Operating a business with a third of your staff and record-breaking revenue will teach you a few things about yourself. The return of travel is a welcome change, but the labor shortage conditions are like a new kind of pandemic. What there isn’t a shortage of is opportunities for growth and discovery in the face of these extreme challenges.
Scarcity eats perfectionism for breakfast
If there was a perfectionist fan club, I would be the first member. It shows up everywhere in my life. I struggle with letting my kids leave for school with un-matching clothes. I clean my house before the cleaner comes. If I start a terrible book and realize its terrible by page 5, I will painstakingly continue to finish all 500 pages because I just can’t abort.
At work, my perfectionist tendencies have me ping ponging across the hotel lining up lawn chairs in a perfect row, scrubbing carpet stains and shifting my path so I can greet and chat with hotel guest. On face value, there is absolutely nothing wrong with these things, and I’ve always felt that my perfectionism helps drive my achievements. However, this trait, can also be a crippling handicap.
I’ve learned a lot about perfectionism through many of Brené Brown’s books. Her research has revealed the roots of perfectionism in our negative self-image, shame and self-blame: “It’s my fault. I’m feeling this way because “I’m not good enough”. For me, not being able to provide the perfect experience for my guests because we have limited operational human resources, becomes very personal and identity defining. I feel responsible for not delivering on our promised experience.
Here's the thing: perfectionism is soul sucking and a wasteful use of time and resources. With the current labor shortage time and resources are fundamentally scarce. I have had no choice but to change my mindset to what Brené Brown calls “healthy striving”. What this looks like: today we did our best. Tomorrow we will try again. I am not defined by the weeds growing in the garden. It’s good enough.
Serve me up some humble pie
Business owners, general managers and directors are being called away from the corner office to serve on the front lines all over the country. In our business I went from helping one day a week in housekeeping this past winter to four days a week at the peak of this summer. The physical labor of housekeeping presents a stark contrast with the mental and intellectual pursuits of marketing, business development and strategy. Its hard not to feel sometimes like I’m being taken away from the “important” work sitting on my computer. But what if the “important” work at this moment, is taking out the trash? What if doing laundry is exactly where I’m supposed to be?
The benefits of working on the line are not new lessons for me. I wrote about them when labor shortages started becoming a problem already four years ago. https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/when-employees-hard-come-roll-up-your-sleeves-rachel-vandenberg/. What is new for me is the idea that one set of tasks is not necessarily more “important” than others. I’ve become increasingly humble about the work that really drives performance on any given day. This humility has also been closely linked with increased empathy and understanding of what the day to day is like for our staff.
“Feed your faith and your fears will starve to death” - unknown
I could hear it in his voice. He was frustrated and short with me the moment I saw him when I came into work. Oh boy, I had a feeling what the source of the problem was and all I could think was that I didn’t want to have this conversation, because there was nothing I could offer him as a solution.
A deluge of words and emotions spilled out: I’m overwhelmed, I’m tired, I don’t know how we are going to fill all the shifts. We just had two more people quit. Not a single person is applying for our open positions…
This is where I often go into hyper problem-solving mode. I wanted to fix it. I wanted to just be able to wave a magic wand and take away the frustration. I wanted to have the solutions at my finger tips. But I didn’t have anything.
I brought this experience to my coach. Some very important shifts happened for me in that conversation. The first was the insight around what drives me to go into hyper problem-solving mode: FEAR. What happens if I don’t have the solutions? Will the person leave? Will the situation get even worse? Was I letting him down? Would he be okay in terms of his mental and physical health if I didn’t solve the problem? What I learned was that leading from fear creates disempowerment. The exact opposite of what I intended. What my staff member really needed in that moment was someone to listen. What they needed was my faith in them that they were strong enough to handle it and find their own solutions.
As far as the current labor crisis goes, there are no easy answers but hospitality and travel leaders have already demonstrated how resilient they are through the pandemic. We’ve got this.
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Rachel Vandenberg is a leadership coach living in Stowe, Vermont with her husband and three children. Rachel also owns and operates a hotel and attractions property with her family. She sits on the board of the local tourism association and also created a leadership retreat for women leaders in travel.