Leading successfully during major uncertainty

Trust in leadership is the key to surviving and thriving in periods of major uncertainty.

Restaurants, hotels, seniors living and other hospitality organizations that continue to find their way through 2020 amid the uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic have done so, in large part, due to strong leadership. Some hospitality sectors like large scale events and catering will need an extended period to find and adjust to their new normal. Hospitality organizations in others have survived - and in some cases, thrived - by creating new virtual events, streamlining menus, and enhancing guest experiences. Ensuring their success continues, and indeed grows to full recovery, means hard-wiring trust in the leadership that helped get them there.

Building that trust takes effort, and in these times decisive and swift action is required. Leaders must guide this process consistently to help their organizations and stakeholders along this journey.

Some of the key approaches resilient leaders use to positively support an organization’s success along the way include:

Shifting mindsets:

With the onset of the pandemic and the unanswerable questions around its severity and duration, most hospitality organizations took a reactionary stance, at least to start. Yet the uncertainty continues, coupled with ever-changing data and information. This sustained ambiguity has placed huge strain on all stakeholders - investors, employees and guests alike.

To successfully navigate the recovery process, stakeholders need to be focused on the future - what the organization’s next steps are, and the ones after those. To build trust, leaders in restaurants, hotels, seniors’ living and other hospitality organizations can highlight how their organizations are thoughtfully planning their safe transition through, and re-emergence from, the pandemic. Everything from technology, to buffets, to meetings and events will change significantly after the worst of the pandemic is over. By visibly shifting from simply reacting to taking control of future planning, they can build stakeholder confidence and ease the stress of the unknown

Reinventing through innovation:

Resilient hospitality leaders understand that the only certainty during the pandemic is uncertainty. Organizations can leverage that uncertainty as part of their recovery efforts by using it as an opportunity to encourage innovation.

By shifting the organization’s mindset from a reactionary stance to a more proactive reinvention (or pivot) attitude, reinvention through innovation allows hospitality organizations to build trust in leadership and continue the journey to recovery. Shifts that are currently working for some of them include:

  • Probing for shifting guest needs and behaviours in the new normal (assessing guest plans for virtual, in-person and hybrid events, etc.)
  • Rethinking promotions by creating new ways to celebrate:
  • Buffalo Wings & Rings held a weekly virtual happy hour, each with a different theme; The Facebook Live events drew 80,000 participants and a $40,000 bump in sales through delivery and takeout orders.
  • A popular QSR chain created Date Night, where couples waiting in the drive-thru line were treated to violin music and free roses; Some restaurants provided a link to a meal-themed playlist with online orders.
  • Some hotels are now offering deep discounts for locals just wanting to get out of the house and treat themselves to a “night away”.
  • Focusing menu options:
  • Nearly a third of U.S. restaurants (28%) shrank their menus after the pandemic hit, according to the loyalty marketing company Rewards Network; This included larger organizations like Taco Bell to Ruth’s Chris to Terrapin, an independent restaurant in Rhinebeck, N.Y., that has been advertising the reductions as proof of its commitment to food quality; Operators say they’ve been surprised by how readily the cutbacks have streamlined operations, shaved food and labor costs and quickened throughput - typically without dampening sales.

Demonstrating core values and authenticity:

In a time of great uncertainty, hospitality organizations can demonstrate they’re a part of the community, and can be a force for good. This is an opportunity for hotels, restaurants and seniors living organizations to demonstrate their core values, to act with purpose and to show they care about their stakeholders. Right now, Canadians are focused on their families, their friends, and their communities. They also care about the environment and global health. Hospitality organizations can demonstrate how their core values align with those of the larger community.

And being authentic can sometimes mean simply listening to your people, whether they are employees or guests. According to Marriott’s CEO Arne Sorenson, who was Chief Executive magazine’s CEO of the Year in 2019. “You have to keep your ears open,” he said. “By listening to them, you pull people into the team and let them tell you what they’re thinking. You can empathize with the perspectives people have. That’s the most important part of leadership.”

Communicating your recovery game plan:

It’s not enough to be “doing” or “planning” just in the boardroom. Effective leaders understand the need for regular communication, sharing information consistently with their communities, shareholders, employees and customers. Full transparency about the COVID-19 situation, the challenges and how the organization is dealing with them is essential. Location-specific virtual townhalls, social media, e-newsletters and internal blogs/vlogs are all communication channels that can serve to keep stakeholders informed.

New channels provide excellent opportunities to talk about the organization’s vision for the long-term, helping to redefine it and make it more agile and ready to take advantage of its full potential, post-pandemic. Messages can focus on new successes– i.e. rolling out new takeout menus or curbside pickup, etc. They can also spotlight new opportunities that are currently being explored – i.e. apps being developed for contactless menus, or to improve the online ordering experience on mobile devices.

The pressure of uncertain times won’t stop as the economy reopens. It’s becoming increasing clear that recovery will take time and we’re on the way to a new normal. That includes a shifting future of hospitality.

At JRoss, we’re seeing hospitality leaders emerge who have demonstrated the skills and qualities required to successfully guide and transition their companies, their teams and their communities through these unprecedented times. The current challenging and uncertain times have created tremendous opportunities for leadership at every level and in every area within today’s hospitality organizations.

To learn more on this and other hospitality trends and insights you can check out our blog.

Written by Patricia Viscount and Rob Fisher