How To Manage Change In The Workplace And Create A Winning Service Culture

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This week I turned 60.  And I am concerned and confused about the future of the hospitality industry.  I am concerned about where our future leadership will come from.  For those of us who are also pushing 60 or have already pushed through to the other side, here are some reminders of what we have lived through.  And for those of you who believe that 60 is ancient, here is an interesting history.

We were born before or right at the start of television, before polio shots, frozen foods, xerox, plastic, contact lenses, frisbees and the pill.  We were born before radar, credit cards split atoms, laser beams and ballpoint pens.  Before pantyhose, dishwashers, clothes dryers, electric blankets, air conditioners, drip-dry clothes and before man walked on the moon.

We got married first and then lived together.  How weird is that?  Having a meaningful relationship meant getting along well with our cousins.

We were here before househusbands, gay rights, computer dating, dual careers, and commuter marriages.  We were before day-care centers, group therapy, and nursing homes.

We never heard of FM radio, tape decks, artificial hearts, word processors, yogurt, and guys wearing earrings.

For us, time-sharing meant togetherness, not vacation homes and Facebook, hardware meant hardware, and software wasn’t even a word!

A keyboard came attached to a piano, a virus gave you a fever, to log on was adding wood to the fire.  A program was a TV show and a menu was something you ordered food from.

Made in Japan meant junk and the term “making out” referred to how you did on your exam. McDonald’s and instant coffee were unheard of.

When we hit the scene there were 5 and 10 cent stores where you bought things for 5 and 10 cents.  For one nickel you could ride a streetcar, make a phone call, buy a Pepsi or enough stamps to mail one letter and 2 postcards.

You could buy a new Chevy Coup for $600.00 but who could afford one?  What a pity too, because gas was 11 cents a gallon.

In our day, cigarette smoking was fashionable, grass was mowed, coke was a cold drink and pot was something you cooked in.

Rock music was a lullaby that grandma sang and aids were helpers in the principal’s office.

We made do with what we had.  And we were the last generation that was so dumb as to think you needed a husband to have a baby!

No wonder we are confused.  But we survived and we’re here and that’s reason enough to celebrate and to thank God for our adaptability.

Humor aside, the common theme that runs through all of these comments is change.  Change.  Think about it.  It surrounds us every day.  Change is us.

We don’t notice it every day but boy oh boy is it there - - receding hairline, expanding waistlines, pounding in your chest after you have run one block.

It’s there all right.

Sometimes I think that dealing with change is the fundamental human contradiction.  Rationally we understand that change is the law of life, the inevitability of our universe.  But emotionally, in the heart we really want everything to stay the same.

We really don’t want our babies, those beautiful 3 and 4 year olds to grow up and we don’t really want our teenagers to start to date. And secretly, we don’t really want any more new technology.  Heaven knows, we can’t even absorb or understand what we already have.

But we’re stuck.  Change is the law of life.  And it is here to stay.  Don’t fight change.  Embrace it.

Change in the business environment is rapid.  Something new, something different is coming into the marketplace every day.  Do you see it?  Are you looking for it?  This is serious stuff.  You have worked awfully hard, you have taken risks.  Don’t lose it all by making pretend that things will stay the same or burying yourself so deeply in the day to day details that the horizon is obscured.

There is an insightful story about a friend of mine who buys pampers for his son at Wal-Mart.  The information about his purchase is transmitted electronically from Wal-Mart to the Proctor Gamble warehouse and from there to the Proctor Gamble manufacturing facility so that production, inventory and delivery are totally integrated.

Now 10 -12 years ago there was a distributor who did all this.  And he was good, very good, the best.  He practiced total quality management, was loyal to his supplier, gave great service to his customers and guess what?  He’s out of business.  Finished.  Wiped out.  So you feel sorry for the poor bastard.  He didn’t do anything wrong. It’s just that while he was spending 60-70 hours a week running his business, the world was changing and he didn’t know it.

