Can you plan for every contingency in event planning?

Can you plan for every contingency in event planning?

Can you plan for every contingency in event planning?  Yes, and no.  Last week, I gave out most if not all of the information to my groups in HT 351 for their scenarios.  They should now have all the information they need to complete the project for the most part.  The only aspect left is for them to visit with me, which is required, to hash out any finer details.  Details.  That is important in event planning.

It is all about project management.  As I have said before, it is about managing time.

Yet, those fresh, young faces before me, cringe when I discuss ‘curve balls’.  They dread having to deal with potential problems.  But they will have to deal with it.  Deal with potential realities.

What do I say to them?  They are looking for me to guide them on how to tackle this part of the project.

Innate in all of us is the ability to plan.   Don’t forget that.  We just have to get it down on paper what we need to do and execute the steps.

Yes, hard.  Focus, drive and discipline will see those action steps to fruition.  Not every one of us has that focus or drive or discipline.

I can raise my hand to that effect.  I have earned that tee-shirt more than once.  I’m stuck in a rut right now, my focus wavering from professional and personal projects.  It’s hard, but life isn’t about easy.  Life is about challenges.

I’m letting life challenge me at the moment.  Whereas I should be challenging life.

So, what do I say to motivate them to address their curve balls.  Where to begin?  Since there are more than one curve ball, tackling more than one at a time, can be frustrating, stressful and tiring.  Especially, if you have never been in this position before.  Now, there are moments in a professional career where you will have to decide off the ‘cuff’ what will need to be done.  You will be put in a position where a decision will have to be made at that precise point in time.  And I will address this after, I guide you through planning for those curve balls.

Yes, planning is coming back into the picture.

To prepare yourself for any event or scenario, you have to think about your job.  You have to think about all the contact points where potential problems can occur.  Map them out, and get into the habit of walking around your property, your place of employment and look at it from the vantage point of problems.  Don’t wait for the signs, envision them.  Use your imagination and ‘see’.  Ask your self of plethora of questions. As a writer who likes to develop stories, I utilize the “What if” exercise.  What if this happens here?  What could happen here?  What if this happened during an event?  What would I do?  Every time I see or read about an incident on TV, like Las Vegas, my mind goes into scenario mode.  I visualize what is happening at that time.  I ask myself a host of questions, and run through the gambit of potential.  I ask myself, “What if I was the event planner at this event?  What would I have done?  What should be in place already to aid me in this event?”

No, you don’t know how you would react.  No, you don’t know what you would do sometimes during panic situations.  But the preparation for the likely event comes with training and training the mind to think this way.  And then running mock drills on you, your employees, and even now, including guest in that equation.  I can remember when we used guests in our scenarios at one hotel I worked at.  We asked if they would be a part of our preparation training.  We sent out a message to the community that we were having training and asked if any person would like to role play victims.  Is this wrong?  Why?  Why not?  Shouldn’t we all be prepared?  Shouldn’t we all help each other in times of need?  The more you know as a manager, as a guest, the better you are all prepared for scenarios.

NBC-Emergency
NBC-Emergency
Visit to Disney World, 1977
From left to right, Mom, sister, me and brother at Walt Disney World, 1977

I know this to be true because I have lived through it.  I have lived through training situations and real life situations.  Growing up we had some great shows on TV.  I can vaguely remember Adam 12.  The one show I do remember from my early teens was Emergency!.  It was about the organization of the first ever EMTs in LA.  It had me consider at one time being one.  Taking up the profession of firefighter and EMT.  At school, both high school and college, I took and read about advanced first aid procedures.  I took advance first aid and life saving at Penn State for my Health Ed course.  I can recall playing the victim in a faux car accident and the other students extracting me from that car on a cold autumn day.  I loved the water module in the pool.  When I was out industry, I volunteered to be on first aid responder teams at the hotels.  I obtained and renewed my CPR certification.  I guess I obtained that information from my Mom.  She taught the Red Cross classes in high school.  She was always willing to help.  Heck, in my family we are known to be teachers, police officers or doctors.  I guess its in the DNA.  But I digress.

