The Four Stages of Hotelier Competence

An Inspirational Guide to Continue Your Learning

By Larry Mogelonsky President & Founder, LMA Communications | September 01, 2013

Many months ago, I wrote an article discussing the great social psychologist Abraham Maslow and how his popular motivation theory of the 'Hierarchy of Needs' applies to hotels, guest expectations and everything in between. This pyramidal model of human behavior from the 1940s is widely recognized that it is still in use today – and rightfully so!

However, Maslow wasn't a one hit wonder, and he is often credited as one of the progenitors of another paradigm of behavioral psychology. Rising to prominence in the 1970s, the 'Four Stages of Competence' describes the pathology by which one acquires a new skill from the drudgeries of persistent failure to intact, reflexive action. Needless to say, this time-tested theory is rife with applications for hoteliers, primarily insofar as how we approach contemporary problems that face our properties and our industry.

The four stages, which we'll delve into in a minute, are unconscious incompetence, conscious incompetence, conscious competence and, lastly, unconscious competence. Don't let the word 'incompetence' alienate you. What's remarkable about this learning model is that it is not designed to presuppose certain people as 'smarter' or 'better' than any other. As professionals, we are all a spectrum of learned skills with various character traits falling into each of the four labels. In short, nobody's perfect.

Hence, we can all still learn, master or perfect some aspect of our daily routines. The key is to accept the fact that you're not perfect then be open to both personal criticism and new experiences which might widen your perspective. The hospitality industry is so diverse and panoptic that there's always something new the world can teach you. With this in mind, let us begin our hotel-focused adaptation of this magnificent psychology theory.

1. Unconscious Incompetence - "Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity, and I'm not sure about the universe"

I'd be remiss if I didn't insert at least one of my favorite Albert Einstein quotations to help get the ball rolling. However witty this great 20th century scientist was, he was also right about a lot of things, too – for one, blind ignorance abounds.

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Guest Service: A Culture of YES

In a recent global consumers report, 97% of the participants said that customer service is a major factor in their loyalty to a brand, and 76% said they view customer service as the true test of how much a company values them. And since there is no industry more reliant on customer satisfaction than the hotel industry, managers must be unrelenting in their determination to hire, train and empower the very best people, and to create a culture of exceptional customer service within their organization. Of course, this begins with hiring the right people. There are people who are naturally service-oriented; people who are warm, empathetic, enthusiastic, pleasant, thoughtful and optimistic; people who take pride in their ability to solve problems for the hotel guests they are serving. Then, those same employees must be empowered to solve problems using their own judgment, without having to track down a manager to do it. This is how seamless problem solving and conflict resolution are achieved in guest service. This willingness to empower employees is part of creating a Culture of Yes within an organization.  The goal is to create an environment in which everyone is striving to say “Yes”, rather than figuring out ways to say, “No”. It is essential that this attitude be instilled in all frontline, customer-facing, employees. Finally, in order to ensure that the hotel can generate a consistent level of performance across a wide variety of situations, management must also put in place well-defined systems and standards, and then educate their employees about them. Every employee must be aware of and responsible for every standard that applies in their department. The April issue of the Hotel Business Review will document what some leading hotels are doing to cultivate and manage guest satisfaction in their operations.