Of Waffles, Baggage, and More…

Customer delight goes way beyond regular SOPs.

Breakfast at a luxury resort… somewhere in India

“Can I have a waffle please?” asks a young, sarong-wrapped guest gaily, looking excited to be in this environment on her family holiday.

“Yes Madam.” says the young chef at the waffles and pancake counter. There were a host of toppings on offer, though not of the frozen variety.

“Can you put a scoop of vanilla ice cream on it?” asks Ms. Sarong, demurely.

“No Madam, we do offer ice creams at lunch and dinner buffets, but not at breakfast,” answers the budding chef.

Ms. Sarong persists, “But can you not serve my waffle with a scoop of vanilla ice cream?”

The young waffle & pancake chef chimes a collective ‘nix,’ ‘nada,’ and ‘nyet,’ by uttering “Sorry Madame.”

A last-ditch effort by the petite sarong-wrapped damsel floored me (I happened to be waiting to order my waffle, and hence had a birds-eye view)… she told the ‘The Rock of Gibraltar’ chef coyly, “It is my birthday today.”

The Rock wavered for a moment, batted his eyelid, and then continued to stick his feet in, refusing to budge from his Saran-wrapped position. “Sorry madam, I cannot serve you ice cream at breakfast,” he averred.

T’was a wretched sight to see the guest agreeing to the ‘Waffle a la mode du Chef Rock of Gibraltar,’ as she traversed dejectedly back to her table, to anticipate an average breakfast on the beginning of what was supposed to be a celebratory day for her!

There is a chance that this guest may go elsewhere the next time.

Moral: Guests may forget what the hotel associate says, but they will never forget how the hotel made them feel.

Check-in at an airport counter… also, somewhere in India

“Even the elephant carries but a small trunk on his journeys. The perfection of travelling is to travel without baggage” … Henry David Thoreau.

Alas, Henry never married, and hence probably did not fathom the lady traveller!

On a busy pre-Dassehra weekend, I had a first-hand experience of revenge travel mayhem at an airport. I was standing in an abominably long line, awaiting my turn at the check-in counter.

I finally pushed ahead to the counter, and asked the gaunt, harassed check-in counter assistant about my flight. He claimed he had already called out for passengers for my destination, and now the counter had closed for my flight. Reminding him that we were still 50 mins from the flight, I asked how he could dare close the counter before time. I put my luggage on the belt and insisted he check us in.

Looking for an excuse to stall us, he told me our single suitcase weighed 30 kg. I told him it was so, as we were two passengers. He objected, splitting hairs on the fact that we had two separate PNRs, which permitted us to have one bag each of 15 kgs. As my wife and I were the travellers, I asked him what the problem was, so long as we had 30 kgs between the two of us. He continued reading me the rule book. Amidst this arguing, he nevertheless printed the baggage tag and initiated the process of handing over the stub.

My wife, standing afar thus far, and understandably cheesed at this Balaam’s ass’ stuck-up behaviour, vented her exasperation on his comportment. This annoyed our Paper-Tarzan at the counter, and he audaciously tore the just-printed luggage stub, telling me that now he was not checking our luggage in. I had to bite in my angst and apologise to PT, who was probably weighed down by his own emotional baggage, and request him to re-issue the luggage stub. PT did so, grumbling away, and then nearly threw his back out while trying to straighten the bag on the belt whilst attaching the stub… retribution from the skies I guess!

Moral: Keep your ego aside while dealing with a customer. Standard Operating Procedures must delight and not red-tape the customer.

Standard Operating Procedures, aka SOPs, define a path, a process for associates to walk on. However, the service industry must realize that SOPs have the ability to frustrate the customer, aka guest; and must be flexible to the guest and situation, keeping within acceptable parameters.

The service industry promises features, advantages, and benefits. Somewhere it has lost out on delighting the customer! Customer delight may vary from person to person. At an airline check-in counter, customer-orientated processes along with conviviality are sufficient at most times. Yet, how often do we ask for seats of our choice and are told by the airline associate that the flight is sold out; then board the aircraft, only to discover empty seats galore?

Customer delight goes way beyond regular SOPs. Decades ago, it was sufficient to be proficient with SOPs in order to delight a customer. Not anymore. The traveller today expects to be delighted impromptu. No longer does the customary complimentary cake delight the guest on their special occasion… they want an in-the-moment delightful experience.

They need ice cream on their waffle!

Why the kerfuffle
Over a waffle
Or, the commotion
Over a check-in
Put the guest ahead
Don’t be pig headed
Follow SOPs
Yet, delight to please

This article has appeared in ET HOSPITALITY WORLD.COM October 2021

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A Shared Vision enhances Profitability

A Shared Vision enhances Profitability, and it is what you and your team members want to create or accomplish as a part of the organization.

Bill Marriott famously once said ‘I want our associates to know that there really is a guy named Marriott who cares for them.’ He understood that if his team were to share his vision, they needed to know of his existence as a caring, understanding, and existing personality.

Ricardo Semler who pioneered the Semco story and articulated his success in empowering and creating a common vision believed in a decentralized, participatory style and let his employees set their own hours, wages, even choose their own IT. In 1990, the Brazilian economy went into a severe downturn, forcing many companies to declare bankruptcy. Workers at Semco agreed to wage cuts, providing their share of profits was increased to 39%, management salaries were cut by 40% and employees were given the right to approve every item of expenditure. How did he fare? Semco’s revenues subsequently jumped from $35 million to $212 million in nine years, with an annual growth rate of 40% and the firm grew from several hundred employees to 3000, with an employee turnover of about 1 percent.
Ricardo Semler’s leadership style can best be described as radical. This approach encourages followers to share their ideas and apply their creativity and ingenuity to reach the company’s goals. The employees have the opportunity to offer suggestions to improve the company.

Findings through a survey by Marcus Buckingham & Curt Coffman revealed that People leave Managers, not Companies.’ This apophthegm is one we all have heard of, and is oft-repeated; yet strangely, it is referred to others rather than to oneself!

Henry Ford said once, ‘if everyone moves forward together, then success takes care of itself.’

Beyond a point, an employee’s primary need has less to do with money, and more to do with how he’s treated and how valued he feels. If you are losing good people, look to their immediate supervisor/manager.

Jack Welch of GE once said, ‘Much of a company’s value lies between the ears of its employees. If its bleeding talent, its bleeding value.’

Ponder for a moment the cost of losing a capable member of staff. The cost of substitution entails:

  • The cost of not having someone to do the job in the interim
  • The cost of recruiting, and then skilling the new incumbent
  • The loss of the company’s reputation (Every person who leaves a corporation becomes its representative, for better or for worse)
  • The loss of clients and contacts the replaced person had with the industry
  • The loss of morale amongst co-workers
  • The loss of trade secrets this person may possibly share with others

Too often, Shared Visions really mean, ‘I have a vision; you share it!’ 

A General Manager of one of India’s 5-star hotel chain worked hard at bringing up his ageing hotel’s brand equity in the market. From an ARR of ₹5600, he took it up to ₹7560 over 24 months, with a slew of efforts. He facilitated the improvement of the brand’s perception in the city – interestingly by staging niche F&B events, P.R. interactions, Revenue Management interventions, involved Guest interaction, and through intense sales and behavioural Training for his team. Unfortunately, the ownership did not share his progressive vision of differential pricing to achieve a better RevPAR. Instead, they insisted that rates should not be offered below a mandated level of ₹7500/+ taxes including breakfast. The owners forcibly cancelled all signed RFPs (including those producing 500 – 2500 room nights per year) and Travel Agent contracts and made the hotel sales team create new contracts which most clients refused to sign. The result? Irate clients (Corporate/Travel Agencies, etc) took their business elsewhere. All this occurred at the beginning of a financial year, and the repercussions were immediate. From a top line of ₹63 crores (ARR ₹7560), the hotel dipped to ₹45 crores (ARR ₹5200) over the next 3 years (incidentally, all this was pre-pandemic, when business elsewhere was stable, if not increasing).

The greatest leaders mobilize others by coalescing people around a Shared Vision. 

On the other hand, another hotel owner I know shares his vision and allows the operator to function with optimum freedom, his only caveat being that major policy decisions be discussed with him, for his opinion. The General Manager is equally competent as in the earlier example – the difference here is that in this second case, the owner and operator work towards a shared vision. The operator also shares this collective vision with his team. It is no wonder that the top line grew y-o-y at 12-15% pre-Covid. [In fact, during the current pandemic, the hotel has managed to stay out of the red, thanks to innovative changes in the hotel’s business plan, expense reengineering, and operating policies]

Peter Senge, the author of The Fifth Discipline identified ‘Shared Vision’ as one of the five disciplines necessary to create a learning organization. A dynamic organization adapts and transforms itself to function effectively in a complex and dynamic world. These are organizations where people continually expand their capacity to create the results that they truly desire, where new and expansive thinking patterns are nurtured, where collective aspirations are set free, and where people are continually learning to see the ‘big picture together.

A Shared Vision must be strongly evoked by all leaders on the team, and be capable of driving them relentlessly, if need be, towards a common goal. A quote attributed to Helen Keller says, ‘The most pathetic person in the world is someone who has sight but no vision.’ To rephrase this quote in the context of Shared Vision, it would stand as, ‘The most pitiable organization is one who can see, but has no vision.’

A Shared Vision enhances Profitability, and it is what you and your team members want to create or accomplish as a part of the organization. It is derived from common interests and a sense of shared purpose for all organizational activities… and leads to sustained profitability. 2000 years ago, the Chinese Philosopher Lao Tzu said, ‘Go to the people. Live with them. Learn from them. Love them. Start with what they know. Build with what they have. But with the best leaders, when the work is done, the task accomplished, the people will say: We have done this ourselves.’

This article has appeared in ET HOSPITALITY WORLD.COM September 2021

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Will the Hotel Salesperson ever get obsolete?

Circa 1991, when just an Assistant Manager in the F&B department of The Oberoi Towers, Mumbai – I was summoned to the office of Mr. S.M. Datta, Chairman – HLL (now H.U.L) by his Executive Assistant to discuss plans for a business lunch. I casually strolled across to the HLL building and met his E.A. who, without any further ado, introduced me to Mr. Datta. I spent a good 15 minutes with the chairman, understanding his requirements and then strolled back to work, to initiate the execution for his lunch event.

It never struck me how fortunate I had been to have gained entry to an office, which the most experienced and accomplished sales head would consider hallowed ground! In those days, there was very little competition, and I was a cog in arguably the country’s most professional hotel company – hence I took this tryst for granted.

