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4 at 4: Tea Time With the GM Communication Program
By Gordon James Gorman
I started this HR (Human Relations) program on my second day in the GM's office at Avari Towers Karachi, where it continues to the present day, five years later.
I am not to proud to admit that much of the success I have enjoyed here in Karachi over these past five years of people and profit transformation, has been a direct result of learning the ropes from many of my former General Managers, going all the way back to my time in Kenya in the early 1980's, where I started my gradual climb up the hospitality management ladder under the watchful eye of the Alliance Hotels Group General Manager, Chris Modigell, (now the GM of Leopard Beach Resort) a giant in that country's tourism industry in more ways than one since 1976.
Of course there have been other less highly regarded General Managers with whom I have labored and could not wait to part company with, but thankfully, the Gentlemen GM's have outnumbered the few selfish drunken bullies who cared only for enriching themselves, instead of mentoring and developing a new generation of young hospitality leaders of the future.
One such Gentleman Hotelier was Chilean, Michael Turner, my General Manager, and dare I say my partner in hospitality at the 800 rooms Holiday Inn Silom Bangkok, a hotel where I not only learned to provide and perfect the gentle and gracious art of Thai style service, but also to be of service, and to provide that unique service not only our guests, but also to our 500 staff members whom he referred to as our "internal guests", an expression of affinity and indeed love that he felt for all of them whom he served proudly with me from 1999 until 2001, at which time he left for a CEO position with a leading hotel group in the United States, while I headed off to Korea for a new adventure with my fast growing family, joining the COEX InterContinental Hotel in Seoul in the summer of 2001, just in time to be part of that country's historic World Cup soccer adventure.
During my two years in Bangkok with Michael, I was fortunate to be able to frequently join him for his daily 4 at 4 Tea Time in his office, at which time he would entertain four staff members at 4.00pm sharp, all of whom were randomly selected by his secretary to take tea with him in his office, a prospect which under previous administrations might have terrified the invitees.
However, Michael had it all worked perfectly out to cause the minimum of shock and awe, as the names were selected at 3.45 pm, with each one then called and asked to come immediately to the GM's office.
This meant that the invitees had little or no time to worry about what to say to the GM, or about what he might say about them, which was a smart SOP, and one that I have continued to this day as many people are still terrified of a call to the GM's office, and I do wonder why, because in my own particular case, it's mostly to listen, and to offer advice.
For those of you reading this and wondering how a GM can bother with such "trivial pursuits", and how he or she can find time to fit such a "time waster" in to his or her daily routine, while attending to other more pressing matters such as marketing, finance, sales, social media planning, and attending several high level meetings, and generally managing one hundred or more different tasks, I can assure GM's who might read this that if you also do this one simple thing, it could become the best thing and the most productive thing you have ever done to reach out and connect with your colleagues, bearing in mind the inescapable fact that it's very often the front line that is responsible for the bottom line.
So if you want a healthy bottom line, read on and then give it a try, I guarantee you will be truly amazed with the results, as I still am, day after day as I get to know our people in ways other GM's who practice a rather more aloof and standoff approach to human relations simply can't imagine.
So here's how it works for GM's willing to take the time to really connect with each and every member of their teams on a truly personal level.
The program is simply called 4 at 4, but it could be called 3 at 3, or 2 at 10, or it can simply be called Tea Time with the GM, or Coffee time with the GM, or simply, let's Connect. Just adapt it to whatever suits your needs and the size of your brigade best to ensure that you meet with each and every member of staff at least once in a year in your office to ask the all important question, how can we help each other to do a better job?
The first step is to plan your days so that you always block the allotted time. In my own case 4.00pm works well, so if I meet four staff members at 4.00pm, at least twice a week, usually on Tuesdays and Thursdays, that means I will meet eight each week in my office, thirty two each month, and three hundred and eighty four in a year, which is the exact number of our staff members below the rank of department head and assistant.
How many readers of this article can put their hand on their heart and say that they have also met face to face, in their office, with each and every member of the their team over the period of one calendar year, and more importantly, can they say that they have asked the following questions, and provided the following information after the welcome process has been completed and all are seated, cup of tea in hand, personally served by the GM?
Items to be assembled before the meeting are all the invitee's personal files, and the tea trolley, with the GM's computer, mobile phones and office telephones switched off or rerouted, with a DND sign hung on the door.
This is all crucially important to the success of the meetings, which normally last no more than 60 minutes.
Question 1. Have you ever been to the GM's office before?
Most will say no the first time, even those with 20 or more years of service. I then go on to let them know how happy I am to be able to meet with them and to be able to talk with them face to face.
Question 2. Do you all know why you are here?
Most don't know, so I immediately put them at ease by telling them that I just want to find out how they are doing, if they are happy, and if we can all help each other to do a better job.
Question 3. Do you all know each other, and do you know what each other's role is in the hotel?
