Hotel executives are well aware of the challenges that cumbersome tech stacks and siloed data have created. And yet the overall direction of the industry will continue to demand more and more technology adoption – both for labor efficiencies and revenue growth – further complicating all the platforms in use and necessary interfaces.
The core of cores problem may not be with the software ecosystems we’ve built up over the decades, however, but with the business practices that have crept into our companies and are now out of alignment with the rapid pace of innovation that the post-covid, hyper-capitalist world requires. Hence, even before any new vendor evaluations or tech stack redevelopment, hotels should first look at their ‘human stack’ to find all the team inefficiencies that are stifling expedient change.
Learning From Big Tech
Evaluating the human stack is something that the two of us have leaned into as part of any consulting assignment we undertake under the banner of our ‘Teams N Tech’ (TNT) auditing program. When an owner or C-level executive first comes to us with a technology problem or growth-oriented directive, we often find that the hindrance is deeper – that the real problem lies in how the various teams make decisions, how workflows (or working blocks of time) are managed and interdepartmental politics.
One of most salient problems is overcrowded meetings where the efficiencies of the medium are lost due to too many participants. The more attendees you add, the longer it takes to align on a time then get underway while everyone waits for the tardy joiner. Then the more people you have, the longer it takes to require consensus and the more hesitant some participants will be with their thoughts.
Fans of symbology and shorthand principles to help with memorability, the two of us have frequently deployed the ‘two pizza rule’ as famously named and used by Amazon. No meeting should have more participants than can be adequately fed by two whole pizzas. Abiding by this rule thus requires more purpose to meetings – clear agendas and justifiable roles for each attendee.
Closely related to this, another huge time suck is simply having too many meetings when an email or management-by-exception style of empowerment will suffice. For this, we can learn from Shopify’s recent ‘calendar purge’ mandate. Going forward for 2023, the company removed all recurring meetings with more than two employees. Then Wednesdays were declared meeting-free while all big team meetings were confined to Thursdays.
Propelling this was the inference that many meetings in larger organizations – as well as the busywork arranging for these meetings – tend to become vehicles for maintaining the status quo rather than assemblies where decisions are made promptly. Any hotel can also succumb to this ‘statis creep’.
Rethinking Meeting Design
The overall lesson we can learn from Amazon and Shopify is that meeting design needs a rethink in order to maximize each team member’s productivity. The need for this organizational revamp has become all the more critical with a remote, hybrid or flexible working arrangement – something that many hotel companies have considered or implemented in order to incentivize employees to stay.
In fact, it goes deeper than that. People have largely entered our industry to be guest-facing and to do the meaningful work of directly helping guests. Poorly managed meetings can detract from this goal, which then negatively impacts motivation, raises job-related stress and can be a factor in turnover.
You also need to consider where those meetings are taking place. Oftentimes the fluorescent-lit, drab back-of-house offices where hoteliers meet seldom elevate moods like those front-of-house public spaces imbued with natural light and more pleasant furnishings.
Various technologies – albeit combined with policy shifts – can help to shift the Five Ws of meetings so that your human stack then has the bandwidth to keep pace with the tech that society now demands.
- Why: Meetings should either be all hands in which case they are announced via a company bulletin far ahead of the chosen date or they abide by the two pizza rule. For stand-up meetings that involve associates, mobile operations platforms are quite adept nowadays at disseminating all the nuts and bolts so that the physical, in-person time can be best spent on the proactive, teambuilding activities that will boost motivation and performance.
- What: No meeting should occur without an agenda. Bulleted topics can be proposed and edited within any calendar setting tool so that every attendee is aligned prior to the chosen time. And contextual naming matters: if it’s a managers’ happy hour without an express purpose, then it’s not a meeting and should not be labeled as such so that attendees enter with the right mindset.
- When: Part of the inefficiency with meetings is the minutia of back-and-forth email threads as everyone announces when they are free. Calendly has become an invaluable tool for two parties to quickly find the optimal time by simply sending a link or embedding it within an email signature. For multi-party scheduling, consider something like Doodle that can let everyone vote on availabilities so that the meeting leader can then declare the final time.
- Who: Deciding on meeting attendees should be very easy as you can now use Asana, Slack, Wrike or another project management platform to only involve direct assignees for a given task. Such software can concurrently reduce email inbox bloat, confining the chatter to individual project threads. Then for executive committee meetings, much of the reporting can be easily generated then disseminated from within the PMS, POS, RMS or other system so that the senior team can review on its own time and not see it all for the first time during the actual meeting.
- Where: Hinted at above when comparing BOH to FOH, the setting can help to raise energy levels and maximize in-person productivity. This may necessitate a larger renovation down the road so that teams have an inspirational space all to themselves, but in the meantime you should aim to place meetings away from the office desk so that there’s a change of scenery and to involve a bit of a walk to get the heart going. Teams should be empowered to use guest meeting rooms by first checking the appropriate management software to see if they are free.
After Meetings Then What
Using all the time management software and workplace policy adjustments that you can muster, your human stack should be singing your praises and ready to roll out new services, amenities or tech adoptions that will advance the company’s goal. People will be more energized and have more time for ‘flow’ – the state of focused concentration that results in higher intrinsic motivation, fulfillment and skill development, as elucidated by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s seminal 2014 book of the same name.
With much of the email fatigue and interruptive busywork now gone, what can you then look at doing? To circle back to the introduction, more tech will be needed, only now your team will have time to evaluate, implement and learn it all in a relatively brisk, stress-free fashion, with an eye towards even more automation in order to make your teams ever-more guest-facing.
Considering automation as a consummate process, we close with some areas to consider in 2023:
- End-to-end PMS and POS integrations, allowing for rich, centralized guest profiles for better analytics, personalized service and real-time connections with ancillary profit centers like restaurant, spa, golf, events and activities so that there’s less offline paper pushing by managers to reconcile all this previously disparate information
- Advanced business intelligence platforms that can incorporate operational data points to give you accurate predictive recommendations of what tasks are eating away at your teams’ time, where the labor savings are and which are likely to be the morale-eroding culprits
- Omnichannel outbound messaging platforms that you can cascade through a series of channels to reach guests on their preferred communication medium, all with the end goal of reducing the need for front desk agents to restate these nuts and bolts
- Machine learning chatbots to handle repetitive questions posed on your website live chat, via text and on social media, with some systems even capable of handling reservations
- Conversational AI that’s intelligent enough to accurately replicate a human voice for incoming calls to replace the IVR and, like chatbots, handle basic inquiries before passing the customer off to a live agent
- Call centers to outsource your reservation and service calls as well as offering quality reporting to keep track of conversions and call abandonment, freeing up managers’ time in trying to source and supervise your own agents while also redirecting calls away from the front desk so that those associates can focus on in-house guests
- In-room tablets and mobile apps that act as a single point of control for service requests, hotel information, virtual concierge and additional purchases
- Payroll and accounts payable automation so that an executive isn’t needed to authorize every minor payment, thereby freeing up time and also helping with supply chain management