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Sometimes a Cigar Is More than Just a Cigar

Part A

As I stood on the first floor landing overlooking the reception area at a resort hotel where I was staying, I observed very early in the morning, when the reception area was deserted, the front desk manager who entered from a side door. The receptionist, who couldn’t see the front desk manager because the door was to the left and slightly behind her, was smoking a cigarette at the desk, arranging papers, working on the computer, apparently preparing for the day.

Simultaneously, the GM, still talking with someone outside, backed through the front door into the reception area. No sooner did the receptionist hear the GM’s voice and see him than she put out the cigarette and hid the ash tray. The GM smiled as he passed by the receptionist and went on to his office. Later in the day the FDM wanted to talk with me about the incident.

“Is this a problem?” I asked. “Do you really want to be concerned? Maybe it isn’t worth your time. Just ignore it and it will go away by itself.”

“What are you crazy?” he responded. “I can’t let this go on. She knows the rules allow NO smoking on the job. It’s posted everywhere, and I’ve told her at least a hundred times. No, I’ve got to do something about this. I’ll go talk to her.”

Answer the following questions once you have read Part A.

  1. What do you think the discussion will center on? How do you think it will go?

I think that it will be a conversation about employees breaking the rules. In this case it is smoking on the job but it sounds like it could be a bigger issue of “rule breaking.” The author of the story sounds like he might be an outside consultant, or a blind auditor. We know that he is not the Front Desk Manager or the GM at least. I think this will be a conversation where both parties will have a chance to learn from a situation.

  1. What’s the problem here? Does it need to be solved? When?

I think that the problem at hand isn’t so much about the employee smoking at her station, but is more about the root problem of employees not listing or following the rules. If this is actually the case then it needs to be corrected quickly but depending on how far the disrespect of the rules goes it could be a case where a leader is actually a manager.

  1. What might you offer as a solution to prevent the problem from happening again?

I would recommend that both the FDM and the actual employee be called into a group meeting that was moderated by the author. This way they can talk about the seriousness of the employee smoking at her desk after being told several times not to. They can also address why she is not listing to the FDM and address and issues in his management/ leadership style. It is going to take communication not matter what the outcome may be.

Once you have answered all three questions, read Part B of the Case Study.

Part B:

This is What Happened Next…

“First,” I said, “think. In the best of all worlds, from the customer’s perspective, what is great performance in this situation?”

“I don’t want her to smoke on the job” was his quick reply. “It offends non-smoking customers and we can’t afford that. If we are going to be the resort of choice, we have to appeal to all customers. Besides we have a commitment to delighting customers. How can you delight customers when you offend some of them by smoking? Look, the ‘No Smoking rule is posted in the employee work area. No, she’s clearly in the wrong. Maybe I should fire her and be done with it. Hire me a non-smoker, that’s the answer.

“Before you fire her, let us get it straight. You want her not to smoke because you want to delight customers, right? And that way you can be the resort of choice, right?”

“Absolutely,” he said shaking his head in affirmation.

I continued, “Then in the best of worlds you really want her to be so involved with delighting customers that she only thinks about helping them, being a better host, and providing a great atmosphere, and not about smoking, right?”

He nodded his head in agreement. We spent the next ten or fifteen minutes defining additional dimensions of great performance for the receptionist.

As he rose to leave, obviously to talk to the receptionist, I asked, “Before you go, could you answer another question? What is the problem? I ask because how you define the problem will largely determine how you go about solving it. Define the problem as smoking and you’ve got an addiction problem on your hands. That definition leads to offering smoking-cessation classes and arranging break times and smoking areas. Is that a good way to spend your time? Define the problem as a rule-infraction matter, and you are in the CIA business, sneaking around catching people doing something wrong. Is that what you want to do? Isn’t this a performance problem? She isn’t doing a great job. Isn’t this a vision problem/ She isn’t living the vision.”

“I see what you are saying. This is a bigger issue than just smoking. The issue is the heart of what we want to accomplish around here. I need to deal with the bigger issues, so that we can be the resort of choice. I see what you mean now.”

