Mavi Viljoen (the artist formerly known as MA Giroux) is a hospitalitarian, writer, teacher, and urban godmother. She believes, to quote her spirit animal, Auntie Mame, that "life's a banquet and most poor sons of bitches are starving to death." A veteran leader in the hospitality industry, she and her husband moved to Honduras in 2015 to establish a bi-lingual tourism program for high school students. She's been published in the International Journal of Servant Leadership and the host of www.acumennial.com 's LeaderSips. Come spring, you can find her rooting for her beloved Washington Nationals.
Tag Archives: service
I'm stepping out of my normal boundaries today to share some thoughts on my roller coaster ride of 2015. As Charles Dickens wrote, "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times."
I have what's known as "rolling" veins. Here in Honduras they're called "ballerinas" in that they like to dance around and avoid the needle that is trying to take blood or administer meds. If you have a technician who is not familiar with rolling veins, the simplest blood test can be agony.
There is a man named Oswalt Acosta who works at the local clinic and it is his job to take blood. He is very very good at his job. He can find the tiniest dancer and quickly get the blood extracted with no pain, no drama. When you're in the middle of a major medical event, that kind of efficiency brings untold peace of mind.
I would imagine most of his patients don't realize what a treasure they have in Oswalt; but I certainly hope his supervisors do.
Do you know who the Oswalts of your organization are? The behind-the-scenes unsung heroes who do their jobs well, and do them so well that people don't ever have to contemplate what would have happened if something had gone wrong.
In hospitality, it’s the housekeeper who gets the room right, every time, on time. It’s the engineer arrives quickly when requested and makes the fix the first time. It’s the line cook who is consistent and takes ownership, without compromise.
Think about all the time and energy that is spent on service recovery when something goes wrong. Are you recognizing the Oswalts who make sure recovery is never an issue?
Last month at the Global Leadership Summit, Horst Schulze, the founding president of the famed Ritz-Carlton Hotel Group and current Chairman and CEO of the Capella Hotel Group reminisced about his first job at a restaurant in a five-star hotel.
"My mother never forgave herself for letting me leave home at age 14 to go to work as a bus boy. In those days, working at a hotel was something servants did. Important people were engineers and businessmen, not hotel managers. But as I watched the maitre d' walk around the dining room, speaking German to one table as he explained the food, speaking French to another table as he explained the wine, making sure he was doing everything he could to make his guests feel comfortable and welcome, something occurred to me. He was the most important person in the room- in the minds of the guests and to the employees."
The maitre d' didn't come to work to work. He came to work to be excellent in his profession. He came to work to be excellent in service delivery. He came to work to be excellent in caring for the people around him. And these three things demonstrate what service means.
I am proud to be a member of the service industry, and by that I am referring to the hospitality and tourism industry. But really, are we not all in the service industry? Shouldn't a philosophy of service permeate every industry? You might say, well, my industry is business to business... but aren't people working in those businesses?
So, what components of service was the matire d' of Schulze's youth demonstrating? Before we go there, let's look for a moment at customers.
Customers break down into three groups: dissatisfied, satisfied, and loyal. The dissatisfied customers are the ones that seem as if they are never going to be happy. They complain about your product, they are rude to your employees. The satisfied customers are the ones who are there to conduct a transaction. You give them what they ask for, but they are neutral; they are not "your" customers. Finally there are the loyal customers. The wild raving fans. The ones who not only return, but tell others about you. They are YOUR customers.
Your loyal customers (your patients, your clients, your guests, your students) trust you. You develop trust because each and every time you have deliver three important things:
- a quality, defect-free product,
- timely service through efficient processes,
- delivered with kindness.
That's called service.
The maitre d' came to work to be excellent in his profession. He delivered a quality, defect-free product. He came to work to be excellent in service delivery. He provided timely service through efficient processes. He came to work to to be excellent in caring about the people around him. He delivered his service with kindness.
Think it's different in your business? Nope.
