Why chaos is good in hotels (and what we learn from it)

January 10, 2018

In 1961, a meteorologist named Edward Lorenz was re-doing weather forecasts using standard mathematical formulas of the day. To save time, he rounded longer decimals to the nearest one thousandth — then went for a coffee and let the computer crunch the numbers. When he returned, a completely different set of weather predictions had been generated than what he had expected. This turned out to be a pioneering moment in chaos theory. It led to the notion of the “butterfly effect,” wherein tiny changes create vastly different outcomes.


What does this have to do with hotel management? You can probably think of one or two possible answers. For instance, we’ve written recently about the power of personalization, and how hotels are working harder to win loyalty by customizing the guest experience. A personalized greeting or free gift is a great way to influence the “weather pattern.” Finding subtle ways to enhance the guest experience can lead to glowing reviews, personal recommendations, and repeat visits — all of which have a stimulating effect on bookings and occupancy rates. Little things add up, influencing the weather over time.


But if we trace success to its source (at least where hotels are concerned), we find a deeper layer of causality: The ability (or lack thereof) of hotel managers to be role models for their employees. If you buy into the notion of the butterfly effect, these are the wings that must flap in order to fully realize your hotel’s potential.


To illustrate, let’s explore two hypothetical situations. In the first, you’re not a great role model to your employees. You don’t project care and concern about their lives or individual goals. You aren’t consistent or fair, and you indulge in gossip with (and about) certain team members. You don’t perform menial tasks if there’s no one else to perform them or show others your willingness to engage any aspect of your operation. You don’t show up to work on time, and don’t live up to the standards you expect of your employees.


Obviously, the level of trust and integrity flowing out of this dynamic will be low. Employees will not feel challenged, inspired or valued. They’ll wonder why they should cultivate exemplary work habits when their manager sets no such example. In the end, those tiny decimal points will find their way into your guest interactions, your quality of service, your online reputation, and finally your booking and occupancy rates.


In the second situation, you are a great role model for your employees. You help them set goals, encourage active participation in problem solving, and take their ideas seriously. You motivate them to be personally invested in better outcomes for guests. Perhaps most importantly, you own your mistakes and demonstrate your desire to improve as a hospitality professional. This is one of most important measures you can take to set yourself up as a role model.


The patterns and outcomes created by this second scenario are completely different to the first. With a team of employees who are fully engaged and invested in the hotel’s performance, your guest interactions and quality of service will improve dramatically. (In fact, I would suggest that I can tell you the type of General Manager running a hotel just by interacting with the front line staff. It is that important.) And of course, with these elements, the hotel’s online reputation will gradually be elevated — and with it your booking and occupancy rates.


As hoteliers, we often look for direct ways to stimulate the outcomes we want, whether it’s a new promotion or a renovation to the physical space. These efforts come with the territory, but they will only have a piecemeal effect unless we go deeper into the roots of success. Hotel managers need to see the finer points of organizational culture (including their own impact) for what they are: Subtle causes with dramatic and far-reaching effects on business.



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