Today’s scenario is a far cry from those days. Competition has mushroomed, and how! Customers have the upper hand, and they are spoilt for choice; even as hotel products are fast becoming commodities, and the digital age is ushering in a ‘selling from a distance’ mode.

In the Indian hospitality context, salespeople had to struggle less in the 1990’s, while the 2000’s brought in more competitive field battles. This acutely intensified in the second decade (2010’s) of the third millennium. The current and third decade (2020’s) has been augmented by the pandemic, and the entire sales model has taken on a different hue. Are we now seeing signs of a possibly exacerbated demise of the conventional salesperson?

A star salesperson’s results have always been the exponentiation of Motivation, Activity Level, Direction of Efforts, and Effectiveness.

“Hard Work for the Unutilized-Talent-Salesperson,” and “Smart Work for the Work-Horse-Salesperson” is the success mantra for a successful sales team, made up of assorted performers.

Today’s salesperson deals with a different market. Hotel General Managers, Sales leaders, and Owners that we talk to, mention a transmogrified segment of source business, and clientele with diametral needs. No longer can salespeople be reactive and work like order-takers. Salespeople need to come out of their comfort zone, and be pro-active in this ‘new-normal market.’

In his book ‘All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten,’ Robert Fulghum explains how the world would be improved if adults adhered to the same basic rules as children. Likewise, salespeople must appreciate that they need to get their basics right, in this new adjusting world.

One of the concerns we are often asked to mitigate while designing and delivering a sales intervention workshop for a hotel sales team, is how to craft conversations with a senior resource of a corporate. Hotel Owners, Sales Leaders, and General Managers bemoan the fact that their sales team members are relatively inarticulate when meeting with a company’s senior most Decision Maker. Through decades of conducting such programs, and having interacted with thousands of salespeople, we find that interactive conversational skills by most salespeople lack the following:

General Awareness: It still surprises me to note that by a show of hands in any session, approximately 2 of 15 participants read the newspaper, daily. Another 5-7 claim to read it online in bits and parts – these when probed further, have no real depth of knowledge of current news. Specific awareness of any industry visited, along with the overall economic scenario, is a sine qua non for any salesperson. How otherwise then, can they have a cultured tête-à-tête with a well-travelled C-Suite leader?

You, before I pattern: Even as the word ‘business’ has u before i, a smart salesperson understands that putting the client first will eventually help in achieving business targets. Sadly, often salespeople kill the golden goose to take all its gilded eggs at one go!

Creating Trust: This is defined by the salesperson establishing commonalities, showing positive intent, and through trust transferred by the brand represented by the salesperson, its people, or its customer-speak.

Creating a connect: The salesperson who invests time and integrity into his client relationships will tower over colleagues. Mark McCormack in his book “What They Don’t Teach You at Harvard Business School” cites an interesting observation all salespeople would do well to reflect upon: “All things being equal, people will do business with a friend; all things being unequal, people will still do business with a friend.”

Salespeople sell three things: their product, their company, and themselves. Selling themselves is actually the differentiator, as products and companies tend to be similar. Can the salesperson become an enabler-assister offering altruistic support? If so, then the ubiquitous salesperson now advances from being a hunter-gatherer to a trapper, ensuring long-term business relationships with clients.

Talking less: How often have salespeople been told that to be considered good at their job, they need to have the skill set to sell ice to an Eskimo, or a comb to a bald man? Salespeople also believe that they need to be slick talkers, and be able to talk a dime a dozen to impress their clients. Sadly, both these beliefs are incongruities, and they instead end up antagonizing the client. Remember, the empowered client now lives in an era where social media is stronger than direct communication with the company… a progressive take on the metonymic adage ‘the pen is mightier than the sword.’

Listening to the client: Talking less definitely helps salespeople concentrate more on their listening skills. To hone this, they need to first understand what the client is saying, before responding with their opinion. Here, their body language and ability to understand, need to be attuned to client-needs, rather than their own. Savvy hospitality companies today, are capturing digital signals on websites, to hear from customers in real time, what information they need upfront to be informed enough to successfully complete transactions. Needless to say, if the digital world is doing this, the human interface needs to do this more so, to stay ahead of the curve.

Adept probing skills: Asking situation questions and problem questions is a skill yet to be mastered by many a salesperson. Post trust-building, and creating a connect, the salesperson must understand the client’s clear and strong needs through skillful probing; using open, closed, and leading questions – with the clear intent of using the answers gleaned, to resolve the client’s challenges.

Decades ago, the telephone operator was replaced by the EPABX. At the turn of the new millennium, computer salesmen grew redundant thanks to commoditization of the laptop. Today, the famed Mumbai Dabbawallas are having an axe to grind with food aggregators Swiggy, Zomato and the likes.

Digital Marketing is the current big innovation. Using AI (artificial intelligence), ML (machine learning) and IoT (internet of things), Digital Marketing is challenging the traditional ‘hunter-gatherer’ salesperson, and is already beginning to perform the role of the ‘digital hunter-gatherer.’

Half a century ago, legendary business thinker Peter Drucker said, “The aim of marketing is to make selling superfluous. The aim of marketing is to know and understand the customer so well that the product or service fits him or her and sells itself.

So, should the salesperson worry about redundancy?

Is the digital age a clear and present danger to the universal salesperson?

The answer lies in how the salesperson attempts to stay relevant, so as to continue to exist, and in fact, flourish. Value creation is still within the sphere of the human intellect, and salespeople will always exist as long as they can create a higher value in the customer’s mind – greater than that within the product.

In order to stay ahead of the tech-age, salespeople need to append the farmer mode to their hunter-gatherer approach. Farmers (in the sales context) are specialists at servicing the existing customer base; keeping relationships going, and staying attuned to opportunities to sell to it again. This will be hard for machines to emulate.

The left brain (aka digital brain) deals with linear thinking, while the right brain (aka analog brain) emanates creative or spiral thinking. As of today, the IoT is taking over left-brain tasks. Right-brain tasks are yet very much exclusively within the human domain. What salespeople need to do is to complement their left-brain along with their right-brain, to maintain selling dexterities that cannot be mimicked by machines.

No longer are salespeople required to simply take orders. They need to ‘value-create’ inspired solutions that will benefit both, the client, as well as the hotel.

It would bode well for the salesperson to be cognizant of this!

This article has appeared in ET HOSPITALITY WORLD.COM Aug 2021

 

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Adapt or Perish

H.G. Wells famously wrote, “Adapt or perish, now as ever, is nature’s inexorable imperative.”

This quote (Adapt or Perish) very tastefully summarizes evolution itself. Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the virus never ceases to adapt, but then, neither must we.

Flux is always unsettling, and most find it undesirable. However, inaction could mean death. The international business world abounds with faux pas made by business leaders, leading to the demise, or de-growth of their business.

  • Steve Sasson, the Kodak engineer, actually invented the first digital camera back in 1975. The leaders of Kodak failed to see digital photography as a disruptive technology. They were comfortable with their achievements in the film market and thus missed the digital revolution after starting it. Kodak filed for bankruptcy in 2012.
  • Once worth $125 billion, Yahoo eventually sold to Verizon for less than $5 billion. Yahoo, in 2002 almost had a deal to buy Google, but the CEO of Yahoo refused to go through with it. And in 2006 Yahoo had a deal to buy Facebook, but when Yahoo lowered their offer, Mark Zuckerberg backed out. If Yahoo had taken a few additional risks, we would all be yahooing right now instead of googling.
  • Xerox was the first to invent the PC, and their product – the Xerox Alto, released in 1973, was way ahead of its time. Unfortunately, the management thought going digital would be too expensive and they never bothered to exploit the opportunities they had. They were convinced that the future of Xerox was in copy machines. Xerox failed to understand that one cannot perpetually make money on the same technology.

We have interesting corporate gaffes within India too.

  • For those of us growing up in the 1980s and 1990s, Onida was the go-to brand when it came to home-grown electronic appliances. However, the company failed to adapt post-liberalization. A combination of internal issues within the owning family, failed advertising, new entrants in the industry, an ageing customer base, and poor after-sales service led to its downfall.
  • Tata Nano was a revolutionary innovation; but it was an idea, which failed to align with a changing India, burgeoning with an aspirational lower middle-class population. Being marketed as the ‘Cheapest Car of the Nation’ backfired. The makers positioned it as a cheap vehicle which, in India, translates to low quality. In a country where emotions play such a vital role in everything, this disconnect spelled doom for the Nano before it even hit the roads.
  • The downfall of Kingfisher airlines from being India’s most premium airline, was due to its refusal to adapt to the vortex of business forces, coupled with egoistic decision-making by its flamboyant owner. Acquiring the loss of Air Deccan, the sudden launch into the international arena, the change in segments giving rise to competition, along with external dynamics like the rising cost of aviation fuel, and the company’s inability to follow the ‘adapt or perish’ lessons on adopting cost-saving initiatives for survival led to its demise.

The need to ‘adapt or perish’ in the context of Indian hospitality, is accentuated through umpteen examples of businesses perishing due to in-flexibility, a fixed mindset, and resistance to change.

Some promoters have realised the essentiality of instituting a professional team, distinct from the family, running the show. The particularly applies to investor-led hotel companies, who insist on a professional approach and team, to increase their returns in as short a time as possible.

Alas, there are many who believe that ‘papa knows best.’ These owners refuse to delegate decision-making to their ‘Papier-mâché’ board. Today’s market is abuzz with news of one of India’s 5-star family-run hotel chain prospecting for suitable buyers for its prime properties. While Covid-19 has already broken the back of several small hotels which have given up the ghost, and are scouring buyers; a professionally managed larger hotel chain should certainly have had a better chance at survival. If only they had evolved from a feudal approach to a professional mindset!

Mövenpick Hotels entered India over a decade ago, with ambitious plans to grow in several destinations pan-India, once they would consolidate their flagship hotel in Bangalore. While Mövenpick Bangalore opened in 2011, the company’s vision perished over the next few years. Kicking the India-bucket, they exiting in just over six years. The reason? They failed to give India its due as a fathoming hotel market with a growing expertise and potential for quality. While Mövenpick Hotels are an established Swiss hotel chain, they failed to adapt to the Indian market. Their apparent detachment and relative indifference for their pilot project in this country were the reasons the owners eventually dispensed with their services.

