Archive for February, 2011

Moment of Opportunity: Bending Inflexible Policies to Gain the Upper Hand

Tuesday, February 15th, 2011

Moment of OpportunityBending inflexible policies to gain the upper hand. By Chase LeBlanc

“I’m a catering manager at a large convention hotel. I recently lost a huge piece of business—a corporate group that was planning to hold a week of meetings here—because they wanted us to drop all service charges associated with coffee and tea for breaks and meals. My property charges more than $100 a gallon for coffee and tea, and my manager says both the price and service charges are non-negotiable. He says, “We have to make our money back in this economy.”

As a result of this inflexible policy, we lost the business to a nearby competitor, who, I’ve been told by a friend who works there, relaxed their coffee pricing and service fees to secure the booking. In addition to my hotel losing several thousand dollars in revenue, the lost business has hurt my personal bottom line as far as bonuses go. We also may have developed a reputation as a price gouger and damaged future group booking opportunities. What can I tell my manager that would convince him it’s bad business in 2011 to ignore client demands on pricing?”

Sounds like your SOP (standard operating procedure) ran into re-al-i-ty. Forces within an organization often favor promoting “the way we do things around here,” and market forces from the outside constantly demand fluidity and flexibility.

The cultural advent of auction-based web sites, high-profile outfits with their lowest-price-point positioning, and the economy being in the doldrums have produced an almost inescapable “über shopping” mentality for better deals.

The U.S. military uses a rather nifty device called an “After Action Review,” where the participants compare “the plan” of strategy/tactics to what actually happened and the consequences of decisions made under fire. This knowledge is then reviewed by those who may face the same type of scenarios as a methodology to produce continuous, real-time improvements within the “thinking and action” systems.

There may be a value for you to implement something like this after each event at your property, but more to the point, you might want to cull the best ideas after each event bid or RFP for future use. You need a little groupthink on this one. Poll industry peers or jump into a like-minded chat string and discover for yourself the new realities. How have properties similar to yours addressed the changes in the marketplace? What enticements draw in new business and keep the old?

The art of negotiation is found in your ability to evaluate the priorities of the folks on the other side of the table. They will want many things, but rarely does one side get all it’s after. Your objective is to give up the least painful parts in order to gain the most positive parts from your point of view. To do that, you must decipher what your counterpart’s weighted values are on those same items. In your case, for all you know, the folks on the other side may have been given the mandate, “Whatever you do, don’t come back here with any service charges associated with coffee or tea,” and were released from any other constraints.

Perhaps they had movement available elsewhere in the contract. Maybe you could have secured the event if you gave in on the service charges in exchange for a signed agreement (with a favorable deposit) for their next meeting. Their boss and your boss might have deemed that a workable deal.

There is also one crazy-like-a-fox-idea: Compete with yourself. Concede the coffee/tea service charges in exchange for “full boat” (you charge them back) on all sales at, for example, your “NRG Recharge Station,” where you offer fresh fruit smoothies, top-of-the-line energy bars, drinks, etc. If you match your “better choice” offerings with the interests of the attendees, you might have a win-win on your hands. The other party gets to proclaim what hardnosed bargainers they were, while you imprint a memorable experience on future guests and come out with more money in your pocket.

Chase LeBlanc is the founder and CEO of Leadagers, LLC, and is a hospitality management performance coach with more than 25 years of experience in the industry. He is also the author of High Impact Hospitality: Upgrade Your Purpose, Performance and Profits!


Monday, February 7th, 2011

Recently, I observed my five year old during his various machinations to prepare for a morning trip to the store. There’s a lot for him to do. Change out of PJ’s, find shoes and socks that match (or not), grab rhino and silver (not red) water bottle. Stuff crayons, string, and bendy wire into pockets (just in case), then check for battery life in action toy or video game. Hat, wrong coat, one glove, and game on!

I was chuckling to myself as I watched my giant, self-invented armadillo waddle to the car literally trying to hold his act together. As he was clambering inside the vehicle I spied something unusual. Peeking out of the back of his pants was not the customary one tag confirming inside-out underwear, but the heretofore unseen two tags, representing the unique choice of wearing two pair of underwear at the same time.


I just caught the WSJ story about how Delta Airlines, after getting crushed in customer service ratings is sending all of its agents to charm school. It seems that Delta had a problem – an awful big problem– showing customers that it cared about them.

Personally I’ve had a brutal past couple of weeks at the hands of “customer service” providers. From this week’s hit-parade, I’m choosing to share the interaction between myself and the apron-wearing-neo-troglodyte who was working as a cashier at a big box retailer and never stopped inhaling his super-sized soda as I set my items down and stepped up to pay. I waited until he had his fill (which would be me in a display of extreme patience) and then as the paying customer inside of me said “Wow, you just got dunked on by a full-blown uncaring attitude,” I slightly nicked him back with an upbeat, “That’s not much of a greeting” …to which he responded, “You’re lucky I didn’t spit it in your face.” Later, you can ask me how everything “after” unfolded, but for now I think most everyone is on the same page; there is an increase in super-sized sodas and a decrease in super-good service.


All of the above brings me to Zen. Much of my formative years were spent in Boulder CO, home of the University of Colorado, Naropa Institute and Jim Collins . For those of you who do not happen to be regular users of the word “Namaste,” Boulder is also the home to many climbers and runners in pursuit of Zen, whom some unenlightened locals have been known to call “Zenners.”