Back on point.

So, where to begin.  This year was different after a failure from last fall.  I had to approach teaching this aspect of management development from a different perspective.  Some how connections were not being made.  I forgot that research has shown that this generation may or may not have the imaginative skills my generation has.  They grew up with computers and technology.   Some if not all, might not have been outside playing as we did as kids.  Being pirates for a day out in the woods, creating our own little worlds.  Yes, that play time set up my generation for problem solving.  We saw something we wanted to do and figure out a way to accomplish it. The students in my class may have been immersed in a computer generated world that didn’t stretch the mind enough.  That didn’t place them in hair-raising situation where you had to think.  (Laughing at the image now in my mind.  Cue back to that pirate scenario on a lazy summer’s day.  I would give you more, but I don’t want to put any ideas into young heads.  Mother just patched me up.  I’m still here.)  Let’s just say there is a host of divergence between my generation and today’s young students in terms of critical thinking skills.

So, given what happened, I realized this year, I needed to not only reinforce the visualization technique I have done since I was a young adult, but also guide them on how to make connections.  I had to explain how to accomplish this goal and get in the habit of visualization.  So this year, I told the students to draw from all of their classes on customer service and operations management.  To utilize their own personal experience to aid them in understanding the curve ball.  Write down the curve ball on a 4 x 6 index card and then as a group, brainstorm.  Ask yourself those exact questions.  What is happening here?  What is going on?  How are people reacting?  Why are they reacting?  Where has it happened?  When did it happen?  What should we do?  What could happen if we don’t do something?  What could happen?  A host of questions and then brainstorm answers.  Research.  Google.  This is always about customer service.  No, it isn’t all about the bottom line, not always.  It is how we get to that bottom line and back up that counts.

Curve ball scenario
Curve ball scenario

This was one of my curve balls from one of my scenarios.  An executive board meeting was taking place in St. Louis, MO.  The members were leaders of a Fortune 500 company.  They were the elite of the elite.  One activity that they were participating in outside of their normal duties was a visit to the local Budweiser Clydesdale farm.  On the return, one of the members has left their wallet on the bus.  Needless to say I wasn’t happy with the results of the group planning in terms of this curve ball.  Two possibilities could have occurred.  One, they had only one group member handle curve balls and that group member was tired by the time they got to this incident.  Or two, they waited till the last-minute to address these scenarios.  It very well could have been something different.  But in the end it was poor project planning.

They forgot to utilize their experience as customer.  How would you react as a customer if this happened to you?  What would be your priority if this personally happened to you?  What are you panicking about?  Who is this person?  They forgot who their target market was and is.  What is in that wallet?  What help are they looking for?  Part of event planning is to know your target audience.  If you know them, then you can best address their needs and wants.  Our industry is all about customer service and we need to don that hat  more than once to understand reaction.  We need to walk a mile in their shoes to know how this impacts their lives and the lives of others that this would affect.

They forgot their roles and responsibility as event planners.  What they need to do to aid the customer?  What they need to do to make this a memorable experience?  How do they help and aid their clients?  They didn’t tease out the situation.  They didn’t map out the cause and effect.  The action-reaction-results loop.  If this one incident happened in real life, consequences of not doing something can be detrimental not only to your customer but to your reputation and your business.  Even our industry.

So, why do I give them curve balls. Because this is reality.  This is what happens out there when they are in real life situations.  Accomplishing this exercise, helps develop a proactive mindset.  That they can almost see things happen before they do, and act.  If this little kernel of information is in their minds, then they could plan a to do list for themselves during each event to cover any contingency.

More on defining Organizational Culture…(PPC and more)

More on defining Organizational Culture…(PPC and more)

We have a host of authors within our book by Kersten and La Venture  1 that exposes the various definitions of organizational culture. There is a theme that emerges based on shared core values, beliefs, and principles.  This hints at behavior and how that behavior is communicated to a greater audience (p. 2-3).  That behavior exists within and outwit the company.  It governs the day-to-day operations and the lives that work within that community.  Yes, a community.  Marriott views their associates as a greater family.

