If you work within the Pinnacle Hotels team, you know that CEO Barry Lall is behind you one hundred percent. Whether you are high up in their corporate offices or a member of the front desk team at one of the nine hotels in his portfolio, Lall believes that the success of his business resides in the individual success of each and every one of his employees. His ability to convey a clear vision for his hotel’s goals, show a marked passion for his work, and make his entire team feel energised has seen his company grow to a large corporation working with some of the biggest brands within the hotel industry, but it is his focus on helping every member of his team succeed through teaching that truly sets him apart. As the proverb goes: “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime” and it is Lall’s goal to ensure that each day every person at Pinnacle Hotels is “learning to fish.”
Prior to moving to the United States, Lall lived in the East African Country of Nyasaland (Malawi) and attended university in the UK where he earned his medical degree. However, upon arriving in America he found a new dream in running his own business, and over the past thirty years has worked hard to transform Pinnacle Hotels USA into a national hospitality brand boasting over 1,700 keys. Below we chat with Dr. Lall, his retired vice president of finance Sue Russ DePascale, and project manager Erik Chabala on some of the ways in which Dr. Lall promotes leadership through teaching in various aspects of his business.
How do you focus on creating motivation and collaboration with employees at different levels of the organisation?
Lall We begin this by having a strong business plan from the start, both as a company and individually with each hotel. It is so important for each and every employee to understand the vision we have for our future as a company as well as the unique challenges and goals that a hotel within our company faces. From the point of hiring, I try to clearly communicate the high expectations we hold for each individual while also remaining encouraging and motivating. In fact, I believe the hiring process is a crucial aspect of having a motivated team that collaborates well. We want to hire the right people onto our team from the start. Individuals who embrace our values and goals, and who see it as a privilege for them to join our fantastic team. This not only means understanding a candidate’s prior work background, but also understanding that person as a human being. What are their aspirations? Do they have drive? What excites them? What are they most passionate about? These are all questions you need to find out the answers in order to make sure that the position they are being considered for is a good fit for their personality.
Depascale In the hotel business, there can be high turnover, but I found that connecting with our staff and showing them that you care and treat them with respect – by working closely with them and taking the time to walk them through various tasks will pay off. Although it does take time and doesn’t always pay off. I found that it’s important to find and hire those individuals that may not have as much experience as you would prefer, but are eager for the opportunity and willing to learn on the job. At Pinnacle, we had the support from the top, to be hands on, visit the hotel teams and show them how to prepare their daily work. Then it made our jobs easier to do follow up questions and also know that they can ask any question at any time and we will show them the way. I welcomed feedback from our teams and shared many stories about why we need to do things a certain way.
Chabala Something I always notice about Dr. Lall is that when I’ve grasped a concept or turned in work in which he seems to observe growth or success in, he is so noticeably grateful. I’ve actually never worked with someone who seems to be so grateful for progression. In my experience, in general one’s leaders seem to act entitled to progress and results, and conversely more vocal on criticisms. Frankly, I’ve never witnessed a leader who is so grateful for the work I produce, and positive about small improvements. It seems to me that such display of gratitude brings out my best, and further emotionally ties me to the cause and the team. This is tempered with the fact that I believe he doesn’t ask his employees to do anything that he himself is not willing to do himself. When the leader shows humility, and the willingness to get in the trenches with the troops, the emotional bond is reinforced.
What sort of environment do you try and foster within your organisation?
I work to foster an environment in which leadership is a requirement. Even if you’re not a department head, leadership is expected of everybody. For me, this means they have the ability and power to be able to say and correct right from wrong. Whoever it is or whatever the situation, they have the empowerment to be able to have a voice in fixing something they see is wrong, even if it’s outside of their department. The way our culture works, we make everybody feel like this is their business. It’s not just some nameless CEO’s business – this is our business and we have to have our antenna up at all times in order to protect it. We have to be able to use all of our senses to identify when something isn’t going right, and have the creativity to innovate and identify solutions. So leadership is crucial, in particular as one progresses higher up within the company. I try and teach those who are put into these roles that while leadership is obviously about leading people, for us it is specifically about leading with respect instead of with fear. This means being compassionate and showing kindness while at the same time having the ability to be a servant when required.
Depascale At Pinnacle Hotels USA, I was part of the accounting team and spent time training new general managers as well as new accountants. Oftentimes, I found that investing my time to show a general manager how to prepare a daily report or read a financial statement paid off as they had a better understanding of where the numbers came from. We have lots of tools to help us manage our business like check books, daily revenue reports, internal audits, monthly financial meetings – but these tools are not self-explanatory. I enjoy taking the time to show our managers how to prepare the report, then read the report or understand what the report means. These efforts pay off as they truly gain a better sense of the business they are responsible for. The results show in the portfolio’s profits. Dr. Lall is instrumental in encouraging a culture of teaching, guiding and showing the way to our staff.
Chabala Many lead from a fear based approach, which works to a certain level. But to really break through to a higher level in team building, the leader must connect on a deeper level with his tribe. This means he must connect on a level which they are drawn, not just to the financial benefit of employment, but to the identity and purpose that it brings. An expanded sense of identity can only come from this process of personal growth and connection to the leader, on both a philosophical, and emotional level. The teaching aspect of this is really key, as it not only infuses the self-growth, but to me reinforces the emotional connection to Dr. Lall and us as his team.
How do you try and provide opportunities for personal and professional growth for each employee?
Lall It is important to remember that each employee or team member has specific needs and desires. Some are motivated by money. Some are motivated by change and excitement. You must be able to recognise or determine what motivates each individual in order to help them grow. So I’m not just an owner, I’m also a teacher. That’s what I take a lot of pride in. I teach. I help others understand what we’re trying to accomplish and why. If they understand then you can get better results. It’s not just giving out orders, saying “don’t do this” or “don’t do that” or “why did you do this?” It’s about making a decision together. It means challenging assumptions and soliciting ideas from your employees without criticising them. Helping them change the way they think about and frame problems and obstacles.
Depascale I still tell stories about our owner and how he took the time to review with not only the GM but also the controller – to ask questions that made us think about what we had done or were currently doing – challenging us to making the best decisions. Getting the hotel teams to think about their business as if it was their own ‘pocket book’ they are spending is a great way to teach them to ‘slow down’ and think and care about the decisions you make.
Chabala To teach people you can tell them something or you can lead them by asking questions and showing the way so as to give them the ‘opportunity of discovery’. In my opinion, Dr. Lall lead – or teaches – with this principle. He allows me to discover the fundamentals or principles that he has in mind so that I then have the thrill of a new realisation or concept. As I’ve applied my knowledge set and experience to the hotel world which was new to me, I’ve really appreciated how Dr. Lall methodically and patiently teaches me in a way that builds my own confidence and momentum, because when taught this way I not only feel that I’m growing with the company but growing internally, as a person. When Dr. Lall gives you a point to work on, or a criticism, it usually seems to come coupled with a compliment. The outcome of this methodology seems to temper the action item, with a knowledge or awareness that it comes with a dose of respect and faith from Dr. Lall.