Adapting does not necessarily mean going along with concurrent success stories. Adapting may also necessitate going against the grain, whilst incorporating a protracted vision of the market.

Ninety years ago, Ellsworth Statler, father of the modern American hotel industry, was quoted as saying “There are three things that make a hotel famous – location, location, location.” Yet, Capt. C.P. Krishnan Nair selected sites for the first 3 hotels of his hotel group – The Leela group (Mumbai, Goa, Bangalore) totally against the grain of ‘location, location, location.’

Capt. Nair, a feisty hotelier, knew how to roll with the punches. While choosing locations for new properties in Mumbai and Bangalore, he was able to foresee that an emerging India needed luxury hotels closer to the airport. In the case of Goa, he foresaw the need for a pristine location in the south, far from the madding crowd of the then internationally branded, North Goa hippy culture. In all three locations, their hotels had a first mover’s advantage, as there were no luxury brands there. By going against the grain, until the competition eventually came up several years later, the group had a chance to milk revenues in a relatively monopolistic micro-market, and consolidate.

Today’s environment has spurred the industry to innovate. Who knows – the new mantra for successful hotels will probably change from ‘location, location, location’ to ‘innovate, innovate, innovate’!

An example of this is ‘Bungalow Stays,’ where due to the pandemic-induced social distancing, travellers now prefer exclusive stays in spaces enhanced by space and natural surroundings. The bane of the hotel industry – Airbnb, and it’s like, have more of an edge in today’s environment. The hotel industry can no longer claim that such disruptors do not affect them. After years of denial, the hotel industry is now onboarding this segment… ‘Adapt or perish’ is being taken more seriously, and large international chains like Marriott, Hyatt, & Accor have already begun dabbling in extended stay hotels, short-term rental markets, and private residence rentals.

It is for the hotel industry to take the bait and innovate. Today, one is seeing smaller uber-luxury hotels, with single-digit keys mushrooming up, to adapt to customer needs, accelerated by the pandemic. The ‘One Key Hotel service’ of Postcard Hotels allows one to book out any of their Goa hotels, to holiday in complete privacy with friends and family. One Key – and the entire hotel is yours. So why just book a room? Book the entire hotel, is their clarion call.

IHCL (Taj group of hotels) has emerged from its chrysalis over the past two decades. The turnaround, scripted by its recent and present leadership has converted what was once a traditionally run organization to a progressive hospitality outfit. Recently crowned the world’s strongest hotel brand by ‘Brand Finance,’ they have ventured into new age spaces with in-depth market study backed by its 115-year-old legacy. The company is creating experiences for guests through their newer brands like SeleQtions, amã Stays & Trails, Food trucks being launched in various cities, Qmin – their signature food delivery platform, etc.

Evolve Back Resorts recently ran an ingenious one-time, and time-bound coupon sale. Proffering up to 25% discount on its regular tariff, customers could redeem their purchase till Mar 2023, and even ask for the money back if they were unable to travel. This mopped up within a short period, a substantial chunk of their annual revenue, and more importantly, revived their cash flow. Such a model sits at the intersection of customer loyalty, revenue, and cash flow – guaranteeing business for as long as a customer is locked in – making the benefits of the model obvious.

A newer reference in the hotel trade for ‘Adapt or Perish,’  lies in Sustainability – the next big word in the industry. We will see more organizations looking to sustain the Environment, Communities, and Economy, aka – Planet, People, and Profit.

Hyatt’s ‘Environmental Sustainability Strategy’ and ‘Hyatt Thrive,’ along with Accor’s ‘Planet 21’ program are a testimony to efforts being made in this direction.

Changing regional dynamics and consumer behaviour in different cultures can make it tricky for even the biggest businesses to understand and adapt to. In that sense, the pandemic has been a unifier. If one is willing to keep customer’s needs and expectations at the apex, the rest ain’t rocket science!

This article has appeared in ET HOSPITALITY WORLD.COM Jul 2021

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The Catspaw Chronicles

Over a century ago, children’s author Aesop relates a fable of the monkey, the cat, and the chestnuts.

Once upon a time a Cat and a Monkey lived as pets in the same house. They were great friends and were constantly in all sorts of mischief together. What they seemed to think of more than anything else was to get something to eat, and it did not matter much to them how they got it.

One day they were sitting by the fire, watching some chestnuts roasting on the hearth. How to get them was the question.

“I would gladly get them,” said the cunning Monkey, “but you are much more skillful at such things than I am. Pull them out and I’ll divide them between us.”

Pussy stretched out her paw very carefully, pushed aside some of the cinders, and drew back her paw very quickly. Then she tried it again, this time pulling a chestnut half out of the fire. A third time and she drew out the chestnut. This performance she went through several times, each time singeing her paw severely. As fast as she pulled the chestnuts out of the fire, the Monkey ate them up.

Now the master came in and away scampered the rascals, Pussy Cat with a burnt paw and no chestnuts.

Therein originated the phrase “I was used as a catspaw.”

How often have you been used as a catspaw in your various jobs? As a General Manager, I was given to sign termination letters and file cases against various employees who had rubbed the owner on the wrong side. Sometimes I may not have agreed with the harsh step taken, but job insecurity may frankly have led me to comply – not my proudest moments for sure!

I was used as a catspaw!

We all have our values, our code of ethics, our ways of looking at life… yet moments arrive when we find ourselves being used as a catspaw.

You may relate to situations like these:

  • Your client gets a kick-ass deal out of you, promising you loads of business; only for you to find out later that future business prospects from this company are very low.
  • Your colleague convinces you against your better wishes to go along with their plans or ideas.
  • Your subordinate entices you into approving their leave with flimsy excuses, and you do so to gain their approval.
  • Your boss, or even colleague, gets you to do their work using flattery to keep you motivated…
  • Your boss takes your idea and implements it without giving you due credit.
  • Your superiors may be nice to you only because they need something from you, and not necessarily due to affection or care for you. If you are the front person for your company, oft and on, you could be told to misrepresent a situation, even though it may be against your ethical code.

All of the above may happen, but at a cost to you. Remember how pussy’s catspaw was singed while pulling out chestnuts from the fire for the monkey?

On the flip side, once we are done with admonishing the memories of our ill-users, for using us as a catspaw in the past – let us honestly look into the same past and acknowledge wherever we may have done likewise!

  • Have you ever sweet-talked your team members and cajoled them into putting in extra hours or effort into achieving what you know is your own Key Result Areas, and subsequently not rewarded them for the same? I have seen managers justifying this by saying that since they were never specifically rewarded when they had slogged for their growth, why should their subordinates expect any better?
  • A Salesperson over-promising and under-delivering. Is it possible that in such a situation, the client may feel that he has been used as a catspaw? Remember, the client’s performance rating in their own company is indirectly dependant on the services received from your contracted services. For, if delivery is not up to expectations (inflated by the salesperson at the time of making the sale), it is the booker who gets an earful from his company.
  • Examples abound of first-mover hotels that over-priced themselves due to their monopolistic or locational existence. However, the moment other options are available, the clients tend to move their business away to emerging hotels, as these clients may possibly be seething with indignation (like the proverbial singed cat), for being taken advantage of by the primary hotel in the past.
  • Even servers may use their guests as a catspaw. In a restaurant where the order taker, to fulfil his target, pushes an extensive menu selection, and succeeds in convincing the guest to order the same; the guest may eventually realise he/she has been had!
  • How often have we even used our boss as a catspaw to obtain our needs, regardless of the business need? Examples abound in planning for manning positions, leave planning, salary increments, budgeting, etc. While most owners are wary and discerning, every once in a while, one comes across a kindly owner accepting lower revenue budgets or higher cost budgets from the operator, only to discover that an opportunity to run a tight ship with much better profits, was missed.
  • And how about our treatment of the ubiquitous trainee? In my early days when I trained at Oberoi Hotels, Mumbai, in the IRD department (in-room dining), I was made to do IRD clearances twice in my shift, for the entire 23 floors (700 rooms) by a senior steward, who used to traipse off to the lockers for R&R, whilst I slogged away.

All of us know the phrase: “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.” If you are diligently following this ethic, chances are that you may not be amongst those who use others as a catspaw. And, in a utopian world, if everyone followed this principle, no one would ever be used as a catspaw!

However, the truth is that this catspaw adage will keep occurring. As a good manager, you need to guard yourself against using others, and conversely, be aware when you are being used. Your action thereafter needs to be based on each circumstance, keeping in mind that while you must certainly avoid using others as a catspaw, you may still be used as a catspaw by your superiors, peers, subordinates, or even your guests.

Awareness is crucial here… thereafter it is left to your emotional intelligence on how to react to the situation.

This article has appeared in ET HOSPITALITY WORLD.COM Jun 2021

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The hunt for the Will-o’-the-wisp Recruit

Even as full employment is the will-o’-the-wisp that politicians have been chasing for decades, so is the hunt for the perfect recruit.

Will o’ the Wisp is the name given to mysterious lights that were said to lead travellers from well-trodden paths onto treacherous marshes. Wirt Sikes in his book British Goblins writes of a Welsh Will o’ the Wisp. A peasant, who is travelling home late in the evening, sees a bright light travelling before him. Looking closer, he sees that the light is a lantern held by a dusky little figure which he follows for several miles. Suddenly he finds himself standing on the edge of a great chasm with a roaring torrent of water rushing below him. At that moment the lantern carrier leaps across the fissure, raises the light over its head and lets out a malicious laugh, after which it blows out the light leaving the unfortunate man far from home, standing in pitch darkness at the edge of a precipice. This allegory may be equated to the hunt for a perfect recruit, wherein ever so often organizations run after the fancy bright lights… recruits with a quality experience, high intelligence, or splendorous personalities. What we need to guard against, is that some of these may not be suitable for the organization’s goals. They just may not be a perfect fit, and may lead your establishment’s vision to the precipice!

So here we are back into another reboot, cresting this second Cov-Indian wave! Talk about being forced to learn resilience… sheesh! Nature – God’s creation – was never made to be messed with, and I do wonder if we humans will ever learn a lesson through this.

The current lockdown gives us time to re-look into our workplaces and our watered-down teams. Which of us would not like to begin, post-reboot, with a team filled only with Jewels? But is this viable? Take a look around your workplace, and understand your key wealth creation prospect ~ your depleted teams. Let’s face it, whether in the past, present, or future, recruiting only ‘polished jewels’ is akin to chasing the ‘will-o-the-wisp.’ Rather, we are oft forced to rummage for the mud-encrusted ones available in the marketplace.