If you buy a car what do you expect? The car is defect free, it's delivered in a timely manner, and the salesperson treats you like a human being.
It's the same when you place an order for parts for your business. Or you are admitted into a hospital. Or you take a class. Or you visit your lawyer.
Want to be known for excellence in service? Know your stuff. Provide it efficiently. Deliver it with kindness.
During his time at West Point, Jim Collins observed a powerful tension between growth, service, and communal success. Within this paradoxical triangle lies the answer - Collins feels - to creating a culture of engaged leaders.
1. Service: what cause or purpose are we passionately dedicated to and are willing to suffer and sacrifice for?
2. Growth: what huge and audacious challenges should we give people that will push them hard to make them grow?
3. Communal success: What can we do to reinforce the idea that we only succeed by helping each other?
Can you live in the tension of service-growth-communal success? More importantly, can you inspire those you lead to serve the greater good above their own ambition?
During the course of 2012 through 2014, leadership expert Jim Collins - of Good to Great fame - had the opportunity to be West Point's Class of 1951 Chair for the Study of Leadership. Collins visited West Point seven times, holding a seminar with about 30 cadets on six of those trips and delivering a final talk to the cadet corps on the last one. Speaking at the recent Global Leadership Summit at Willow Creek Church, Collins revealed that in the end, it was he who was schooled.
During his time at West Point, one thing in particular struck Collins. In a pressure cooker environment, known for being highly competitive, why were the cadets that he encountered not only consistently happy but also willing to serve one another - for example, giving up time to help each other prepare for the dreaded Indoor Obstacle Course Test - even with their own overburdened schedule?
Being a man who has spent his life asking questions, Collins shares his insights with these 7 questions; questions that will serve us all well as we stretch the boundaries of leadership ability.
What cause do you serve with Level 5 ambition?
West Point is a place where the ethic of service runs through the entire mechanism - service to a cause or purpose they are passionately dedicated to and are willing to suffer and sacrifice for. Now combine that will the Level 5 requirements of personal humility and an utterly indomitable will. That's some serious leadership mojo.
What's your Level 5 cause? For Wendy Kopp, founder of Teach for America, it was the belief that every single child - no matter the ZIP code - deserves a quality education. The difference is the direction of your ambition - is it focused inwardly on your success or outwardly on the cause's success? It is ego-driven leaders who inspire people to follow them. It is Level 5 leaders who inspire people to follow the cause. Can you infuse your organizational structure with a commitment to something beyond financial gain?
Will you settle for being a good leader, or will you grow to become a great leader?
Leadership has evolved from being about well-managed organization to becoming well-led networks. It is not about personality. It's not about position, power, rank, or title. True leadership, says Collins, exists if people follow when they would otherwise have the choice not to follow. Colin Powell suggested in his book, It Worked For Me, to lead with "the most delicate touch" - that in his entire career he never used the phrase, "that's an order." As a leader, to inovke position, power, rank, or title is to abdicate leadership. President Dwight Eisenhower did not start out as "Eisenhower the General" or "Eisenhower the President." He started out as the guy that carried General MacArthur's bag. Most great leaders start out "carrying bags"- it is how they carry those bags that determines if they become great leaders. Are you ready to scale your leadership?
How can you reframe failure as growth in pursuit of a Big Hairy Audacious Goal (BHAG)?
When Collins asked the cadets, "how many of you have failed, have felt a profound sense of inadequacy?" 4000 hands shot up. He then shared the story of his friend rock climber Tommy Caldwell, arguably the best all-around rock climber on the planet (don't take my word for it, National Geographic said so!) who, at the time, was in the midst of attempting to scale the Dawn Wall of El Capitan in a free climb. Collins asked, "Why do you keep throwing yourself at this? All it does is give you failure upon failure. Why go back?" "Because success is not the primary point," Caldwell said. "I go back because the climb is making me better. It is making me stronger. I am not failing; I am growing." (Spoiler alert: after 2800 days of "growing," Tommy and his climbing partner, Kevin Jorgeson, completed their historic climb in January of this year.)