Core Values
Core Values of the School of Hospitality Leadership
Yet, as I decipher these words, I am left with one thought, one word.  Service.  Servant leadership is a common phrase we hear about the university, and incorporate it in our culture.

The definitions of organizational culture are incomplete without the inclusion of servant leadership or service.

You may be thinking:  But it is all apart of that definition, when you argue for that commonality of themes within organizational culture.

Yes, and no.

Service is inter-woven and stands alone.  Why?  Maybe it should be the overriding concept?  See still in a heated debate.

Maybe if we address behavior.  Behavior is action.  Behavior is developed with immersion with in a unique place.  That place has three environments–physical landscape (natural/man-made environment), economic and socio-cultural.  Everyone is a product of their own three environments.  A host of variables will define those environments and shape how your beliefs are formed from the roots of those variables.  Core values remain, but the breadth and depth of those values shifts and adapts, matures and grows over time.  Some of those core values will stick with you and others you will shed with maturity, personal growth and reflection.

Life happens.

You bring these dynamics into any company.

Each individual of a society makes up the culture.  I am getting away from service and need to bring it back.  We will get to culture shortly.

Warning, service has a broad definition.  For this argument, service is the want to do something for someone else.  Not just because we have to, but because we want to.  It is the right thing to do.  We have within our hearts the want to help.  And that does have its hang ups.  We are after all human and considerably flawed.

Some have this ability to help more than others.  They have this innate compassion to such a degree that it is second nature.  No questions are asked.  Deep down we all do, but we are stymied by our own fears.

That is why I want to call it a service heart.  Some would label it as the heart of service.  But several colleagues and I have been gnashing on changing that.  I’m sure that phrase has been around for a bit.  And anyone can develop a service heart.

We have come to that conclusion that that phrase incorporates those core values.  In tourism, we have a lot of choice in products.  Some similar, some different.  What creates competitive advantage now and in the future will be the service. The human element.  People will want to return because of the people helping them fulfill their expectations.  Because we want them to return ‘home’ to us again and again.  Thus, our behavior is paramount to fulfilling the expectations of our stakeholders.  All of them.

So, at the heart of organization is a culture.  We should hold commonality, without the lost of identity.  That is something that isn’t really articulated within our first readings.  Identity.  We each bring our own sense of self to the work environment.  I have posed this question before.  How do we retain our own sense of self in a workplace that may or may not have the same common values as our own.  Today, we are seeing disparity in our society.  Not all of us possess the same beliefs.  We have our own unique cultural attributes that we bring into a workplace.  How do we mesh this divergence?  Some are not always the same.  Should we or should we not ask people to change that culture to conform (shudder) to that workplace culture?  Do the mission and vision of a company posses the flexibility to handle various cultural nuances?

Acculturation exists in tourism.  Simply defined, it is the moment when two or more cultures meet and something happens.  You can either have assimilation of one culture with another.  Yes, there may or may not be dominance of one over another.  The second may be nothing happens.  Or friction.  There is too much difference that problems occur.  Could we now extend this concept into the workplace because of the diverse backgrounds of our employees.

So, maybe I should hint at diversity.  Diversity, in its simplest terms, is about the difference in a workplace.  It identifies that difference and should be embraced. We can all contribute to our workplace. Yet, the definition is limiting to us in trying to understand that difference and how to handle it.  It doesn’t get to the heart of everything.  It doesn’t offer strategies.  Laws aren’t strategies.  There is still some mysticism with diversity.  If we extend diversity and marry it with the concept of cultural intelligence, especially when working in a global world, we can develop strategies and broader, better behaviors to handle that diversity.  Remember these are my interpretations of my own readings and research.  Don’t take it as face value.  What kind of Socratic professor would I be, if I didn’t ask you to think for yourself.  Read, digest, understand and reflect.

Culture today is so much greater, broader in definition than what some might think.

