Loyalty Is a Two-Way Street - By Joseph M. Gravish

A newspaper commentary by Harry Levins ends with the phrase 'He never got it that loyalty is a two-way street.' Mr. Levins was referring to Donald Rumsfeld, now lame-duck Secretary of Defense and his relationship ('...rocky at best...') with military service leaders, particularly those of the U.S. Army.

HTrends In the article he quotes a university professor who believes that Mr. Rumsfeld's background as a naval aviator and his fascination with high-tech aspects of war-fighting short-shrifted the lower-tech, less glamorous - but absolutely essential boots-on-the-ground - type of fighting usually performed by the U.S. Army. Despite Mr. Rumsfeld's many years of experience and his enormous intellect, his arrogant management style and his failure to listen to those professionals who must execute his orders, helped do him in.

There was something about the article that sounded all too familiar. After reading it a few more times it became clear to me. This situation has some striking similarities to the hospitality industry. And there are lessons to be learned here for hoteliers.


I recall being involved in two projects focusing on hourly-wage employees in a particular hotel: an employee survey and a related task asking them to identity those annoying little things that the hotel must improve upon to better satisfy its guests. Almost 70% of the employees voluntarily participated in the survey and numerous suggestions were received for making the hotel's products and services better. Not unexpectedly, the written comments, when consolidated, extended for a number of printed pages. Here's what was learned.

1. Most employees 'get it' - and that includes Generation Yers. They know what top-notch service is or should be - and how to make it happen. They also know when it's not happening. And they're not afraid to tell management when there's a problem. We also found that not unlike Mr. Rumsfeld's situation, some managers apparently don't want to listen. They are quick to dismiss suggestions from front-line, foxhole-level - but most knowledgeable about the battlefield - employees.

2. Employees want to be kept informed. They want to be a partner on the road to success. They want to know at least the destination, the route, where the potholes are and what they'll do (or get) when they arrive. Management's role is to provide the roadmap, the details and be the tour guide. Mr. Rumsfeld's management style made his tenure the equivalent of the road trip from hell.

3. Employees expect good leadership. As much as we like autocratic figures like General George Patton, employees want managers who care and respect them. (To be clear General Patton certainly did care for his troops - and is even buried in their midst.) To quote Peter Drucker, 'Leadership is lifting a person's vision to higher sights, the raising of a person's performance... management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things.' While 'leadership' is difficult to define, employees know it when the see it. Mr. or Ms. hotel owner/operator, are you a manager or leader?

4. Employees expect to be treated with dignity and they equated it with being rewarded for their efforts and contributions. This was perhaps the most frequent issue raised by employees in the survey. Some of their comments also included:

• 'When I do a good job tell me; when I do a bad job tell me too.'

• 'It would be good to get a pat on the back every now and then.'

• 'Show me that I'm appreciated; and challenge me.'

And how specifically did these employees expect management to demonstrate that they cared, besides being treated 'as managers would want themselves to be treated'? They expected to be offered a reasonable compensation and benefits package so that they and their families can live a decent quality of life. Simply put - to have their loyalty appropriately rewarded. Mr. Rumsfeld rarely demonstrated loyalty down the chain of command according to the many books I've read. Let me further illustrate by relating a hypothetical story about Betty.

Betty's worked for over 25 years in the housekeeping department. She's rarely missed a day of work except to take care of her elderly husband after a few surgeries. Though not as fast as she once was and with failing eyesight, she's been a trusted, dependable employee in a department which typically has the highest turnover rate. Betty may eventually 'retire' - she was eligible years ago - but maybe not. How has Betty's loyalty been rewarded?

During those past 25 years Betty has never been offered any form of paid vacation, sick, or personal day; she's never been offered medical or dental benefits; she's never had the opportunity to participate in a 401(k) or profit-sharing plan. Her last pay raise was 25-cents per hour, two years ago. There's no annual service pay program budgeted for any employee, including Betty. Has the hotel owner/operator done things right here? Or has the owner/operator done the right things here?

On her last day Betty, like others before her, will be honored with a nice luncheon, some flowers, and a small gift or two. She'll remember her last day fondly. She'll also remember the years of loyal service - on a one-way street basis.

Hoteliers need to learn the Rumsfeld lesson. Workers, in deciding what job to select, place great weight on pay and job security according to a Robert Half Finance and Accounting survey of CFOs. Many low tech hotel jobs can't be technologized or out-sourced. Changing the image of the hotel industry will require a Rumsfeld-like paradigm shift that changes the route to success - a route that emphasizes two-way street loyalty.

Joseph M. Gravish

Mr. Gravish is a human resources professional with over 25 years leadership experience at numerous organizational levels and among diverse environments, both national and international. He is an advocate of building business success through, and by, people - first.

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