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Column: Hoteliers must facilitate and manage change

November 1, 2010
By Enda Larkin



When Charles Darwin wrote ‘It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change’, he clearly wasn’t talking about the hotel industry. Yet, his words do hold relevance for hoteliers today, because there are major changes afoot in our industry which will transform the competitive landscape in the years ahead. Of course, change is nothing new in hotels – it has always been an industry where a critical success factor is the ability to evolve in response to shifting consumer and market dynamics; however, the pace of change is quickening, a trend that seems likely to continue.

As a result, all hotel leaders need to be comfortable in personally dealing with change and, more importantly, in helping their employees to cope with it; particularly with regard to those changes which are substantial in nature. For major change, applying a structured, but not rigid, approach to implementation is advisable; one which takes into account the not inconsequential human relations issues associated with any change. Unfortunately, many leaders mishandle the process and this can lead to significant resentment and conflict, much of which is avoidable if some basic principles for managing change are applied.

People and Change

In terms of coping with change, it is not an exaggeration to say that many people tend to struggle with it - to varying degrees - and as a rule, the bigger the change, the greater the likelihood they will struggle. Because of this, gaining commitment at the outset is sometimes seen as the trickiest part of the change management process – and it is undoubtedly a challenge – but sustaining change is perhaps more difficult; often, far more so than we realise.

In an article entitled, Change or Die published in Fast Company Magazine, Alan Deutschman highlighted some startling points about our collective inability to sustain change. Here are some extracts of his article which are relevant here:


. . . What if a well-informed, trusted authority figure said you had to make difficult and enduring changes in the way you think and act? If you didn't, your time would end soon -- a lot sooner than it had to. Could you change when change really mattered? When it mattered most?
Yes, you say?
Try again.
Yes?
You're probably deluding yourself.
You wouldn't change.
Don't believe it? You want odds? Here are the odds, the scientifically studied odds: nine to one. That's nine to one against you. How do you like those odds?



Where did those odds come from? In his article, Mr. Deutschman goes on to refer to a presentation given by Dr. Edward Miller, the Dean of the Medical School and CEO of the Hospital at Johns Hopkins University, which focuses on an individual’s inability to change:


. . . He [Dr Miller] turned the discussion to patients whose heart disease is so severe that they undergo bypass surgery, a traumatic and expensive procedure that can cost more than $100,000 if complications arise. About 600,000 people have bypasses every year in the United States, and 1.3 million heart patients have angioplasties -- all at a total cost of around $30 billion. The procedures temporarily relieve chest pains but rarely prevent heart attacks or prolong lives. Around half of the time, the bypass grafts clog up in a few years; the angioplasties, in a few months. The causes of this so-called restenosis are complex. It is sometimes a reaction to the trauma of the surgery itself. But many patients could avoid the return of pain and the need to repeat the surgery -- not to mention arrest the course of their disease before it kills them -- by switching to healthier lifestyles. Yet very few do. "If you look at people after coronary-artery bypass grafting two years later, 90% of them have not changed their lifestyle," Miller said. "And that's been studied over and over and over again . . . Even though they know they have a very bad disease and they know they should change their lifestyle, for whatever reason, they cannot."


If people struggle to sustain change even when life and death are at stake, this undoubtedly has implications for managing change in the workplace. And, apart from collective personal failings in terms of change, the hotel environment –customer-driven as it is – creates the ideal conditions for a particular change initiative to slide off the agenda, once the initial implementation steps have happened. No doubt you will have experienced this at some stage: for example, you will have seen cases where a big deal was made around a certain change for a while, but slowly over time, lack of follow through, or shifting focus led to few tangible outcomes being achieved in the longer term. It is fair to say that hotels can, at times, suffer from the ‘flavour-of-the-month’ syndrome.

In light of this, creating a compelling case for change and getting ‘buy-in’ from employees undoubtedly remain critical early steps in managing change; and, experience shows that the more involvement people have in determining the nature and direction of changes affecting them, the more easily they will support the implementation process. However, even when the desire to change has been harnessed, people can easily fall back into old habits, or commitment can wane over time; therefore, creating the conditions to sustain change is also a vital concern. The change process must be effectively managed beyond the early stages and leaders need to really focus on how to bed-down and sustain change, as much as they do on getting people onside from the beginning. In achieving this, the following framework can be helpful:


 
Following a framework such as this provides long-term focus for the change management effort; it provides a template to harness commitment from the start; helps to plan for implementation and, most important of all, emphasises the need to stick with the change. In applying a framework such as this, keep the following general points in mind about managing change:
  • Change must lead to tangible benefits, if employees are expected to buy into it;
  • Change must be ‘sold’ to employees; forcing change through, whilst on rare occasions unavoidable, is rarely effective;
  • Change just for the sake of it winds people up and should be avoided;
  • Include employees in decision making around change, where possible;
  • The bigger the change, the more difficult it can be for employees, so strong leadership is essential in making the change happen;
  • The implementation of change should be time bound, for dragged out change can be disheartening;
  • Make sure to define and communicate clear implementation plans and that deadlines are adhered to;
  • Show benefits to employees as early as possible in the change process, so people see the value of it;
  • Offer lots of support and guidance to employees as they seek to work through the change;
  • Recognise that change processes provide ideal opportunities for the negative team members to ‘stir things up’. Pay particular attention to the influence they are exerting at such times.