In today’s scenario, manpower search has new challenges. Many industry professionals have deviated to other work options. Some of these may never want to return to their earlier jobs or industry. All this, thanks to Reverse Migration, Depressed Wages, Tougher Work Conditions, and Employment VUCA brought on by this pandemic. (Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, Ambiguity)

Apart from this, numbers have dropped to half or less, of earlier manpower numbers. Even when things return to normal, it is doubtful whether these numbers will go higher than 75% of pre-covid-19 numbers. In this scenario, recruitment quality must improve.

The truth is that a perfect recruit is as elusive as the will-o’-the-wisp (a person or thing that is difficult or impossible to reach or catch) and as utopian a concept as can be.

Oft times, logic advises us to select for experience, intelligence, or determination. Talent, if mentioned at all, is an afterthought.

Conventional wisdom says that either Experience, Grit, Brainpower, or Willpower makes the difference.

  • Some managers place a special emphasis on experience, paying close attention to a candidate’s work history and brands worked for. They see his past as a window to his future.
  • Other managers put their faith in raw intelligence. They say that as long as you are smart, most roles can be ‘figured out’.
  • Yet other managers believe in the ‘success is 10 percent inspiration, 90 percent perspiration’ school of thought. Managers from this school believe that the technical part of most roles can be taught, whereas the desire to achieve, to persist in the face of obstacles, cannot. When selecting people, they look for past evidence of grit.

So, is the perfect recruit a misnomer? No doubt experience can teach valuable lessons; intelligence is a boon, and willpower – which great managers label a talent – is almost impossible to teach. What we fail to take into account is that there are so many other kinds of talents. The right talents, more than experience, more than brainpower, willpower, or grit, are the pre-requisites for excellence in all roles – talents such as a restaurant steward’s ability to form opinions, empathy in order-takers, assertiveness in salespeople, or, in managers, the ability to individualize or bring people together.

Conventional wisdom assumes either that these behaviours can be trained after the person has been hired or that these characteristics are relatively unimportant to performance on the job. Both assumptions are a false hope that leads one on, just like the will-o’-the-wisp.

You cannot teach talent. You cannot teach someone to form strong opinions, to feel the emotions of others, to revel in confrontation, or to pick up on the subtle differences in how best to manage each person. You have to specifically select, for talents like these. Talents like these prove to be the driving force behind an individual’s job performance.

It is not that experience, brainpower, grit, and willpower are unimportant. It is just that an employee’s full complement of talents – what drives him/her, how he/she thinks, how he/she builds relationships – is more important.

In these compelling times, we are looking at rebooting with up to half the earlier numbers. Hence, we need to select only the mud-encrusted Jewels that we can polish… then have them perform effectively, at twice the efficiency, once they are inducted and trained.

When you recruit, try looking for talent in an individual and then offer them an enhancing & nurturing environment. Then sit back and enjoy the show…

This article has appeared in ET HOSPITALITY WORLD.COM May 2021

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Vendor or Business Partner?

Vendor or Business Partner

So what is it with words communicated to our vendor or business partner, and the finer nuances they proclaim? Try these on for size…
  • I need my order right away ~ vs. ~ When is the earliest you can supply my order?
  • This pricing is ridiculous ~ vs. ~ We are looking at a better pricing
  • I cannot pay you within 30 days ~ vs. ~ We will be pleased to make payment at the end of 30 days.
  • I will reject the order supplied if it does not meet our specification ~ vs. ~ Do ensure that the order supplied meets our agreed specifications, to avoid rejection.
  • Your proposal was not acceptable ~ vs. ~ Regrettably, we were unable to select your proposal.

It is no conundrum, that the statements on the right are the more polite ones. Many of us would like to say that we are active proponents of such communication.

Yet, for those who have been on both sides of the supply chain, the learnings come quicker!

Some organisations believe in calling their ‘Vendors’ their ‘Business (Biz) Partners.’

Yet, in reality, how often do we really consider these biz partners as one of our organisation’s valuable resources?

In the aftermath of Covid-19, many of us have been humbled.

Hoteliers have seen a year of adversity, wage cuts, layoffs, health concerns, tottering businesses & closures, stress, and financial turmoil. The Tourism industry behemoth has been cut hardest at its knees, and it continues to teeter.

The harder hit is the business partner (aka vendor). He does not have a cushion, mostly rotating his cash-flow in a never-ending vortex. Hotel & restaurant inventories have dropped drastically to suit demand, while simultaneously, rates are being squeezed to keep costs low.

Hospitality leaders are in a Catch-22 situation vis-a-vis their biz partners. Sales have dipped drastically, and cash flows are skeletal. Whom do you pay first, your employees or your biz partners?

The answer is a no-brainer.

Statutory & HLP (heat, light, and power) payments must be made; there is no leeway in their payment schedules. The same applies to R&M (repairs and maintenance), wherein parts or services need to be purchased against immediate payment.

So where does the daily supplier normally find himself in the value chain of a hospitality organisation? Truth be told, pretty much at the lower end!

Biz partners want to be acknowledged, feel appreciated, and treated with respect by the management. Then, they are more than pleased to continue, even though other organisations may offer better rates!

Luxury hotels in Goa generally contract serenaders, music bands, and an array of performers, during the high and low season. This has always been a flourishing business for musicians, particularly in this state.

I know of an F&B leader in one such leading luxury hotel, who epitomises the ideal biz partner relationship. He auditions performers, and subsequently finalises contracts meticulously, only after negotiating the least rates amongst five-star hotels in Goa.

Having completed this, he now ensures their comfort, in ensuring their meal arrangements and logistics are suitably taken care of. For the accompanying roadies (if any), he ensures staff cafeteria meal coupons. He ensures that payments are made promptly by the 15th of every month as promised in the contract. Their issues, if any are brought to his notice and he attends to them personally. He checks on their performances oft and on, giving them feedback on the same.

All this has startled the performing artist’s community. For, they have never received this kind of personalised attention at the other hotels.

The result?

Every six months, at the signing of the new contracts, this F&B Leader gets the best rates. He is a hard negotiator and he maintains his costs within levels suited to the hotel’s profitability parameters. The relationship is such that the performers (half a dozen biz partners) never want to leave this gig. I hear that there is a line of new performers, always waiting for an opportunity to enter.

I have seen biz partners being made to wait for hours by Financial Controllers, Hotel Managers, and Owners. These may be potential biz partners seeking entry, or even current biz partners awaiting payments, clarifications, orders, contracts, etc. When these biz partners call, their calls are very often not received, neither returned.

The fact is that we tend to get high on a power trip when we are the client.

In our industry, the bulk of our dealings involve serving guests. Here, we are on the other side of the spectrum, wherein we become the vendor or business partner. In our customer interface, we bend over backward for the guest, in the quest to honour the ‘Atithi Devo Bhava’ code.

The result is that we then get into a mindset that vendors should regularly bend over backward for us too. We demand servicing to an unreasonable level, expecting vendors to feel blessed to have our business.

Why make things difficult for these biz partners? After all, they are necessary to the business. Even as hoteliers and restaurateurs are struggling to remain afloat, so are they. Let’s bring in the element of humanity to these relations, and treat all alike.

Think back to those vendors or business partners who stayed with you even when you may have moved to a smaller organisation. You may discover the reason they did so was the respect, acknowledgement, and appreciation you showed them in the past.

The Ritz Carlton motto – “We are Ladies and Gentlemen serving Ladies and Gentlemen” which we all heartily agree to, may be applied in this context too… right?

This article has appeared in ET HOSPITALITY WORLD.COM February 2020

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The H.R. Manager’s Delight

The Human Resources Manager’s delight lies in a current cup of mixed H.R. challenges consisting of minimal woes and maximum advantages. The current and ongoing pandemic has stressed most businesses, none more so than the services sector. The hospitality and travel sector would never have wished this happenstance upon their worst enemy. Yet, through these times of duress, one department has a lot to thank providence for the Covid-19 phenomenon. That department is Human Resources. By now, they have got over the stress of drastically reducing their organization’s employee count. Post this, the HR department can probably count more positives in the offing, especially for the route ahead.

Employee metrics have dropped drastically. Hotels that were operating at a 1:2.5 ratio (1 room:2.5 employees) have dropped this ratio by up to half. For example, resorts currently experiencing 50-60% occupancies thanks to ‘revenge travel,’ have discovered they can work with much lesser numbers. This was necessitated by a sparse cash flow brought about by the steep drop in the top-line revenue. This is the main reason for the Human Resources Manager’s delight!

A 154 room luxury resort in Goa did an 80% occupancy in Nov 2019 with 353 employees. Currently operating with 180 employees, it has done a 62% occupancy in Nov 2020. While operations are being stretched, the fact is that one can achieve such a performance. This is definitely going to influence promoters and operators to stay with reduced numbers in the future. After all, due to exorbitant labour costs in the west, this has always been the trend. The Indian hospitality sector has been correcting employee metrics gradually over the past decade. The pandemic has now hastened the process and probably made the H.R. manager’s job more interesting.

Let us analyse the HR department’s KPI’s in today’s scenario. Here is a spin doctor’s largely positive analysis of the H.R. Manager’s path for 2021 and ahead.

PROCESS

Employee Multi-Functionality is now the name of the game. Pre-Covid19, Recruitment concentrated mainly on education, skills, personality, and experience. Now, since H.R. has reduced the recruitment count, the HR manager can additionally look for multiple competencies & behavioural skills.

Let me explain this with the same example of the aforesaid luxury hotel in Goa. A year ago, with 353 employees, it ran with an attrition rate of 50% annually. The H.R. department had to recruit to replace 176 employees annually.

In the current depressed job market, attrition is expected to fall significantly by up to half of earlier levels. This means that where earlier 2 employees attrited, now one will leave. With the employee count of this hotel currently at 180, attrition is forecasted to drop significantly (to 25%). The number of replacements in 2021 for this hotel may then be forecasted at only 45 employees. This drop from 176 to 45 employees to be replaced annually, will constitute nearly a 75% decrease in recruitment numbers.

What follows is that H.R. should now be able to perform their processes for a leaner number, much more effectively. A lower Attrition and Absenteeism rate, along with lesser Open Job Requisitions will support a higher Quality of Hire, Quality Interviewing Time, and a higher Job Offer Acceptance Rate. These would be some of the benefits accruing from this serendipitous situation.

