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Do More With Less - Glad to do it! (said no one ever)

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June 10, 2022
Change | Management
Larry Birnbaum

The entire hospitality and travel industry has taken more than a gut punch from COVID-19 and its ensuing repercussions. But in a way, we’re used to it. We’ve weathered all sorts of market corrections in the past resulting in decisions by Fortune 5000 companies to cut back on travel for some period. Some cuts were deeper; others lasted longer. 

And as with the pandemic, we responded by referring to hospitality as a cyclical business with the knowing winks and nods of veteran insiders. We caught our collective breaths, dusted ourselves off, made financial and operational adjustments and got back to business as usual. 

This time, though, things are different. Warren Buffet famously said, “Only when the tide goes out do you see who’s been swimming naked.” COVID-19 has been far more than an ebbing tide when it comes to exposing challenges for the industry that haven’t been tested in the past. 

Entire industry practices with long histories are proving they no longer meet current needs. There will be no business as usual for some time to come. We’re in a time of rapid change, with forces outside our control reducing our ability to react and plan. 

Much has been written about change management and best practices. Most focus on the three-piece tool set, PPT: People, Process and Technology. It maintains that we train and educate our people on the best processes and implement new technologies that will increase efficiency, improve services, allow us to do more with less and, in the end, help us make more money. 

Technology is a tool to help people do their jobs, especially those involving repetitive tasks and processes. It isn’t, no matter how much we might wish, the answer to what’s next in the priority queue. IT departments don’t exist in a vacuum. They serve their enterprise; their internal customers. 

Too often users find technology in search of a problem to solve. That’s because so many companies create apps and devices without understanding the use model and the problem operational teams are trying to solve. 

Will technology resolve the business and operational challenges associated with providing room service? Does automating the menu or the order entry process solve all the issues related to timely delivery of chef curated meals created with expensive equipment, or result in the desired guest experience?

Managing Complex Change

Let’s take a step back and consider how to decide what needs to change and how to implement those changes. Mary Lippitt, PhD, is credited with developing the model for managing complex change. She maintains that it requires more than the PPT tool set. Real change, she says, results from effectively combining five key ingredients: Vision, skills, incentives, resources and an action plan.

Sweating the Assets

Assuming we view people and technology as resources, they must be effectively integrated into the above model. How we manage these resources must also change. Employees are no longer plentiful and easy to procure. Finding staff is harder due to competition from other industries offering more flexibility and guaranteed income. 

Can hotel workers be assured they will work all the required hours when the weekly schedule is posted? Are shifts running from 7-3, 3-11 and 11-7 still sacrosanct? In the wake of mobile key solutions and online check-in/out, what changes have front desks and other operational departments made to accommodate staff and business demands?

We’ve all heard stories about ”sweating the assets.” Airlines, for example, found they could turn planes faster if the ground crews could clean, refuel and restock faster. This allowed them to provide a certain number of additional passenger miles without impacting safety. At some point, though, the number of passenger miles the plans could travel in a 24-hour period maxes out. The same is true for flight crews. Pilots and flight attendants can only fly so many hours before additional hires are required.

The same is true for technology as a resource in the hospitality industry. Sweating a hotel network’s existing assets likely means enabling Wi-Fi devices two and three generations ahead of what’s currently installed. We’ve reached the point where many of these tools have outlived their useful life. It’s like driving an antique car on a modern interstate. Neither was created with the other in mind.

Integrating technology as a resource requires full knowledge of the overall vision. Off the shelf technology is no longer on the shelf. Hotels must invest in long-term planning to ensure technology is available when needed. Long lead times and longer installation intervals require decisions today for implementation three and four quarters in the future. 

Paying the lowest purchase price, while rarely a good idea in the past, may now prove to be completely squandered money given changes in interoperability and backward compatibility. We continue to see exceptional innovation in wireless communications, with faster bandwidth and smarter devices. All these advances demand a fully functioning infrastructure with room for expansion. While we may not know all the future technologies we’ll support, we can be certain they will be internet-based. The best practice is to adopt those on industry standards, not propriety platforms. 

Considering Lippitt’s model, we see what outcomes we can reasonably expect when we look to implement half measures. Hospitality is a people business. Employee safety, security and happiness are key requirements. Hotels that take care of their staff know that staff is taking care of their guests. Hotels that invest just as wisely in technology know they have infrastructure in place to accommodate future needs. With those resources in place, hoteliers are best positioned to implement real, complex change. Doing more with less has clearly reached its final destination.  


Larry Birnbaum has spent his entire career in the hospitality and technology arena. When he isn't traveling or with his family, you can find him on a golf Course or tennis court. Keep the conversation going at https://www.linkedin.com/in/larrybirnbaum/

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