Fire Drills and Problem-Solving for Hospitality Leadagers

From Chase’s Hotel F and B Staffing Doctor Column

“I’m a banquet captain at a large convention property in the Southwest. On a recent slow day, we had a fire drill for the entire staff of several hundred people. I watched as everyone went through the motions, laughed, and took their time in evacuating the building. The person leading the drill, who is a senior manager, was laughing and joking as well, and it bothered me. What if we had a full house of guests—perhaps a banquet in progress—and a real disaster happened? I’m certain our staff wouldn’t know what to do, and there would be panic. I brought this up to the emergency team leader, and he said I’m “worrying too much.” Since this senior manager doesn’t seem to care, should I go to human resources, with the goal of having this person removed as the emergency team leader? Obviously, he could make my job more difficult or perhaps even have me fired if he finds out.

Did the hijinks start right off the bat, or did the merriment begin after the alarm was confirmed to be a drill? You might argue that anytime you’re at work it is serious business, but the hospitality industry is made better by sparkling personalities, and quelling them on a perceived bonus break will always be an uphill climb. You might have to travel far and wide to find a hospitality crew lined up at attention in a parking lot.

The right thing to do, of course, is to have any fire drill training treated with proper awareness and respect. Any fire can go from bad to worse in the space of a few heartbeats. An uncontrolled fire is a wickedly bad problem, and all precautions and measures (including fire drills) should be undertaken with professionalism to prepare for an emergency of this nature.

But let’s be honest—people become complacent with rote routines. The mundane becomes boring, and these days, chasing attention spans is taxing, like sprinting after a dine-and-dasher. If this is the status quo at your hotel, then this is certainly a case where crowd-sourced wisdom will lead everyone astray. Personally, I am a follower of the “how you practice is how you play” school of hard knocks. In most business settings, the leaders with the most followers (boss or not) are those who model the desired behaviors prior to attempting to teach the desired behaviors, thereby avoiding potential mixed messages.

If, as you say, bringing to light legitimate concerns could result in retaliation, then there is a raft of other potential problems at this property. All enlightened operators have an open door policy where there is some mechanism in place for feedback to reach the folks that do care and can change things.

B.C., you must weigh out your personal values and survey the culture that surrounds you. It is for you to decide if direct action is worth the risk. You could also choose to turn this problem into an opportunity by navigating the situation rather than meeting it head-on. Most of the folks you work for are looking for problem solvers, not just problem identifiers. Rather than dump this problem on somebody else, why not think through how you can contribute your talents, commitment, and passion toward the results you seek? Could you execute ways to enliven or engage your compadres and get everyone’s competitive juices flowing? A safety contest perhaps (fire drills included), where rewards, worked out in trade with the hotel, are doled out to the top performing teams?

The only limit is your imagination when it comes to problem solving. This will give you something constructive to work on and might take care of your issue. Who knows—you may even get a little career boost by showing that problem solving resides in your wheelhouse.

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!

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