This is when I tell you that I hate definitions.  I think they are limiting.  I don’t think they encompass the expanse of variety that exists.  Yes, we need a foundation on which to start.  But how many of us stop and do not explore the many layers, the breadth and depth of those definitions. Culture is one of those definitions.  That is why later on in the semester we will be examining Cultural Intelligence.

The discussion continues…

Footnotes

1. Kersten, J., La Venture, Kelly, Lui, Katherine E. Welch, & Cervenka, Debbie. (2015). The human factor to profitability : Building a people-centered culture for long-term success / Jeanette Kersten, EdD, SPHR, and Kelly La Venture, EdD ; with a foreword by Kat Lui, PhD, and Debbie Cervenka. (First ed.).

Understanding Service Execution

Understanding Service Execution
Initial Mapping out of the Guest Cycle
Initial Mapping out of the Guest Cycle
Guest Cycle
Guest Cycle

We have been talking about the process of the guest cycle in Lodging.  Talking through what happens with the guest, the hotel, different departments, and managers.

Initially, we mapped out what we talked about in class, and then I put it into a mind map to aid the students in their understanding.  I uploaded a pdf copy to our D2L site, and hopefully, they will take the map and work with it.  Hoping to see them interweave the importance of service execution.

Tourism and Crisis Management

Tourism and Crisis Management

The Turkey Bombings this past weekend demonstrated the worst of our society.  In my lodging class this week, we are weaving the elements of communication, security, and safety.  We are examining the effects of current events such as the Boston Marathon Bombings, 9/11, and other crises on hotel management.  What should you do in the event of….?  Bringing reality into the classroom.  The probability of such a crisis happening on their watch might be relatively low, but in today’s world, you can’t think like that.  You can’t think that something like this can’t happen in your neck of the woods.  Every contingency should be addressed, and preparation taken.  My old health ed teacher, Mr. Matsko, used to say, as probably my parents, who grew up in the age of World War II, and the Cold War, “it is better to be prepared, to be safe rather than sorry.”

Action plans must be developed for every type of emergency.  You never know what will happen, whether you are a tourist or work in this industry.  You may be called upon to act.  You may be the one to ensure that your guests survive.  You can’t rely on others to prepare, take the initiative and inform yourself on procedures.  You can’t run away from responsibility.  The ramifications and implications are far-reaching to your operation, your organization and yes, we know we don’t like to talk about it, but also the financial side.

I can see the look in their eyes now as I stand in front of the classroom, the look that tells me, “Wait, I have to do what?”

“I have to do all these tasks?”

“I have to remember all of this?”

Yes.

How do you prepare, tell me what to do?  How do I be an effective manager?  I can’t give you everything.  Sometimes it is experience (which I hope they never have) that gives you the confidence, and the ability to act.  Some have an innate ability, and capability.  Others, it takes time.

I can only give them so much.  The way I prepared for this, is I armed myself with information.  I actively read about these situations, and consider questions.  I took courses, I talked to friends, and I have experience.  For instance, the Boston Bombings, happened near several hotels, one in which I worked during my internship.  My first question that filtered through my head, is what did they do?  How did each level of the organization handle guests?  What was the scene like?  What would I do in this situation?

If you are in a position of leadership, in all of its varied forms, others will be looking to you for direction.  During stressful, difficult times, the cream does rise to the top, and people will surprise you.  In honesty, on certain things, I don’t know how I would act.  I just hope I am prepared for anything.  And working in this industry for as long as I have, I have been witnessed to a host of nastiness.  It has changed me, and helped, and hindered my point of reality, and what I am capable of.

Do my students think like this?  Do they ask the right questions?  Do they visualize themselves in this scenario in their minds, and plant themselves there, run through what possibly could happen?

I’m a writer by avocation, and professionally.  I create worlds, and incidents that challenge my characters.  Most of my heroes, and heroines, are modeled after my own personality traits (Not all…).  I ask them, given these traits, what would you do?  How would you react?

I am an avid reader of genres that are close to what I like to write in order to learn the craft.  Any manager in our industry that wants to develop to be top of their game needs to READ!  Needs to find out how others reacted to these scenarios and learn.

