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A wise man said to me that “problems will find you”. A nice sentiment but there’s a difference between denial and truth. Some truths, just like the pandemic, come out of the blue, and some prefer to sit in the dark, sensed, but unseen.

Facing reality before it strikes is the skill of those we call visionary. They override the initial ridicule and scepticism, the inevitable resistance and take little applause once it is proven to be obvious and the new norm. Sensing the future is a fundamental of leadership. Acting on it is the difference between dreamers and achievers.
There’s something coming and it is coming fast. It threatens the hospitality industry and it is capable of creating a deeper and more difficult problem that no vaccine will cure. I’m talking about the exodus from the industry coupled with the perfect storm of younger iGen people declining this career.

If we panic, it means we freeze because we do not know what to do. Whilst there is sympathy for getting caught in the headlights and having no control over unfolding threats to health and life, there is no excuse for inappropriate behaviour that is within our control. A crisis is the unforeseen microscope where we judge leadership.
Emerging from this crisis, some will grow, some will fail and a few will wreck their reputation forever.

For now, most hospitality businesses are consumed with survival. That is a function of management. Whilst excellent management is absolutely necessary, it is useless if the bigger and longer term picture is side-lined. Both are necessary.
It is vital one eye remains on the future.

As a young man I was attracted to the apparent glamour of hotel life. Of course, my vision was one of regular Hollywood stars, elegance and being a part of every fine glitzy event. Closer inspection suggested low pay, physical and weekend work. It didn’t take long for the teenage priorities to win through. I never did follow through into the profession but it still intrigues because few businesses’ can claim to have an entirely new audience under its roof and care every different day. It is predictable and unpredictable in equal measures.

Of course, my generation were brought up without technology, 6 TV channels and in an era when ‘stars’ were really stars. It was a more innocent time and perhaps some of the biggest influences that provoked enormous change have been technology, accessible global communications, social media and low cost air travel.
These have brought many benefits but at a price.
Many young people live in virtual worlds where their smart phones dominate their day and their beliefs. Information is easy, answers quick and sometimes at the expense of authenticity.
The impact of technology is the prime mover in differentiating how young people engage and learn. If you are not connecting at their level, you have already lost. Worse still, if you engagement is autocratic and a thinly veiled update of how learning was delivered over the last 50 years, then you are already heading for an uncomfortable future.

For my era, education was something that was force fed. Throughout the academic school year, information was shovelled into you and at the end of every term or year, you were transported into a cold hall and asked to perform a lengthy memory test. Even the word ‘test’ reveals intent.
For those of us bent on an easy life of enjoyment, parties and ease, study, further learning and higher education were already tainted. But tradition told us to work hard, get a safe, stable job and take few career risks.
Not anymore. Today, really good connected training, education and learning, gives young people the topic and allows them to discover their own answers. Today’s hospitality students are eager and with a thirst for knowledge. They will challenge, question and disagree but once you provide a better rationale, they will buy into it.
Force feeding is over.

Whilst technology and evolution have combined to influence enormous shifts in how young people are motivated and learn, the pandemic has accelerated this. Significantly, when the crisis started, a new form of learning came to the fore. An unpleasant one.

In a boom creative marketers build wonderful adverts promising golden days. Often, they will add on a carefully crafted message of care, inclusion, social responsibility and highlight their vales, culture and ethos. It’s a seductive promise, especially to a young fertile mind. However, in a storm, we can get to see how well the promise is realised.

Naturally, in a pandemic, there will be sacrifice, loss, tragedy and suffering. Every reasonable person understands this. That’s life, but it is not what is remembered. The old adage “I won’t remember what you said but I’ll remember how you made me feel” is a powerful driver of messages and fuel for social media. Back in my day, these things had no legs. They do now, and young people have no fear of sharing their unpleasant experiences.

Over the years, one of the greatest rewards of working in professional development, is to see youthful careers go to the full height of their potential. It reminds you of their attentiveness, their long hours, low pay and the sacrifices of missed weekends with their friends. In an expensive rich world, you would wonder at their lives after work. Still, they came and still the lure of a career in hotels and hospitality overruled all of that.
That was then, this is now.

LinkedIn is a wonderful platform for connecting with professionals and even better to learn from peers. It is also a great place to observe trends and see who is moving where. We can see who is voting with their feet, what is booming, what is not, what’s attracting bright young people and what is not.

Out of the blue, I got an email through Linkedin. As soon as I saw the name, I was reminded of the enthusiasm, energy and desire to learn from this very impressive young professional. Over the course of their programme, I got little insights into the big sacrifices and always delivered with such good cheer. This was someone on a fast highway to the top.

“Hi Conor, I was thrown out …”
An opening line hard to forget. Stark, illuminating and, with a little reflection, a warning.
The dream had been shattered. The seductive recruitment a mirage. The well stated values and culture had no connection with the real experience and the abiding memory of an enforced redundancy – ‘thrown out’.
I made contact. The deeper version of the story was an unpleasant trek through a detached departure even in the light of a pandemic crisis.

It would be easy to see this as a one off and allow the luxury of denial to fool us. This was a very talented professional and nobody should ever be thrown out regardless. Looking wider, it soon became obvious that this person was not alone. Like domino chips, one by one they were looking for work. Inevitably, their talent and enthusiasm would see them back at work in no time.
I was right. They were. But, not one of them in hospitality.

It would be easy to say that was hardly the fault of a closed down industry. They were hardly likely to move from one closed business to another. Or so I thought. Over the last 11 months I watched as, one by one, they started new careers, in many cases, careers that were aligned to technology and careers that would be less anti-social, pay far better and be in a cutting edge industry that they could relate to.

There are only 2 reasons anyone ever leaves a job. First, to get away from something. Second, to go to something better. Whilst these were enforced moves, conversations with these young professionals reveal the pandemic experience to be a tipping point that forced them to reflect.
They are leaving for many reasons, and when combined, the case against was overwhelming.
First, they want to learn. Any worthy research on iGen and Millennials will show you this is their number 1 objective. Secondly, they see hospitality as an unstable industry. If we reflect on the events their young lives have witnessed, 9/11, global banking collapse, recession, ash clouds and now the pandemic, then it is easy to see how vulnerable the industry is.
Thirdly, they no longer see it as a profession that rewards fairly. Four, they are absolutely passionate about social responsibility, climate change and sustainability. Lip service and slogans do not last long.
Lastly, there are still autocratic cultures that no longer work with a generation who feel absolutely entitled to question, challenge and debate.

Inevitably, some will see this as a reflection of an entitled generation. Some will be cynical but, like it or not, this is the reality and when the protests are over, it is impossible to ignore voting by feet.

If the hospitality and hotel business is going to attract the best young talent, how they recruit, what they promise and how they teach will need to change. If they don’t there is a bigger and longer problem coming and it won’t be too long before a more enduring issue challenges the greatest leadership thinking.
Humans have an enormous capacity not to resist change but to resist loss.
A new generation heavily influenced by the voice and freedom of technology, will be quick to spread the news – good and bad.
The question is how are you doing? Are you prepared? Can you change?
The secret to successful and effective change is not to waste your time defending or fighting the past but to put all your energy into embracing and building the new.

Perhaps the point of this article is captured by Rupert Murdoch who said:

“The world is changing very fast. Big will not beat small anymore. It will be the fast beating the slow”


© Conor Kenny & Associates Limited. All Rights Reserved 2021

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