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Leadership Case Study…

WeAskU Inn: Case Study

The WeAskU Inn, located in Southwestern United States, has a wonderful geographic location, being very scenic and easily accessible by air or ground travel. Although the buildings and grounds are beautiful, the architect had little experience in designing hotels. The WeAskU Inn is composed of seven buildings separated by large areas of green space. The sprawling layout causes many logistical problems. Six of the seven buildings are three-story residential units, each containing 100 rooms, all of which have view of the surrounding mountains and desert. The seventh and central building contains the lobby, meeting rooms, and restaurants. The resort has 18 tennis courts, 2 large swimming pools, a golf course, and a fully equipped health spa. The sheer size and extent of these facilities has made them somewhat difficult to staff and very costly to maintain.

The arrangement of the WeAskU Inn’s three restaurants, all in the main building of the complex, also poses some difficulties for the frontline staff. Two of the restaurants are served by the same kitchen, but are managed separately. The third is a rooftop gourmet restaurant that has its own manager, chef and kitchen, but no dishwashing facilities. The service elevator that accesses the rooftop restaurant connects to a corridor on the ground floor that leads to the main kitchen. The wait staff entry to banquet rooms is also off this same corridor, which is used as the primary storage area for kitchen and serving equipment. Farther down the corridor is the Housekeeping Office, which contains the laundry facilities. This situation is further complicated by the labor supply, which, although plentiful, is for the most part made up of unskilled workers. In addition, there are often language barriers between management and the hourly staff.

The WeAskU Inn has not been as profitable as the owners, a group of retired executives from Detroit and Chicago, had expected. It has been running well below the 80 percent occupancy and $180 average room rate that were forecasted for the property. James Adams was hired as the new General Manager one month ago to improve both the quality and the level of profitability.

Deciding where to focus his attention was very difficult under the circumstances, but the Housekeeping Department appeared to be in the most chaotic state, if not a total train wreck. The former General Manager, Cliff Axton, had terminated Jack LeMay, Director of Housekeeping, just weeks prior to his own departure. Mr. Axton felt that even though Jack had a strong technical background, his lack of managerial experience was the cause of most of the problems in housekeeping. In his place, Axton hired Oscar Hand, a knowledgeable veteran with 20 years of management experience. Oscar had a reputation of high performance with a large commercial food manufacturer. Although Oscar had never worked for a hotel, he was well versed in sanitation procedures and had previously supervised a large custodial staff. Oscar’s management philosophy was simple: be firm, be fair, and run a tight ship. He believed that he had to make a quick, sharp impact on his new employers to convey the “shake-up” message.

Oscar felt that there were two major departmental changes he had to make. One was to increase his control over the housekeeping staff, and the other was to reduce costs. To accomplish the first, he reorganized the structure of the department and devised a system to closely supervise the housekeepers to ensure that rooms were properly cleaned. In the process, he eliminated one housekeeper and assigned each of those remaining an additional room to service. To motivate his staff, he thought it would be appropriate to establish goals, which he dictated to the housekeepers, and to provide them with feedback regarding progress towards these goals. Attacking the cost issue, he decided that the department should cut the use of polysorbinate by 10 percent, as it is an expensive cleaning agent. Finally, Oscar obtained input from his boss, the Rooms Division Director, to determine where he should focus to improve the quality of service. As a result of this conversation, he prioritized three areas of the hotel that merited immediate attention.

Based on the goals and priorities Oscar developed, he assigned work teams to each of his three projects. In addition, he provided each team with a specific timetable for accomplishing various stages of his plan and assured them that he would closely monitor their progress to let them know how they were doing.

To Oscar’s surprise, following all of his changes the hotel experienced a decrease in the quality of housekeeping service and behavior from his staff that bordered on insubordination, especially from two supervisors, Maria Rios and Glenda Wyatt. Maria and Glenda had openly defied his demands to reduce the use of the cleaning agent as he directed. He punished Maria, issuing her three days off without pay, but found his strategy to be a near catastrophe, as almost half of the housekeepers called in sick on the day she was suspended. He was also plagued with the problem of often not being able to find his employees, who seemed to disappear for long periods of time. When he questioned Glenda about this, she replied, “It’s a big place to cover, and the housekeepers have to spend a lot of time walking between buildings to clean rooms and get supplies. It is not their fault that things were spread out.” Glenda also took this time with him to complain about the crowded corridor outside the Housekeeping Office, which all of them had to pass through every time they needed supplies. At the beginning and end of each shift it was especially difficult, as they collided when punching the time clock. Oscar was at a loss as to what he should do. He had just received a note on his desk calling him to the General Manager’s office.

1.) Using your knowledge of leadership so far and experience describe what you think may have caused the situation and why?

I think that Oscar took too much of a drastic plan to start out with and didn’t consult with any of his current employees. He walked into a new situation “blind” and without taking the time to actually figure out what was causing the root problems he jumped right on trying to solve the surface problems. When you are new to a management roll I don’t think that you should jump right to making drastic changes like Oscar did with his “shake-up.” He didn’t earn his teams respect but started out “shaking things up” and firing/ suspending people who gave him push back. This is a very Machiavelli way to start out a new role and inspires more fear then it does trust.

2.) What was wrong with Oscar’s plan, both in the planning and execution?

As it looks on paper the plan was a good idea, because having more control and cutting cost is a good thing. There are much better ways to gain “control” of your staff then just forcibly taking control.  What should have been done was to bring the staff together and talk about what problems they are having that make their jobs harder to do. This not only builds trust and comradeship it shifts control to you in a respectful and peaceful way. When it comes to cutting cost, sometimes the more expensive cleaners do work the best and may not be the best way to cut cost. Maybe the root problems like the crowded hallway causing congestion when it comes time to clock out are raising the cost of labor and this could be a way to cut cost. The next big problem with the execution was that he didn’t talk to his supervisors at all. The way the case study is written it actually sounds that he feels threatened by them and is labeling there push back to his ideas as insubordination.

3.) What should be done now to resolve the situation?

The biggest thing that needs to be done to try and fix the problems that Oscar has caused is that he needs to start talking to his staff, and listening to what they have to say. One of the biggest things that I have already learned about leadership is that you won’t always have the answer, and sometimes your staff will be able to think of a solution that you may not have ever thought of. With how big the hotel is something that could help improve communication is as simple as using radios to keep in contact with his staff as they go about cleaning the hotel. In any leadership situation one of the most important things is to be able to talk and listen to what your team is telling you. If Oscar can take a step back and relax his leadership style he may be able to build a two way dialog with his staff and build success.

4.) Discuss or describe a similar situation that you may have encountered or been witness to in your environment. Feel free to draw upon work experience, personal interactions or educational incidences. In the interest of privacy, and to protect the innocent, please omit identifying information. Try not to get tangled up in the symptoms. Focus on the leadership issues at play here.

I have not started at my internship yet so I cannot talk anything in my current situation but I can talk about past jobs where I have seen situations that are a little bit like this. In my most recent job before coming to school our GM was fired and when a new GM was hired he started out with cleaning house. The problem with this is that it created an atmosphere of fear and people who normally felt like they could speak up and try and make changes for the better kept quiet and the customers suffered. It wasn’t until the next quarter’s customer feedback reports came in that he realized that something was wrong. He organized focus group meetings with randomly selected people from around the building to talk about the problems. He also had a member of HR present so that no-one would be deterred or afraid to speak their mind. At first it was slow to build up the trust with the employees again but when the next quarter’s customer feedback reports came in we had not only brought our numbers back to where they were before be we had also increased them by an extra 3%.


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