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I Have a Vision...or is it a Mission?

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March 01, 2009
The Mission
Michael Schubach - mschubach@trumphotels.com

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© 2009 Hospitality Upgrade. No reproduction without written permission.

Do any of you readers remember when you had to help write the vision and mission statements for your company?  Maybe we had back that truck up a little; do you remember what was your company’s vision and mission statements?  You know, those clichés that tell us who we are, what we’re doing and why we’re doing it?  Do you remember how you could never remember which statement was which?  Either way, do you remember how those two statements were always the first two PowerPoint slides in every vendor presentation you ever had to sit through?  Is any of this ringing a bell?

Well, I’m sure that you had vision and mission statements, and writing them seemed like a worthwhile project at the time.  And I know for a fact that one day long ago you attended an all-day retreat (which is really just an over-length staff meeting with a box lunch thrown in) when you helped enshrine these keen insights for yourselves and your posterity.

Why this history quiz?  Because a recession is always a dandy time to go back and reconfirm what we thought we were supposed to be doing in the first place. (You did hear about that recession that we just found out we’ve been having for the last year now, didn’t you?  I just thank God that the giant and very expensive Sarbanes-Oxley alarm system went off in plenty of time for the United States to avoid faulty business practices, unreliable reporting and the general chaos of unexpected financial collapse.  Oh, it didn’t?  Gee, what was the point of all those billions of dollars?  Does this mean we should scrap SOX requirements or make them bigger and more burdensome?  I haven’t the first clue, but apparently I’m in good company because neither does anyone else.  But I digress.)     
Back on topic:  why should a recession trigger a reexamination of our business intentions?  The simple answer is that our sagging, struggling marketplace is going to ask us in large part to abandon them.
Now, here’s the back story.  Two companies ago, I joined a relatively new technology education and consulting firm, and the company president asked the division vice presidents to help get the company on the vision and mission bandwagon.  I thought this was a grand idea because as far as I could tell our mission was pretty much for us to be technology hos and our vision was that we would all get rich selling ourselves.  I also thought the company could use a guiding philosophy beyond “because they’re paying us.”

Before our all-day retreat (club sandwiches, as I recall), I did some Internet research to see if there were a great statements out there for me (and here I borrow the mission statement from the folks at Maidenform) “to lift and separate.”  I found exactly what I wanted – a statement from a custom marine products company that I thought was outstanding: “We build the best boats and sell them for a fair price.  At a profit when we can, at a loss if we must, but we build the best boats.” I liked it so much that I laid it out in a one-page color Word document using a big fancy font – the modern answer to the cross-stitch sampler.  I was sure that I had our winning entry. 

The CEO and CFO sat through my presentation in stunned silence.  They both believed that I was completely out of my mind, even after I assured them that I was aware that our company didn’t actually manufacture boats.  (Some people are so literal.) The committee of my peers was also unimpressed.  I remember the question clearly: why would anyone even write “at a loss” into a mission statement? 

I thought the mission statement conveyed the entirely opposite idea–if you put quality in front of every other concern, then profit would surely follow.  I loved that there was a company that was guided solely by the caliber of its product, and was willing to go on record that profit was a secondary consideration.  My personal outlook has always been that profitability is the natural byproduct of a well-run business rather than its reason for being.

As I sit here typing, my CHAE alter ego is just dying.  Of course we’re in business for the money; expanding shareholder wealth is why God makes us all go to the island of Manhattan in the winter instead of the island of Tahiti.  No one builds a business just to watch it do poorly – there is just no dismissing the role of profit in human motivation.  However, if we accept that profit is why we don’t spend the day at the beach, then let’s assume that it is the first given in the business equation.  Everyone is trying to stay in business, make money, do well and live better lives.  The real business question is how do we stay in business, make money, do well and live better lives.  Here loyalty to product takes precedence over the love of profit.  Guests don’t patronize a hotel or resort because it’s doing well financially; they go for the service, the style and the recognition, and they reward destinations that provide those things with their patronage and referrals.  Doing well financially follows.

My CHTP self is telling me that I am explaining the intricacies of the obvious, but my CHAE is still telling me that recessions are what happen when we forget basics like fiscal responsibility and control.  Does anything make an accounting supervisor in a recession happier than making sure we aren’t sitting around on company time bending our own shiny fashion bling out of company paper clips?  That we aren’t perched atop a Xerox machine printing out copies of our derrieres?  Shouldn’t we send out an e-mail telling everyone not to waste time in the e-mail system?  And surely we can all bring in pens from home until the world is once again our oyster.

The truth is that a full-fledged recession requires us to improve our products while simultaneously doing everything possible to drive our costs down.  The problem with this conflicted duality is that we rarely send out the recession e-mail that reminds our staff to fulfill our guests’ expectations and maintain our high service standards.  We tend to turn up the volume on cost cutting and play down rendering the intangible extras that our guests seem to notice the most. That’s because it’s so much easier to focus on cost rather than service – it’s simpler to measure and more straightforward to supervise.  Beyond that, it seems downright counter-intuitive to speak of the finer points of service while the industry is sinking around us; it makes us appear as though we’ve gotten caught up in rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.

Of course an emphasis on heroics makes perfect sense when the ship is truly sinking, but what if we’re just having a stormy season?  Those blessed with a servant’s heart know what to do: they batten down the hatches, break out the blankets, the hot chocolate, the reassuring words, the thoughtful gestures and stand ready to clean up a mess if necessary.  Those unexpected extras make the rough crossings tolerable for guests and keep morale high amongst a staff that is invariably asked to do more with less.  Maybe what’s coming this year is the perfect storm and far more is at stake than we now realize, but there really will be nothing to salvage if the first thing to be washed overboard is the price-value proposition for our guests. 
All the storm flags are flying but the course seems clear: remind yourself of your mission, renew your commitment to your vision, and remember that it’s always about building the very best boats.  (Not literally, you understand.)    

Michael Schubach is chief information officer for the Trump Hotel collection.  He may be contacted at mschubach@trumphotels.com.

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