You’ve heard it a million times before: Working in hospitality requires a unique passion – the ability to genuinely care about your guests’ experiences and ensure that they leave your hotel 100% satisfied. In leadership roles, that passion extends to your team; the best hospitality leaders are dedicated to treating their employees with the utmost respect and setting them up for successful careers.
Few people I’ve met in hospitality embody that personality trait more than Daniel del Olmo, president of Sage Hotel Management. In conversation, he has that unique ability to put you at ease, and you immediately get the sense that he truly cares about his work and empowering everyone around him
Not everyone shares those same traits, obviously, so in talking with Daniel for Episode 2 of the Lodging Luminaries podcast (Audible, Amazon), I asked him how to make that passion infectious. I wanted to see if zealous leaders like Daniel could impact an entire company so that everyone – from corporate all the way to the housekeeping staff – could learn to adopt those critical hospitality personality traits. As hospitality companies look to rehire and retrain entirely new staffs, in many cases, this will be critical to shaping what guest service looks like in the coming years.
Read some highlights from the conversation below or listen to the full episode here:
Q: How do you instill that passion into employees? Or maybe it’s something you look for when hiring employees?
Del Olmo: I think it starts at the top. Our CEO [ Walter Isenberg ] sets the tone, and he has created an amazing culture. That’s certainly what brought me here: the opportunity and potential to really grow a company that generally cares about people first.
When we say we enrich lives one experience at a time, it starts with the lives of the associates. When times are great, everybody can talk about a great culture and it’s sort of expected. But it’s hard to talk about culture and what you do for your associates when times are tough. In our case, we had to furlough 91% of our associates in late March last year. And then, unfortunately, we had to lay off the majority of those. Two months later, when times were the toughest, that’s when I think culture really shows up.
How Walter led this organization and how he set the tone for me and everyone else to follow was remarkable. He sent out daily notes to all of our associates, furloughed and non-furloughed. We established a Sage relief fund where we collected $200,000 and then set up pantries because – it was heartbreaking – people weren’t able to go to the grocery store.
I think it just starts with generally caring, and I don’t think you can make that up. It’s either there or not. And then, as a result of that, people attract like-minded and like-hearted people. One of my former bosses and mentors, Eric Danziger, said – and I’ll never forget this – he said: “I want to work with people that are like-hearted and different-minded.” So, with like-hearts and different-minds, you get the best of both worlds.
Q: How is Sage tackling the current labor shortage issue?
Del Olmo: It’s the No. 1 issue we all are facing. I do believe that there’s still some fear of the unknown – fear of dealing with the uncertainty and the safety issue associated with COVID. And we address that by putting programs in place.
The other aspect is, for some roles, you’re making more money sitting at home versus going to work. And so we’ve been discussing this within our organization here to figure out, are there certain incentives that we can put on the table that for the first 90 days we provide additional monetary compensation? Because once you are back at work and you feel that things are OK and you feel part of the team again, then you feel like you belong and you’re making an impact. And we treat you well. At some point that’s going to engender loyalty, and it’s our role as leaders and companies to make sure that we make it worth their while through learning and development and growth opportunities.
Q: How do you make sure that sense of value trickles down from corporate to property level?
Del Olmo: Last year, in February, we had our Sage leadership festival, and I was on stage. It was my first introduction to all of our leaders, and I shared a little bit about myself and my values, and we talked about this idea of servant leadership. I shared the typical hierarchy structure where you’ve got the leader on top and everybody else follows. And then I said, that’s really not what I believe in. I believe in the exact opposite pyramid, where ultimately as a servant leader, I’m here to serve all of you. And our team in the home office is here to serve all of you. And so, instead of trickling down, it starts at each and every single one of our properties.
I expect our general managers to be servant leaders of their teams and really support their team members, really make an impact and enrich lives one experience at a time. That’s a powerful approach because people feel that they are not just accountable, but they’re empowered.
Q: Tell me more about this idea of servant leadership.
Del Olmo: Years ago, I realized that we’re all here on this planet to make a difference. And so it starts with, what’s your purpose? What’s your why? Ultimately what it came down to was that my purpose is really to have a positive and lasting impact on people so they can have a positive impact on others, effectively creating a ripple effect. And that then sort of translates into the fact that we’re here to serve others.