Creating a Haven for Innovative Leadership

Producing a business plan, whether it is in hospitality or any other industry, is nothing new. Most organizations do it routinely, either in a start-up phase or as a structured, disciplined way of setting objectives the entire team can get behind and meet.

Our organization, which includes nearly 20 hotel properties throughout the U.S., prepares a business plan, and the senior leadership team largely leads the process, an unusual one. While some might establish a standardized format for the preparation of these working documents, Vesta Hospitality takes a different approach.

Certainly we start in much the same way, with a business plan that I produce in my role as CEO. But instead of simply dictating the template that our senior management team members are to use in writing their own business plans, we leave the form up to individuals, as long as their plans reflect support for the underlying objectives of the organization.

I believe it takes very creative people to run a hospitality-based guest services organization like Vesta. My goal as a leader is to harness that creativity, not stifle it. Over the years, I've seen how a “one-size-fits-all” format for setting goals and objectives can and does get in the way.

Keeping the end in mind is one way to strip away barriers (such as form over function) that a so-called standardized business plan writing process, even unintentionally, can present.

How, then, do we ensure that there are consistencies between an organization's leader and the people charged with doing work that supports the entire company? How do we know when there are disconnects and how do we remove them?

The first step is acknowledging they may exist, a key reason we enlist an objective third-party observer to review each area of the operation with an eye to identifying potential (and real) areas that need tweaking or realignment.

The result of this first unbiased review uncovered a strong opportunity to more clearly define, articulate and communicate what Vesta is as a business, internally. Our general managers had their individual interpretations of how success was defined within the company. When asked what it would take to be successful within Vesta, their answers were not as uniform as is necessary when accountability and results are at the heart of corporate values.

To gauge whether this was an isolated situation (the product of individual property differences surfacing at one particular level of leadership), we applied this same process to the other management sectors like sales and marketing, finance, human resources, food and beverage, quality standards and construction. Again, the responses indicated, however slight, a gap between interpretation by the associates and organizational intent — a gap that led us to the natural next step in our company's evolution.

We understood that if we were to advance as an organization rooted in shared objectives we would be compelled to formalize our success criteria in a more precise manner. Certainly, we had established criteria for success prior to the third-party review, but what we learned through this exercise was that the criteria were only as meaningful as the way in which they were communicated to our team members. We viewed this not as an organizational shortcoming, but rather, an opportunity to usher in a new age of transparency and connection with our employees.

In subsequent gatherings and discussions, we were able to find common ground. Then we made sure there was agreement on those points throughout the entire organization, both at the local property level and in our leadership group. While other factors make Vesta the kind of company we all want it to be, building on agreement of purpose and allowing creativity to flow has helped create an organization even more successful.

The process we followed, starting with the realization that we weren't naturally aligned in our purpose and objectives, has inspired a renewed sense of energy and spirit. Today, as we focus on profitability, esprit de corps and service quality as areas of emphasis, associates at Vesta Hospitality are better able to concentrate on what matters most to the entire organization, knowing that each member of the team, regardless of position or property location, is held to the same criteria.

The reason is obvious: happy associates take better care of our guests. And just as hotel guests come to understand and then expect a consistent standard of service, team members throughout a guest-centric organization like Vesta come to appreciate the need for common principles of measurement and the holding of one another to the same high standards of performance. We believe that our business planning philosophy — allowing for different approaches to reach a common goal — imparts individual fulfillment to our managers, while keeping the greater good of the company and our guests in mind. This is how we deliver remarkably consistent results, year after year.

Rick Takach is CEO of Vancouver, WA-based Vesta Hospitality. Reach him at or (360) 737 04452.

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