The role of general manager has witnessed incredible evolution and every year this evolution happens at a much higher speed; the change we have seen in the past 10 years is equal to that of the previous 50. You need to keep yourself informed in order to stay ahead of the business.

Within EHMA, I think it is so important we share ideas, philosophies, successes and failures to help this process. One of the most important things for a general manager is to create a team in order to manage and delegate; a team that shares the values, the vision and has the trust of the people that work with them.

Of course, these days it’s harder to find trained people and those you do find have been trained by other companies that don’t necessarily share your vision or values. EHMA represents so many different properties and each hotel has its own set of standards and values.

A common trait

One thing that all EHMA members have in common is that of being passionate hoteliers.

This means you need to be a psychologist and an ambassador, and always be diplomatic. In the past, a general manager was successful if they were tough and straight-talking: ‘this is what needs to be done, just do it’. This type of management no longer works. You need to be able to articulate your philosophy, your way of doing things and the way that the hotel wants things to be done, down to every single employee.

In a few words, you can’t force anyone – you need to be a model for all your employees and have everyone on board because they believe in your vision.

We hold regular meetings, parties for staff and their families, community engagement programmes, and have several assemblies with the staff during the year to keep them informed of hotel performance. Staff must feel engaged; without that, it’s going to be impossible to have good customer satisfaction and without good customer satisfaction, you won’t be able to achieve satisfactory financial performance. It’s a chain reaction.

Young people now have different expectations compared with their equivalents 20 years ago. Back then, at the age of 25–30, they were trying to get a job, get married and build a family. These days, it’s not like that. People want to travel and discover new experiences and new jobs, changing from hotels to other industries. The mentality is completely different.

But we don’t teach rocket science. If you have the empathy and character, the other skills are easy to learn. We need positive people really. If you’re positive and self-motivated, you’re the type of person we want. We have potential employees undergo psychological tests. It helps to understand the profile, the personality type, whether they’ll be sympathetic with guests, will they fit well in a specific team, and so on. Once we have done that preliminary work – and they pass – we can really start to get to know them through the interview. Previously such techniques were only for very senior positions; these days, it’s at all levels.

The modern general manager, to me, is the guardian of the standards of their hotel and the promoter of values, ensuring they are implemented at all times. They must be able to do all these things in the back office as well as front of house.

But you must be able to afford staff a certain freedom as well. I remember something I once read: ‘Don’t just do what I tell you to do, but do what needs to be done’. You will meet certain situations where you won’t find the answer in any book of standards and initiative is required. The general manager and their executive team cannot be in all places at all times. We mustn’t create a culture where people are afraid to make mistakes, but we must be sure to share the lessons when mistakes are made.

It comes down to engagement and honesty. When I first arrived in Milan, the relationship between the hotel and the union was not very good. With the head of HR, we started a conversation about how we should work together, not in opposition. That relationship is now very strong and we have incredible employee satisfaction levels, but it has taken more than 10 years of investing in the relationship, being completely up front about our intentions with all employees and union representatives.

What happens in some hotels is that there is confrontation between management and employees and that’s not right. You have to think of the single team as a whole. We must all be working towards the same goals and people of all levels want to feel they’re being heard. That is ultimately the responsibility of the general manager; to transfer this philosophy to every employee. We all count in a different way, but everyone counts.