A Baker’s Dozen of Strategies for Hotel Chief Engineers – By John Hogan

25 06 2010

‘Plans are only good intentions unless they immediately degenerate into hard work.’A prolific writer, business consultant and lecturer, he introduced many management concepts that have been embraced by corporations around the world.

Peter Drucker (1909 – 2005) is known as the father of modern management.

A point from Peter Drucker is being used to introduce this segment on hotel engineering because Drucker is frequently credited as being the inventor of the ‘discipline of management.’ While he did not address hotels or hospitality specifically in his 39 books, his messages of organized development and conceptual management have endured into the 21st century.

The housekeeping department in a hotel typically has the largest number of staff in most hotels, but it the engineering team that has responsibility for maintaining and operating the ENTIRE facility. Whether it is a 25 rooms-only property, a 5 star luxury resort or a 3,000 room convention/casino hotel, it falls to the Chief Engineer to ensure the facility is comfortable, safe and efficient.

Many smaller hotels do not have full time engineers or what are sometimes called ‘maintenance’ staff. This unfortunate situation often leads to a needless rapid depreciation of the quality of the facility in many hotels that could have been avoided with adequate staffing and attention. Drucker’s point about planning is very appropriate in our industry – it requires focused, hard work to properly care for our facility and guests.

In my career, I have had the privilege of working with four outstanding chief engineers. Each of these people differed in age, formal education and sometimes in resources but each of them had a complete commitment to service and excellence. I have used some of their lessons in sharing this segment on ‘A Baker’s Dozen” of Strategies for Hotel Chief Engineers.

1. Learn to look at your hotel from an operational perspective as if you owned it. The most successful chief engineers are like the most successful executive housekeepers – they are those who take a ‘pride of ownership’ in their approach to what needs to be done at their property. Chief Engineers recognize how critical a guest’s first impressions is, whether it is the entrance to the hotel, public meeting or lobby space or the guest accommodations. Engineering and Housekeeping share responsibility for lobbies, entrances, hallways, pool and patio areas, meeting space, offices, storage and linen areas, the laundry and many related areas. Engineering must keep the food & beverage outlets properly lit and comfortable, as well maintaining all kitchen and behind the scenes equipment. This means developing and implementing ongoing plans to maintain property, equipment, grounds and other assets in an ‘up to standards’ state of use and repair.

2. Know about the condition of the property from first-hand experience. Personally and regularly inspect all portions of your hotel, including every type of accommodation and the adjacent areas. Being aware of changes in the hotel can also help management to be better aware of potential problems. Strong and successful engineers plan the work of their department effectively, using activity logs, inventory control, setting standards and regularly reviewing maintenance schedules to maximize the life of equipment. This also means regular tours of ‘heart of the hotel’ spaces and out of the way places such as roofs, storage areas and equipment rooms.

3. Know your budgets, costs and results. Engineering budgets usually include energy, equipment, staffing and supplies. The outstanding chief engineers are those who are able to often obtain higher compensation for their staff by effectively reducing turnover and managing their total budgets while exceeding guest expectations. This means detailed preventative maintenance programs for all hotel equipment

Budgets need not be a mystery and most caring general managers should be pleased to share that portion of their operating budgets because it helps everyone. Chief engineers usually oversee a number of vendor contracts that are logically in the day to day realm of the engineering department, such as energy, elevators, fire systems and/or waste removal.

4. Work with the front office management to capitalize on forecasts for long term efficiencies. Operating budgets are usually approved by the ownership or Management Company in a remote location. The engineering budgets are partially tied to occupancy, but they do have exceptions for preventative work or repairs. Working with the front office manager and director of housekeeping can allow planning for deep cleaning in slower periods or replacement of capital items on a schedule that does not interfere with periods of high activity. Plan as necessary with special projects and renovations of any kind

5. Share the professional expectations provided to you from ownership and or management clearly with all members of the staff. Newcomers to the industry sometimes imagine huge profits when they compare their hourly wage with the rooms’ rates paid by guests. Those of us who have been in the industry for more than just a few years realize that profits and losses go in cycles, and that it is important to share the realities of the cost of doing business at all levels. All staff should understand the total costs of ownership, including support staff such as engineering and sales, franchise or royalty fees, management company fees, the concepts of debt service and more. Make those expectations understood, explain the value and rationale to all staff and be certain these expectations can be measured fairly.

6. Hold regular one-on-one sessions with all direct reports in this department. including the 2nd and/or 3rd shift staff. These sessions should not be formal ‘reviews’ but guide posts to reinforce positive actions or to correct a potentially dangerous course of action. When I first started doing these more than 20 years ago, the 1st time was awkward because people were ‘gun-shy’ or afraid of hidden agendas. When it becomes apparent that these are honest dialogues, they sessions evolved into the opportunities to clear the air on potential problems. In small teams, these are critical.

7. When recruiting people, pay attention to the ‘human’ resource role: balance ‘high touch’ and ‘high tech’. Most engineering teams are relatively small, so recruiting and selecting people wisely is critical to success. An unfilled position is not really a savings as there will be overtime or burn-out from other staff.

• Encourage your General Manager to pay competitively or better and lead in incentives.

• Ensure that room maintenance requests are handled in a prompt and courteous manner.

