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.

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.”

 

 

 

Crisis Management and Boston

Crisis Management and Boston
Crisis Management
Thinking about Boston and how to utilize in class

This past Monday’s tragic events at the Boston Marathon is a teachable moment for a host of classes. I covered crisis management in my lodging class just last week. I show the video Hotel Ground Zerohandout a case study on the recovery of the tourism and hospitality industry in Washington, DC that was conducted by Georgetown University, after 9/11 and then, incorporate one aspect in their final assignment.  This assignment is constructing a job description and inserting five strategies that individual will be responsible in case of an emergency.

I wish I could do more in the limited time.  I have less than a week to educate the students to this important topic as I could spend a whole semester or more on the dynamic nature.  Since Tuesday morning was the first moment after the attack and we were discussing Event Planning, I was able to incorporate it into my Introduction class.  I showed the video again and then some video about the events.  Today, we discussed about event planning, the role and responsibility of event planners–typical intro information and then got intricate with the events happening around us.  My biggest question to them was how will our industry change  now?  How will this niche of the industry change?  How will event planners have to change to accommodate this incident.  Needless to say, we had a great discussion.

So the mind map is in its initial form from our discussion.  Now to do a bit of research…

Observations on Applebee’s.

Observations on Applebee’s.
A snippet of a bigger picture
Mind-map of business environment, main drivers information, promises, money both tangible and intangible

Well, I guess I am weighing in on the Applebee’s fiasco.  I teach Hospitality Ethics and this is making for a great case study from various points of view.

First, if you haven’t read the article or the complete story, you need to do some research.  I have to admit the media today is not well favored in their reporting.  Yahoo (and here) reported on the incident as it was percolating across the social media spectrum.  Make sure you go to the original Reddit posting and look at the image that was posted.  There are other tangible evidence that there might be different versions of the check image, one with the complete signature.  Also, there is evidence of posting other customer signatures when service execution goes above and beyond.   Again, a whole mess of evidence that even at this blog posting, I am still weighing and how to trawl through.

I won’t tell you the whole story but management, the person involved expresses that it comes down to an argument of privacy.  Or does it?

There are ten principles in hospitality ethics (Jaszay & Dunk, 2006; Ethical Decision Making in the Hospitality Industry; pg 2-3; Pearsons):

  1. Honesty
  2. Integrity
  3. Trustworthiness
  4. Loyalty
  5. Fairness
  6. Concern and Respect for others
  7. Commitment to Excellence
  8. Leadership
  9. Reputation and Morale
  10. Accountability

Now our industry as with any other is driven by information, money and promises, both intangible and tangible.  They are funneled into a dynamic and traditional exchange environment and the industry business’s then execute effective and efficient management functions, processes in order to maximize revenue and profits, in order to reward and reinvest in our stakeholders and the firm, respectively.  I have talked about social contract theory as well as psychological contracts in that they may or may not be articulated or even in writing as part of the exchange of goods and services.

This case highlights the pitfalls and failures, the good, the bad of service encounters, service execution.  There are a host of questions that I will pose to my students to think about.  This brings to mind the social media backlash against Darden and Olive Garden.  There is also the demonstrated pitfalls of social media in delivering instantaneous information to make headlines.  The ramifications on service, social responsibility, employee relations and fiscal responsibility.  There are a host of answers good and bad.

And not just privacy is an issue here, but the tipping, gratuity policy of restaurants.  Recently, given today’s economy, many customers are questioning a restaurants right to automatically charge a gratuity for large parties.  Yet, there are arguments for and against this.  How many customers really understand how a restaurant runs?  How many understand the nature of waiting on customers; a restaurant server’s pay, paying scale and so forth.  What about the customer’s responsibility?  Is the customer always right?  What about the autonomy of managers, their empowerment to manage a business?   How will this hurt Applebee’s brand?  How will Applebee’s weather the storm?  What are the effects on social media?

I could go on.  This could turn into a lengthy post but needless to say, 50 minutes of class time might not be enough for this topic

Hurricane Sandy and the clean up

What's left of the Jetstar from Casino Pier sits in the ocean in Seaside Heights, New Jersey Tuesday 10-30-12 photo by David Gard
What’s left of the Jetstar from Casino Pier sits in the ocean in Seaside Heights, New Jersey Tuesday 10-30-12 photo by David Gard

It will be interesting to see how the hospitality and tourism industry rebounds from Hurricane Sandy. The infrastructure of this country was already taxed and decaying from lack of refurbishment. Atlantic City already suffering from last year’s Hurricane Irene and diminishing casino revenues due to legalization of gambling in surrounding states, has yet, probably to total the complete damage. There may be minimal damage to the hotels, casinos themselves but the supporting infrastructure is sure to be challenging. Are we going to see an influx of legislation now for more Internet-based gambling opportunities? How will social media help in drawing back crowds to that famous area of New Jersey? How will the hospitality organizations work together to rebuild and flourish in these uncertain times?

In the back of everyone’s mind in hospitality has to be the thought that there is a remote chance of something dreadful happening. Any hotel, hospitality venture with its grain of foresight would have such a plan of action in place to address this possibility. With climate change has this probability evolved into a likely possibility? Does it have to be a catastrophic storm or just a guest becoming ill for a company to recognize that it needs action plans in place to address and overcome these challenges? How can you not?

My grandfather, my father always said, have a plan of attack. You cannot sit on your laurels, thinking nothing bad is ever going to happen. It does, whether you are prepared or not, someday, someone, something, is going to take a bite out of your flesh. Those that sit and wait will be, as my grandfather eloquently said, “Sh*t out of luck.” But how do you prepare for such a national emergency? How do you prepare your employees, your middle managers and so forth to deal with such events? How do you safeguard your assets?

Planning just isn’t for the future, it is for today and tomorrow. I tell my students in my two-week lecture on crisis management (believe me I could use a whole year on this or more), you learn from the past, you visualize scenarios and you plan. You put it down on paper and you train. Sure, people will panic, people will react differently when placed in real life events, but the more training you have the better you will be to handle the situation. Your instincts will kick in and take over. You will not second guess yourself and act. We don’t have time to train? It costs too much. Yet, the impact to your bottom line could be far greater if you do not incorporate crisis management into your budget, have as a line item on your income statement. Wouldn’t insurance agency be happy and consider this planning a bonus and give you points for planning? Perhaps they do already? Do you know? The old cliché–plan for a rainy day jumps out at you.

No one is good at anything without practice, even if that just means sitting down and closing your eyes and visualizing what would happen. Test yourself, test your own ability, challenge yourself. To this day my favorite quote that came into my mind and I know probably has been said by many others:

Challenge life, do not let life challenge you.

I know that is all well and good and believe I’m not perfect. I should be better prepared for any challenge in my life. All of us want to go about our lives as if nothing bad would happen. But the fact is, reality is rose with a host of thorns. I do not always plan and I should. I procrastinate and wait until the last possible moment to do things. I know I shouldn’t. I am human and flawed. You have to realize that and get over it. You have to develop thick skin and push on. And yes, you have to remember the humor of life.

God grant me patience but hurry