In reality, there are three types of managers.  One sees changes coming down the track.  Another sees changes just in time to take some adjustments before it’s too late.  The last type gets run over by change with the same result as a Mack truck running over a paper cup.

Look, I travel around the country, talking with owners and general managers, with desk clerks and bellhops, waiters and waitresses and something seems to be missing.  I think it is a sense of pride, a sense that you are proud of yourselves, proud of your employees and proud of your business, no matter what type of business it may be.  Pride is defined in the dictionary as pleasure or satisfaction taken in one’s work, achievement or profession.  Maybe what I sense is a lack of leadership, and without real leadership there is no pride.  We don’t instill it, because we don’t understand and maybe because we don’t care.

Maybe it is because we don’t understand what business we are in.  We are in the people business.  Not the hotel or restaurant business, not the real estate business.  Not the construction business, the people business.  Instead of machinery, we have people.  Instead of automated conveyor belts, we have people.  Instead of computers that hum and print stuff, we have people. 

We have not come to grips with this basic concept.  And without doing so, all the efforts, all the expenditures, all the marketing and sales efforts will not give you full return on your investment. 

It reminds me of an old, old story about Count Basie.  He told an owner he would never play in the guy’s nightclub again because the piano was so badly out of tune.  A month later the owner called Basie and said, “Come back! It’s fixed.”  Basie showed up, sat down, played a few bars and slammed the key cover down in disgust.  He said, “This is worse.  What did you do to this piano?”  “I had it fixed,” said the indignant club owner.  “What do you mean you had it fixed?  What did you do to it,” said the Count.  “I had it painted” was the answer.

There is an old expression freely translated as, no matter which way you turn, your rear end is still behind you.  No matter how much paint you use, it doesn’t help if the piano is out of tune.

You really want to know what I hear, wandering around the countryside.  Serious bitching.  Serious moaning and serious whining.  They say things like, “It’s hard to find good help these days,” and “Nobody wants to work anymore,” and “Why bother talking or teaching anything.  In two, three weeks, they’ll quit!”

Look, I am not going to go down this list of stupidity, item by item.  Wait a second, I have a better idea.  I agree with all of this.  I will stipulate to all 3 points.  The old days were better, nobody wants to work, kids are weirdoes.  I agree, okay?  I’m with you.  So?  What now?  You’ve gotten it off your chest.  What is your action plan?  More bitching?  More moaning? More whining?  Man, if there was ever a better example of that old adage that if you’re not part of the solution, you must be part of the problem...this is it.  The owners and general managers in the tourism business? 

It’s US who are often the problem, not the employees.  It’s us.  Forty to fifty years ago, there used to be a comic strip called “Pogo” drawn by a guy by the name of Walt Kelly.  Some of you graybeards probably remember.  Anyway, in a classic strip one of the characters says, “I have seen the enemy and they is us!”

We are sitting on a real opportunity to increase revenue, cut costs and bump profits.  The hospitality and tourism industry is the last major industry where a formal education is not a requirement for professional advancement or financial success.  Success in our business can be achieved with a simple formula:

1. Hard Work

2. Persistence

3. Desire for self-improvement

4. Willingness to watch, to listen, to learn.

It’s not complicated.  Whether you start out with a graduate degree from Cornell, or as a young person off the street as a night desk clerk or housekeeper.  Hard work and long hours are the pathway to a fulfilling and rewarding career.  Lots of people in this industry including general managers, owners and corporate vice presidents never graduated college.  Don’t bother to think about that statement. We can start right here with me. 

That’s right.  Steve Belmonte, former President & CEO of Ramada Hotels for 10 years and I never graduated college.  I started at 16 as a desk clerk in a Holiday Inn at the O’Hare airport.  My career has worked out pretty well.

