Build a Hospitality Culture...or Die

This time of year is loaded with lists...of things you should and shouldn't do. This one by Guy Kawasaki may be one of the most complete I've ever read. It's practically a book full of advice given in a few paragraphs. While he intended it for small business, it applies to everyone, big or small.

Not surprisingly, my favorite point is the first one...put likeable, competent people on the front line. Seems like a no brainer. But, virtually every company does exactly the opposite. They let the lowest paid, least experienced talent make the first impressions. This is a culture developed by big business out of desparation...desparation to control every aspect of a customer interaction. Unfortunately, it often backfires. That's why small business is making a strong comeback, using hospitality...meaningful interactions and personal build a loyal audience of raving fans and stealing market share in the process. Yes, there's plenty of stumbling in the process. But, who cares, as long as the customer is happy and there's enough in the financial tank to open tomorrow.

The smaller the business, the easier it is to put your best people on the firing line. It just works out naturally. The coffee shop owner is the barista, the the innkeeper is at the front desk, etc. But, as your business grows past one or two it becomes exponentially problematic. We're taught (in business school and by experience in other large companies) that when you add staff, you need to add managers to manage control what and how much the group produces. We're taught that this is actually the coveted spot in the organization, first to manage front line workers, then to manage managers and so on. So, as one gets "smarter", they move further and further away from the customer. The irony is that as we move away from our customer, we actually get dumber. A dumber organization with more layers, i.e., smart is that?

So, what to do...

The extreme would be to put the highest paid, most experienced group up front. But, this is financially challenging and organizationally ineffective, especially as you grow. The reality is that bigger means there's more administrative stuff to do. Here's a compromise. Make sure that more than half, closer to two thirds of your management (assuming they're the most competent and likeable) spend more time on the front line with their staff than in an office or cube. This means two things need to happen. Non-customer related work needs to be reduced or shifted elsewhere. If it's non-essential to building a loyal fan base, let someone else do it, i.e., outsourcing. Secondly, build a hospitality culture by hiring people who want to be near the customer. This is the hardest part. Odds are, you're not going to find them in the traditional business school or at a large firm. So, if your priority is to build a hospitality culture (it should be), stop looking there. That means you'll need to either grow your own or find some in small business. Small business produces the most likeable and nimble talent on the planet...out of necessity. They either serve the customer remarkable well or they die. These people can infuse your company with the hospitlaity culture you need to be front line focused. Likely, they'll also be the ones that don't follow rules well or know how develop a fifty- page strategic plan. But remember, your customer isn't buying those things. They're buying likeable people who can quickly solve their problems. So, please get some.