Episode 1 | Drama Llama

Show Summary: For our first show, we found ourselves in week one of of a global shutdown so I wanted to share some help for handling stressful times. Hope this helps!

Welcome to the hospitality sales podcast Show number one with your co hosts Loren  Gray and Holly Zoba. Every other week we bring you the latest in sales ideas, tips and training for the hospitality sells professional. And with no further ado, let me now introduce my co host, Ms Holly Zoba.

Hello, this is Holly Zoba. I own influence or sales training and welcome to the hospitality sales podcast. These are pretty tough times. So I started thinking about other tough times because I have been around for a long time and I was trying to think, gosh, is there anything of value that I learned that I could share with you from this wealth of past experiences that I’ve had? So I did come up with one immediately because it was a very traumatic experience.

I opened a hotel on October 17th 1990. Which date I will never forget. It was the Embassy Suites at Chevy Chase Pavilion.  We had 198  rooms. It was a mixed use facility, which meant 1/3 of it was Hotel. 1/3 of it was retail, so we had about 100 stores, and then 1/3 of it was actually an office building. We had Microsoft moved into most of the office building.

Anybody who has gone through an opening situation probably has experienced this feeling. You work really hard to get to that opening date. That in your mind, at least when you’re in sales as I waas, that’s your end point – getting that hotel opened successfully.

Checklists are 1000 miles long and you have a very specific end date. I think I actually moved into the unfinished hotel about two weeks prior to the opening and never left. I never actually stepped foot outside of the hotel for two weeks. It was crazy. But here’s the thing that people who have opened hotels are thinking right now. The work that you do leading up to the opening is tough, but it’s absolutely nothing compared to once the hotel actually opens and you have guests, then you still have this mile long things to do list. But you also have guests and you’re open 24 7

Ah, the hotel business right.

So, back to my story.  Opening night of this hotel, we had 100 rooms sold out of 198 and we were also hosting a small party for about 1000 people in our atrium. Two really big things stand out in my mind about that time.  Number one. It was World Series Week, and we discovered opening Day that our cable television didn’t work, so our guests could actually not watch the World Series. There was no Netflix either. Or YouTubeTV or anything like that you could use as an alternative. They were just out of luck.

Number two, our fire alarm kept going off. It went off five times the first night that we were open. So needless to say, we had some really cranky guest. Very, very stressful.

We were trying a kind of unique experiment with this hotel where we actually had combined the front desk and the sales team.  So I was in charge of all of them,  which meant that I had 17 direct reports.  Which is kind of a lot.

So I had the front ask reservations, catering and sales. It was it was just an incredibly stressful time.

Why am I sharing this story? And what did I learn of value during that time? I learned two different lessons, and I think they’re both pretty important.

First, the fire alarms They didn’t just go off the first night. They continued to go off several times during the day and then again the next night and the day after that. And it wasn’t just the fire alarms. It was this really irritating woman’s voice. You know that “there’s been are on emergency reported. Oh, is just obnoxious.

The “GM of the hotel was a guy by the name of Mickey Rowley, someone I had known and honestly wanted to work for many years. I really admired him. But during this time I kept thinking why doesn’t he stop these fire alarms? It was making all of us crazy. The guests were mad. It was causing the employees and myself, so much stress. I was really becoming angrier and angrier with Mickey for not putting a stop to this.

Finally, one day, I don’t know, two or three days later, I stormed into his office and said, What the hack, Mickey, Why aren’t you doing anything about these fire alarms? And Mickey turned to me and said, uh, I would if I could, but I haven’t been able to figure out how to do it.

I have to be completely honest. I was stunned. Mickey was the boss, I actually, sort of revered him as he was really smart, a fantastic leader who just always seemed to have the answer. So, honestly, I just assumed he knew how to solve this problem. It just hadn’t made it to the top of his to do list. So to find out that my boss actually didn’t know how to solve this problem was just really a bit of a shock to me.

So that was less than number one. If you’re incredibly frustrated with your boss right now because they’re not giving you the answers that you feel like you need, consider just for a moment that they might not know the answer or the solution.

