A Useful Phrase for Managing Passionate Conflict

Managing conflict is even more difficult when neither party is wrong.

Imagine two event managers–one with 20 years of experience, the other a few years out of college. Each with his own idea for how to work on a common problem. 

You bring these two employees together to discuss the issue and quickly identify that while each is passionate, their perspectives differ greatly.

Now is the time to pull a key phrase from your arsenal: “Isn’t it great that…”

  • “Isn’t it great that…you both have ideas for how we can resolve this issue.”
  • “Isn’t it great that…we have differing perspectives on this team.”
  • “Isn’t it great that…we can work on this together to find the best solution.”

This is a powerful phrase for managing conflict.

Assume positive intent, and turn the negative into a positive. 


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What Hospitality Needs to Learn from the Australian Radio DJs

By now you’ve heard about the Australian radio DJs who called the pregnant Duchess of Cambridge’s hospital and received information about her health. You’ve also heard about the staffer who transferred the call committing suicide. This was a tragic situation, yet 100% preventable, and offers an important lesson to hospitality.

Hospitality professionals frequently find themselves as the gatekeeper between confidential information and inquiring minds. Sometimes this information is related to celebrity, but the worst–and most common–cases seem to be when John Smith’s father asks for his room number and we can’t give it out.

  • I’ve been told I couldn’t sit at a bar (and drink coke and eat a burger) because I didn’t have my ID with me. (Restaurant owner’s policy.)
  • I saw a 70 year old woman not allowed into a free wine tasting event after waiting in line for an hour because her driver’s license was expired. (Event manager’s policy)

These policies annoy our guests and are exceptionally difficult on our teams, who are often verbally abused and insulted by our guests who don’t understand.

Yes, abusers of particular information and privileges are far and between. (Chances are, nobody is stalking John Smith). But when the local or even national media runs a headline and it’s your team member who…gave out the room number that led to the assault…or provided the confidential information on a guest’s profile that led to identify theft…or served a drink to the sting officer and shut down your bar…you can blame the criminal or the kid or the DJ…you can blame the bartender or the front desk…you can blame whomever you’d like.

But remember: Blame is reactive, not proactive.

Proactive is an insanely strict process that will:
• Consider the long-term consequences
• Protect your guests, your team members, and your business
• Back-up the frontline response.

And it’s simple: “If you give out a room number to one of our mystery shoppers, you will be terminated immediately.” Or, in the case of the hospital, “Any interaction with VIP guests must be channeled through this specially-trained department…or you will be terminated immediately.”

Develop process. Set expectations. Enforce them.

It won’t solve all your problems, but it’ll go a long way.

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The Facebook Status I Can’t Forget

Amongst the clutter of my friends’ Facebook statuses, one posted on Monday caused me to pause. I’ve been thinking about it all week.


Sad, no?

I’m preaching to the choir. If you’re on this site you don’t need this message. But maybe the leaders who report to you do. We cannot assume anyone knows how to lead, so just like we establish expectations for our team’s interaction with guests, we establish expectations for leaders of our frontline teams:

  • Greet every team member, every day.
  • Coach through regular pre-shift meetings.
  • Spend at least 60% of the day with guests and your team. (This leaves 4 hours for other things. For perspective, the average marathon runner can finish 26 miles in 4 hours and 30 minutes.)
  • And for goodness sake, when someone returns from maternity leave, have your entire team sign a card for them.

I’m embarrassed for this manager because she probably goes home at night and wonders why nobody at work respects her.

P.S. My friend is wrong about one thing–this has nothing to do with paygrade. It is about competency…and when you are incompetent, people always notice that.

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The Case of the Lost Elmos

ABC News ran a feel-good story about a little girl being reunited with her plush Elmo after forgetting it at a Ritz-Carlton property. Upon receiving a phone call from the desperate parent, the Ritz identified the missing plush, created a booklet of photos of Elmo enjoying the property’s amenities, and then mailed it back to the child…explaining that Elmo had just wanted a few more days of a vacation.

What’s your reaction?

“Great employees!”

“Great service!”

“Sounds like the Ritz!”

If that’s your reaction, you missed the most important part of the article:

“After a few calls, the department’s employees developed a routine that when a call comes through and a lost toy or item is found, the security guard on duty takes the toy on its grand vacation at the Ritz.  They then put the photos in the booklet and mail it, along with the found toy, to the family.”

Did you catch that? What the article calls a “routine”, we would call a “process.” Lack of process is the critical gap in executing great guest experiences.

We already have processes for everything we consider “important.” Imagine that upon noticing some violations, the health inspector asks to see you operating process for cleaning the kitchen. You tell him, “We just tell our team to do their best and exceed their manager’s expectations.”

Ridiculous, right? Guidance is not process. When it comes to issues of health and safety, we do not give guidance, we created processes. Guest experience—if you want it executed properly by your team—must follow process. This way, the outcome is not dependent on daily workload…or employee discretion…or someone’s mood/motivation/competence.

By all means hire great people…encourage them to perform acts of heroism when necessary…train them to exceed expectations…but also, set them up for success by developing great process.

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Names, Menus, and Your Restaurant

Imagine two identical pieces of day-old chocolate cake, placed on separate napkins.

On the left, the nameplate reads, “Chocolate Cake.”

On the right, the nameplate reads, “Belgian Black Forest Double Chocolate Cake.”

This simple name change has several results:

  • Customers will be more likely to buy when offered the Belgian variety. (27% more likely in one study comparing foods with descriptive vs. non-descriptive names). Who cares the  “Black Forest” is not in Belgium.
  • When offered both cakes, customers will rate the Belgian version as tasting better.

(Now, place the cake on a plate instead of a napkin and watch gross margin dollars soar. In one study, guests were willing to pay 140% more for a brownie served on a china plate than a napkin.)

It sounds simple and it sounds small, but these little name tweaks have been shown to make a big difference. Cost to you: nothing, just some creativity.

As you begin to name your dishes, consider using one of the following themes:

  • Geographic Labels – Wisconsin Cheese Platter, Cajun BBQ Ribs, Southern Fried Chicken. Can you play into local geographic themes?
  • Nostalgic Labels – Grandma’s Chocolate Chip Cookies, Country Fair Sweet Corn
  • Sensory Labels – Hearty Sizzling Steaks, Piping Hot Potatoes
  • Brand Labels – Be careful of trademarks here; consider a local business you can partner with to use a local “brand” name. Local meat processors or farms are a great bet.

Here’s the bottom line: we taste what we expect to taste. Set those expectations high.

For more, check out Brian Wansink’s, Mindless Eating: why we eat more than we think.

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