Sunil shares insights to key hard and soft skills for youth

Tuesday, 31 July 2012 00:52 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

I must thank the Sri Lanka Institute of Tourism and Hotel Management Chairman Chandra Mohotti and the Director General Senaka Wijewardena for inviting me to be the Chief Guest at this graduation ceremony of Sri Lanka Institute of Tourism and Hotel Management for 2011.

It is a great pleasure for me for four reasons to grace this important occasion as your chief guest where 48 young men and women will graduate and walk out to face the realities of the corporate world.

Firstly, I myself am a graduate of the Ceylon Hotel School (as your institute was formerly known) having graduated in 1974, 38 years ago as part of the sixth batch.

Secondly, Mohotti and Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority Chairman Dr. Nalaka Godahewa are both friends. In fact Mohotti in a way is partly responsible for my current career status having me join the Galadari Meridian as the Training Manager in 1984 during the pre-opening stage of the hotel. He was then the Rooms Division Manager and we were among the first few employees. Dr. Godahewa and I have been Rotarians attached to the same Rotary Club Colombo Down Town and have known each other for many years.

Thirdly, I myself have been a faculty member of your Institute as a Senior Lecturer from 1979 to 1982.

The Fourth reason is that –Wijewardene and Senior Lecturer Erandhi Wijegunawardene were studying for their diplomas and I happened to be a faculty member of them, during my tenure with the institute.

In my brief talk today, I will share with you some of my thoughts from my personal experiences on aspects that I believe make people and hotels successful, apart from what we usually or traditionally do in hotel operations.

As you graduate today you leave with a passport and a window of opportunity for you to create your own destiny in terms of your career and I might add that through your performance on the job once you are employed, you will positively or negatively either directly or indirectly contribute to the success or otherwise of the hotel that you will be employed.

With your qualifications, your employer will expect you to have the technical competence. The degree of that competence will vary from individual to individual. But in my mind the four factors that will differentiate each individual is the level of commitment/passion/work ethics and people skills that you display and bring to the job. Those who are committed to their jobs/who are passionate about the work they do/who are of high integrity and with positive interpersonal skills will stand out.

This is not the end of your journey with respect to learning. It is actually the beginning. Engage in continuous development of your knowledge both in terms of technicalities and business processes. Continue to upgrade your knowledge with new trends and techniques in the hotel industry. What you know today will be redundant tomorrow. The industry has become dynamic with technology, creativity and innovation. If you become static your property too will lose its competitive edge. You owe it to your employers within your job profile to keep your property at the highest level of quality in every aspect of its operations.

Within your scope, engage in customer research, get to know your customer and their profiles. This will help you to service your customers the way they want to be treated – different strokes for different folks. Understand and live up to the Customer Promise of your hotel, set performance standards for yourself aligned to the business goals and the standards of performance of the hotel, go beyond customer expectations in service delivery, where there are customer complaints and whilst addressing the complaint focus on service recovery and customer satisfaction improvement. Build service recovery mechanisms into your operations and constantly evaluate ways of improving your service delivery channels. Support and implement learning and development initiatives. Create a learning culture within your hotel and identify and retain your best employees. Otherwise, you will find our hotels are staffed by expatriates not only at management level as is happening now but at skilled levels as well, in the very near future.

For you to be a successful manager which I believe is the aim of all the graduates here today you must gain a fair knowledge about information technology, marketing concepts, finance and human resource management. With respect, I must say most of us graduates in the past have failed to focus in these areas which sometimes may have impeded our career growth.

What I have so far spoken about is what I call the hard stuff. Lastly I would like to spend a few minutes on the soft stuff. This soft stuff which I am going to talk to you about, you either have them or don’t have them. Those of you who have them please improve on them. Those who don’t have them endeavour to cultivate them. I have identified 13 attributes to share with you from my personal experience in my 38 year career both in the hotel industry and the Human Resource professions.

Develop a positive mental attitude towards everything you do and look at things positively.

Empathise with others – your guests and employees. Place yourself in their shoes and look at from their point of view.

Be self-disciplined and self-regulated. You should strive to inculcate honesty and integrity which is of paramount importance. Even the most promising star with high potential will be of no value if he or she flouts discipline.

Be firm with your staff. At the same time be fair to them. Don’t indulge in favouritism.

Lead by example. Don’t do anything which you would not expect others to do.

Be approachable and visible to your staff and guests. As you go up in your career ladder there could be a tendency to become less visible to your guests, not so much to your employees; Be an active listener and a good communicator; Be a coach and a role model to your staff; Engage in mentoring; Have a mind of your own; Engage in networking and get to know people; Walk around your property or your dept constantly – be hands on rather than hands off; Develop a sense of urgency in everything you do and be consistent and predictable.

Many of you may not have realised that your institute may be the only higher educational seat of learning with two significant milestones in the 46 year history of the institute. First, that is, it has not had to shut down a single day due to strikes by the students or faculty and secondly, every person who has passed out is employed with none of the students who have passed out being unemployed.

This is a tribute to the past and present administrators and faculty of the institute.

The world is your oyster, Imagine yourself 30 years from now, invited to speak like me at your former institutes graduation ceremony. What will you have accomplished, what will you speak of, what words of wisdom, forged from your own experiences, will you share with generation Z who are yet to be born?

I end with a quote from the famous American writer Mark Twain: “20 years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbour. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”

Thank you everybody for listening and good luck to the graduates.