You might assume that because they’re the general manager or the vice president of sales were even the president of the company that they have more or better information than you do, more wisdom, certainly than you do! But the reality is during this particular crisis, chances are good that they do not. Nobody really has lived through this before, so maybe cut him or her a little slack. It sounds very strange, I know.

But once I realized that Mickey didn’t actually know how to solve this problem, I felt much better. Previously I thought he could solve it, but was choosing not to, and the frustrating part to me was that unhappy guests and stressed employees. Those were my priorities, and obviously they weren’t hiss because he wasn’t solving. This made me mad.

Once I realized that in fact we were on the same page, then it just became a problem for us to solve instead of a source of frustration. It made a really big difference, and you might think I’m crazy. Why did I assume that my boss should know all of the answers? But it’s just how I thought.

Lesson number two has to do with my 17 direct reports. As you can imagine during this stressful opening, I had 17 employees who also wanted to know why I wasn’t solving the fire alarm problem and also about 100 other problems that also happened to be going on as they do in every opening situation. No matter how prepared you are, stuff happens when you go live that inevitably surprises you.

I had some employees who were in my office frequently, sometimes in tears, sometimes just venting their own frustrations to me. I can tell you 32 years later, I remember those people’s names because I never forgot. Or really, I never forgave them for making a challenging situation so much worse. In truth, I probably can’t remember their last names, but I can still see their faces, and I very clearly remember their first names.

And then I had employees who simply rose to the occasion. And I have also never for gotten their names, first and last, mostly because they’re still my friends today, but also because they generally have gone on to do great things and have also become really valuable rsource is for me today. It’s kind of funny how that works out. So let me tell you some of the differences between them when you manage 17 people, which, by the way, is too many. I do not recommend it.

You need to have a lot of structure. I had regularly scheduled one on one meetings with most of my direct reports. But then I also had set up this daily office hours thing. My rule was, if there was a real crisis, of course, interrupt me at any time. But if it was just a question or concern that could wait, then hold onto it until my daily office hours,  which I would schedule for an hour every day, usually during the change of the A M and the PM shifts. Because, remember, in addition to sales, I was also in charge of the front desk. This allowed me to actually get some work done during the day. Ah, and have one on one meetings with people or department meetings and not be constantly interrupted.

And it also honestly forced people to figure out some stuff on their own, which I knew that they were capable of.  As the boss I had to be very disciplined, which honestly, was tough for me. I’m a very nice person, and I always want to be helpful. But I knew if I didn’t stick to this plan, we would not be a successful. So when people interrupted me throughout the day and it wasn’t a crisis, I would have to be sort of a jerk and say, “Um, do you consider this to be a crisis? ” And they would usually say no. And then I would say, “Do you think this is something that could wait until my office hours?” And they would generally say yes, sometimes with an eye roll and off they we go. They might be rolling their eyes because the question might have taken less time to answer than my little lecture about respecting my office hours.

But let me assure you, as a leader, this kind of discipline was necessary. Eventually, as in within about a week, people got it.  Well, most people got it. Problems were being solved on their own. I was able to make progress on larger priorities, and slowly but surely we made it through that opening, and within a relatively short period of time, we were the most successful hotel in that portfolio in that hotel brand, actually we went on to have the second highest rev par for years in the entire Embassy suites system. The only one that was better was New York City. 

So back to the differences between the employees. When you are under high stress situations like our current one, your actual character is being tested. You turn out to be a rock star or you turn out to be a drama llama. I had one employee who would greet me with a detailed written list of questions at almost every office hour. She was my PBS operator, and she got all the questions from the guests from other employees. So the ones that she couldn’t find answers for on her own, she would write down, and once a day she would present them to me. Honestly, it was dreamy.

I could usually answer 90% of the questions within about two minutes, making both of our lives better, because then she would turn around and share those answers with everybody else and the 10% that I couldn’t answer – became a priority for me to solve.

The alternative would have been for her to interrupt me at least 10 times a day, which wouldn’t have made either one of us happy. So she figured out a good system that worked.