How can you succeed by helping others succeed?
At West Point, everyone is failing at something. There is an ethos to that organization of "let me help you." You are never alone. Your success is tethered to my success. Let's revisit the above-mentioned IOCT for a moment. Collins, at age 55, had set a goal of finishing the IOCT at the same time (3:30 minutes or less) as the male cadets were required to finish. While he is an avid rock climber, his purpose was to interact with cadets, to experience what they experience. While practicing, a cadet came over to help him, saying "No sir, not that way, you look like an old man." To which Collins replied, "I am an old man." And while it may not have been that unusual for one cadet to take the time out to help an old man, Collins could see many other cadets struggling with obstacles around the gym. Most of them had at least two other cadets standing nearby, coaching, assisting, and cheering their fellow cadets. You. Are. Never. Alone. Are you helping others succeed?
Have you found your hedgehog - your personal hedgehog?
The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.” ~ Greek poet Archilochus
Those who built the good-to-great companies were, to one degree or another, hedgehogs. They used their hedgehog nature to drive toward what Collins came to call a Hedgehog Concept for their companies. Those who led the comparison companies tended to be foxes, never gaining the clarifying advantage of a Hedgehog Concept, being instead scattered, diffused, and inconsistent. So, have you found your hedgehog? It's the intersection of the passion for what you do, that which you are encoded to do, and an economic engine.
Steve Jobs was a hedgehog: he exuded passion and energy. Jobs had an idea that the most efficient man in the world was a man on a bicycle. And computers were bicycles for the mind. What if Steve Jobs had quit in 1985, when he was unceremoniously fired from the company he founded? What if Churchill had quit when asked; when Lady Astor famously observed, "Oh, Churchill - he's finished"? True creators stay in the game. It never comes down to a single hand, sometimes we’ll get good hands, sometimes not. If you play every hand you get to the best of your ability that adds up to a huge compounding effect. Oh, and here's some good news for those of us who were born on the other side of 1965. Real creative impact accelerates, if you choose, after 50.
Will you build your unit – your minibus – into a pocket of greatness?
You've heard that a key part of organizational success is "getting the right people on the bus." So, how are you leading your "minibus" the unit, the area over which you have influence and dominion? West Point produces great leaders because each unit is great. Level 5 leaders focus on their unit, ego-centric leaders focus on their career. Be rigorous about who should be in the key seats of the bus and then take care of your people. The greatest leaders and people find a way to make an impact on people... real life, flesh and blood people.
How will you change the lives of others?
Life is people. How will the lives of people with whom you've had the ability to influence be better because you were on this earth?
(H/T to Bo Burlingham for background information on Collins' West Point experience.)
As I mentioned yesterday, last week I spent some of my "Power Pause" time attending the 2015 Global Leadership Summit. Over the course of those two incredible days - the phrase "taking a sip of water from a fire hose" comes to mind - six themes emerged. I'll delve into each speaker's thoughts individually, however, put together, these six themes quickly become key questions we leaders should be asking ourselves on a daily basis.
Do I Cast an Inspiring Vision? Jim Collins calls them Big Hairy Audacious Goals (BHAGS). The GLS calls them Grander Visions. I call them Big Thoughts. Whatever you call them - are you casting an inspiring vision that requires greater collaboration, greater sacrifice, greater commitment?
Can I Handle Feedback? Have you ever had someone ask, “Can I be honest with you?” or “Can I give you some feedback?” and you got that lump in your stomach? You're not alone. Done well, feedback is a powerful motivator, done poorly it can crush your soul. As a leader, can you handle feedback, both the giving and the taking? Can you see yourself clearly?
