Using Standards of Performance to Improve Service Levels
By Jesse Boles Executive Director of Operations, FreemanGroup | September 11, 2011
"The standard is the standard." This refrain was heard repeatedly during the most recent Super Bowl. The Pittsburgh Steelers used it to communicate that whether you were on the field as a full-time starter or filling in due to injury, the performance expectation was the same. It is difficult to argue with the results of the philosophy, as the Steelers have won more Super Bowls (six) than any other team in league history. It's also worth noting that the Steelers were defeated that day by a Green Bay Packer team that had been ravaged by injury. Watching the game, it was quite obvious that the Packers had adopted a similar philosophy.
In the NFL, many teams run very similar plays, and while some players are more gifted then others, the differences between players are actually so small that they are often measured by hundredths of a second. What repeatedly separates success from failure is the execution of the standards. Success doesn't have so much to do with the play you call, but how you run it. The same is true of successful hospitality businesses. Success doesn't have so much to do with the standards you set, but how those standards are implemented.
If you were to check in at your most successful competitor's hotel, it is unlikely that you would see a procedure or behavior that makes you ask, "Why didn't I think of that?" More often than not, you will find that another hotel is using the same type of game plan that is being used by your hotel, and that the differences between your properties have more to do with the execution of the plan. We all know the star/diamond standards; we all preach them to our staff, and, in many cases, perform regular audits to assess how well we are executing them. Why do some properties execute game plans with higher levels of skill, urgency, and efficiency than others?
One big reason we don't always achieve our service goals is that we provide our staff with standards that apply to the outcomes only. That's really what the star/diamond standards are: outcomes that provide no really useful indications of how to achieve them. Despite this, we often state them to our teams and think that somehow, achievement will naturally follow. This is akin to setting a bar four feet high and telling people to jump over it without explaining the techniques required to do it. Are you really surprised when they trip and fall?
If we want our teams to be successful, we need to establish and communicate standards for the processes as well as the outcomes. If a valet attendant is told he needs to be in motion as the vehicle approaches to open car doors immediately upon arrival, he will also need to be told where to be positioned and how to coordinate his activities with those of other co-workers, etc. In general, standards will vary in conjunction with the number of people on staff and time of day. They will also vary according to location or from one hotel to the next. Desired outcomes may be the same, but processes should differ or accommodate sensibly according to variables.
There is a good amount of work involved in writing standards of performance for your staff, but it is work well worth doing. Fortunately, there are starter kits out there to get you started, so in all likelihood-and for a small investment-you shouldn't have to develop all of your standards from scratch.
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