Recently, there has been much attention paid to the concept of ‘inclusion.’ Do you understand this concept well enough to be able to say that your business is truly ‘inclusive?’ It seems simple enough; given an opportunity to include people, whether they be guests, colleagues, or associates, we should endeavor to be proactive and to follow the approach that a fundamental of hospitality is that we should always strive to work harder and dig deeper to understand and appreciate those around us. The challenge for us is how to be inclusive with our guests as well as with our colleagues and associates. The formula for such inclusion may not be the same for each.
Without venturing into the political arena, it is fair to say that the notion of inclusion has different meanings for different individuals. However, what should be agreed upon is that a belief in inclusion is just that, a belief. We believe in inclusion (or not) because it is a concept that resonates with us from within and not because it is part of a training manual or a checklist that our higher-ups use to evaluate our performance. So when hotel brands and management companies talk about their corporate culture, and the importance of providing more to their employees and their guests than just a paycheck or a guestroom, where does ‘inclusion’ come into play?
The idea of inclusion stems from understanding. The fact that we know that a particular guest prefers a king-sized bed and a foam pillow is valuable information. However, what would happen if we attempted to engage our guests on a higher level? What if we offered our guests an opportunity to communicate with us about what matters most to them beyond the scope of a hotel stay? By the same token, what opportunities do we provide to our colleagues and associates to communicate what matters most to them beyond the scope of a day at work? Are we sensitive to their home environment, to issues that may be occurring outside the workplace that affect their performance? Do we even make an attempt to understand such dynamics? Inclusion is an effort to understand not just the tangible hotel guest/employee preferences but to foster a greater atmosphere of sensitivity and of openness, where all are welcome to discuss their thoughts, ideas and feelings freely.
In today’s business environment, technology offers us enormous business development opportunities; in data capture, in market intelligence, and in the preferences of our customers themselves, just to name a few. While such opportunities can assist in our efforts to grow our business, are we maximizing these same opportunities to become more inclusive in our day-to-day operations? How much of this information is being used to truly understand what matters most, whether to our customers or to our colleagues?
Today we consider it important to use the guest’s name, to greet them warmly, and to quickly and efficiently get them from their arriving mode of transportation to their room. We do this because history and practice tell us that this is what the guest wants. However, do we really know what else is important to that guest? Similarly, we work hard to call our colleagues by name, and to offer words of encouragement as appropriate. But beyond the scope of a day at work, do we know what truly motivates our colleagues and associates?
The point is that ‘inclusion’ is about understanding, and should be a part of our hotels’ and our companies’ cultures; while we provide clean rooms, high-quality food, and other tangible items, we should also provide an environment in which colleagues, employees, and guests alike can interact out of a genuine desire to do so, and not out of some feeling of necessity. For the betterment of our businesses, an environment of inclusion is clearly preferable to an environment of exclusion, or at least of indifference.
It’s up to us to hire the right people, to encourage the right behaviors, and along the way teach those people how to take care of our guests. When we do this well, everyone (the guest, the associate, the management) benefits. Teaching job skills is easy; “serve from the left, clear from the right,” etc. Hiring the right people who have values that are consistent with our own, and who can work in—and more importantly promote--an environment of understanding, is a far more daunting task. It is also arguably one of our greatest responsibilities.