• Review all guest comment cards to ensure problems are identified and corrected in a timely manner

• As Chief Engineer, recognize your team regularly with ‘thank you’s ‘and expressions of appreciation. Retain the champions by whatever it takes to keep them. Give them the training to succeed and then share in their successes with incentives and the chance to be part of a very cohesive and proud team.

8. Maintain and increase training. Supervise and train all Engineering staff in Customer Service, Empowerment, Standard Operating Procedures and Loss Prevention Standards.

a. There is no excuse today for inadequately prepared or untrained staff. There is enormous training support available at very low cost online from the major brands and a wealth of support from CDs, books, newsletters and the internet.

b. When running high occupancy, many managers claim to be ‘too busy’ to train. When occupancy is flat or declining, cutting ongoing training to ‘save money’ will really cost more as it will drive the good staff to consider leaving and the loyal customers to the competition because it appears you don’t care. Remember ‘the only thing worse than a trained staff that leaves, is an untrained staff that stays to service your customers.’

c. Today’s successful and confident engineers will also embrace technology in training. Use of computers and training DVDs should be the norm for new topics in energy savings, the GREEN emphasis in many hotels and related topics.

d. Recognize and address the language challenge if appropriate to your market, even to the point of getting your hotel to pay for your learning of a new language to improve your effectiveness.

9. Cooperate with licensing needs as required

Depending on local codes, there may the need for certain staff to possess various Engineer’s licenses or to have someone on staff to have certain electrical, plumbing, boiler operations, HVAC (heat, ventilation, air-conditioning) and/or other general maintenance skills required.

10. Embrace the Brand Standards and Suppliers A majority of hotels in North America today are part of a brand, and the trend is growing globally. The Chief Engineer should learn what the brand’s requirements and expectations on engineering, safety and security services and programs.

• Have you, as the Chief Engineer, explained to your staff and other associates your brand’s expectations and standards on engineering, safety and security services?

• Do you take the time to work with your GM to understand the brand’s supply programs? If there is a better local price or distribution, have you made certain those products effectively do the job?

A WORD TO INDEPENDENTS – if your hotel is not part of a brand, your local hotel association will likely know of qualified programs or products

11. Embrace Reasonable Care and insist on proper safety and security

There are so many areas that need attention in reasonable care

• Room and laundry attendants regularly deal with an array of chemicals. While most may be initially in the proper containers and concentrations, care must be maintained to continue to use them accurately and safely. There should be training given and follow up checklists provided for linen rooms, housekeeping carts, using equipment and the laundry. Cooperative efforts with suppliers, executive housekeepers and engineers make a huge difference.

• Kitchen workers deal with sharp knives, potentially dangerous equipment with high temperatures and slippery surfaces. Attention to detail and equipment maintenance are very important.

• Government regulations, such as the US Federal OSHA rules as well as state/provincial guidelines, must be posited and followed.

• Each hotel must be compliant with all local, state/provincial and federal laws – engineers have a major supporting role in many of these relating to safety and some with security.

• Specific security practices should be considered, reviewed, discussed and constantly monitored. Housekeeping or Food and Beverage staff may be working in isolated areas and should be trained in the best ways to provide services safely.

• All emergency and life safety equipment and systems need to be regularly inspected, tested and certified.

• Each US hotel must be compliant with the Americans Disabilities Act (ADA).

• Many hotels have Safety Teams – engineers are key players in safety as both leaders and participants. Your hotel insurance company is often willing to assist in developing plans and best practices.

• Follow up on all alarms immediately to determine the exact location and cause. Determine emergency status and report findings to Front Desk. Take immediate action as necessary

12. Continually learn about and actively participate in energy conservation programs.

We have all heard so much about the rising cost of energy and I found the following on a brief internet search. In October of 2008, Telkonet, Inc., a leading provider of innovative, centrally managed solutions for integrated energy management, networking, building automation and proactive support services shared some interesting statistics. Their research found that US hotels spent roughly $2,200 per available room each year on energy – 6% of all operating costs. Their research on implementing an effective energy-efficiency system along with green operating procedures, could significantly improve a hotel’s profitability and bottom line. They offered, as an example, that a 10% reduction in energy consumption would have the same financial effect as increasing the average daily room rate by $0.62 in limited-service hotels and by $1.35 in full-service hotels. Their site offers a range of ideas and examples from a number of companies, including America’s Best Value Inn, Columbia Sussex, Red Lion, Main St Developers, Motel 6, Cambria Suites, Cornerstone Management, and others. Detailed 2008 AH&LA Green Assessment Survey Results for Developing a baseline for eco-friendly practices in hotels is there as well. Go to http://www.telkonet.com

13. Be Professional as appropriate. Engineers often have to perform ‘dirty’ work in repair, but that does not reduce the need for professionalism. Clean replacement uniforms and a place to clean up are a small price to pay for both guest satisfaction and staff pride. There are other responsibilities for chief engineers including reviewing schedules, equipment and supplies and organizing workflow. Today’s professional chief engineer needs ongoing knowledge of the principles and practices within the hospitality profession and they should be a member of the management team. The ability to make occasional business decisions as a manager on duty should be guided by established policies and procedures are supported by solid communication skills.

All rights reserved by John Hogan and this column may be included in an upcoming book on hotel management. The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of this publication


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25 06 2010
Drive Train

Hogan will work with the Airline Senior Management team and SH&E to develop the future strategy of the Airline. Drive Train

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