I had another employee who occasionally used office hours for questions or concerns, but then he started to get into the habit pretty quickly of bringing me suggestions or solutions, sometimes to problems. I didn’t even know that we had. One idea he had was a group voicemail system for the front desk. Instead of a log, He suggested that people leave messages on this voice mailbox to pass along important info that the next shift should know, or that some of the sales team right now they could be more detailed in the messages than a logbook was going to be. So instead of coming in and reading the log, you could call this voice mail box of his extension 777. Still remember it because we ended up calling it the 770 club. Questions would get answered, information would get conveyed. And, of course, one employee took it upon themselves to also use the mailbox as some daily inspiration for the rest of the team and that P B X operator that I mentioned that took it upon herself to give me the list of questions. She would also keep a log, a written log of the info from the 770 voicemail that had a longer shelf life -stuff that we needed to keep track of for longer than just one shift.

It also became an incredibly valuable source of leads for our sales team. Our sales people at that time did spend part of their time working at the front desk and part of their time working in sales. And so the whole team really learned sales even though we had some that didn’t actually work in sales. They strictly worked at the front desk, but they really grew to understand how important conveying information about the companies that some of our guests checking into the hotel worked for. And so we started sharing that on 770. It became this incredibly valuable resource.

And then I have the employees who used both my office hours and our one on one meeting time to complain. This person wasn’t doing their job. This guest was a jerk. This job was just too hard. Their schedule seems really unfair.

Now as the boss, it’s your job to officially be there so your employees can vent. Sometimes they really need their manager to sit quietly and just listen. They’re not really looking for solutions or advice or answers. They just really need to know that they’ve been heard. That’s really important. Both that they feel like they can do it from time to time and that you’re gonna listen.

But then there are the employees that only do that whenever there’s a problem. They fixate on complaining about it. I’ve never understood these employees to tell you the truth. If you’re gonna spend that much time thinking about a problem, why not just try to solve it, or at least come up with some ideas that might solve it, or the right people who might be able to solve it?

So the moral of this story is your behavior during this time of crisis is really going to speak volumes about who you are as a team member. And here’s the good news. You get to decide. 

You have a boss, and chances are really good that they, too, are struggling. During this time. You can choose to add to their list of worries and stressors. It’s their job to try to keep you motivated and happy, but you can also choose to step up, and by stepping up, it means that you can take some weight off of your boss’s shoulders and carry it for them. Instead of adding to their list, you can offer to take something off.

You will be amazed at the opportunities for future career graph that you confined just by doing this. And you’ll also be amazed at what you can learn by trying to solve some of these problems. That employee of mine who decided to use my office hours to make suggestions instead of only complaining – he actually stepped into my job a few months later when I was promoted. And today he’s the vice president of sales for a hotel management company. That PBX operator who made me the list -she became friends with Warren Buffett, who stayed at that hotel, and he had a technical problem that he asked her help with. One day she solved it on her own, by the way, without ever involving me. And to this day she is one of the 100 people he has on his Christmas list. She even showed up in a book that was written about him.

So this is up to you. When your bosses look back on this time, how are they gonna remember you? The daily actions that you choose today during this very challenging time can either make you a person to try to avoid at all costs because you are perpetually stressed and whiny and generally conveying that it’s the end of the world. Or you can use this opportunity to become a stronger person, a more valuable team member.

And honestly, it’s going to make you happier. It is entirely up to you.

Thanks a lot for listening. 

Remember, you can find us on Google, play Apple iTunes stitcher, Spotify tuned in pocket cast breaker and a cast, and send a team or we’re even on Amazon. Alexa, Google assistant and cirie just asked to play the hospitality sales podcast and no matter which one you may use. If you like the show, please subscribe with us. Rate us and leave us compliment or a comment that will help others find our content. Should you have any questions or comments, please send them to me. Loren Gray at Loren@ Hospitalitydigitalarketing.com Also being this is your first time hearing us. You can subscribe to our show on any of those platforms as well. Thank you for the privilege of your time and we’ll talk to you all next week. You have been listening to the hospitality sales podcast Show number one brought to you by hospitality, digital marketing and Influencer Sales. All rights reserved copyright 2020.

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About Hospitality Sales Podcast

Loren Gray with Hospitality Digital Marketing convinced me to create a biweekly podcast – “It’ll be easy” he said.  Not so much.  But really rewarding.  I ended up interviewing some fantastic people in between my own sales podcast rants.  I hope you enjoy!

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