Am I Resilient? An inevitable part of your leadership journey is failure. But it's not the failing that makes the difference in a leader. It's the getting up again. It's the lessons learned. It's the willingness to fail for the right reason. Did you fail because you didn't plan, didn't prepare? Did you fail because you pushed yourself beyond your comfort zone? Did you fail because succeeding would have compromised your integrity? Some of these are the right reasons. Some are not.
Do I Serve? Servant leadership is one of the most over-referenced, least understood concepts in business today. Giving power away, serving those around you, and sacrificing for the greater good are all antithetical to traditional power structures. But how can we expect our followers to serve and sacrifice for our vision if we are not willing to serve and sacrifice for them?
Am I Being Effective? Leadership is a delicate balance of giving and taking. It's about expanding your influence while protecting and growing your greatest resources: your confidence, your connections, your competence, your character, and your commitment.
Am I An Agile Learner? Are you a "been there, done that" leader or are you willing to acknowledge that you don't know everything -- that learning can happen at any time, from any one, anywhere?
It costs 7 - 10 times more to recruit a new customer than it does to retain an existing one. Some would argue that every guest should be treated the same. I disagree. A good and loyal customer should be treated differently. Not better, but differently.
When speaking about regular customers, legendary restauranteur Charlie Trotter said, “We know more about them; there should be an incentive to being a regular customer.” The more you know about your guest, the better, more customized service you can provide that guest. There are plenty of customer relationship management software tools out there, or if you do not have those, a simple database in Act, Excel, or Outlook will work as well.
It's not just hotels and restaurants that can benefit from this practice. Doctors, accountants, car washes, grocery stores... any service oriented business should be looking for ways to build vital connections. In hospitality, the reservation process and check-in experience is a two-way street. We are taking information from our guests, but we should also be gently probing to learn the reason for the visit, preferences, and possible needs during the stay or the meal. This gives us cues and clues as to their expectations and needs.
Sometimes there is a temptation to go overboard for a returning guest or VIP. If you've done your homework, you'll know who will be happy with “Hello it’s nice to see you again, we’re glad you’re here” and who wants a visit from the Chef.
Here's an example. Last summer I received a call from a friend who was traveling to one of our cities for a family funeral. Clearly shaken by events, he asked if I could make a reservation for him at our hotel. He's a regular customer at most of our properties but had never been to this one. Of course I was eager to help him. As I was discussing the reservation with the GM, the question of rate came up. The GM was getting ready to give him a super-discounted rate. But that is not what my friend was looking for. He wanted attention... he needed attention... and he had earned attention by virtue of his many stays at our other hotels. He gladly paid top dollar. For him, it was about the connection. Once he and the GM met, I stepped out of the loop and a new loyal customer was born for this property.
In my opinion, time - not money - is the most precious commodity there is. You can earn more money. But once that particular Saturday night is gone, it's gone for the ages. Returning guests are not only spending their most precious commodity on you, they are not spending it on a competitor -- and if you treat them properly, they never will.
When you serve others - whether purposefully, through volunteering or fundraising - or spontaneously, through random acts of generosity - you are indulging in what is quite possibly the best kind of selfishness around.
When you serve, you'll receive...
... inspiration. You'll see the human spirit as it ought to be.
... gratitude. You'll have a fresh view of the goodness that is in your own life.
... purpose. You'll feel connected to a larger story.
You may only be impacting a small corner of the world, but it's your corner and you'll leave it slightly better than when you arrived.
Now multiply that small corner by 7 billion.
But you don't get to love without respect first. For hotels, it's creating an environment that is consistent and functional, with service that is attentive, discreet, and anticipatory --these are sources of respect.
If you can't earn your guests' respect, don't even bother taking the reservation (or the order, or putting out the "open" sign...)
But respect just isn't enough. Respect isn't sexy. It doesn't create chatter. It doesn't go viral. That happens when guests fall in love... when an emotional connection is made. Consistency and functionality will get you respect but stopping there will never earn you love.
Start with respect then take the leap that will get you to love. Be adventurous, be creative, be fearless.