So why, for heaven’s sake, why don’t we tell our people about the possibilities?  Why don’t we tell them about the abundance of success stories that are out there?  To these kids, you appear confident, secure, rich and successful.  They probably think you were born with a silver spoon in your mouth.  Why don’t you tell them the truth?  Why don’t you tell them your story?

What’s the point of all this?  I have been talking about change, leadership, pride and people.  It’s about our lives, our business, and our future.  It’s all about relationships.  You want some other interesting words?  How about trust and how about loyalty?  The very foundation of our industry is being able to count on others, dependability, allegiance, reliability, and obligation.  Think of the mix, the interdependence between you as the owner or manager, your employee, your customers and your franchisor.  We are talking about a positive feedback loop here.  People who are all intertwined and interconnected who benefit directly from each other.  And the benefits come directly from those simple words, trust and loyalty.

Okay, so you got the message.  Now let’s get down to specific cases.  Yours.  The owner and the general manager set the culture of the property.  You establish the tone, the environment in which your employees operate.  A friend of mine gave me two perfect examples of company cultures; two opposites.  

The first is about FedEx.  He needed to drop off a package downtown and got to the office 15 minutes before it opened.  While standing on the street corner with his back to the storefront, the young woman inside unlocked the door, came out on the street, tapped him on the shoulder and said, “May I help you, sir?”  She did that for only one reason.  That reason was because of Fred Smith, the Founder of the company.  Smith never met her.  He never talked to her.  But he established the policies and he created the atmosphere where employees want to go the extra mile. 

The other story is bad.  Real bad.  A similar thing probably happens at least once or twice a week to you.  The same guy goes into a well- known premier burger chain.  We’ll call it Ronnie Jockets, located right off Michigan Avenue in Chicago at 10:50 in the morning.  Just 10 minutes before eleven.  He pushes open the door, walks over to the front counter where there are three servers standing there in uniform with a manager-type wearing a tie.  Four people.  My friend says, “I’d like a cup of coffee to take out, please.”  One of the waiters looks at him and says, “I’m sorry, but we don’t open until eleven.”  The coffee is already made in the urn, four feet away and he’s “sorry we don’t open until 11?” 

And the manager stands there like a dummy.  Is that your hotel?  Is that the culture, the kind of employee you want?  Is that the attitude that is going to maximize your revenue and profits?

There’s a simple test I used to use at my hotel, which told me if I was doing my job and whether my properties were alive or dead, kind of like a doctor with a stethoscope.  It’s the pronoun test.  When I check in, I ask one of your people a couple of questions about policy or some aspect of the operations.  You know, something not complicated like, “How come the restaurant closes so early?” or “If you are not busy tonight, can I check-out at 3:30pm?”

If the answer comes back using the words “they” and “them”, I know that this place is dead as a doornail.  There is no heart, no soul and no leadership.  If the answer includes “we” or “us”, then I know something good happens at this property.

The bottom line will be determined by your willingness to help others and by your ability to mentor your employees and prepare them for supervisory and management positions.  Your ability to remain competitive in the most competitive of businesses is determined by your ability to give credit where credit is due and to praise your people for doing a good job.

All of this translates into dollars.  This is not some soft, fuzzy, do-good stuff.  Just maybe, if you assume a leader’s role and instill pride in your people, you will realize your financial and professional goals.  Your business depends on guest services.  Guest service depends on your leadership.  Your leadership instills pride in your people and they perform their tasks better than your competition and this will determine your profits.  It’s not complicated.

John Kotter in his book, “Leading Change” defined leadership as well as anyone ever has:  “Leadership defines what the future should look like.   It aligns people with that vision and inspires them to make it happen despite the obstacles.”

We have financial objectives.  We analyze the past year’s results department by department and create a budget, a forecast which will fulfill the financial requirements.  We understand that.  We do it.  Good.  Check it off.

