“A lot of us have been here a long time.”
I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry over the phone when a salesperson gave this answer to my question about investing in a sales and service training program for her team. To me, these few words were both comical and tragic to me at the same time, and told me all that I needed to know about the organization – and why it was behind in its performance.
Many organization leadership teams and managers no doubt face this same dilemma. While it has long been thought that people with many years of experience at their jobs translates to permanent success, many things today prove otherwise. “Evolve or die” is not so much a threat as a prediction nowadays. And we can learn this lesson from many different industries.
In a recent interview on ESPN, Alabama Head Football Coach Nick Saban, who knows about winning (his teams have won three NCAA titles in four seasons) says that “The future and legacy of a team will be determined by what happens ahead of them, not what happened before… There is no continuum for success, it’s an ongoing process regardless of what we’ve accomplished in the past.”
TEACHING OLD DOGS NEW TRICKS
I’m sure the above-quoted salesperson, who had been at her post for several years, answered me in the manner she did because she thinks that you cannot necessarily teach old dogs new tricks, or – worse yet — she feels that they likely already know everything they need to know in order to do their jobs, and don’t need to learn anything new.
“I just taught my 15 year old dog to not jump on the couch, so you CAN teach old dogs new tricks,” offers Chris Durso, Major Market Developer with InterContinental Hotels Group, “In fact, if you’re losing market share, you’re not done learning.”
Greg Ayers, President/CEO of Discover Kalamazoo (MI) weighs in on continuing the learning in his organization: “While our team possesses a wealth of experience, we are always looking for ways to further develop our talent… One of our strategic priorities is to continuously improve.” Greg backs it up by engaging outside consultants to conduct a sales team program evaluation that reviews everything they do to generate new group business for Kalamazoo, “even if we don’t want to hear some of the answers,” he adds.
Like Ayers, true leaders are about taking chances, and either checking under their own hoods or engaging others to do it, just to make sure the engine parts are still working efficiently and effectively.
“I’ve been down that road of hearing ‘we don’t need training’ for our seasoned staff or salespeople,” says Wade Bryant, Director of Sales and Marketing for the Embassy Suites Hotel in Charleston, SC. “You could probably classify half of our long-timers in the hospitality industry as insane, if by definition that means, as Steven Covey said, doing the same things over and over again and expecting a different or better result. The fact is long-timers probably need it (training) the most.”
To a team leader, it can be a fine line between managing a seasoned, happy team member who uses their great wealth of experience in handling certain (often difficult) situations vs. the “been-there-too-long” team member who carries a burned-out or sluggish attitude around the business, refusing to embrace any new wrinkles. Never mind that as a business owner you may want (or need!) to change things up or move your customers or products in a new direction. From many of these folks, you may be getting push-back and old-style thinking.
THE TIMES – AND YOUR CUSTOMERS – ARE CHANGING
It’s like nails on a chalkboard for me when I hear “we’ve always done it that way.” Sure, many companies are thriving again and have built their legacies of service and stellar treatment of their customers in the past. But those customers are changing. The expectations of the baby-boomers, not to mention the greatest generation, the gen-X’ers, and the millennials can all be very different. A business’s service teams have to be able to evolve their skills in order to stay viable to a changing demographic with changing needs and expectations.
Are your long-time employees those who have their habits so ingrained that they cannot change or be flexible to the new wave of customers or changing landscape in your competitive landscape? Do they feel that they are above training and “refreshers” aimed at re-invigorating their efforts or re-focusing them? If so, it’s time for management to step in and take training (or re-training) by the nose. It won’t happen by osmosis.
“I’m often encountering life’s plodders, doing just enough not to be fired,” remarks Phil Anderson, veteran of the hospitality and resort business as both a general manager and a sales/marketing executive. “It seems like the theme is ‘sustained mediocrity’ in some places I go, and when you inherit a veteran or tenured staff to manage, it can mean trouble.”
Of course, not all long-term employees are toxic, not by a long shot. Many frequent customers have come to enjoy seeing the smiling faces and feats of great service from these veteran team members over the years. The ones with great attitudes and abilities to teach can also be key in getting new employees up to speed on their jobs and tasks. Indeed, to some customers, the veterans ARE the company or product.
CHANGE IS INEVITABLE, GROWTH IS OPTIONAL
But still, change is inevitable. It’s the growth part that’s optional. And long-timers need to evolve their skills to stay relevant. After all, the “I want it now” generation is taking hold. The speed has quickened a bit, including service and value expectations from members.
“If you and your team don’t take the time to reinvent your approach to business, you will lose, plain and simple,” says Doug Small, President/CEO of Experience Grand Rapids (MI). “While others have decreased their budgets for professional development, we have gone the other way… we actually set goals for enhancing the skill set of our employees in a variety of disciplines to help them stay ahead of an ever-changing marketplace.” Small even takes it beyond his own team on a larger scale: “We ‘fund’ education for our member hotels, too, as it’s a collaborative approach to increasing revenues for all.”
INVESTING IN YOUR TEAM’S GROWTH
Consider these points when deciding about training and re-training:
* If you’re not getting better, you’re getting worse. This in itself can keep hospitality managers up at night.
* Many people fear change, and being trained or re-trained represents change. Get your best long-timers around the reasons for a program – Illustrate “what’s in it for them?” and they’re more likely to visibly support the training initiative to other team members. This will cut down on the grumbling.
* Assess which specific areas you and your guests feel need the greatest attention, and start your training there. Chew the elephant in small bites.
* Support it visibly, actively, and often. Nothing kills a training program faster than when upper management doesn’t come to the workshops or meetings, or get involved in the follow-through. The line staff then gets the feeling that “they must be above all of this.”
* Determine roles, goals, responsibilities, and accountabilities in your program. Have a plan, don’t just scatter-gun a few hours here and there for some parts of your facility – After all, your hotel/resort has a culture, and it’s a family, not a bunch of independent silos.
* Make continued training and learning a culture, not a fleeting “program of the month” that will quickly be forgotten. Make your training programs just that – programs – that are sustainable. Constancy and consistency will help insure long-term success.
Tenured and tired, or growing and evolving? Take a look under your hood and keep your long-time team members in forward motion with preventative maintenance and frequent tune-ups. Your customers will thank you with their return business and positive social media reviews.