Be proactive not reactive.  Therefore, you must engage in some mental preparation and construct plans to address crises.  And then you must test yourself.  Test your employees, train and test.  Finally, reflect on actions, and adapt.

Again, another favorite saying is, “Do not put off what you can do today…tomorrow…it may be too late.”

 

 

 

What does 2020 look like…for tourism industry

What does 2020 look like…for tourism industry

Sometimes I wonder at the evolution of tourism industry.  What it will look like in 2020, 2050.  I can noodle around Google, and garner snippets of trends, and ideas, but that is just the tangible that will change.  Back in 2000, 2020 seemed like so far in the distance, that it was too hard to extrapolate the nuances.  I can, to a point, articulate the technology changes I want, but really get to the heart of how life changes, hard.

We can crunch numbers.  We can put words to paper, and try to envision our lifestyles, but really in the end, it is about today.  This moment in time, this moment of truth that counts.  Marriott has argued for decades now that if we take care of today, the people, tomorrow will take care of itself.  (Okay I’m paraphrasing, but let me take some license.)

It is good to plan.  It is good to strategize, but if we lose sight of what is important at this moment, we lose how many opportunities?  We lose the potential for that future.  Don’t we lose the moment of truth in every experience happening at this instant?

Moment of Truth
Moment of Truth

I could sit in front of my computer for several hours, and view videos on the new productivity technology that will aid our lives.  I could sit and read about the applications being developed.  Most of it is coming true, like that in Microsoft’s Vision 2020 video that was published back in 2010.  

But we forget the human element in that technology.  That that technology is only as good as the person using it.  That our ability to deliver on the expectations of our customers depends on our common sense more than the gadget we have in our hands.  What we do matters.  So any vision for the future must entail that aspect.  It is certainly argued in these videos, and we can chart and map out the flow of work, the contact points in the moment of truth, but in the end, the difference is the human element that exerts force on those steps.  The core value of tourism is the people that deliver on expectations, and desires.  That they more than meet, exceed the moment of truth.

Welcome back students…Spring, 2015

Welcome back students…Spring, 2015

This semester is energized with the opportunity for new thoughts, and new ideas.  We will be challenged, both in the classroom, and with external forces from local, regional, national and international factors.

I am teaching four courses this semester, Principles of Food Service, Purchasing, Principles of Tourism, and Lodging.

I wanted to start the new year out with an interesting video from Michiel Bakker, Director at Google Food Service…

 

What does Service mean in Hospitality?

What does Service mean in Hospitality?

So I have been noodling around YouTube, Google and other materials to find out more about service.  There are a host of resources out there, both factual, and opinionated.  So I went to the source for an example of exemplary service.  There is perhaps one name, that has stood the test of time for consistently delivering on their promise of quality guest service.  And that is Ritz Carlton.  Yet, do their promotional videos get at the heart of what service really means?  For instance, here is their latest video upload to YouTube:

Of course any promotional material will be from the point of view of the customer, but here are host of promises from business to consumer.  As I have stated in class, there are three drivers influencing our industry, money or financial, information, and promises.  Service is a promise.  Service is a human element; a coordinated effort between all team members to deliver on a promise.

Okay, but what about the definition:

According to Brymer and Johanson (2014, glossary), Service is:

A type of product that is intangible, goods that are inseparable from the provider, variable in quality, and perishability.  The reason why private clubs exist; members receive high-end, personalized service at their club.

The authors go on further to define Service Experience:

Sum total of the experience that the customer has with the service provider on a given occasion.

So, we can draw several inferences from these two concepts.  One, that service is an intangible element, varies in delivery, and is perishable.  That would mean that is has links to the human element of our industry, that it may or may not be consistent, and that it may or may not last.  Yet, perishability, in terms of service, needs a little more thought.  How do we draw turnover into this concept?  If service is perishable, part of the human element, could that not mean that we have a tenacious grasp on retaining valuable employees, that understand service, and its effect to the bottom line (profitability), and loyalty?  That employees, if not seen as a valuable asset to our company, could easily jump ship and migrate to another company that values their efforts.  Therefore, how we plan, how we coordinate, how we train, the matrix of our corporate culture, envisioned in our mission and vision statements, should relate back to that core concept of service.