The H.R. challenge here, if any, may be in replacing the blue-collar worker. With an enforced lockdown, India has witnessed for the first time, a reverse migration. Migrant Labour has returned to their towns and villages and are using their acquired skills to start their own businesses.

A CDP (chef de partie) who was earning ₹45000 p.m. in a 5-star hotel in Delhi, returned to his village in Uttar Pradesh during a forced retrenchment. He availed of a government scheme to purchase five milch buffaloes. After deducting upkeep and EMI expenses, he today makes a profit of ₹60000 p.m. Why would he come back to the city?

FINANCIAL

The obvious organizational benefit of a lower employee count would be a lower Payroll Cost in real terms. Now, this cost is now being reduced further. Along with reducing employees, most hospitality organizations are also lowering salaries (by lowering existing salaries and recruiting at lower salaries).

Organizations nowadays do not need to spend on recruitment in the manner they used to. Another area of expense reduction then, is the Cost per Hire, as there is now a supply glut.

Generating savings at the cost of the employee may help the P&L in the now, but never in the long run. Encouraging cross and multi-functional positions, (mentioned in the ‘Process’ KPI), will assist in lowering costs through lean employee numbers.

The H.R. Challenge here would be how to motivate employees to be more productive at the same salary.

EMPLOYEE DEVELOPMENT

To understand how satisfied employees are with the HR department’s services, one measures the NPS (Net Promoter Score) of HR. Using the NPS, one can also measure to what degree, employees recommend the organization to others. In the current context, more concentration can be given by H.R. towards development activities like Onboarding, Training, and Performance Management.

There are several examples of hospitality organizations around the world who have engaged their work-force during the lows. Not only has this helped in the continuous development of the employee, but it has also kept them motivated.

The H.R. Challenge is in staving off inadvertent cost-cutting of L&D measures normally used to motivate high performers. Also, in the drive to reduce costs, the training manager must not be made redundant. As Steve Jobs famously said, “You cannot mandate productivity, you must provide the tools to let people become their best.”

STRATEGIC

A certain standalone international luxury hotel in Bangalore truly does standalone. It is the only hotel which has not retrenched its permanent employees and has continued to pay complete salaries. It is a brand deeply ensconced in ethics and compliance, which has stood by its employees. Recently, the hotel’s Director of Sales was approached by an Indian luxury brand. She was offered higher emoluments to join them. She refused, as she appreciated her company’s values. The company’s strategic H.R. decision to support and value their people during tough times certainly paid off in this case. This particular retention was the Human Resources Manager’s delight.

Innovation is often a key driver of business success. A strategic long term goal of an H.R. department is to create an environment of Innovative Employee Behaviour along with increased Employee Engagement. Higher levels of Employee Satisfaction via HR Initiatives will lead to higher Employee Productivity. This, in turn, will increase Employee Value to the organization.

The H.R. Challenge here is in changing employee mindset to accepting the new normal.

Another strategic H.R. challenge I foresee, thanks to lean staffing levels, lies in maintaining a work-life balance for the employees. Confucius said, “Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.” Hence it is said that if you want creative workers, you must give them enough time to play.

Changing employee mindset to the current scenario, and maintaining a work-life balance will be tasks, easier said than done. It will take some serious application from the H.R. department to achieve them.

In summation, the Human Resources Manager’s delight lies in the fact that through these challenging times, their mug of joy overflows. For, the advantages of the current situation far outweigh their demitasse of woes!

This article has appeared in ET HOSPITALITY WORLD.COM December 2020

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Ethically Speaking

“Wishing you many happy returns on your sixtieth birthday,” so saying, I called my friend, Mahesh. He replied, “Rajan thanks for the greetings, but to be frank, my birthday is on 5th December and not today, on 2nd April. For the purpose of saving one academic year, this date of 02nd April was indicated by my father on my school admission form.”

The above is not an isolated event, it happens frequently.

During the Chemistry lab period in the PUC days, there were experiments on identifying an element defined by sequence; by performing the dry test, wet test, and then the confirmatory tests. The demonstrator used to tell us ‘during exams, don’t waste time on the first two tests; go straight to the confirmatory test, and if you get time, do the previous ones. Bypassing the system with false birth certificates or taking short cuts was the name of the game.

Engineering Drawing was one of the time-consuming subjects in college. Unlike the CAD/ CAM environment today, where designs are made on computers, we had to make elaborate engineering drawings. Each assignment made on an A2/A3 drawing sheet needed an elaborate setup of a drawing board, mini drafter, T-square, compass, divider, set square, etc. It used to take around 2-3 hours to complete an assignment. The practise of GT (Glass Tracing) among hostelites was quite common. The GT procedure was simple. An assignment completed by a sincere student was glass traced by other students. A table lamp was kept in a bucket covered with a glass sheet; the blank sheet was aligned over the completed sheet. The lit lamp helped the student trace the original and the assignment could be completed in no time. The general consensus among the student fraternity was that the guy who took all the effort to complete the drawing in the 1st angle, 3rd angle, and a sectional view, was an idiot, while the people who copied it in one fifth the time were intelligent and smart.

In one humorous instance, Iqbal Singh, from the Civil Engineering batch, was so ‘meticulous’ that apart from tracing the drawing, he copied the name and the roll number of the original student! The scene is no different today, for several agencies offer ready-made projects for engineering students for a fee.

A certain lecturer used to share with his colleagues, his life-long ambition of becoming a Vice-Chancellor (VC) of a university. Over a while, he moved up the hierarchy of senior lecturer, reader, and finally became a professor. A post for a VC was advertised in the papers. He applied but came to know that, more than merit, caste and money played an important role in the recruitment for this position. He managed to raise around Rs 3 crores for this, yet he was shocked to see the post eventually going to the highest bidder. The professor pulled back his application.

Much later, an advertisement appeared for another VCs post. This time, he knew the crucial role of politicians and middlemen. He developed contacts, moved heaven and earth to raise around Rs. 5 crores; despite being questioned by his friends, from an ethics and ROI perspective. The attempt for this second time to the post also eluded him. He committed suicide later.

I used to believe that such respectable positions need not be advertised but were filled by selecting eminent people with exceptional credentials. As Nirad Chowdhury wrote in the Autobiography of an Unknown Indian, an Indian’s faith in a bribe is infinite and unshakable. It is an infallible remedy for all workday inconveniences.

Academicians have used the terms ethics and morality interchangeably. Some people think that morality is personal and normative whereas ethics indicates the standards of good and bad as decided by community settings. It can be also looked at from a perspective of means and the ends. People have their own yardsticks in justifying their actions. As Robert Pirsig writes in the Zen and The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, and what is good, Phaedrus, and what is not good – need we ask anyone to tell us these things? The three examples to illustrate the point are:

  1. Ratan Tata used to say, “Why should I spend time with bureaucrats in Delhi? They are supposed to do their work and I am supposed to do mine.” On the other hand, (the late) Dhirubhai Ambani had a different take. “You offer naivedya to God while visiting a temple. Why not deal with bureaucrats on a similar line?”
  2. The Karnataka Vidhana Soudha has an inscription on its façade: ‘Government’s work is God’s Work.’ I overheard a babu saying, “Anyway it is God’s work. Why should I?”
  3. A departmental store was run by two partners for 30 years. The 2nd generation was to take over the business. The first partner’s son who had passed out from an elite management institute asked his father, “We have learned all the aspects of running a business, the one topic I am not clear is about ethics. Can you elaborate on the same? The father explained, “it is quite elementary. Imagine a lady buys a dress for Rs. 1000 and while paying at the billing counter she inadvertently pays Rs, 2000. Now my son, the question of ethics comes, should we tell our partner or not.”

My niece Rupali Patil teaches in an upmarket public school in Whitefield Bengaluru. She narrated some interesting anecdotes while conducting on-line examinations. The students are asked to keep the laptop at a specific angle to ensure they do not look at any material on their lap while writing answers. Parents are requested not to walk around or prompt the students while answering the question papers. Some parents have written papers themselves. One audacious father dared to sit underneath the table and prompt the answers. When asked how it was detected, I gleaned that the student used to normally score 10 out of 50, but scored 40 in that exam; he subsequently boasted to his friends how his father had helped him.

While websites like exam.net are used to ensure that students do not lose their focus on the screen, or use the second browser to get answers, by locking down; ingenious means are used to work around the system.

The school being in Whitefield, Bengaluru the following conjectures were thought of:

  1. Considering the location and the school fees, is it safe to assume that a majority of student’s families belong to the upper middle class, well-educated with Graduate/Post Graduate degrees?
  2. Is it safe to assume that the parents are working in renowned MNCs (Indian or International) with well-established guidelines on Vision, Mission, Values, and Ethics policies? If so, should there be a divergence in behaviour between the professional life of a manager vis-à-vis that of a parent?

Education can be perceived as an end to realize one’s potential, or it can be simply a means to get a job in earning a livelihood. The former makes us holistically look at life, whereas the latter makes it transactional. Philosopher Immanuel Kant says that a rational human being is an end in himself and not a means to achieve something. When our attitude and behaviour are oriented towards means, quality becomes the main casualty.

Abraham Lincoln in his letter to his son’s headmaster wrote:

“Teach him if you can that a dollar earned is of far more value than five found. In school teach him it is far more honourable to fail than to cheat. Teach him to have faith in his own ideas, even if everyone tells him they are wrong!”

On a personal note, now when I call my friends, with trepidation I first ask “Before wishing you birthday greetings, is today your actual or official birthday?”

We set our own standards: “Jahaan hum khade rahtey hain; wahin se kataar shuru hoti hai!” – Wherever I (honorific) stand, the queue starts from there!.

Jai ho ‘Atmanirbhar’ Bharat!

Rajan Parulekar – Director, Hospitality Paradigm

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The 7 deadly Hospitality Marketing P’s

How deadly is the paradigm of the seven P’s of hospitality marketing?

Half a century ago, Alvin Toffler in his book Future Shock, was credited with a profound statement. “The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write. It will be those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.”

These onerous times for hospitality providers suggest one silver lining. It gives us time to re-assess our marketing mix and strategies, even as the pandemic continues to rule the roost. The lean time thus forced upon us offers us plenty of scope to alter our marketing course.

Is your mix of products or services compelling enough for your guest?

To answer this, check if your paradigm of the seven P’s of hospitality marketing is effective and deadly enough. To remain competitive, constantly re-evaluate your business activities for Product, Price, Place, Promotion, People, Process, and Physical evidence.

