3 lessons coaching football taught me about managing a hotel

Football stadium lights and field
Lessons learned coaching football can apply to managing hotels. Photo credit: efks / iStock / Getty Images Plus

As a youth sports coach, I found myself in a similar routine, week after week. On weekends, I scouted out the competition and determined which key lessons I needed to reiterate to my team so we could hit the ground running and beat the opposing team. As I prepared to meet with my team, I went through my roster, thinking through which of my players I needed to keep motivated and who I needed to have tough conversations with on how they can improve.

Though I stepped away from a 30-year coaching career I still find myself in that same routine, week after week. But instead of motivating a group of 30 pee-wee football players or 12 youth basketball players, I’m coaching 768 team members at our 1,600-room historic Palmer House, a Hilton Hotel in downtown Chicago. Here are three key lessons I have learned on the field that I apply in our hotel, every day.

Keep Your Team Motivated

Whether it is on the football field or inside a hotel, everyone has to do their job for the team to be strong. As managers, our focus should be on the bench player every day. Take time to personally coach that player and help him or her realize his or her potential through on-the-job training and encouragement. As the bench player gains confidence, the team benefits.

It is easy, though, to lose sight of the star athletes. In hotels, they are the team members who are dependable, hospitable and go above and beyond to make every guest smile. On the athletic field, these reliable players lose out on receiving recognition and individual attention, because they are so dependable. On property, find time to keep these team members motivated, whether it is through public praise and acknowledgement or just thanking them for all they do.

At the enterprise level at Hilton, we help team members reach their full potential by providing them with the tools and resources they need so they can be their best selves in and outside of work. We’ve found ways to recognize our team members who embody the Hilton vision and mission and have a profound impact on our guests through our CEO Light & Warmth Awards.

Uncover Those with Heart and Soul

Just like a coach can spot a captain, make sure to look out for true talent in your hotel. Be sure though not to mistake a star athlete for true talent. Those with true talent may not be the person that does his or her job the best, but lives and breathes hospitality. It is not the team member who signs up the most guests for our loyalty program or sells the most upgrades at check-in; it is the team member who is referenced by name to the management team through emails, review sites and conversations for their smile, friendly-nature and warmth of hospitality.

When you find that true talent, as managers it is our responsibility to help pave a path for their career, whether it is providing them with a mentor, encouraging them to taskforce at another property or simply sitting down and chatting through steps to get to the next level.

Don’t Forget the Competition

As a football coach, often I would scout out other youth teams to get a sense of the best player we wanted to defend and the worst player we wanted to make sure our defense would force the ball to. Now when I scout the competition as I travel to watch my children play sports, I’m looking to bring back some of the best practices I’ve seen at hotels in hopes of finding new ways to innovate our 147-year-old hotel.

It could be anything from a delicious item on a breakfast buffet or a unique way of spotlighting local recommendations in a city, to a helpful brochure or photos of a creative meetings and events space setup. At the same time, I share with our team stories of pain points, from long check-in times to early knocks on the door by housekeeping to ensure we don’t make the same mistake. But scouting isn’t just at the management level—it’s something we can empower our team members to do across all levels of our hotel. Anytime someone on your team embarks on a hotel stay, challenge him or her to bring back a best practice.

Detraiter “DT” Love is hotel manager at Palmer House, a Hilton Hotel. In his spare time, Love cheers on his sons Julian Love of the New York Giants and Michael Love of the Northern Illinois Huskies.