Sunday, July 12, 2015

HOTELS and INTERVENTIONS

A few days ago, I was driving across the desert expanse from El Paso to El Centro, when the radio told of the loss of yet another troubled Hollywood soul. Though we do not know for certain how it was that Can't Buy Me Love's Amanda Peterson would leave us so young, the strands of the story certainly pointed to another saga of meth addiction killing beauty and talent and all that is good. Watching yet another memorial video for yet another victim of the untreated depression that often leads to this sad end, reminds one of how wastefully failed the endless "war on drugs" truly is. 



Through Breaking Bad, we learned that places in the Intermountain West like Amanda's Greeley, Colorado home are being defined by the meth epidemic, and the effects on places like my adopted hometown of Prescott is light years worse than ever. Having run a property in an area where a huge percentage of the workforce is either addicted or in rehab, my greatest struggles were tied to addressing the fallout of a predecessor's laissez-faire attitude to the problems he bought by hiring almost all his workforce directly from "recovery homes" of questionable efficacy.  Many others were trapped in another great addictive saga, good old demon rum. Hospitality companies do usually perform pre-hire drug tests ,  though not always consistently. In areas where the labor market is tight and positions are hard to fill, hiring standards often decline in the name of maintaining staffing levels. Sadly, the biggest substance abuse issue many operators encounter is  the  consumption of very legal liquor at work. 

We read most often about drugs in the workplace, while in practice the biggest obstacle is keeping the keys to the liquor cabinet secure. Proximity to spirits is a huge challenge to those managing bars and banquet operations, often due to lax monitoring of actual "pour costs" in these operations. One of my greatest shocks in my career was inheriting a $500,000 slip and fall claim from a wedding reception, where a team member fell, broke her hip, and none of the four managers on staff were sober enough to call for timely assistance. Though we had the good fortune to not have these "supervisors" on the payroll upon arrival, it took months for the new management team to curtail the open and hidden use of liquor on the property. Though one must search far and wide for an employee handbook that does not cite drinking at work as a prohibited activity, the level of tolerance in hospitality is unfathomably high. Study after study indicates a corollary between workforce sobriety and property performance.  Sadly, abuse issues are often hard to address within the context of employment law, especially if the consumption occurs before work or is executed in obscurity. In the following case study a reader has shared with us , it's worse if the top dog needs a "hair of the hound." 

INTERVENTION NEEDED IN ROOM #666 

DISCLAIMER:  As noted elsewhere in this blog, though case study vignettes are based on real events, identities and locales are intentionally obscured and as such, are expressly non autobiographical . 

"I knew we had a problem when the guy appeared at check in, looking like an unmade bed, and toting his Game Boy" the hotel gossip "Tammy" writes. Even in his first days at the branded property, "John" was often missing from his office, purportedly dealing with medical issues. Besides the sartorial deficiencies of wrinkled shirts and wrinkled and dingy khakis, it was immediately obvious that "John" had a jaundiced look in his eyes. "He looks like he has a late stage case of hepatitis", another team member chimes in, "and  I swear he is sweating vodka through his pores." 

As time went on, things began to "fall to the floor." Guests departed and complaints mounted. "First, I am a (Very high level) member of (......) rewards. ...after over 150 nights by our company, the manager couldn't return a call about a rate question. " Service degraded, as stable team members departed from a sinking ship. Guests and clients would ask to speak to "John" who was either in his room or otherwise unavailable. Managerial dress standards declined from barely business casual, to cargo shorts. Always cutting "Tammy" writes of her bemusement in viewing a Linked in profile picture apparently taken while driving, while confessing how the stress level caused her to "faint at work." Other team members found out how dangerous to their paycheck bothering "John" about a business issue could be while otherwise occupied, which became the norm. A disciplinary action taken against a team member calling his domicile, while seeking to avoid hundreds of dollars in guest relocation expense, sent the immediate message this "hands on" manager, was not to be bothered. And yes, the expletives are deleted.


Though there may be no apparent substantiation to claims John's management style was epitomized in Kevin Willmott's CSA,  a culture of entitlement certainly has seemed to ensue. And it's difficult to sort through anecdotes similar to one alleging "John" and the hotel's new "first lady" really greeted his engineers barely clothed when they were called to repair a minor guest room issue. What is not debatable is that long time team members are departing the scene, and that in the anarchy the few remaining who do care, are desperately seeking solutions. They are looking anywhere and everywhere for help. As can be imagined, the fish rotting from the head in Room #666 is not going to be much of a resource. 

THOUGHTS

"Coaching up" is always a bad place for a team member to reside in.  I’m somewhat torn here, for it sounds like this property has been very erratically managed historically, but on the other hand, drinking on the job is a big enough offense that no one is owed a warning, much less team member loyalty.   

Anyway, I think the team has two choices :

1. Have the management team speak to "John". Tell him the drinking needs to stop immediately, and things need to improve in X, Y, and Z ways including attendance, or else the matter will be escalated to the franchise and operator. It’s worth considering, though, that there might be an alcoholism problem here, particularly given the early morning drinking. Sadly, in this dynamic it possibly is going to bring a retaliation and in all probability all sorts of false "Back at ya" allegations. 

2. "Drop a dime" to the reporting chain and absolve themselves of guilt. Drinking on the job is such a major violation of trust and good sense for team members, that the other managers really aren’t responsible for the impact getting fired has on their "boss". General Managers who value their job security won’t sneak drinks on the job.  

Given the ethical questions , hard questions should be asked about why the situation has been allowed to play out this way.  Assuming that the allegations are true, the owners and team deserves managers who will come to work sober and perform at a high level. There are lots of unemployed Hotel GMs out there who would happily keep that side of the equation.  It’s not the staff's fault that someone decided not to, and the leaders collectively should make it clear that "John" needs to meet that bar right now, this very instant, or the operators should have the chance to replace him with someone who will.

Usually when a situation like this occurs or gets this out of control, it’s not the only management problem in that organization. So I’d recommend some collective soul-searching about their approach to hiring management in general, and especially on things such as their GMs asserting authority appropriately, and planning so the property is held never hostage to bad behavior again. Just because someone  occupies a heretofore tough position to hire, still does not mean an organization should be hostage to and dependent on someone who needs an intervention, as much as the property needs servant leadership. 

MANY BLESSINGS- NOEL