Most say no, so we spend a few minutes having each invitee explain precisely what they do on a day to day basis, whether it's the garbage man, the security guard, boiler man, butcher of Director of Finance. Although the invitees are randomly selected I do occasionally try to ensure that a any senior manager is seated next to a blue collar worker so that they all understand that as far as I am concerned, all play an equally vital part in our success, and that as such each must understand, respect and value each other's roles and contributions.
While each invitee is telling the others, and me, what their job entails, and what they have all done that day, I take the opportunity to look through their personal files, making quick notes for later reference and for one on one career counseling sessions, if required.
Question 4. Do you all know what I do?
Most say yes, you are our GM, but few have any real idea of what my role is so I try to explain in simple terms that I am responsible for HAPPINESS.
This usually solicits big smiles all round as I go on to say that my job is to make our owners happy, our 400 staff members happy, and our guests happy, in no particular order. I then go on to explain that without happy staff, staff members our guests will not be happy, and as a result our owners will not be happy due to lower earnings and profits, which leads on to my next question?
Question 5. Are you happy? If you are, please let me have an indication of your happiness factor on a scale of 1-10.
At which time we ask the invitee's to open up about a range of issues such as communication, training, development, fairness, equality, pay scales, personal issues, work conflicts, relationships with their supervisors or managers, uniforms, locker rooms, staff cafeteria food, healthcare, personal finance, etc, limiting each one to five minutes response time. My PA then records all answers for entry into their personal files, along with my responses.
Question 6. How can I help you to reach and climb the next step up your career ladder?
Most ask for better and more frequent skills training, and for a clearer explanation of what's available in terms of career development, at which time I show them all the photograph on the wall which shows me as a diminutive commis chef in 1972 Scotland, along with many other photographs of me meeting, greeting and sitting with world leaders who have stayed or dined at my hotels around the world over these past forty years, a gesture which illustrates well the point that nothing is impossible, i.e. if a college dropout can make it all the way to GM of a five stars hotel, then so can they if they want it badly enough and are prepared to learn what it takes to become a success.
Needless to say, this aspect of the meeting is particularly popular with the chef's, especially the apprentices and commis chefs who seem not only to be suitable impressed but also inspired by the photograph on the wall taken some forty years ago.
Question 7. Do you know what to do in the event of an emergency being declared in the hotel. This is particularly important in Pakistan where we dodge bullets and bombs on a regular basis.
Some say they do, in which case they are quizzed, having gone through regular evacuation, life saving CPR and fire fighting drills held each month, but some say they don't, in which case their names are included for compulsory attendance at the next drill. We also talk to our cooks about the correct methods of fat fires, and remind everyone to be alert to the presence of suspicious looking people on our premises, while impressing upon them the need to report such people immediately to our security team.
Question 8. Do you know how our business is performing at the moment in terms of revenues and profits vs. same time last year?
Most say they don't, although I do talk about the general business trends at our monthly town hall meetings, so I provide a little more detail in general terms, covering the need to match and supersede inflationary costs in order to grow our profits, and in order to able to give everyone a pay rise and a bonus every year.
This last point in particular usually hits the spot and solicits questions from them at the following departmental monthly communication meetings, at which time they check to find out if we are on target now that they clearly understand that our overall financial performance directly relates to them in terms of end of year benefits.
Question 9. Do you know how your department is performing at the moment in terms of our latest and YTD GSTS and P&L results?
Most say they don't, so I briefly cover their departmental GSTS (guest satisfaction tracking system) P&L summary, and ask for suggestions on how we can improve the overall results in future, with often surprisingly positive results.
Question 10. Would you like to offer to me and through me to our owners any suggestion that may result in significant improvement to our business results?
Again, I have to say that the suggestions given can often be astonishingly astute, and useful, as they open up with a treasure trove of ideas they want to put forward but have held back in the past as no one seemed to want to listen.
Question 11? If I could do one thing for you personally or for your department to improve your job satisfaction, productivity, and happiness, what would it be?
Most say all they want is recognition for their efforts, and some kind of long term assurances for their career development, at which point I promise to do all I can to ensure that their dreams do in fact become a reality.
In return all I ask for is 100% commitment to do the best they can, day after day, to ensure that each and every one of us lives up to the AVARI service promise.
The meeting ends at this point with me thanking the invitees for their personal contributions to our success, while also conveying the sincere thanks and best wishes from our chairman, Mr. Byram Avari, who asks me to inform each one that although he is very proud of his hotels, he is even more proud of the people who continue to create the magic for his guests.
Each invitee then has a photograph taken with me, which is later framed and handed over to as a souvenir of the occasion, and each one receives a small box of handmade traditional Pakistani sweet treats which is usually given to wives, mothers and children.
Then comes the good part, we do it all over again the following year, at which time each invitee meets three other different invitees, and I review their files to see who and what has improved since our last meeting.
Tea never tasted so good.
Gordon James Gorman
About the Author
Gordon James Gorman is the General Manager of Avari Towers Karachi, Pakistan, and will complete five years of service to his colleagues, guests and owners in the summer of 2012.
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