1. Product: The pandemic has forced us to expand our range of products and services, to save our P&L. We have seen overnight adaptations and new entrants in our product range. Socially distanced products, menus, drive-in services, conveyor & robotic services, cloud kitchens, DIY meals, hygiene, office space are some examples. Some will fade away like a house built on sand as the industry is experimenting and grappling in new territories. Hence the need for constant re-evaluation.

Regularly ask yourselves these questions.

  • How best may you evolve your products or services to stay relevant to your guest?
  • From the client’s perspective, is your product or service desirable and differentiated enough from anything else available? If so, what is it?
  • If not, could you develop an area of differentiated superiority?
  • Should you be offering this product or service at all in the current marketplace?

2. Price: An almost non-existent to low demand has collapsed prices like a pack of cards. To feed the cash flow, pricing has been humbled by the drastic tilt in favour of the customer. Market economics flows from the supply-demand curve and the hospitality industry is on the wrong side of this curve. One cannot discount such that you keep losing in this ‘zero-sum game’ with your guest. Yet, discount you must, to claim a stake of the reduced pie.

In this scenario, question yourself:

  • How do I establish a value proposition in the customer’s mind that exceeds the price of the product or service?
  • What is my base value price (aka reservation price) below which I make losses and must therefore avoid?
  • Am I able to identify my customer’s reservation price, i.e. the highest they are ready to spend for my product?
  • How do I maintain my positioning and brand personality against my price?

3. Place: Franchising, locational H.K. services, food delivery, outdoor catering, food trucks, online, mobile, immersive through virtual reality, etc. are some examples. Barring a few exceptions, hotels have traditionally used their own location as the sole place to promote their products.

A popular apothegm states “if the mountain won’t come to you, you must go to the mountain.”

We have learned this lesson robustly during this epidemic. Customers have a morbid fear of infection and avoid coming to you; so, we have adapted by going to the customer!

A most recent example is that of a Michelin-starred Hungarian restaurant Costes in Budapest. It is staging a skyline dining event on the Budapest Eye Ferris wheel to generate sales in a coronavirus-proof environment.

Explore the new paradigm for Place in your marketing strategy:

  • What creative new distribution options are there for customers to experience your product at their convenience?
  • Do these distribution options help overcome the customer’s hygiene concerns?
  • Will these new options help increase your market footprint?
  • How can location and logistics be custom-crafted to suit both sides?

4. Promotion: This includes all the ways you tell your customers about your products or services and how you then market and sell to them. It is a continuous WIP (work-in-progress) and even small changes in your promotion tactics can lead to dramatic results.

Figure out the following:

  • How best can I grab eyeballs and interest my potential customer.
  • What is my message strategy? What and how must I communicate it?
  • Can I identify my optimum promotional mix (choice of relevant media: advertising, PR, direct marketing, digital marketing, and sales promotion)?
  • How to harness the growing power of Digital Media? (Through social media, content marketing, video marketing, influencer marketing, building communities, targeting & retargeting. Also, through contextual messaging to customer cohorts, and hyper-contextualising to segments of your audience)

5. People: In our labour-intensive industry, your employees represent your product. Hence, they impact the customer’s impression of your brand as they represent your company in alignment with broader messaging strategies. This is achievable only when employees feel they are treated fairly and earn wages sufficient to support their daily lives.

Introspect on these:

  • In your updated manning, have you processed the right people off the bus and the right people on it?
  • Have these right people been given the right seats? Are your employees round pegs in round holes, or are they square pegs?
  • What are the skill gaps you need to bridge? Have new skills to service shifting customer expectations and market changes been imparted.
  • Are your associate’s interactions with the guest delightful? Are service breakdowns and complaints handled positively?

6. Process: When I wanted to buy an RO filter, top of mind was the brand ‘Kent’ thanks to its effective marketing. I called the toll-free number, sent emails and after a few days of frustrating follow-up, gave up. Eventually, I landed up buying ‘Zero B by Ion Exchange’- a brand that hardly markets itself in comparison to Kent.

Some hotels ask a telephonic banquet sales enquiry client to send their query on email as a verification process. Only then does their banquet sales respond with an offer to the client. Contemplate, how many bookers would abandon the query right at this initial stage!

The best of marketing strategies are of no use if your processes do not serve the customer effectively.

Your SOPs (standard operating procedures) must live and breathe within your team members. Therefore, its effectiveness must be regularly monitored and tracked.

Check your processes for the following:

  • Do your SOPs and service mechanisms align with best practices & KPI’s (Key Performance Indicators)?
  • How practical are your processes? Do they align with guest delight?
  • Are your processes robust, yet flexible enough to empower your people to engineer guest delight?
  • Does the team regularly assess the RCA (root cause analysis) and OFI (opportunities for improvement) of failures?

7. Physical Evidence: In light of the worldwide epidemic, physical evidence takes a premium position. Over 90% travellers today consider hygiene and health safety as one of three considerations before utilizing travel and hospitality services. They look for touch-free, sanitised physical spaces, minimised and socially distanced services, sanitised and sensitised associates, contactless technology, etc.

Understand better, in light of today’s crisis:

  • How do you reassure your customers of the environment/place you provide for them?
  • Is your facility, website, design, spatial layout, signage, and packaging attuned to the current need of the guest?
  • Are the ambient conditions in keeping with the health and hygiene of the guests?
  • Have you been able to minimise physical touch points using technology and simplified processes?

Keep in mind that these seven deadly Hospitality Marketing P’s aka ‘marketing mix’ revolve around your guest. Also, do not lose sight of your core business model, for, in the long-term, it is your fulcrum.

Four teasers are posed for each of the above variables in the mix. Bench-press and challenge yourself for many more, along with your core team. The final marketing mix evolving from this effort must be tweaked constantly, yet principally to the guest psychographic and demographic. This is when the seven P’s of your Hospitality Marketing Mix will remain deadly and competitive.

In summary, the literate marketer always will be one who learns, unlearns, and relearns his marketing mix!

This article has appeared in ET HOSPITALITY WORLD.COM January 2021

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The four noble truths

The first sermon Buddha delivered after enlightenment was on the Four Noble Truths.

  1. The truth of suffering
  2. The truth of the origin of suffering
  3. The truth of the goal
  4. The truth of the path to the goal

Quite often it is felt that Buddha was pessimistic and was against the good things in life when he uttered the first noble truth that ‘Life is Suffering’ (Dukkha). It is not so. The term suffering can be interpreted in terms of day-to-day anxieties, irritations, etc. When we are all by ourselves, the thought of something missing, that we are not our ideal self, the current problems, start troubling us. The truth is: we do not think, the thoughts happen to us by default; without our choice. These random thoughts include the pain of earning a living, keeping the near and dear ones (and also the professional colleagues) happy, job uncertainties, etc. For those going through an existential dilemma, the pain of being me, the purpose of my life, Who Am I maybe also a part of constant irritation. The constant chattering of the mind from past to future is THE first noble truth, the truth of suffering!

How do we address this perennial irritation? We feel by working hard in our existing jobs or business, we may be able to address the uncertain future. Some people feel that the latest mobile or car may make them happy. Those with an intellectual/spiritual disposition of mind may resort to reading self-help books or attend spiritual retreat/personality development programs. People work on these different options hoping to calm their chattering minds. But beyond a superficial feeling of well-being, the pain resurfaces!

Do self-help books really help? In the US alone, self-help is around a $50 Billion industry. Despite being the pioneers in self-help along with the latest objects of desire, the country has an alarming crime and divorce rate, with a pervasive feeling of loneliness. Bhutan, a country without a commercial self-help industry is considered as one of the happiest countries. Incidentally research shows that people who are dependent on self-help books invariably tend to buy another book within the next 18 months! Paradoxically it is only the (fake) Gurus who make money, leaving their subjects poor, and the latter looking out for new techniques all the time! Our constant endeavour to drive away the pain either by acquiring new objects or self-improvement techniques is the root cause of suffering; the second Noble Truth.

After running on this hedonistic/spiritual treadmill for long; somehow the mind gets exhausted. You say to yourself: enough is enough, and stop trying! You accept the way you are; you accept your chattering mind. And lo behold, magic happens! There is a gap between consecutive thoughts. Your thought process slows down. Now you start seeing gaps, the emptiness between two thoughts, and you start arriving at peace with yourself. Your mind shifts from the past/future treadmill to the present moment! This is the third noble truth, the truth of the goal.

But these gaps are intermittent, ephemeral. If you start craving for the gaps, you go back to the first noble truth. The truth of suffering!

The media has conditioned us in making us believe that multitasking is good and that one should try to compress as many activities in the shortest possible time, which can make us productive and in turn lead to happiness. Nothing can be farther from the truth than this view. While watching TV, if a commercial appears, immediately we turn to the remote. We drink coffee while watching TV, we read a newspaper while having breakfast, and we WhatsApp messages during meals. We are trying to keep our minds busy to avoid the pain of the chattering mind. Most of these activities we do are in an auto-pilot mode: fingers on the mobile, with eyes on the TV screen, while sipping tea; but with the mind chattering at the speed of light about an important client meeting!

Let us understand the fourth noble truth, the truth of the path to the goal. Imagine you are making a cup of tea. Pour the water into the kettle, feel the sensation. Watch the water boiling and feel the steam and the warmth. Pour the tea powder into the kettle, smell the aroma of tea leaves in the boiling water. Allow the tea to percolate, watch your mind while pouring the tea slowly in the cup. Sit comfortably in your chair, and start drinking it with mindfulness. Observe the sensations at your lips, the tongue, and the way it travels down your food pipe. While doing this, you are in the present moment all the time and appreciating the tea with all the five senses: the aroma, the taste,  the colour, the warmth of the cup as well as sensation while tea is going down the gullet. When you perform every action in a similar mindful way, you are disconnecting the chattering mind and that is the fourth noble truth: the truth of the path to the goal! Practise even ordinary activities with total awareness and complete attention. Let it be choiceless.

All actions are intrinsically noble: sending a mail to a client or a WhatsApp message to a friend is in no way superior to cleaning the sink or washing the clothes! You do not have to outsource the latter activities to servants thinking them (both the activity as well as the servant) to be inferior! Every activity whether small or big, if done mindfully leads to salvation! And that is the truth of the path to the goal.

When we are multitasking with a chattering mind hovering in the past or the future, we are nowhere; acting like a zombie, no different than a robot – but perennially suffering. A robot in a way is still better, at least it does not suffer!

