-up of in-house operations before the facilit8 brand umbrella was erected. In a bid to combat ailing motivation, owing in part to perceived internal hierarchies between the various contractors, the creation of facilit8 came about to streamline operations and to redefine the focus on the customers – 9000 HSBC employees and visitors to the building, averaging 1000 a day.
“A business is not a business without people. Hospitality is not simply about food and beverage management but about how we make people feel welcome,” said Caroline Gardiner FIH, consultant to HSBC as facilit8 undertook the process of change ready for assessment against the Hospitality Assured Standard. “The ‘One Team’ approach is about delivering continual service excellence with better communication. It’s about continual improvement for the customer in terms of customer service.”
HSBC Senior Facilities Manager Alan MacRae agreed, citing how essential it was to create a community of expertise, where it was not simply about distributing t-shirts with a universal facilit8 logo emblazoned on the front, but more pertinently a transformation in the way such a cross-section of service providers – five companies in total – could come together to deliver one unified standard of care to customers. "The trick is to make the people feel like stakeholders, rather than the hired help," he said.
Guy Burgess, Client Services Manager for Mailsource, HSBC’s internal mail and logistics team, found it especially beneficial to see how the launch of weekly meetings between all heads of department for facilit8, and daily briefings in all areas, dramatically improved communication and created a culture of helping each other, where objectives were defined, and operational and financial targets were better shaping day-to-day business.
Hospitality Assured comprehensively maps a 10-step process which encourages a business to look at its operation from the customers’ perspective. Indeed, first and foremost, the chief starting point is to accurately identify who the customer is. It acknowledges all the instances of exemplary good practice and helps team managers understand where improvements could be made. The journey incorporates analysis of customer research, the customer promise, business planning, operational planning, standards of performance, resources, training and development, service delivery, service recovery and customer satisfaction improvement.
Demonstrating that customer-focused business operation is critical to any successful organisation, be it public or private sector, is the innovative application of Hospitality Assured’s service and business excellence framework to the various teams operating within Scotland’s National Tourism Organisation, VisitScotland.
As a result of significant collaboration with the private sector and input from public sector agencies throughout 2005, the Scottish Government published a Tourism Framework for Change in March 2006, in which a key aim was to increase tourism revenues to Scotland by 50%, by the year 2015. From this came the major 2008 restructure of VisitScotland that would transform the way it approached its ambition to build a tourism industry worth £6 billion by 2015.
With the correct mechanisms in place, strong private sector involvement and a focus on effective working across local authority boundaries, the Strategic Development and Planning Authorities (SDPAs) could contribute strongly to the economic development of the four new customer-focused directorates – Visitor Engagement, Business Engagement, Strategic Partnerships and Corporate Services – on which all VisitScotland’s activities became focused, and to the local authorities which it serves.
VisitScotland’s Director of Strategic Partnerships, Riddell Graham, saw an opportunity to maximise the impact the 2008 restructure had on internal and external relationships and on corporate reputation.
“The HA scheme has dramatically improved cross-working across the organisation. I deliberately brought people into the implementation team who may not have thought specifically about the customer and this has been very beneficial,” said Graham. “The principles have been embedded and it has become the way we do things in the organisation. The plaque and the certificate are much less important than the fact that we are now an organisation that is focused on our customers and on continuous improvement.”
Assessed organisations also hail the benefits of improved brand perceptions, with Chris Sprague, Managing Director of Avenance’s City & Corporate division – which in 2008 operated 85 catering contracts within London’s City region – revealing how prospective employees of Avenance have become interested in which service standards the company adopts before they choose to take up post. “They associate such standards with a professional company – the sort of company for which they wish to work," Sprague said.
He continued: “When there is a very clear measure of what 'good' looks like, they challenge themselves to get to 'great'. It brings a standard that motivates our employees to exceed expectations.”
In a similar vein, The Møller Centre – a management and training conference centre and a subsidiary of Churchill College at the University of Cambridge – has been successfully pursuing annual assessment of its service and business operations since 1999, improving year on year. With a Customer Service Promise firmly planted at the centre of all Director Gillian Holdom and her team do, the sights are set admirably high as they work hard to display their genuine passion for excellence ‘to create a ‘wow’ factor’ that competes on a world-class scale.
The Møller Centre attracted 10% of its 2007-8 business from China and with demand forecast to increase through 2009, measures have been taken to provide dedicated multi-lingual signage, materials and staff for these international guests, especially as interest in the UK heightens in preparation for our hosting of the 2012 Olympic Games.
“We needed advice on internal and external benchmarking, which is a valuable element of the HA assessment process,” said Holdom. “Our mission statement is to 'support our clients to acquire knowledge for professional development and personal and business success' so it’s essential that we are demonstrating best practice too. HA forced our organisation to ensure that the infrastructure was in place to deliver the customer service.”
What all aspiring and professionally run businesses want is delighted customers, profitable results and a business that is expanding.
Pinpointing who your customer is should be the priority, as the wants of your customer may not always match the wants of your staff. As is the case with HSBC and its facilit8 brand, there are many stakeholders involved. Streamlining multiple functions to break down the barriers that are inherent in mixed service operations creates a single objective – to concentrate on satisfying customer needs, irrespective of whether a particular aspect of service is in your direct control. It is about taking ownership of every element of operation and empowering employees to use their initiative, which in turn is a motivational tool that increases productivity and can help to reduce staff turnover – and a reduction in staff turnover can see a notable reduction in costs.
By improving operational efficiencies, enhanced profitability can be stimulated, reputation improved and the likelihood of capturing repeat business increased. The question to keep in mind is this: Is the way you do business fulfilling the overall objective of satisfying the employer who hired you?
Philippe Rossiter FIH is Chief Executive of the Institute of Hospitality.
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