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Strength and Joy through “Selective Idiocy”

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June 01, 2002
Leveraging the IT Investment
Michael Schubach, CHTP - michael.schubach@thepinehurstcompany.com

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© 2002 Hospitality Upgrade. No reproduction without written permission.

System education becomes a daunting task when an organization attempts to leverage software potential by trying to teach everything to everyone.

There is no shortage of conversation on the subject of leveraging the IT investment. Without expressly understanding what that might mean, we all want to do it, think we should be able to do it, claim to do it, do it to some degree or simply fake it. It’s a hot topic that gets hotter when a property executive pauses to ask, Are we leveraging our software as effectively as we could be? IT professionals might reasonably presume the presence of a problem owing simply to the presence of the question. The issue becomes even more urgent when the IT department is approached with the standard yet haunting refrain: We’ve installed all this software and we’re only using about 20 percent of its capacity! Sidestepping the paranoia and faulty mathematics, let’s tackle the basic suspicion: Too much software, too little result.

At the risk of sounding Oprah-esque, we have now taken the first step on the path to recovery: we have faced our fear and hugged our monster. Now we can apply some objectivity and self-help that will allow us to leverage without guilt, supply results without recrimination and generally shove ourselves down the path of righteousness and glory.

Issue #1: Too Much Software
Those of you who purchase software rather than have it custom written will find that the packages worth owning are oriented to a global marketplace. This is not because your supplier aspires to world domination (or at least won’t own up to that publicly), but because the vendor community must continually seek the widest possible audience for the distribution of its wares. The resulting packaged software is laden with a variety of features and functionality that are of no benefit whatsoever to any one particular user, property or chain. It was never anyone’s intent that you would be able to leverage 100 percent of a full-market product. Once you eliminate from consideration those portions of the programs that don’t apply to your niche, the more accurate paranoid delusion is that we’re only using 20 percent of the 60 percent or 70 percent that pertains to our business or pursuit.

One example of an over-featured product occurred to me during a recent bout of spring-cleaning frenzy. While removing some grimy fingerprint residue from the keys on my calculator, I noticed that the square root key was still in its original factory condition. The reason was suddenly and blindingly obvious: in several decades of gainful employment I’ve never needed to know the square root of anything. The problem is not that I don’t know how to leverage functionality from my calculator – the reality is that my machine was designed with additional capacity to accommodate the needs of those three or four square root finders.

So, what percentage of a product should I be using in order to declare myself adequately leveraged? Any answer is wrong because the question is misdirected. Forget the statistical analysis of features offered and concentrate on the attainment of the business objective. I am now typing and producing an electronic document that can be transmitted, received and edited by my feckless publisher. (Note to my publisher: if you’re not certain how to use the thesaurus function, “feckless” may not be where you wish to start.) I have accomplished 100 percent of my business objective without anchoring clip art to my text or beginning each paragraph with a drop capital. I would contend that I have fully leveraged the power of the package and its features.

Issue #2: Too Little Result
Many users will look at comparative efforts and find themselves wanting. We’ve all gone to a lecture or seminar where the speaker has managed to take computer presentation software and pump it full of steroids. Each slide is packed with a quiver of arrows that come flying in from all directions and every movement is choreographed to a soundtrack of furiously squealing brakes. At first we are dazzled, but we grow sullenly jealous – why don’t my arrows fly? What can I do to make my slides sound like a head-on collision? Suddenly we are gripped by “screeching arrow envy,” and we vow anew to leverage our software.

It has been my sad experience that such presentations are invariably the product of one of two groups: (1) consultants or (2) people with far too much time on their hands. (On reflection, perhaps group 1 is merely a specialized subset of group 2.) Regardless, buck up and remember that the overly generous application of frosting does not identify the superior cake. Written documents and presentation software are all about the effective communication of ideas. The overuse of options that pull focus from the message lessens the impact, and is an arguable example of failing to leverage the power of the software.

All that having been said, I am not championing the cause of dull documents, lifeless presentations and no square roots. Someone in your organization needs to know how to make brakes squeal and arrows fly and the obvious solution is education. However, system education becomes a daunting task when an organization attempts to leverage software potential by trying to teach everything to everyone. Instead, I would advocate the all things in moderation method – and again approach the problem with the goal being the leveraged business objectives rather than leveraged software. There is a surprising computer truism lurking out there that we’ve been slow to acknowledge: the vast majority of users become experts on the features they need and remain idiots about the ones they don’t. If you can get past the stigma of selective idiocy, you will find it promotes a tremendous efficiency. Good users acquire the skills they need to do their jobs well and grow to be subject matter experts (SME) in their own little worlds. By using a cadre of SMEs to share their wealth on a more informal basis, you get more targeted results. Resist those requests to show me everything and ask instead: Where do you want to go today? (Is that question trademarked or can just anyone ask it?) With that approach the right people are anchoring, dropping, squealing and square rooting, and getting there has been faster, cheaper and far more effective.

Does it sound as if I espouse a path of minimal effort? Absolutely. We must be mindful that every hour on the company clock is a resource, and that we all have the responsibility of adding shareholder value when we expend resources. If the value the IT department brings to the table is not merely the business intelligence itself but also the best use of company resources to attain it, then battles must be chosen and time must be well budgeted and wisely spent. The goal is the appropriate quantity of training surgically applied as needs arise and change rather than a regularly scheduled blanket toss.

Let me quickly point out that there is a world of difference between a minimalist effort and giving up completely. The latter approach is how I would characterize another hot topic making the rounds: service recovery. Service recovery is the euphemism that is applied when you make a complete shambles of some poor hapless guest’s experience in your establishment and then scurry to make amends before the victim can relate the story to 600 or 700 close friends. The service-recovery school of thought holds to the notion that the cost of perfection is prohibitive, that service discrepancies are inevitable and that as a result the most cost-effective approach is to save your investment in training and spend your money on rebates and repairs once damage is done. A patina of mock-nobility is applied to service recovery – those who right injustice and ineptitude look like service heroes, and they leave the mollified guest with the impression that yours is an organization that cares enough to adjust off the very best. This philosophy contends that your guests don’t recognize or appreciate quiet competence and would be far more impressed by your ability to dodge litigation.

No one can afford to allow service discrepancies to go uncorrected, as the recipients of the now famous “Yours Is a Very Bad Hotel” presentation might readily attest. (Talk about leveraging the power of the e-mail forwarding option…) However, using service recovery techniques as anything but the ultimate weapon is nothing more than an attempt to leverage mediocrity. Ending the day as only moderately incompetent is not the role to which any of us should aspire. IT or otherwise, minimalist or full-tilt – lead with education, strive for remarkable service and follow up with your recovery strategy when all else fails. Using service recovery as the primary approach sets the bar way too low and epitomizes too little result. Worst of all, it puts you in charge of the biggest education task in the world: training every one of your guests that the louder they yell the harder you fall. That’s a lesson from which no recovery is possible.

Michael Schubach, CHTP is vice president of resort technology for The Pinehurst Company, the resort subsidiary of ClubCorp. He offices at the legendary Pinehurst resort, site of the 1999 and 2005 U.S. Open golf championships. His needs are simple – he seeks nothing more than the perfect world, and is willing to train everyone for no more than 15 minutes in order to reach that goal. You may sign up for the crash course by contacting him at michael.schubach@thepinehurstcompany.com.



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