Friday, December 16, 2011

A Crackpot Solution

After the meeting, the Head of Housekeeping came to me and asked, “Can you help me?  I have a problem that just won’t go away.”  And then she told me the story.

The Flagship Hotel had a management meeting every weekday morning.  The heads of the various departments--security, engineering, food and beverage, accounting, front desk, and reservations--had breakfast with the resident manager and the general manager.  I was the resident manager, and I ran the restaurant from dark to dawn, so while everyone else was eating eggs and pancakes for breakfast, I was having steak for dinner.

The head housekeeper’s problem was the lobby bathrooms--specifically the toilets.  Several months before, the commodes had been treated with strong muriatic acid to remove water stains.  Unfortunately, the acid was too strong and it had not only removed the water stains, but had damaged the porcelain glazing, leaving hundreds of fine cracks in the bottom of the toilets.  These cracks caught, and held…let’s just say... some “unsightly” material that no one wanted to see in a public facility.   Commercial grade toilets were too expensive to replace.  The housekeeping department cleaned the restrooms several times a day, but the problem returned as soon as the toilets were used for their sole and useful purpose.

So every morning at breakfast, the management staff of the hotel would meet and we would go around the table discussing the previous day: what went wrong—and what went right.  Most mornings, the front desk manager would report that at least one guest had complained about the toilets.  This would be followed by a general discussion between housekeeping and engineering about possible remedies.

You might be surprised at how many attempts were made to repair those commodes.  Both waxing and covering with clear acrylic paint were tried--unsuccessfully.  Short of covering the seat with Saran Wrap, no temporary solution was likely to keep those cracks clean, so the problem persisted week after week, month after month.

So, finally, the head housekeeper asked me for help.  “Mark, can you think of something?  You seem to get your problems solved pretty quickly.”

Sunday night was the quietest night of the week for us.  The weekend tourists left Sunday afternoon and by dark, the only people in the bars were locals.  As soon as the bars closed at 2:00 AM, the hotel was fairly empty until Monday morning, when the traveling businessmen began checking in.  Since there were no management meetings over the weekend, the Monday morning meeting was usually the longest and busiest of the week.

The next Monday morning, the general manager asked, “Does anyone have anything important to report?”

“Yes,” the head of security answered.  “Sometime during the night, someone vandalized the lobby bathrooms.  All the toilets have been cracked and broken.  Looks like someone hit them with a hammer.”

“Bob,” the general manager asked the head of engineering.  “How long will it take to get new ones and replace them?”

“We can buy six new ones in Texas City and have them installed by lunch.”

“Good,” the general manager answered.  “Any other important news?”

The head of housekeeping glanced at me, but I just kept eating my steak.  We never discussed the matter again, but the complaints to the front desk stopped immediately.

The problem had been solved directly and if not “correctly”, then at least permanently.  There were eight managers sitting at that table, and if you consider what collectively we were paid, the amount of time we had spent discussing this problem (and the amount of time housekeeping and engineering had spent working on the problem) then as I calculate it, we were wasting enough money to replace those damn commodes about every 30 days.  And we did that for months.  Hell, we could have bought gold plated crappers.

Perhaps this is the way it is in any large organization.  Far more time is spent talking about work than actually doing it.  Sometimes, it is more effective to do something, even if it is not technically the correct action, than to do nothing.

By the way, the problem was solved, not with a hammer, but with a short tire iron (a tire iron slides under your belt and is much easier to cover with a sport coat). 

1 comment:

  1. I know a few folks who could definitely benefit from a retelling of this particular tale.