One afternoon, sitting in my office during the run up to Christmas, I heard a confident knock at my door.
A team member entered, this being early in her second week with us, and she said she wanted to tell me that two years ago she, and a cohort of students from her school, were my guests for breakfast and a tour of our business.
She went on to explain that when her school left that day, she told her family, her friends, in fact anyone that would listen, that ours was the business she wanted to work in, and that one day she would.
Her point in coming to see me was to say that two years after that visit, she had done just that.
Early in the following year she stood in the Palace of Westminster and related her story to 250 MPs, VIPs, business leaders and apprentices.
I stood there, overflowing with pride, and thinking that this is the point of what we do. This we had gotten right.
To my shame I hadn’t remembered her from her school visit. But I can certainly say that now, I’ll never forget her.
* * *
It is without argument that over the last few years our attention has turned towards the growing talent shortage in our industry, the potential destructive results borne from the UK governments plans for immigration and how the political climate globally (and isolationist views of some politicians therein), would impact one of the major industries operating in the UK today.
These exigent concerns, ever present, were incomparable with the challenges which faced us at the start of 2020, when we were faced with an almost worldwide shutdown of not just our businesses but our day to day lives as well.
As I write this, over 2 million cases of covid-19 have been confirmed globally, and the latest projections suggest world trade will fall by as much as 32%. Our lives have changed in ways not seen in many of our lifetimes. Our businesses are closed, and we are seeing, every day, major miracles in human spirit and endurance.
Right now is a defining time for not just our generation, but every generation. In an age when everything can be laid bare on social media, we will, as employers, be judged on how we react during this crisis; with no greater focus than on how we treat our most important asset: our people.
When someone joins my business the first thing I ask of them relates to mindset, or rather changing it. We’re not co-workers; we’re a team, we’re a family. We all have different backgrounds, different experiences, different beliefs and together we are working to meet the same goal, all the while almost living in each other’s pockets.
Like a family we may all have different opinions on how to do things, and disagreements sometimes, but together we’re stronger as a whole.
In my view this approach gives a team a solid foundation, something that can weather the storm. And also, in my view, storms can bring something out of us that calmer seas cannot.
Right now, one of our most important jobs is looking after our people; it is a responsibility of ours and a right of theirs. I’ve seen some wonderful examples of this in not only my business but other businesses as well. A guest services manager engaging her team with a weekly quiz, a housekeeping manager holding virtual training sessions teaching her team to sew masks for the NHS and a hotel donating its rooms to the homeless.
Social media is awash with businesses lighting up for our daily heroes and these are all living examples of where we have come together, regardless of our being an independent, multinational or a hand to mouth operation, and placed the greater good over our own needs. Competition and rivalry have gone, and we have focused on the duality of managing this crisis and planning for the future.
Hospitality is immeasurably more than ‘just’ an industry. At our core we are a group of people with a shared mindset of openness and generosity and with a dedication to the support of all.
In the UK we account for an economic contribution of more than £130 billion; employment with us is in the top 10 in every geographical location and 5 million of us are proud and able to call it our career. When the global economy recovers it will, in no small part, be down to the efforts and contributions of our industry. And this brings me back to my point.
Building our hospitality family starts by inspiring them with your vision. Not forgetting that anyone can have a vision, that’s the easy part. It takes a team to make a vision a reality.
The next step is to empower and develop the people in your business; as they grow so will your business, so will you. Unconscious assimilation of your team’s enthusiasm and drive is a natural product of leading a team; one of the greatest benefits in this writer’s opinion.
Finally, engage with your people. Be honest, be accurate, be immediate; but more than that, be positive. In our businesses and in our lives we only have so much control at any given time, communicating with our biggest asset is something we have complete control of and something that has always been vital, never more so than now.
Hospitality is a resilient industry; we will be back and stronger than ever, of that there is no question. I don’t downplay the challenges ahead, but I understand that isolation goes against our nature. We live in a time where people look to spend their income on experiences rather than possessions, and returning to that special place where they feel comfortable – where a memory was made – is an inevitability. And like long lost friends we will be there to meet them.
The world is changing, and we must inspire our people like never before; we need to lead our people (and ourselves) into what will be a new world with new challenges, and we will be judged in how we do that.
Now change isn’t a bad thing; change is growth, attitude, and perseverance. Our people will be vital to our meeting the future head on; and we will meet this future head on and very well. This is something I am confident of because wherever I look our industry’s energy, adaptability, creativity, and flexibility has never been as on display as it is right now. As is our industry’s heart.
But all of this starts and stops with our people; and people like this, this is what success looks like.
Robert Richardson FIH, General Manager, The Grand, Folkestone
Robert Richardson FIH is General Manager of grade 2 listed The Grand in Kent. He is a member of the board of trustees for the Institute of Hospitality and has been recognised as one of the industry’s “Young Trailblazers” in Boutique Hoteliers 2020 Power List.