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Are You an Ostrich or a Llama?

When the average person thinks of an ostrich, he or she probably visualizes a large bird, with its “head in the sand.” In fact, an alternate dictionary meaning for an ostrich is “someone who ignores unpleasant things.” But what of the venerable llama? This South American pack animal is mostly known for its wool, but it is also sure-footed, reliable, patient, and actually quite friendly.
In a way, these two animals serve to represent distinct approaches to our profession. Let’s examine the character traits that are most likely to be associated with each of these. In doing so, I ask the question: “Are you an ostrich or a llama?” To see which moniker best suits your management style, answer the following questions about the way you conduct your business.
Scoring is simple: gain one point for each “Llama” statement you agree to; subtract one point for each “Ostrich” statement you agree to. OK, half points either way are allowed too. No cheating, though: neither animal is known for this rather human characteristic!

Consider Yourself More of a Llama If:

– You have embraced tablet technology in your organization, or have a firm plan to do so (at a minimum) in Sales, F&B, front desk and concierge services.

– You manage your social media presence through continuous monitoring and pro-actively analyze means to optimize your response to guest demands. Your social media is NOT managed by your secretary on a “when she has the time basis,” but rather, is a truly defined function within your operation, either in-house, or out-sourced.

– You eschew OTA programs, recognizing that customers garnered through this channel are forever lost to your brand. Similarly, you rarely, if ever, use flash sales, recognizing the discount offered undermines your loyal guests’ paid rates.

– You read this (or other industry) columns regularly and send key article links to members of your planning committee and senior team when the topic warrants.

– Your property is committed to substantial energy savings, recycling and waste reduction.

– Your team is involved with at least one local/regional charity, and this commitment transcends just sending used furniture and bedding when available. You have investigated and (where legally allowed) are donating excess food to your local food bank.

– You hold a bridal open house at least once every 4-6 weeks, and actively pursue a continuous goal of holding more weddings than the previous year. To this end, you offer incentives to staff members who are able to secure wedding referrals.

– You encourage your chef to test at least one new dish on the menu at all times.

– In the depths of your low season, you encourage all members of your staff to have their families spend at least one night on property to experience the product. You do not charge for this. At a minimum you include breakfast in this experience.

– You not only read every Trip Advisor review of your property, but also personally respond to all of them and circulate them as a means of improving guest services.

– You motivate your front desk personnel to capture the email addresses of all guests and together are working towards a goal of 100% compliance. Beyond email, you record preferences and any additional information into the profile section of your PMS.

– You encourage the hiring of interns and/or co-op students to augment staff, and while you might not pay interns a salary, you ensure that they get rewarded with complimentary rooms and other benefits.

– You have a crisis communications plan and review it with your team once every six months. You share this plan with both your PR and ad agencies.

– You see your entire team as guest service ambassadors, training and motivating accordingly.

– You are an active member of your local CVB, and contribute manpower and materials to assist in its success. (Add a bonus point if you, personally, are currently a board or committee member.)

– You attended at least one of last year’s AHMA, HITEC, or another major trade show. (Add a bonus point if you were a presenter!)

– You often lie awake at night worrying about how to make the property better for your employees and your guests.

Consider Yourself More of an Ostrich If:

– You insist that your sales and marketing team develop a comprehensive marketing plan that includes detailed day-by-day sales forecasts for the entire year, recognizing that the day-by-day plan is mere conjecture to “force” a final occupancy percentage.

– You have not yet totally embraced social media, because you cannot get a firm ROI and secretly, are waiting for this “fad” to die.

– As GM, you demand to be called “Mr. (Last Name)” by members of your planning committee, as well as all of your staff.

– You rarely answer your own telephone nor immediately return emails and make it next to impossible for anyone, with the exception of your planning committee members, to speak directly to you.

– You refuse to allow your sales team to negotiate rates for groups and/or weddings during peak periods because “we’ll fill without them.”

– You still believe in rack rates, generally thinking that they can be increased $10 to $20 each year independent of competitive and market conditions.

– You think that those scuff marks in the hallway will easily be managed by housekeeping and a little bit of elbow grease, without calling in your maintenance team, thereby hoping to save some money on the repairs.

– You are not personally taking full advantage of your in-house fitness facilities (be honest here).

– You answer (or scan) your Blackberry or iPhone during most meetings in which you are present, and allow other members of your team to do the same.

– You see your entry-level positions as a cost, rather than seeing these candidates as potential future planning committee members.

– You rarely (if ever) eat with your staff in the cafeteria, and don’t even know the menu. You think of the subsidized cafeteria as a cost, rather than seeing it as an opportunity to improve your staff relationships.

– You don’t speak at least a few sentences of rudimentary Spanish, or French or other primary language of your housekeeping and maintenance staff.

– You lie awake at night worrying how to make the bottom line closer to your owners ever-demanding targets.

Your Results Count

It is rare for anyone to get a result of +15 or more. If you do, consider yourself an enlightened GM, well ahead of your peer group.
A score of +8 to +14 shows that you have good promise, and recognizes your determination to improve.
If you score below +7, remedial development action may be needed. Seek help from a coach; take some courses in the Professional Development Program at the Cornell Hotel School; or pick up some additional literature in our field.
The world needs both good and great GM’s. There are ample ways to further your career successfully. Ostriches make good zoo animals and (according to many hotel chefs) great steaks. For the path to enlightened management, however, follow the Llama!

(Article by Larry Mogelonsky, published in eHotelier on April 2, 2012)

Larry MogelonskyAre You an Ostrich or a Llama?