“Wait one more minute,” I said. “Who owns the responsibility for this problem? Who’s in the best position to fix it?”

“That’s easy,” he replied. “I own it and I’m going to fix it by talking to the receptionist and reminding her of her responsibility to delight customers by not smoking.”

“What makes you think this talk will be any more productive than all the others you’ve had with her in the past? You’ve talked with her before, right? And you saw what happened. What’s going to make this any different?”

“I’m not sure. Any suggestions?”

“Let’s first look at who owns the problem. Who can take responsibility for fixing the receptionists performance problem?”

“Obviously, only the receptionist. She’s got to be responsible for living the vision: for not smoking, for being a great hostess, and for doing all the things that delight customers.”

“Right. And what are you doing or not doing that prevents her from delighting customers?”

“I wonder,” he said thoughtfully. “I don’t know. Maybe I haven’t made it clear enough to her. Maybe I haven’t been forceful enough in forcing the rules and the vision. I just don’t know. What should I do?”

“Probably the best place to begin is to find out where the receptionist’s ideas are. You might do that with a series of questions. The first one would be ‘What is great performance on your job?’ Listen carefully for the items you have on your list, including not smoking. Discuss with her and come to some conclusions. Then ask her, ‘What obstacles prevent you from realizing great performance?’ Focus the discussion on those items that either you or she can control or directly influence. Then ask her, ‘Who owns the obstacles?” She should see right away that she owns most of them. Ask her what you do or don’t do that enables her to remove obstacles or prevents her from it. Let her tell you what you can do to help her be a great performer. Those items then become the ones you own. Then the payoff question: What actions will the owners take to get rid of the obstacles? Seed that discussion by volunteering to take several actions to remove the biggest obstacles you own.”

 Answer the following questions once you have read Part B.

  1. How does this differ from what you posted in Part B?

It doesn’t differ to much from what I was talking about in part one. I said that the FDM had an opportunity to learn from his reaction and the author pointed this out to them in part two. There was a little bit of talk about the employee smoking at her station but then it changed to talking about the root cause of the problem. It goes on to talk about whom actually needs to own up to the situation at hand.

  1. Does the focus of “what the guest perceives “Great Performance” is change your leadership approach? How?

Currently working in an open kitchen has made me change the way I work, talk, and act when in the public eye. Everything we do is to put on a show for the guest. We still have to cook great tasting food. In the kitchen it is all about team work, communication, and timing. We are putting on a show of great performance because for our level of resort it is all about what the guest perceives.

  1. How did the focus presented demonstrate the difference between the Head Buffalo approach and the Lead Goose approach?

To be honest I don’t really understand the point of the article. It starts out as a case to really learn how to work with employee who won’t listen from the point of view of a good leader. Instead we get it turned around and we talk about who owns the situation. I understand that it was a learning moment for the Front of House Manager but I wished the article would also have addressed the other issue presented in Part A. I don’t think that either leadership approach would fit this situation. There are parts of both that almost fit this situation but I don’t think that enough information is given about the author to make a judgment on what approach would work best.

  1. Discuss or describe a similar situation that you may have encountered or been witness to in YOUR environment. Feel free to draw on work experience, personal interactions or educational incidences. In the interest of privacy, and to protect the innocent, please omit identifying information

Part of the problem for me with this type of situation is that I have not seen or experienced a situation like this. I have never had a co-work smoke at their desk while on duty. Also I have always worked in places where if you disregarded the rules that blatantly multiple times you would be fired. It didn’t matter if it was a good leader or a bad manager there was a strong tolerance for the rules of the company. I don’t honestly think a situation like this will occur except in examples like this. Where I work currently is “at will emplacement” state so I could be fired or let go for any reason at all, and the same was true when I worked in Vermont. Back home in Kansas the jobs I had still followed the rules and people got fired or let go after three strikes, because the company realized that they where costing them more then they where making.


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