When we are doing one task at a time with complete awareness, we are in the present moment. That is the journey from nowhere to now and here, a paradigm shift from confusion to enlightenment! Be Happy!

Rajan Parulekar – Director, Hospitality Paradigm

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Avoid like the Plague

Avoid like the Plague
Hospitality Covidioms ~ an idiomatic approach to the ‘Covidian’ era.

In these masked, socially distanced times never has the idiom “Avoid like the Plague,” been understood better.

Though I wish nothing better than for us to dodge the Covid-19 bullet, reality augurs on a different plane. This hurtful lallapaloosa has been thrown smack dab at us and has kept us under siege. It is now for us to mask it out effectively. This ain’t a time to cry me a river or behave like a cat on a hot tin roof.

Experience (positive or negative) is one of life’s biggest teachers. Negative experiences wire humans to learn quicker. Were we to avoid it like the plague and steer clear from being thrown under this Covid bus, would we emerge stronger? We would surely not have developed into what we are today if we had not experienced this calendar year 2020. Woody Allen rightly said, “we are the sum total of our choices,” – it is these choices we make during distraught times like these, which will define us.

Covid-19 falls into this category of negative experiences, something one would desire like a hole in the head.

We cannot avoid it like the plague that it is, so why not be stoical about it? Rise to the challenge, and look for the silver lining instead.

The inefficient boss has been a kick-ass contributor to my life’s learnings. This personage would preen like he/she were the cat’s whiskers, yet scrape the barrel of managerial effectiveness. I learned to use this to my advantage as an effective case study… Of what I would never want to grow to be! Here is a situation where one can learn first-hand from another’s hair-raising stultifications, that too at close quarters. Most well-wishers would recommend you to ‘avoid an inept boss like the plague.’ Antithetically speaking, I encourage spending time studying the boss’ management style of ‘not knowing his arse from his elbow.’ For, this may not be entirely bereft of its benefits. When viewed from this angle, maladroit leaders may be well worth their weight in gold!

My own personal implosions have been another great teacher, for it is by seeking and blundering that we learn. It is only when we learn from our botch-ups that ‘Bob’s your uncle,’ viz. success is guaranteed. Thomas Alva Edison once famously said “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

We are with our backs against the wall today, and there is no eschewing this dark cloud on the horizon. Things have come to a pretty pass. Business is down, unemployment is up. The shit seems to be not just hitting the fan, but also spreading itself across the ceiling. ‘Tis a heavy cross for anyone to bear.

Yet, could this really be an ill wind (that blows nobody any good)?

The Great Depression, a severe ‘riches to rags’ era, began in late 1929 and ran through the next decade. By 1933, the economic decline had pushed world trade to one-third of its level just four years earlier. Yet, through this ‘tough row to hoe’ time, there were some sterling examples of companies that hit home runs and brought home the bacon, becoming howling successes.

In 1929, the onset of the Great Depression saw the incorporation of Walt Disney Productions. Walt & Roy Disney knew that America needed to laugh their way to their ‘bottomed out’ banks more than ever. WDP was able to swim through the tide and navigate through the deep waters of the depression. They grew their business to the point where they could subsequently begin work on their first full-length animated feature right after The Great Depression ended.

During national Prohibition in the U.S.A. from 1920 to 1933, the country’s breweries were ‘going to hell in a handbasket.’ Many closed their doors for good. Pre-Prohibition, more than a 1000 breweries had made hay while the sun shined. Amidst the dark clouds of the Great Depression, most landed up paying the piper and eventually kicked the bucket. By 1932, there were only 164 that could be ready to make beer again.

These surviving brewers realised that when life gives you lemons, one needs to make lemonade. They stayed ahead of the curve by running dairies, selling meat, and venturing out into other agricultural enterprises. Breweries innovated against the grain and created ‘Near beer’ that had only trace amounts of alcohol. They also applied their expertise to non-alcoholic tipples like root beer. As of 2019, the five best-selling beers in America are all produced by pre-Prohibition/pre-Great Depression brands.

The Indian hospitality industry has shown a great fighting spirit.

Almost as dead as a doornail during lockdown 1.0, it refused to throw in the towel. With little or no support from the government, it has ‘not allowed Elvis to leave the building’. Hanging by a slender thread, the resilient hospitality industry believes that ‘it ain’t over till the fat lady sings’. The pandemic has thus pushed the hospitality industry to throw down the gauntlet and walk the tightrope creatively.

New life is being breathed into Room sales through workcations, office space, drivable revenge travel, etc., to keep the wolf from the door,

Stuck between a rock and a hard place, F&B and other ancillary revenues (laundry, spa, housekeeping, etc.) are upping the ante. They are raising the bar, through ‘break the mould’ concepts. These range from cloud kitchens to home delivery to DIY meal & cocktail kits; from individual experiential home parties with chefs and a bartender to food retail; from drive-through F&B parcel pick-ups to online sessions, etc. Brands today are now ring-fencing their P&L by curating ‘out of the ballpark’ experiences. And, these are not limited to locations, time zones, demographics, or generational cohorts.

If Covid-19 had not come along now, would we have burned the midnight oil so diligently, to discover the potential within our very own country, to the extent we are doing now?

International travel is at ‘sixes and sevens’ and will continue to be in limbo for some time to come. Targeting inbound tourism would be akin to flogging a dead horse and be as successful as a one-legged man in a butt-kicking contest. Brands have understood the need to reposition their strategies to now better target a domestic clientele, that too at drivable distances.

The pandemic has pushed us to the wall to better understand our profit margins and keep our heads above water. It has led to an increased understanding of the P&L and helped us better re-engineer our expenses to emerge from ventilator support. On payroll manning, I’d go out on a limb to forecast that our industry will never return to pre-Covid-19 levels. ‘He who pays the piper, calls the tune’ – and so when businesses eventually return to normal, manning will not. This crisis has taught us to live in dearth and insufficiency and how not to spend a pretty penny. We are now learning the ropes on how to manage with less and be more circumspect on our expenses.

The new bag of tricks we have learned from this Covidian era should develop our hoteliering chops vastly. It will be some time until we can ride the gravy train again. In the meantime, we should be sharper in running a tight ship and delivering the goods positively onto the P&L sheet.

A smooth sea has never made a skilled sailor. So, the next time you use the idiom “Avoid (someone/something) like the plague,” think about what Covid-19 has taught us. Oft-times, we may be better off taking it on the chin and confronting it, rather than avoiding it!

This article has appeared in ET HOSPITALITY WORLD.COM October 2020

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Personal Selling – Will it survive WFH?

The other day in our town hall meeting our VP-Sales announced that henceforth all sales folks are to work from home. I have been in the sales profession for the last fifteen years, and with this company for the last five. I could see most of my colleagues clapping with their emojis during the zoom meeting. And the thought process started working… Why did I join Sales as a profession in the first place?

Being a B.Sc 2nd class graduate from a mofussil town in North Karnataka, I had no option of pursuing further studies due to my precarious financial position and my mediocre academic background.

My first job was as a sales executive in a weighing scale company in Bangalore. The pressure on numbers was part and parcel of my sales job. Incidentally, a few of my colleagues left the sales profession within a year. Those with a better academic record decided to opt for a full-time MBA while others opted for a factory job. I still remember one of them, Ganesh, who told me on his last day, “Ravi, I have decided never to get into the sales profession again in my life. Travelling daily on a bike on traffic-congested roads, customers reluctant to meet you, and if this is not enough, my manager screaming down through my throat asking for the numbers is more than I can bear.

Somehow or the other, I had started enjoying the profession very much. Within the first month, I was able to close a major order and there was no looking back, thereafter. All these years I have been reaching or surpassing the targets. Even in my company, only I would turn up to the office on Saturdays, and my colleagues from production, design, and QC were envious of me. Their tone would express their envy that salespeople have all the freedom in life, they come and leave the office whenever they want, etc. Bhaskar from the accounts department, while clearing my conveyance and outstation claims, once commented, “you lucky guys, you travel by taxi, live in five-star hotels, dine in the best of the restaurants; and all this at company expense.

I could not explain to my colleagues doing their desk jobs in an air-conditioned and predictable environment that I was in the field most of the time, working in ‘unpredictable enemy territory,’ where even getting a glass of water, leave aside a cup of tea, was a luxury.

But then, how did I survive and grow in this sales profession? Was it the salary and incentives? It was much more than that. As a salesman, I was not perturbed with rejections. Even though seven out of ten prospects did not show interest in my products, it was the sheer thrill of meeting new people every day. Was meeting these prospects easy in the first place? A friendly conversation with a security guard or complimenting the receptionist to get the decision maker’s name was more of a fun game than a chore.

Quite often a client would be reluctant to share competition details. Going out of factory premises for a cup of coffee or a cigarette, discussing office politics, and sympathising with him on his personal challenges would help break and melt the ice.

Talking with security guards with key phrases in their mother tongue also revealed crucial information about competition activities, which was not only fun but also adrenaline-boosting. However one needs to have a considerate manager to encourage you. My first manager, Mr. Inamdar recognised my passion for sales and the results I was generating. He once said, “Ravi, I do not care what time you come to the office, or how many calls you make. You have been given targets in terms of the number of units, value, and profitability. You know the company guidelines and policies. Within that framework, please get the results. If you need any help, please let me know. However, keep me updated on important developments.” He turned a Nelson’s eye if I crossed company limits on my daily expenses. Once in a while, he would say “I trust that you have spent money from your pocket during this outstation call. The company rules do not allow me to pass your travel expenses, and I have to follow company rules. You may cover this amount in your local travel.”

Mark Twain once said, “I did not prevent my school from getting me educated.” On similar lines, my manager, Inamdar was never an obstacle between me and my targets. He was an exception. Most of my subsequent managers were sadly, otherwise.

Pradip, one such manager used to always hanker about reports. I once told him, “I have surpassed my targets, why then do you insist on daily activity reports?” He said, “In our company, we get orders even otherwise. What I need are reports.”

The town hall meeting on Zoom was in progress. I was drawn out of my reverie. The people who were clapping for WFH sales, did they ever have a passion for sales, I wondered? Both the stakeholders, the management as well as the salespeople were gung-ho about WFH selling, but what might be the real issue?

