By: Bud Nolan
The value to a hotel of effective mentoring and succession planning cannot be overestimated. Any business is, after all, wrought with pitfalls and pratfalls that can be more easily avoided if a novice has one-to-one access with a veteran.
The concern over good mentorship is now coming to the forefront as more and more millennials reach a point in their twentysomething lives where they have to choose a career and stick to it. While the millennial generation is hardly a unicorn in its uniqueness, it does have quite a few exceptional challenges to overcome with regard to the topic at hand. But from my experience engaging these young minds both at full-service properties and at current role, it doesn’t have to be all that hard.
I have always used an analogy involving trucks of different colors when first beginning to mentor a young manager. When I got my first job as relief restaurant manager for two sister hotels, I was over the moon with excitement. Then I realized I had just been hit by a bright red truck called ‘poor labor management’. As I gained experience, I learned to recognize the red truck right before it smacked me again. Eventually I knew that if I didn’t get off the road, that red truck was going to hit me.
The problem is nowadays there are a thousand trucks in a thousand colors coming from a thousand different directions. While other industries may be more unidirectional in their operations, hotels marry so many disparate or semi-related fields that managers really must learn to become jacks-of-all-trades in order to avoid the millions of mistakes that may come up at any second of the day. I wish someone would have spent some time teaching me about all of these trucks and how to recognize the challenges they pose. I could have avoided many, many collisions.
Teaching a young, ambitious supervisor is one of the greatest rewards for a hospitality professional. To watch them grasp arcane concepts and apply them is amazingly fulfilling. Sharing the experiences you have garnered will make your hotel or department that much stronger and consistent.
And it is this consistency in operating techniques that will create a much more positive guest experience as well as build rate and occupancy. When guests are confident that there will be no surprises, their choice of hotel becomes much easier to make.
By mentoring, you are in fact cloning your operating philosophy and your system of shortcuts to success. You will find that, in time, your protégée will make the same decisions you would make even when you are not present. The confidence created therein allows you to step back and let your student shine. It also allows you to focus on other projects or challenges (or improving your golf game) because you are certain the choices the protégée makes are correct.
However, mentoring cannot be strictly mandated from corporate head office. It must be an organic process of aligning the young and old in a perfect yin-yang fit or else it will fail. The mentor must be a suitably trained candidate while the mentee must be receptive to this partnership or it will end up being wasted resources.
One of the biggest obstacles many hospitality organizations are facing these days (myself included) is that they don’t have enough ‘bench strength’ to smoothly expand or pivot to meet new market demands. In order to develop a team of millennials that you can trust to take the reins, you must prequalify all novice employees to identify which ones have what it takes to reach the top.
And this mentoring process starts the moment someone is hired. You cannot really discern whether a millennial is worth the trouble of mentoring during the interview process because every jobseeker is already well-versed in how to ‘talk the talk’ and pad a resume with whatever will get them through the front door. But few are willing to ‘walk the walk’.
So while all of us in hospitality look for friendliness and effervescent personalities during the interview process, once they have joined the team, that’s when the real hiring begins. Key here is to look for inquisitive, curious and hardworking people. As a recent example, I had an intern approach me and ask point blank, “What should I be doing to get ahead?” I liked the directness and my reply was just as crystal, “Do whatever you are asked to do.”
Before any executive at my level is ever extend the olive branch to a millennial, we must first see the extra effort being put in. We must see that they are independently active in their efforts to learn any aspect of the industry they are put in contact with. Moreover, we put see that they are taking the time to empathize with the older generations instead of staying firmly within their millennial bubbles.
As I said before, mentorship has its rewards far beyond padding your wallet. Watching young professionals outgrow their positions and seek additional responsibility is definitely exciting. Perhaps they are ready to assume a more challenging role within your hotel. Maybe there is a position available in another department that will expand their experience base.
Sometimes the challenge will involve the fledglings spreading their wings and moving to other hotels. This can be a bittersweet moment, but it should never be a point of consternation. On the one hand, you are happy they have the courage and confidence to leave the security blanket of your hotel. On the other hand, you are faced with replacing their skill set. This creates the opportunity to begin the process again and again!
Once you have improved your hotel and helped your management company find the future AGMs and GMs, there remains one further benefit to mentoring. In a word, friendship.
By sharing your professional skills with ambitious millennials, you will create a network of friends throughout the hospitality community and spanning multiple generations. These bonds will often become some of the most important relationships in your life.
(Published in eHotelier on July 1, 2015)