I left Boulder awash in “-isms.” If you have any contact with the Left Coast’s farthest outpost, it is likely that you will saddle up next to Ram Dass’s book and famous quote, “Be here now!” (I have always taken that to be both an instruction and admonishment). By living in the present moment, you offer yourself the best chance to make the most of that moment and subsequently the most of your life.  The powerful and distracting habit of thinking about “what’s coming” or “what happened“ only undermines your best present efforts.


It pains me to say this, but my kid’s brain starts doing doughnuts in the parking lot just hearing the words, “Let’s get ready to go.” All his efforts are just a smash and grab at the goal of “being ready” to the best of his 5-year-old-ability. We are working on getting him to slow down through the understanding that he is not going to be left out/behind by the rest of us. Now with less distraction he can fully devote himself to each task (underwear: check, double-check), get it right, and move on to the next step.

It may seem a bit “out there” to the folks responsible for the hiring, training, and developing of customer service employees to take a step back and begin by first teaching the concept of “full presence in the present moment” as a base line for success, but I’m going to do it anyway. Like many problems, “better customer service” might be best tackled by breaking it down into the lowest common denominator.

There is also a way to say this that might speak more directly to those holding more of a “Western mindfulness,” as handed down by parents, coaches, teachers, and parole officers everywhere, PAY ATTENTION!  Focus your intake receptors, stop cramming your craniums with up-to-the-millisecond minutia, maybe unplug an orifice or two, and you will have a better chance to make a little magic with what is before you – NOW!

This Zen approach could be considered a new customer service win–win because it offers both sides the best chance for our best possible future — me as a happy customer and “all y’all” as enlightened customer service leaders.

If you need some help with leadership training for your managers, corporate storytelling for your culture, or would like to learn how lessons from the hospitality industry apply to your customer relationships, give me a call — it’s what I do.

Wednesday, February 2nd, 2011



I started working at my first restaurant when I was fifteen years old and was glad to have found a part time job. The daily challenge of providing food and drink to an unknown number of patrons and making a business out of transforming strangers into regulars had an allure for me that continues to this day. It suited me and I stayed.

Now when I say ‘suited,’ do not mistake that for a belief that I had some sort of a special gift. I am not a famous chef, but instead I grew into the role of manager because I had a knack — a knack for thinking, talking and doing. Subsequently, I led and managed places of my own, as well as places for other folks of all sizes and styles: restaurants, taverns, nightclubs, casual service, quick-service, fast-service, entertainment complexes, single units, multiple units, local, national and U.S. government-owned.

Cha Cha Changes

People ask me about the changes to the industry that I have witnessed and I always reply that it is more complicated now, but for the most part the complications have been added to better serve, or better protect the guests and employees. Of course, the quest for profits and the whimsy of governance have also provided some interesting sparks. Change is always felt foremost by the beholder and any change (in my mind) is best defined by degrees, alter – modify – transform – revolutionize.

The fact is, if you are a manager or leader, there is an overwhelming demand for resiliency and that includes facing all matter of changes. In order to be successful with people in the hospitality industry, you must be prepared to wear many hats (assume the correct persona) when leading a team/tribe. You might have to “go against the grain” or be abrasive in the opposite direction of “who you are” to get things done. (Is this not embracing change?)

The right action at the right time (not always the way you would feel most comfortable) will most effectively address your problems. Any problem you face has two parts: (1) everything you can see or process, and (2) the course of action you take toward resolution. It is your action or inaction, not just your intention that will either resolve the problems or cause them to blow back in your face. This is why organizations and owners place a premium on problem solvers rather than problem identifiers. (“You handled that nicely” as opposed to “Thanks for handing me that bag of snakes.”)

Leadership vs. Management

Leadership enters the conversation when one is speaking about the influence/interactions/impact upon others. Management is an accepted term for a “job”…that one can get… to control/ build/ buy/et all, things. You can be a leader without management responsibilities, which is called a figurehead. If you have no other person within your span of influence (a sidewalk cart) then you can manage things without being a leader.

For a long time there has been a great deal of play given to the discourse on the “differences” between management and leadership. And yet, business management gurus of the world have long stated that most business managers have leadership built into their job description. Natural-born leaders will need to be skilled at actually managing business operations if they hope to be successful in a managerial role. Business realities dictate that if you are named to manage a department or group, you are expected to lead its direction, manage the resources, and be accountable for results, good or bad (people, performance, profits, culture, legacy, etc.).

If you have a job as a manager which includes supervision of others then you are expected to show some iota of leadership skills, as it will be on you to get the group to pull together (without breaking apart) and accomplish the tasks set forth. There are many good managers who are bad leaders and many (short lived) acceptable leaders who are bad managers.

Leaders+Managers = Leadagers

The above job likely includes driving sales, controlling costs, meeting or exceeding standards, doling out rewards and punishments, communicating up, down and across, and serving and protecting the organization, among other things. As such, you need to be part shaman-ambassador-fill-in- worker-camp counselor-traffic cop, or better yet, all leader-manager. I prefer the term leadager.

I advocate verbally compounding leader and manager to illustrate the point that if you are managing people, it is the proper terminology to use. Even though most old school folks will never make a job title out of any part of the word leadership, the fact remains that in “our world” — management and leadership are logistically inseparable.


Chase LeBlanc is the founder and CEO of Leadagers LLC, a business consultancy serving the hospitality industry.  He is the author of the soon to be published book, HIGH IMPACT HOSPITALITY: Upgrade Your Purpose, Performance and Profits! You can find it on Smashwords now @