Walking Initiative Puts Hotel Execs in the Center of the Action

NEW YORK—Given the choice of sitting at a desk in an office all day or getting a chance to walk around the property and interact with guests and fellow staff members, it is likely that a majority of hotel executives would choose the latter. A change in environment is a good way to keep the workday from getting boring, and it also allows for management by personal contact.

Laurens Zieren, general manager of the New York Hilton Midtown—the largest hotel in the city with 1,980 rooms—also felt that technological advances gave managers an opportunity to get away from the desk and out of the office, so he created the Manage by Walking Around (MBWA) program.

“New IT systems and measurement systems actually allow us managers to spend more time to MBWA,” he said. “However, so many of us forget to do it as its not part of our management habits.”

Zieren took inspiration from his other job—being a dad—in implementing his idea. “I have always been intrigued by creating positive, friendly service habits as part of our service culture,” he said. “Being a dad, I am well aware there is only one way of creating habits, and that’s reminding my daughter over and over again of things that could be done better—and congratulating her on things well done. Bringing that back to the work floor, its obvious that the management team needs to be walking around in order to manage, especially in this day of age where restructuring and cost containment has reduced management levels in business.”

In order to keep his team members on their feet, Zieren figured the best plan of attack was to outfit them with activity trackers that record the amount of steps they take. “I just knew I had to come up with an idea to create a constant reminder that MBWA was the standard and the only way to create positive service habits. Discussing this with my director of sales and marketing [Kellie Cahill], we came up with the idea of supplying the executive team with Fitbit activity trackers,” he said. “As they are on your wrist, they remind you continuously that you have to move. Managers need to be out there with the team members and, by doing so, be that coach that creates good service habits and get rid of the bad ones.”

The use of the Fitbits has turned into a competition between team members, and has also helped the executives stay active outside the workplace. “The Fitbit app allows the users to be able to see the average steps made by other users in the hotel and creates—especially among the competitive New York Hilton Midtown team—many competitions based upon who takes the most steps. [Team members] can even challenge their coworkers with weekly challenges and send [trash-talk] messages,” said Zieren.

He added, “The MBWA/Fitbit initiative has also moved well beyond just the hotel and has managers joining gyms, walking home and being active on days off. Healthy mind in a healthy body…doesn’t get any better.”

Cahill is one of those executives who have taken to Zieren’s initiative both on and off property. “As a highly competitive team always looking to win, I loved the idea of the FitBit,” she said. “It has encouraged me to take that extra step to get up from my desk and walk the building to see our customers, as well as take the stairs vs. the elevator and walk to engage with the front desk [staff]vs. sending an email. It also helps reinforce the notion of taking care of yourself. Being healthy allows you to have the required energy to give more back to our guests and our teams.”

Zieren noted that MBWA has not been lost on guests at the hotel. “We just had a very large conference staying in the hotel, and they commented on the fact that it seemed management was everywhere and all over the hotel. Some of our service scores have gone up by several points.”

But, having “big brother” Fitbit monitoring every step didn’t quite help Zieren on a recent trip. “Having just returned from a week’s vacation and taking it easy a bit, I received several joking messages from my team asking if there were no gyms at the resort and suggesting me to take more beach walks,” he said.

Adam Perkowsky