The Phrase All Hospitality Trainers Dread (and What to Do When You Hear It)
September 11, 2023 | 171 Views
When hospitality organizations begin to experience negative business indicators – declining sales, lower productivity, bad reviews – senior leaders can be quick to point fingers at inadequate staff training as the culprit. And the mantra they will repeat, a bane of many a hotel or restaurant training department, is: “We have a training problem.”
Is training the likely cause of their troubles? Possibly, but as most of us know, business metrics are a reflection of a wide variety of factors, including market dynamics, competition, economic conditions, and even changes in consumer behavior. While training undoubtedly plays a vital role in employee development, it is just one piece of the puzzle that contributes to company performance.
So why is training a common scapegoat for the C-Suite when confronted with negative news? Typically, when the numbers are moving in the wrong direction, there's a desire for quick solutions. Leaders can appear proactive by immediately demanding a training review or overhaul, even if the underlying issues are more complex, and it allows them to exert a sense of control over the situation. They may also want to deflect attention away from either a) that they are too far removed from operations to have good understanding of what is actually happening, or b) they made some poor strategic decisions and want to protect their reputations.
Crafting a professional response
When the dreaded “We have a training problem” proclamation trickles down to you and your colleagues, what is the proper course of action? Most importantly, you need to steer leadership gently but firmly away from their initial knee-jerk reactions, and guide them to identify the true sources of organizational troubles. So your response needs to be grounded in professionalism, transparency, and a commitment to finding solutions. It’s not as cathartic as venting frustrations at them, of course, but it’s going to be much more effective in the long run.
A good start is to schedule a meeting between the executives and your training team so you can initiate a constructive dialogue. At this meeting, you will want to actively listen to the perspectives of senior leaders, acknowledge their concerns, and let them know you will vigorously search for the best path forward. Don’t get defensive, don’t try to justify your training programs – just let them know how long you will need to adequately gather the proper evidence for all the potential factors that may be influencing the problems, including areas outside of training. If questioned about your inclusiveness, remind them that yes, training could be a cause, but it might not be the only one, and the prudent approach for this type of investigation is to ensure that every viable option is explored so that the investment in time, money, and effort pays off for the company. Make sure to use the words “prudent,” “investment,” and “pay off” as much as you can.
Exploring all possibilities
What other potential causes will you be looking for in this search? Poor training might be one of them, but other possibilities include:
- Poor hiring practices, haphazard scheduling, or inadequate staffing levels
- Problematic incentives rewarding the wrong behaviors
- Operational issues such as inefficient, outdated, or missing tools
- Internal communication breakdowns
- Declining product quality (or a shortage of the ones usually purchased)
- Shifting consumer preferences or the emergence of new competitors
- A toxic work culture, a disgruntled workforce, or stressful working conditions
- Ineffective or inconsistent marketing strategies
- Economic downturns, inflation, or changes in the local or national economy
- Failing to innovate in terms of menu offerings, technology integration, or customer experience
With regards to the upcoming investigation, you should also gather the stakeholders from various departments (operations, HR, marketing, or anyone else relevant to the problem), discuss the performance gaps, and enlist their assistance in the process of determining solutions. You’re going to need as many eyeballs as possible looking for answers, and the other directors and managers might provide unique perspectives from their areas of expertise that the training team could overlook, thereby ensuring that no stone is left unturned.
Conducting a thorough evaluation
Once you have assembled your team of Avengers, you are ready to begin your deep dive into the issue with these five essential activities:
- Guest and staff interviews: Talk to both the customer and employees at the affected locations to gather their feedback and insights. Ask guests about their experiences and what they liked or disliked, and ask staff members, especially those in public-facing roles, if they can provide insight into guest interactions and issues they may have encountered (especially if the feedback relates to the training they received).
- Data review: Analyze recent guest count reports, reservation patterns, and customer feedback for correlations between specific issues and declines in sales or guest satisfaction.
- Observation: Spend time in the field watching operations and guest interactions firsthand. This step can help you identify performance issues, bottlenecks, or customer service challenges that might not be immediately evident from interviews or reports.
- Process mapping: Map out the step-by-step workflow of key relevant hospitality processes – areas like check-in, check-out, or dining service – using flowcharts. Visually detailing these processes from start to finish makes it easier to identify breakdowns and inefficiencies. For example, are there redundant steps? Unclear hand-offs between employees? Bottlenecks causing delays?
- Competitor analysis: Look at what other successful hospitality businesses in your area or niche are doing (or reach out to your friends in CHART), and compare their strategies, customer service, and offerings with your own. Ask “What are they doing differently?” or “Are there innovations or best practices we can adopt?” to learn where you might be falling behind or missing opportunities.
The value of a holistic perspective
The key is to gather intel from multiple lenses – process, people, and technology – and pinpoint all the potential pain points at your hotels or restaurants. You can use your findings to develop a data-driven business case for what interventions are truly needed company-wide, with new training initiatives as just one possible part of a broader (and more likely to be correctly diagnosed) solution. It may not be the quick fix the top brass was hoping for, but instead will be a thoroughly investigated process that sets the stage for thoughtful, impactful reforms. With this evidence-based approach, your training team can build trust with leadership as champions for organizational excellence and reframe the conversation from “We have a training problem” to “We have an opportunity to evolve our strategy and operations.”
And that enlightenment is perhaps the most valuable training that hospitality executives can receive.
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GREAT article, Patrick! It's gotten to where I shudder when I hear those 5 little words. Thank you for helping us to take a methodical approach to an often knee jerk situation.