I remember my first encounter with an expert. I was the night manager at the Timme Plaza Restaurant in Wilmington, North Carolina, when the event occurred. This was the second restaurant I had managed in seven months. We changed our night menu to include a waiter serving show with an entrée we served. This was a new process as each waiter performed the process I was there to observe and help them.
When the shift ended the expert (consultant) called me into the Chef’s office and proceeded to give me his expert council. He informed me, I was putting out fires. I should not be instructing the waiters as closely as I was doing. The longer he discussed the issues with my management style, the more something did not ring true. I asked him where he went to college; he stated he graduated from Colgate with a hospitality degree. Then, I asked how many restaurants he had managed. He informed me that he had worked in one over a summer break. I got up and left the room. Point is; beware of experts that have never had to manage people in an endeavor. Something about their advice will not ring true, especially the human part.
As General Manager at the Admiral Benbow in Birmingham, I came in contact with a feasibility expert gathering data for a new hotel to be built. In Birmingham, during 1973, approximately 1600 new hotel rooms were built. Now was my chance to give this expert what I actually thought about the market feasibility of adding more rooms. From my hotel, I could see 800 of the 1600 new rooms. I gave him my analysis, concluding that we did not need any more hotels built in the Birmingham area. I asked how he was going to use my input and he stated he wasn’t. I did not understand, so he told me. He stated he was here to gather information on how they could get the money loaned to his customers to build the motel. If he gave them a negative report they would just find someone else to give them the answer they wanted. He was in business to give his customers the answer they wanted. No wonder we had so many rooms in Birmingham and no wonder some of the hotels went bankrupt.
Later as General Manager at the Ramada Inn Crest, one of the bankrupt hotels, in Birmingham, I met another expert. He was sent to figure out why the motel went bankrupt. This is a hotel where the owner did not own anything. He actually leased the start up supplies including the ash trays in the rooms. This expert wondered around the hotel for a couple of days. I saw him sitting beside the swimming pool relaxing. I asked what he thought. He stated that the only way this hotel could have made it was to have a 95% occupancy rate at $15.00 average room rate (the going rate in the area was $13.00 and average occupancy was 60-65%). I thought now this guy is a real expert, anyone that knew anything about the hotel business would know that. This guy was actually getting paid to do this. What I did understand was when this hotel was financed the feasibility expert said it was doable.
Somehow, we humans think an author writing a book on any subject is an expert; I was no different. I read numerous self help books as a young manager; lord knows I needed the help. I was reading the book Psycho Cybernetics. Cyber was the hot book at the time. I experienced the feeling that something did not ring true about the book. I then read the bio of the author and realized that as a plastic surgeon he might not be an expert on what he was writing. I quit reading the book. From that time to this, I have never purchase a book without first reading the bio on the author. I have noticed that most leadership and management books are written by PHD’s and consultants that have never managed people on the front line of a business. Experts that have never sat across from a man and told him he was fired, and witness the man wanting to whip you. Or, having to tell a female employee the same thing, and witness the flood of tears. Somehow the expert author’s advice fails to cover this human feeling inside the front line manager at times like these. This does not mean that I cannot get some incite from them. But, I have found that reading biographies of people who have managed real people during changing times is a much better use of my time
As a front line manager, I prefer to get my advice from someone who has front line management experience. These experts are difficult, if not impossible, to find. An expert that tried to make bad deals good; an expert that tried to make bad hires good; an expert who has spent sleepless nights trying to reconcile tough issues dealing with real people. These are the problems of a front line manager. I think reading author’s books, or dealing with an expert that has no front line experience is a waste of my time.