Why Do We Update Software, but Not Staff?

March 24, 2015

Standup comedians have been joking for years about the struggle to keep up with technology. Driving home with a new laptop in your front seat, you see a billboard for the up-and-coming super-thin version. Showing off your new smart phone at the office, a colleague pulls out a superior model with more memory and a larger screen. The examples are endless, and they really do happen to people every day.


Even funnier, however, is that you can find yourself lagging behind even if you own the latest model. All you have to do is ignore the constant stream of software updates. Your system will be throwing out errors before you know it.


This may seem unfair, but considering the incredible things we expect technology to do for us, it’s a small price to pay. Systems and platforms are constantly changing; such is the nature of the beast. When we invest in quality hardware, we keep the software current in order to protect and maximise our investment.


This is especially important for players in the hospitality industry, where technology has become a vital ingredient to success. A property with outdated systems is liable to lose ground online, and miss opportunities to either gain more customers or reduce operating costs. The results may not materialise overnight, but they will be tangible.


Why, then, does the industry not take a similar approach to staff? Quality people are much more valuable than hardware—and much more vital too. But like hardware, people cannot simply be set in place and left undeveloped. Whilst we should employ staff that can take initiative, they still need an appropriate degree of attention, training and feedback. Otherwise, how can they be expected to develop as professionals? What are the chances they will be inspired by, and passionate about, their work? The industry’s high turnover rates are well known, and weak staff development practices are perhaps the biggest culprit.


In exploring this idea further, let’s continue the technology comparison, since it makes an interesting lens through which to view the industry.


1. Strengthening the “firewall”


In the world of computing, a single flaw in hardware or programming can make you vulnerable to internal failure or external problems.


A hotel, resort or other hospitality interest is similar in many ways. Guests expect the basics of service to be impeccable and consistent. Their experience is affected by staff in every corner of the property, from dishwashers to front desk staff and managers. Even a minor ‘breach’ of professionalism can bring negative undertones to the guest experience—and when this happens, the bottom line is affected.


The message here is that ongoing feedback, instruction and dialogue is appropriate for staff at all levels—not just top talent or management positions. Recent hospitality research highlights the importance of feeling engaged and passionate on the job which in turn has been strongly linked to staff retention. Additional studies indicate a connection between ongoing development opportunities and what researchers call ‘innovative performance.’ In the case of hospitality, innovative performance does not mean adopting highly creative interpretations of the property’s service standards (that wouldn’t be very good for consistency!). It does, however, mean taking a proactive approach to maintaining and even heightening those standards. It means feeling engaged with the work and concerned about the guest experience.


When the employee feels that the company and management are engaged with them personally, and concerned about their experience as a member of the team, they are more likely to embody that same spirit in their interaction with guests.


2. Keeping the servers cool


Continuing the technology parallel, there are a lot of big servers in the world, and they’re doing an awful lot of work every day. An outage during off-peak hours is inconvenient, but when traffic is high during a critical moment, it’s all the more important for the server to perform well and not overheat. If not, significant profits can be lost to competitors. That’s why powerful internal cooling systems and temperature-controlled server rooms have become the norm.


Hospitality translation: Being busy is no excuse for poor service! In fact, when the property is at its busiest, that’s precisely when service and professionalism should be at their peak. The customers who directly shape the property’s online reputation will not—and should not—make concessions simply because the place is booked up. Staff members need training and preparation for these moments. They need to know how to change their approach and address the challenge at hand, while remaining cool and collected in their interactions with guests and other employees. Being able to do this is not a question of luck—it’s a question of constructive, ongoing engagement.


3. Putting the bits together


It’s interesting how companies don’t think twice about paying for warranties and maintenance plans for computer hardware, while ongoing investments in staff are considered nebulous and uncertain. And yet, when you think about it, the one thing the hospitality industry can’t live without is an engaged team member who cares about the work they do. To the property owner or manager, running diagnostics is a routine practice that identifies ways that we can improve the technology platform and address shortfalls through upgrades or maintenance. Having a maintenance agreement in place means that we always ensure that our equipment is in top shape. Why then wouldn’t we do the same thing with our teams, and reward strong performance, and engage staff in ways that matter to them? It would mean enhanced performance and a lot less replacement.


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