It’s the best culture vs. strategy story I have ever forgotten. But it’s based in a hotel…which was why I remembered it last week. I was in the US for our annual Sales Conference and I arrived very late on the Sunday evening. I was tried but pleased to have made it. We stopped outside and collected our cases from the car. ‘Good evening sir’, was the friendly but formal welcome from the bellman outside the hotel, ‘is this your first stay or a return visit?’
Turns out there was renovation in the hotel foyer…he wanted to give us the right direction…as well as offering help with our luggage.
My forgotten story? A hotel’s new strategy required returning guests to be recognised automatically at check-in to allow receptionists to welcome them back personally. Hotel Management believed this personal welcome would enhance the hotel’s reputation and give them a competitive edge.
Unfortunately creation of such a booking system would take months to deliver and would cost far too much to produce. Management were unimpressed and frustrated.
Later that week, the hotel CEO was in the lobby watching one of the receptionists appearing to recognise returning guests over and over again. Moreover, the simple ‘welcome back’ was always greeted with a smile of appreciation from guests. The boss – desperate to understand how the receptionist had apparently solved the insurmountable problem – rushed over to learn the secret of guest recognition?
‘I have a deal with the bellman who carries our guest’s bags from the entrance’ explained the receptionist. ‘He always asks “is this is your first visit?” and if yes, he leaves the bags parallel to reception. If it’s a return, he puts them at right angles. Then I know.’
No new software, no memos, no slide decks no communication cascade…just simple strategic thinking in real time by people who work together, know each other and understand what their business is about.
We talked strategy a great deal last week. We always have great intent when we think strategy – what we want to do and why. I always look for simple and precise output…accurate and informative, readable and helpful. I have even been known to convince myself that my strategies are insightful and impactful with high value and great longevity. And – dare I say it – influence and control.
Who am I kidding? Experience shows that no matter what my intent, strategy generates a life of its own – documents get larger, more detailed and less digestible. When shared, output is rarely read and rapidly filed. Most recipients will carry on as before. Impact can be minimal…benefit short lived.
So what’s the alternative? We clearly have to improve. We have to analyse, learn and make choices. We have to deliver more, and better and faster. On the face of things…we absolutely need ‘strategy’.
But maybe – remembering the hotel receptionist story – what we really need would be better described as strategic thinking (by us all) as opposed to strategic planning (by a few). And whatever we do has to take account of our culture rather than in any way bypassing it…’culture eats strategy for breakfast’.
‘Culture’ – how things are done around here. Relationships are the basis of an organisational culture and are pivotal to any organisational success. Our ability to collaborate with humour, respect and energy enables us to apply strategic thinking – successful strategy – in real time. Successful strategy – and therefore success itself – happens when we think and work collaboratively. Time and effort invested in building relationships and working in collaboration always time well spent.
I had a tiring, collaborative and successful week….