Harsh Goenka-led RPG enterprises have announced that the sales force henceforth shall work from home. The group has companies like CEAT Tyres, Zensar Technologies with a Global employee strength of 30,000. The office-bound staff is to work 50% from the office. ( WFH: Home will Always be an office for RPG Staff ) . WFH has the following advantages for management:

  • Lower office procurement costs in terms of rentals or purchase
  • Lower operating overheads in terms of electricity, house-keeping, tea/coffee, cafeteria, etc.
  • Lower sales expenses in terms of local and outstation travel, lodging, and boarding expenses. The company also claims that for the salespeople it also amounts to the following: Lesser fatigue, lesser travel & quicker TAT (turnaround time)

In the above article, it was claimed that this would lead to higher employee efficacy and business output with an improved work-life balance.

WFH may be the need of the day. But will the management ever realize that there is another side to the story? For a few star performers, Selling is more of fun, passion, and a personal adventure on a daily basis, which distinguishes them from the crowd. Will WFH and its related efficacy claim, ever address this passion?

And, how will star sales performers differentiate from the crowd?

For details: Contextual Selling – A New Sales Paradigm for the 21st Century

Rajan Parulekar – Director, Hospitality Paradigm

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Salary – A philosophical & aphoristic perspective

An 'Aphoristic' perspective
The tragedy of our age is salary”… writes Sunday Adelaja in ‘No one is better than you.’

My fellow working hoteliers are mostly receiving their salaries in part and the extremely fortunate few, in full by now. One’s reaction to a truncated salary receipt, while not initially positive, must compel ourselves to look at our half-filled glass and consider that ‘I have a salary,’ if even in part; for there are many who have not been fortunate to have retained their employment in these trying times. Thus the need to look at Salary from a philosophical & aphoristic perspective.

Those of us who have a passion for hospitality have chosen our own area of calling and purpose and we are working and converting our life into that area of calling. If you are such a passionate employee, you will realize that if you genuinely believe you are not being compensated with salary, it is then that you become the boss over your own life, for you have not allowed money to rule your life.

Mokhonoana in his aphoristic style writes “The reason that man is seldom satisfied with his salary is that when it increases, he increases his expenses.” For those who have received a 50% deduction, a positive way of approaching the current salary crisis is to remember how one lived when one’s salary was half what it is now. The answer perhaps may startle us – we were equally happy and experienced the same level of wants, needs, and satiation at that time. It is only then, that we began to view our Salary from a philosophical & aphoristic perspective!

This tells us that money is a means to an end and not an end to a means.

There’s no money in poetry, but then there’s no poetry in money, either,” said Robert Gravesthe Poetwhile Voltaire, the writer said, “Don’t think money does everything or you are going to end up doing everything for money.” Profound statements, both eviscerating the ideal stance in the prevailing scenario.

At the pandemic’s outset many months ago, most international & domestic hotel chains in India took policy decisions to cut salaries as per grades and retrench employees in order to stay afloat. These chains are mostly managed or franchised where individual owners come into play. Those employees who were, and still are blessed to receive any salary, need to maintain an aphoristic perspective, to retain their philosophical sanity. On the other hand, some of the larger Indian chains with self-owned properties did not withhold salaries (barring performance bonus), making their employees amongst the fortunate few in the industry – these few and rare instances display the company’s courage to pay complete salaries during these stressful times and it clearly reflects the importance they give to their human capital.

Salary - A philosophical perspective

On the other end of the spectrum, there are some hotels which have retrenched and cut salaries quite ruthlessly. A luxury chain has rationalized all salaries above Rs. 50000 p.m. to the base amount (a Manager earning 60k p.m. will get 50k, and a GM earning 500k p.m. will also earn 50k) while several luxury chains have asked its people either to leave or to sit out until further notice. Dickson G. WattsAuthor states “Not to have the courage to accept a loss, is fatal. It is the ruin of many.”

Such are the vagaries of business that in order to survive, a business has to reengineer expenses in tune with market trends. Frederic Bastiat, a French economist of the 19th century once famously said “Everyone wants to live at the expense of the state. They forget that the state wants to live at the expense of everyone.

Airbnb Chairman, Brian Chesky released a note a few months ago, announcing layoffs and the surmise behind it. In the note to his employees, he writes:

“We don’t know exactly when travel will return. When travel does return, it will look different. While we know Airbnb’s business will fully recover, the changes it will undergo are not temporary or short-lived. Because of this, we need to make more fundamental changes to Airbnb by reducing the size of our workforce. It was important that we had a clear set of principles, guided by our core values, for how we would approach reductions in our workforce. These were our guiding principles:

  • Map all reductions to our future business strategy and the capabilities we will need.
  • Do as much as we can for those who are impacted. 
  • Be unwavering in our commitment to diversity. 
  • Optimize for 1:1 communication for those impacted. 
  • Wait to communicate any decisions until all details are landed — transparency of only partial information can make matters worse. 

The result is that we will have to part with teammates that we love and value. We have great people leaving Airbnb, and other companies will be lucky to have them. To take care of those that are leaving, we have looked across severance, equity, healthcare, and job support and done our best to treat everyone in a compassionate and thoughtful way.”

This seems to be an empathetic manner of approaching severance and salary cuts.

In the book To Kill a Mocking Birdby Harper Lee, Atticus Finch tells her daughter: “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view – until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”

I sincerely commiserate with all my industry colleagues going through this current crisis and do pray that we all live through this period with grace, equanimity, and a strong belief in the Almighty and faith in recovery to better times ahead. It is not easy to have to receive wages less than what has been contracted for and I trust owners will empathize with their employees’ pain whilst implementing such measures.

At the end of it all, we must remember that there is that which is in one’s hands and then, that which is not… As an employee, the quantum of salary pay-out may not be in your hands. However, accepting the inevitable that salary is transient, would be a philosophical way of looking at this aphorism.

In the meantime, it is highly recommended that we invest this time in upgrading ourselves in various areas. You are the best judge for what you need to upskill on, professionally or otherwise. “Better capital in a man’s head than capital in a bank.” – Dickson G. Watts

So keep your thoughts positive. To quote John Assaraf, “Keep your chin up. No one expected you to save the world, otherwise, you would have been born wearing a cape and tights. Just do the best you can.”

#hotelsalaries #hotelindustry #hotelowners #hoteliers #hoteliernews #salarybenchmarking #salarysurvey #salarysacrifice #hotelmanagement #ownershipchallenges #covid #leadership

This article has appeared in ET HOSPITALITY WORLD.COM September 2020

This article has appeared in ET HR WORLD.COM September 2020

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A Successful Failure

Circa 1988, I was chosen for the Management Trainee Program of the fabled Oberoi Centre for Learning & Development aka OCLD, then known as Oberoi School of Hotel Management (OSHM).

Interestingly, the path to this successful selection involved a lot of drive, humility, diligence, and industriousness.

I had always aspired to join the hotel industry. In the 1980s, there were very few people who wished to truck with this industry, unlike now. I learned of the OSHM during this time and read whatever magazines I could on the industry and Oberoi Hotels.

Gen Z (students and new industry workers) may have heard of such ‘prehistoric times – the non-internet age’ from their parents but may find it difficult to comprehend; nowadays any thirst for knowledge is easily quenched online.

A distant relative worked at Oberoi Hotels, Bombay and I requested to be connected with him. I met him for the first time and went to his home to try and understand something about an industry I knew practically nothing about. He was most helpful and supplied me with magazines, newsletters, and brochures, etc., apart from tutelage on the Oberoi way.

IHM Bombay had a professor who was a family friend and I connected with her, to understand what the hotel industry was about. She was very kind to allow me to use the institution’s library to study books on the industry. Lillicrap’s Food & Beverage Service – a reference used even today, was one such book. I poured over all this reading with keen interest, making notes along the way.

All this preparation began a year earlier while in my second year of graduation, and I used this time to also prepare for GMAT and GRE as I was told this would be useful in the OSHM selection process. I simultaneously worked hard to develop my General Knowledge using library time effectively.

Come D-Day, I was all fired up and floated through my college selection (I was the only one selected from at least 100 students). The next stage was at The Hotel Oberoi Towers where I got through the Group Discussion, the written test, and the pre-final interview.

Having got through four stages, 3 months later I was called for my final interview with PRS (Biki) Oberoi and the board of directors at The Oberoi New Delhi. Of all the hundred-odd selectees called in for the final interview, I found myself in the final 18.

Imagine my dismay, when this final 18 were assembled at the end of the interview selection process and told that 15 of them had made the grade. I was among the rejected 3 candidates, who after seemingly getting through the 5th and final stage of selection, had to now fly back home downcast and woebegone and take fresh stock of my life.

I analysed the reason for my rejection and figured that the uncertainty amongst the interview panel, of my passion and sincerity for the hotel industry, probably weighed heavily against me. Being an Economics graduate, my seriousness for this service industry was probably in question. I realised that to show my seriousness for the OSHM, I would have to prove my passion for this industry, the next time I came up before the Oberoi Panel.

I joined a two-year course in Hotel Administration and Food Technology at Sophia Polytechnic, Bombay. During this time did my industrial training at Oberoi Towers, Nariman Point, and then at Sea Rock Bandra.

A year later, when the OSHM selection began, I requested my graduation college to allow me to attend the 1st stage of selection. The rest is history. I sailed through all five stages successfully. In Delhi, at the final interview, I was quite startled when Biki Oberoi told me I had put on some weight since my previous attempt a year ago!

And, that is how I joined the OSHM batch of 1988-90.

Well, the learnings I would encourage here are:

Failures happen… They must encourage and exhort you to do better. Look at ways to convert failures into success. Many of us may achieve success without going through the failure stage and this is dangerous as it does not prepare us for the real world. Popular belief says that ‘failure is bad.’ You need to redefine this for your situation.

Analyse failure. Do not simply disregard it, as it could happen again in a different form unless you are able to fathom the reason for it.

Hard work, hard work, hard work. There is no better formula for success.

Focus on what you want to achieve. Keep your focus constant. Do not say ‘I will try this and if it works – well and good, else I will do something else.’

Without passion for what you want to achieve, you are like an empty vessel. Aspire for something by design and not by default.

For Gen Z who has passed out this year from their catering schools, it is indeed a trying time. Many of you are waiting for the appointment letters you were promised during hotel selections done pre Covid-19, and many are still sitting out waiting for employment.

This is not your personal failure… it is the environment that has played a trick on you. Instead of rueing your luck, look at how you could use this time to upskill yourself or possibly join an organisation as a trainee instead of an employee – for the experience.

Create your future instead of waiting for the future to create you.

Ramiah G. Daniels – Director, Hospitality Paradigm

This article has appeared in Champions of Hospitality October 2020

This article has appeared in Hospitium, December 2020

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