So let us revisit The Ritz’s Credo:

The Ritz-Carlton Hotel is a place where the genuine care and comfort of our guests is our highest mission.

We pledge to provide the finest personal service and facilities for our guests who will always enjoy a warm, relaxed, yet refined ambience.

The Ritz-Carlton experience enlivens the senses, instills well-being, and fulfills even the unexpressed wishes and needs of our guests.

That is a solid promise to guests, that must be communicated down through the layers of an organization.  Every day this must be reinforced, and understood.  It’s not just about the job, it’s an ideal, an attitude, that must percolate consistently through every employee’s mind.  This also extends the argument to empowering the employees with clearly defined promises.

Yet, what is that empowerment to the Ritz employee?  We must visit their motto.

At The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company, L.L.C., “We are Ladies and Gentlemen serving Ladies and Gentlemen.” This motto exemplifies the anticipatory service provided by all staff members.

Here the culture is proactive, already a thought in their mind, even before a guest decides to stay with them.  They understand the moment of truth, that at any contact point, they can and will make a difference.  The Ritz further articulates this into the Three Steps of Service:

  1. A warm and sincere greeting. Use the guest’s name.
  2. Anticipation and fulfillment of each guest’s needs.
  3. Fond farewell. Give a warm good-bye and use the guest’s name.

Again, these steps illustrate the need to understand your guest, before, during and after their stay.  We need to understand their decision-making process, their needs, their wants, even if they don’t understand quite what they want themselves.  It is about relationship building, CRM (Customer Relationship Management); about asking the right questions in order to understand, to progress from a limited awareness to a greater awareness.  To be cognizant of our world around us.  If someone family suddenly pops into your establishment without a reservation, and Mom is holding a three-year old, and Dad is trying to coral and maintain order with the other two youngsters, you know to ask a few questions to make their stay more comfortable.  Look at the people, look at what is going on, note the time, note the weather, even if you are sold out.  Service is about going that extra mile for your guest.

These steps can be further broken down into objectives or values:

Service Values: I Am Proud To Be Ritz-Carlton

  1. I build strong relationships and create Ritz-Carlton guests for life.
  2. I am always responsive to the expressed and unexpressed wishes and needs of our guests.
  3. I am empowered to create unique, memorable and personal experiences for our guests.
  4. I understand my role in achieving the Key Success Factors, embracing Community Footprints and creating The Ritz-Carlton Mystique.
  5. I continuously seek opportunities to innovate and improve The Ritz-Carlton experience.
  6. I own and immediately resolve guest problems.
  7. I create a work environment of teamwork and lateral service so that the needs of our guests and each other are met.
  8. I have the opportunity to continuously learn and grow.
  9. I am involved in the planning of the work that affects me.
  10. I am proud of my professional appearance, language and behavior.
  11. I protect the privacy and security of our guests, my fellow employees and the company’s confidential information and assets.
  12. I am responsible for uncompromising levels of cleanliness and creating a safe and accident-free environment.

What these are,are goals and objectives, in developing a corporate culture.  Something that is deeply rooted in the psyche of every employee.  Not only for the guest, but also, in how all employees are treated.  And thus a promise is made between the company and their employees:

At The Ritz-Carlton, our Ladies and Gentlemen are the most important resource in our service commitment to our guests.

By applying the principles of trust, honesty, respect, integrity and commitment, we nurture and maximize talent to the benefit of each individual and the company.

The Ritz-Carlton fosters a work environment where diversity is valued, quality of life is enhanced, individual aspirations are fulfilled, and The Ritz-Carlton Mystique is strengthened.

So, what have we learned.  Service is about promises, about experience for both the employee and the guest.  And that leads to the final definition offered by Brymer and Johanson (2014, Glossary):

Service product: Entire bundle of tangibles and intangibles in a transaction that has a significant service component.