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Buddy, Can You Spare Me Some Change?

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April 01, 2001
Change | Management
Michael Schubach, CHTP - michael.schubach@ourclub.com

©2001 Hospitality Upgrade. This work may not be reprinted, redistributed or repurposed without written consent.

You can’t request, demand or force change – you need to sell change.

Quick – what’s the first thing a hotel operator thinks of when someone says information technology? Usually it’s a laundry list of promised but undelivered functionality, essential but nonexistent data, and a never-ending litany of remarkably expensive purchases that are mandatory prerequisites for improvement. In short, IT is the department that never has enough, in service to those who always need more.

To understand IT’s colossal opportunities (and here I use the word opportunities as the common business euphemism for screw ups), we need to break information technology into its component pieces. First there is information, a constantly shifting ocean of minutia teeming with detailed policy-and-procedure instructions on the care and feeding of every human being that has ever arrived on our doorstep. Second is technology, the continuum of inexplicable magic boxes that are outmoded before their warranties expire. Therefore, information technology is the containment of an ever-expanding universe of data in ever-evolving containers. Your friends down in the IT dungeon must struggle to produce the result you expect because their life is spent juggling art and science in constant motion, wrapping their arms around the biggest construction project in progress ever conceived. And now that we dwell down at the end of Tell Me Street in the Information Hotel, the projects are all the more elaborate.
You would think that these daunting challenges (and here I use the word challenges as the common business euphemism for impossibilities) would slow the demand for change. Quite the opposite; each new day brings a thousand requests to upgrade, reorganize, Web-ify, WAP-ify or Palm-erize any of the dozens of applications running in a typical hotel. Our love affair with the bleeding edge extends to the unproven – witness the stampede to install high-speed Internet access (HSIA) in guestrooms. The hospitality industry embraced the HSIA vendors so ardently that we apparently hugged a few of them to death. Oh, we did the due diligence. We asked our guests, “If we build it, will you come?” The response was overwhelmingly positive. But it seems that 97 percent of our guests lied to us. We now cope with a technology that hotels can’t live without, vendors can’t afford to provide and guests don’t plan to use. No one is arguing with the HSIA concept, but how ill-conceived are high technology ventures that put themselves out of business by attracting too many customers?

But enough about my problems – let’s talk about yours.

The biggest single impediment to achieving constant results in a constantly changing world is not the evolution of your systems, but the staff that uses them – in particular, their attitude toward change. In the off chance that you hadn’t already noticed, most people aren’t particularly fond of change. Not that we can blame them for that – a justifiable fear of the untested is simply a part of human nature. (I think that at some primal level we associate change with aging, both of which are fun, but only up to a point.) We might rationally accept the inevitability of change, but like aging, we can either choose to adapt gracefully or continue to hang out with 19-year-olds. In a professional setting, the staff takes its lead from the management team. Smarter managers realize that change can be made the graceful way or the humiliating, budget-breaking, morale-busting way. Operators who become effective agents of change, who manage the process rather than simply order it up, increase the chances that their projects will succeed. And to paraphrase those great social change artists of the 1960s (hippies), “All we are saying is give success a chance.”

But how exactly can you manage the changes that seem to manage you? The most crucial step is to win the hearts and minds of the changelings. My experience has taught me that a small percentage of any change-bound crowd (let’s say 20 percent) are change enthusiasts who thrive on a constantly shifting landscape. Their pulses rush when something new comes along, and they can’t wait to see, touch, tinker and disable. These people are your change junkies. They are so much more than simply annoying – they are the natural masters of any new system. They are very supportive of making changes until the confusion dies down. Once that happens, you’ve lost their interest until the next catastrophic upheaval.

Another 30 percent of any given crowd is genuinely change resistant. They don’t understand why anything needs to change and haven’t really been happy with the world since the industrial revolution. These are your luddites, and they don’t want and won’t like any of your damn changes, even if their lives and jobs improve as a result. During my decade of installing property management systems, this portion of the crowd became very easy to spot. They were the ones who would ask on day one of working on the new system if all the screens, reports and keyboard conventions could be changed to be identical to the system they had just retired. If a luddite were to head up your IT department, you would be amazed to find that capital expenditure requests were a thing of the past.

The remaining half of your crowd is change wary. They don’t resist progress, but they don’t view change and progress as the same commodity. They are your skeptics, and they need to be shown how and told why changes are being made. The uncommitted segment of your target group represents the greatest opportunity to make any new project, procedure or conversion succeed. Win the undecided 50 percent to your cause, marry them up with your change junkies, and your project earns a 70 percent approval rating. Lose this crowd and the skeptics will join forces with the luddites, leaving you with a team that is 80 percent convinced that your efforts will fail.

This highly precise mathematical model of the user community leads to one inescapable conclusion. You can’t request, demand or force change – you need to sell change. There are any number of measures you can take to cure the changeophobia in your ranks.

So maybe you can’t spare me the change, and it just goes with the 21st century turf. But at the end of the day, success builders are those who have someone and something to believe in, a tangible goal and something material to show for their efforts. In an endless sea of change, successes are those refreshing little island stopovers that make the journey worthwhile. Your crew is assembled and ready – your job is to bring the map.

Michael Schubach, CHTP, is vice president, resort technology for The Pinehurst Company, the resorts division of ClubCorp. He offices at Pinehurst Resort, site of the 1999 and 2005 U.S. Open golf championships. His job is to institute change just as everyone else is finally comfortable with things as they were. He constantly struggles with scheduling and budgeting impossible requests, but will happily to respond to e-mails sent to michael.schubach@ourclub.com.

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