OPINION: I recently spent a couple of days at a resort hotel in the Pacific Islands.
Apart from the beautiful grounds and the sparkling entrance, the first thing that struck me was our welcome. It came not from the office manager or the events person, but from the general manager himself.
And he didn’t stop with a welcome. He spent a full 20 minutes briefing the six of us that arrived that morning. We learned about the history of the island and the resort. He spoke passionately about the restaurants and the bars and the events planned for the next few days.
He talked about the best places to go snorkelling and in doing so, shared some advice about water safety and some of the dangers of the local currents.
That evening he was out again. Standing alongside the resort’s guests and visitors, watching the sunset. He offered to take photos for those who were struggling to get their selfies properly aligned and again used the opportunity to speak about the resort, and some of the renovations that were being quietly completed away from the visitors stare.
At dinner that night he was there again. He walked to every table and spoke to each group of guests. Not just for a minute or two either. Five to ten minutes at each table, talking to them about them, their travels, and encouraging them with things to be done on the island.
Without any fanfare, he drifted around the dining room. Stopping to chat to a staff member every now and then about something that wasn’t quite right. I noticed that they seemed equally comfortable about approaching him for input or advice. He even cleared a couple of tables when the troops were caught short.
And it’s not a one off for our benefit. I checked with the locals. He does this every night. Quiet. Understated. Present.
His people are equally impeccable. Nicely dressed. Overtly polite. Name badges prominent on every well pressed uniform.
I get the feeling it wasn’t always that way. I spoke to Norman. He’s a career hotel manager and he has worked all over the world. He’s a ‘fix it’ guy who goes to wherever the company says it needs to improve performance. He’s led an interesting life, and I get the impression he’s not finished yet.
In my years of business travel, I must have stayed in hundreds of hotels. I could count the times I have seen the hotel manager on the fingers of one hand. I could count the number of times I have met him or her on even less.
In business, I’ve seen countless managers who have no idea of what is really going on in their businesses. I’ve even seen one who used to catch the goods lift to his 11th floor office so as to avoid bumping in to one of his people.
I’ve often said that managers and leaders need to be visible and approachable. The key word here is and. There are plenty of visible leaders who are utterly inadequate. Many are the “look at me, I’m the boss” types. The limelight seekers.
Approachable is a different story. Approachable means speaking to your people and your customers and having them speak to you. Approachable means constantly looking for ways to improve what you are doing by speaking to the people who are closest to the coal face.
Internally those people are your salespeople, customer service people, call centre operators and if you are manufacturing, those on the production line. Externally those people are your clients.
Visible means you are there. Approachable means you are involved. The very best leaders I have seen know all their people by name and understand their top ten-to-15 customers in detail.
Most managers start the day by looking at their email screens. The best ones walk the floor and say good morning to their people. Along the way, they notice the little things. Things from the day before that were not completed, pallets or cartons left in the aisles, or the empty desks of those who are absent or late.
In 1982, Tom Peters and Bob Waterman wrote what continues to be one of the most successful business books of all time. It was called In Search of Excellence. It introduced the reader to a Hewlett Packard tradition. It was called management by wandering around. Or MBWA for short. You can learn a lot more about what is going on in your business by ‘wandering around’ than you ever will by looking at spreadsheets and reports.
Just ask Norman.