Align people with that vision.  Do we do that?  Let me tell you something.  If you have not earned the respect of your people, go back to square one.  That’s right.  You have to EARN respect.  Just like you judge others by their actions, your managers, supervisors, and line employees are judging you by your actions.  And nobody is going to go that extra step, exert that degree of energy if you are not respected.  What creates that respect?  Nothing big, more so a lot of little things like: enthusiasm, courtesy, credit, recognition, praise, and affirmation.  It’s easy to criticize.  Any fool can do that.  What is hard is lifting your people up and making them feel good.  Now that takes skill, real skill.  The last part of Kotter’s statement was about leadership.

“Inspire them to make it happen despite the obstacles.”

For the word “inspire”, let’s substitute “incentivevise.”  General Eisenhower said, “There are no victories at bargain prices.”  Again, this is not complicated brainwork.  People respond to incentives.  Everything else is commentary.  All people.  All the time.  It’s human.  It’s natural.  Why would you believe your front line employees are any different from you?  You have incentives, which drive you, which motivate you!  You want my advice?  Provide dollars, lots of dollars, for performance and whatever it costs for bonuses and rewards.  You will get your investment back many fold through increases to your bottom line.  Notice that I refer to this as an investment because this is an ROI situation.

Let’s go back to the definition of pride:  “Pleasure or satisfaction in one’s work, achievements or profession.”  What’s our profession?  We are in the hospitality industry.  We are those people who from the beginning of time have provided a warm, safe haven for the traveler, and in the days gone by, companionship, conversation and food.  Do you feel that?  Do you believe that?  Do you communicate that to your people, that there is satisfaction, a joy that comes from service?  Do you communicate enthusiasm for your profession?

Henry Ford said, “Enthusiasm is at the bottom of all progress.  Enthusiasm is the spark that gives you the energy to execute your ideas.  With it, there is accomplishment.  Without it, there are only alibis.”  You can make a business come alive, creating its personality, but that happens through leadership, through some amalgamation of words and deeds.  Words are so strong.  Words give clear images.  We herd sheep.  We drive cattle.  We lead people.  That is our work as owners, operators and managers.  Leadership.  Leading people and giving our businesses character, personality.   Installing life into our business.

Pride and leadership.  Leadership and pride.  We are talking about revenues.  We are talking about profits.  We are talking about your career, your future. 

I don’t know how else to say it.  My children accuse me of repeating myself so I won’t.  I will let other people speak to you for me.

George Bernard Shaw said that, “The essence of inhumanity is to be indifferent to our fellow creatures.  That is the worst sin.”  Or to quote a famous Indian chief from the 1850’s:  “Humankind has not woven the web of life.  We are but one thread within it.  Whatever we do to the web we do to ourselves.  All things are bound together.  All things connect.”

There you have it.  That’s the message.  All things connect.  You, your customers, your employees, your franchisor, bound together by pride, trust, loyalty and wanting to succeed and complicated by having to adapt to a world which is in constant rapid change where something new, something different seems to come into the marketplace every day.

About Vimana Franchise Systems LLC & Hospitality Solutions LLC

Vimana Franchise Systems LLC is a hotel franchise company owned by CEO Steve Belmonte, President Neal Jackson and Vice President Cory Jackson Jr.  In May 2011, Vimana Franchise Systems launched the Centerstone brand as a three-segment franchise designed to create a fair and cost effective model for the hospitality industry.  In November 2011, Key West Inns was re-launched under the Vimana Franchise ownership umbrella as a fun and uniquely themed leisure brand.  

For more information on Vimana Franchise Systems LLC, contact Steve Belmonte at (407) 654-5540 [email protected].  Visit Vimana Franchise Systems online at  Visit Centerstone online at, on Twitter at @Centerstonehtls, or on Facebook at  Visit Key West Inns online at, on Twitter at @StayKeyWest, or on Facebook at  

 Belmonte is also Founder & Chairman Emeritus of Hospitality Solutions LLC, which offers experience and expertise in a wide range of areas including negotiation of license agreements, negotiation of termination agreements and furnishing solutions.  For more information please visit



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