Stories about 2 leaders: a GM who appreciates others and a founder who punches down

by | Jun 5, 2022 | Blog | 0 comments

“How do I balance the wants and needs of all the many stakeholders I serve?”

This question was always top of mind for a hotel general manager in Canada’s Niagara Falls. Her employer had identified her and several others as the top North American GMs who upheld the brand’s culture along with strong performance results. A group of external consultants, including me, then shadowed these GMs to discover what they were doing that worked so well.

This particular GM explained that to sustain the culture plus high ratings on social media and company surveys, she had to be accountable to all of her stakeholders. The employees. Job applicants. Former employees. Happy customers. Upset customers. Potential customers. Tourists. Business people. Suppliers. And so on.

To stay focused, she carved out blocks of time each week to concentrate on serving each stakeholder group. Ideally, she tried to anticipate each group’s wants and needs. In reality, she generally was responding to concerns, including online customer complaints.

Because the GM wanted to nurture a culture of recognition and gratitude, she said she made an effort to reply to all comments: the good, the bad and the ugly. She thanked the customers who wrote they had a wonderful stay. She acknowledged the customers who expressed dismay with a dirty towel in their room and promised better treatment next time. And for the few who had a miserable experience, she reminded them of her company’s money-back guarantee.

As for employees, she walked the halls and visited the laundry, kitchen, engineering, and other workrooms every day at different times to check in on everyone. She also conducted employee meetings at least once a month, holding multiple sessions to reach employees who worked all three shifts. As I walked around the hotel with her, I noted she greeted everyone by name and  often stopped to ask or answer questions.

My memories of this decade-old work experience came rushing back to me a few weeks ago when someone asked me if the Charleston art museum had ever found my raincoat from last January. (The answer is “no.” And if you’re interested in the story, which also is about dealing with individuals with a fixed mindset, you can read my blog post: Is your brain to blame if you’re all filled up without room to grow?)

I remembered traveling to snowy Niagara Falls one January many years ago for this hotel assignment. TripAdvisor and Google reviews were still new and Glassdoor hadn’t yet launched. However, this hotel GM had already cracked the code on the power of social media to connect with customers, especially to recognize them and show her gratitude.

By contrast, the museum’s PR firm could learn valuable lessons about customer and employee care from the hotel GM. As I explained in my blog, about a month after my coat was stolen from the museum, I contacted the museum’s PR firm since it’s responsible for helping protect the museum’s reputation. Plus, the firm’s founder also sits on the museum’s board of directors.

Here’s the email exchange:

Me: Hi, I’m emailing you because of your roles as the XXXX PR firm and as a board member. I’m the one whose raincoat was taken from the coat rack on the night of Jan. 20 during the opening of the latest exhibit…. Before I take to social media to try to locate my coat, I wanted to check in with you. I do not want to embarrass the XXXX. However, I want to find my unique raincoat….Thank you in advance for your attention. I look forward to hearing from you.

The PR firm’s Founder/Board Member: Let s get her off our backs. Did they determine a solution. Dreadful e mail. Maybe have XXXX handle as not really our job. 

Well, the response was obvious in this misdirected email message. This PR firm founder didn’t view herself as responsible for helping nurture her museum client’s culture. Furthermore, the PR firm founder has defined her role in a much narrower way than I had envisioned for her firm, based on my experiences.

Being curious, I googled the PR firm. The first few entries were from Glassdoor. The ratings were mixed. Also, unlike the savvy and successful hotel GM who answered everyone, the PR firm founder only responded to the negative reviews.

And the responses were case studies of what not to write. For example, one former employee commented about the toxic environment with lots of micromanaging and resistance to change. The response? “We’re sorry you didn’t have a better impression of our firm during your time here and wish you had brought your concerns to our attention during your employment.” Hmm? How psychologically safe do you think people feel to speak up, especially to express concerns?

And by not responding to the positive comments, the PR firm missed opportunities to reinforce the firm’s characteristics that current and former employees noticed and appreciated. Also, rather than solely defending her firm, the PR founder could have shown some gratitude. Oh well.

This experience does help me fulfill a goal another client once set for me. She observed that life is all about accumulating great stories, so look for them, which has been great advice.

For instance, in this story of contrasting leadership styles, which leader do you want to emulate? The one who nurtures recognition and gratitude? Or the one who punches down?

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