Back to the floor, and lovin’ it


When was the last time you went back to the floor? My apologies if you’re currently working on the shop floor – this column isn’t for you. Please fast forward to next month’s column. If you haven’t been on the floor recently or even (dare we say it?) never worked on the floor, this is your column!

I still remember my first time on the floor many moons ago cleaning rooms in a central London hotel. Backbreaking work, but it taught me many important skills and started my love affair with hotels. And what a tempestuous affair it’s been over the years!

From cleaning rooms, I moved on to cleaning dishes, arranging flowers, running bellboy errands, serving Boy George, Peter Ustinov, and most members of the British Royal Household, and eventually running hotels. The higher I climbed up the ladder, the less time I spend on the floor. Initially, I enjoyed the office work, strategic planning, and senior management processes involved in running a hotel and yet, I always had the feeling that there’s more to do, that I’m not quite there yet, not doing a good enough job.

I met a lot of senior managers in the hospitality, leisure, and tourism industries over the years and even in my current role, I make it a point of nurturing such contacts, not just because they’re good for business, but because they keep me in touch with the operational side of our industries.

Needless to say that, I have met outstanding managers, mediocre ones, and downright awful ones – and they attract all sorts of people, sometimes fortunately, sometimes unfortunately. Yet, it struck me a long time ago that virtually all outstanding managers I met shared a common trait: the time they spend on the floor.

Once I had hit upon this, I started to think about the underlying reasons. Surely, once you’re a general manager or chief operating officer, or active elsewhere in the upper echelons of our industries, there’s more than enough to do to keep you busy? Don’t we all sometimes wish we had more than 24 hours available to us in a day? Besides, how can we leave our offices for a longer time? Emails still keep arriving, phones still keep ringing, and important papers still need to be signed. Wouldn’t all of this just pile up and smirk at us upon our return to the office?

A little while ago, I was given the opportunity to take over a little hotel in new Dubai. It’s a great property, but run down and operating far below its potential. Entering the GM’s office for the first time, I decided that this time I’d try and emulate the behaviour of many of the outstanding managers I met over the years and spend more time on the floor.

At first, it wasn’t easy and I had to set my phone timer to remind me to take regular ‘on the floor breaks, but soon, I began to see things in a different light and realised what I had been missing before.

It’s intensely satisfying to be back on the floor and I’m learning new things every day. Forget about reading ‘Voice of the Customer’ reports – just take a walk and actually talk to customers and guests! Welcome to immediate job satisfaction and a new sense of achievement! On my first day back on the floor, I cleaned a very dirty door, upsold a couple of coffees and pizzas, and had many a nice chat with guests. I also ‘accidentally’ found a way to increase a particular revenue stream by Dh6,000/month ($1,635/month).

Don’t get me wrong, I still enjoy my office time, too, but it’s now more productive and I’m more patient. Unlike on the floor, the results of my more strategic work, often only show after many weeks or months – as satisfying as this is, you clean a dirty door and it’s clean. Immediate result.

Everybody always talks about ‘work/life balance’ (it’s dead, by the way), but we should also be talking about ‘office/floor balance’, because job satisfaction and success are finely balanced affairs.

Still reading this? Stop now and take a walk on the floor. Clean a door. Serve a customer. Don’t forget to smile. Have a nice day!  Thank me later.

By Martin Kubler