Leadership Delta: Solving the leadership crisis in hospitality

Are you ready to confront the leadership crisis? It’s no secret that the hospitality industry has suffered directly these past three years. Losses that reach multiple tiers of the business, from front-line workers and sales, to the top — leadership. Our goals should be to recover from the losses and position ourselves back on track to building and reaching our ambitions.

According to consultancy firm McKinsey, 93% of respondents in the hospitality sector said that customer ambitions are higher post-pandemic (2022). This means every single person in the business needs to live and breathe your values and culture, your service standards and everything in between. And for those businesses with huge global teams, this is no easy feat when it comes to ensuring consistency. This is where you need your leaders to shine.

Investing in your training process means not only developing skills in your employees within their current position, but also fostering the skills for them to evolve into leadership roles. Hiring a leader is a notoriously arduous process, one that could be made more efficient by conditioning current employees for success rather than being in a state of sourcing. Employees that feel invested in feel valued and are more apt to want to stay and grow with a company. Rather than move on, they will have the ability to move up, increasing retention rates.

In response to these challenges, Attensi’s SVP Commercial Operations US, Greg Hull1, authored a white paper to explain precisely why there is a wide leadership skills gap, especially in hospitality and retail, and why it matters so profoundly. It focuses on the challenge of finding, training, and empowering management. Greg found:

“The Leadership Delta is a vast gap in knowledge and capability that is exposed when individual contributors are promoted into senior roles where they have responsibility for overseeing multiple areas of the business.

One of the reasons this happens is because many of those leading teams are promoted because they’re great at their day job – they’re amazing baristas, superstar bar tenders or fantastic store assistants, but now they find themselves with new expectations and responsibilities. The step up is a giant skills leap.

With so much responsibility placed in the hands of these leaders, we’re challenging the industry to look at how leaders are trained, and asking the big question: “Are you challenging training tradition to develop exceptional leaders?”

The good news is: Despite the challenges frontline organizations have faced over the last three years, from global shutdown and a shift towards a transient workforce, to a rise in customer service expectation and financial crisis, organizations able to identify this leadership delta and rethink their approach to leadership training and development are coming out fighting.

From our extensive work with some of the world’s leading organizations, we have identified three of the most common and fundamental leadership ‘deltas’, which we believe are the most difficult to solve using traditional methods:

The elements of the leadership delta

Those who are recently promoted are used to being the ‘doer’ and jumping in to get the job done. It’s second nature. But all too often we see that newly appointed operational leaders stay in their comfort zone, follow their instincts, and move to solve problems themselves rather than spotting moments of coaching and learning for their team. In a fast-paced hospitality environment where decisions often need to be made quickly, finding moments for coaching is essential, but can be difficult.

The ideal approach is that there is enough support and advice given in the moment without solving the problem, so that next time the team member is in a similar situation, they will know how to respond or react. After rolling out our simulation training to one of our hospitality clients, 76% feel more confident their coaching feedback will be well received and lead to positive behavior change and outcome. That’s the confidence you need to send people on the floor with!

Having difficult conversations is one of the most common deltas that we encounter, especially in the hospitality industry. Part of the reason for this is because teams are filled with likeminded and confident people who become friends; The shift from teammate to manager can be a big change. The need to tackle difficult conversations can be confusing and intimidating in such environments. Leaders need to be armed with solid, easy to follow frameworks that facilitate constructive conversations and focus on positive outcomes, whilst not losing the seriousness of the interaction.

A third challenge we see for businesses and leaders is the inconsistency and conceptual nature of ‘culture’. It’s often defined by the ping pong table or ‘pizza Friday’s in the office’, but this shouldn’t be the only way we define something so important. The real power of great culture comes from creating consistent shared attitudes, values, and behaviors. It provides a framework for leaders to make value-led decisions and to communicate effectively to all team members. Leaders must be able to understand culture (contextual knowledge) and apply it consistently (communication and consequence) for organizations to succeed. In the hospitality sector, we see a real mix of those who have come up through the ranks to senior positions and those who have joined as senior leaders, which can create a big variation in culture.

Closing the gap

How can all this be achieved? Enablement. A system of business, technology and operational processes that creates impact. Impact in the present and future sense. Incorporating training that provides the appropriate opportunities to foster skilled frontline workers and instill confidence in future leaders.

The need for a fresh training approach that is much wider in scope is made clear in a paper published by IBM in association with the National Retail Federation, the world’s largest retail trade association2. It was based on a survey of more than 19,000 respondents across 28 countries.

“More than half of retail (58%) and consumer products (55%) executives are focused on building agility to adapt faster to changes in demand,’ it reports.

“In this environment, retailers and brands need to lead with purpose—and use technology as a differentiator.”

The Big Blue insists that businesses must equip a new breed of tech-savvy, empathetic, values-aware managers with the skills demanded of them by customers and staff. That requires training that can be adapted quickly for fast-changing market conditions and digital advances.

The most effective training in this new environment is also digitally-based. Attensi works with businesses to build realistic virtual scenarios based on actual situations which occur in everyday life. It uses the latest 3D and immersive technology to create playable simulations which can be completed anytime, anywhere. Employees love its flexibility, and they already know, love and understand the game-playing techniques and technology they are based on.

This emphasis on building a culture of healthy employee development also has a ricochet effect when it comes to sourcing talent. Job seekers are more likely to engage with a company culture that is people focused—makes efforts to invest in their team’s development. With the current state of hiring, a deficit in talented applicants for leadership roles and a new movement dubbed the “Reshuffle”, this is an attractive aspect in securing talented candidates. In a recent article from World Economic Forum, Prudential’s Vice-Chair Rob Falzon3 calls out the areas of support today’s workforce is looking for in an employer during this Reshuffle:

“Leaders must be focused on cultivating thriving cultures of internal mobility, prioritizing continuous learning and delivering robust benefits to support their workers,” says Prudential Vice-Chair Rob Falzon.

There has always been a focus on giving people memorable human experiences in the hospitality industry, but since Covid, expectation of great service is higher than ever. Focused training that addresses the disparities of the leadership delta creates confidence in staff who in return provide excellent customer service. The benefits are not only customer facing, creating a progression pathway for your employees leads to better retention and promote-from-within growth models. With this reinforced and growing employee roster, you can elevate your leadership standards, customer experience, and stay agile for the future.

Are you ready to level up your training?

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  1. ‘The Leadership Delta: How challenging the norm is helping the hospitality industry to train exceptional leaders’, by Greg Hull Attensi’s SVP Commercial Operations US,
  2. ‘Consumers Want it All: Hybrid shopping, sustainability, and purpose-driven brands’, (2002), IBM Institute for Business Value. Authors: Karl Haller, Jane Cheung, Mary Wallace, Sachin Gupta,
  3. ‘What is the Great Reshuffle and how is it affecting the jobs market?’, World Economic Forum. Author: Charlotte Edmund,