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William is an Assistant Professor at Mount Saint Vincent University in the Department of Business Administration and Tourism and Hospitality Management. He is fascinated by research around how individuals construct and create their social realities, intrigued with the powers of creativity and innovation, and an avid proponent of outstanding service experiences. When not teaching, writing, or researching, he tries to spend time with his family and occasionally paint. He is currently completing his PhD in Management at Saint Mary’s University.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Birdies, bells and a biathlon

In Halifax, you have to be living under an industrial size rock not to have realized that in just 13 days, 4 hours and 20 minutes (according to the countdown clock), the 2011 Canada Games decend upon our fair city.

NewSplash0610For sports enthusiasts, this means 16 days of Canada’s best athletes performing for national glory and personal pride. Which of these ranks more important would be in the eye of the opinion holder, although I for one think it would be the latter before the former.

For the school kids in Halifax, it is an extra week off of school; yup, two weeks when all of public classes are cancelled. The official reason for this break is so that our youth can enjoy the inspiring events and activities of our national athletes. The only problem is that most parents don’t get a week off in February, much less two, so for many it has become a planned exercise in extended family care.

However, I’m going to be watching the Games closely in order to gauge the level of tourism literacy in Halifax. What is tourism literacy? This is how well our population understands the value of tourism visitors and how well we treat them.

Tens of thousands of visitors will descend on our region for two plus weeks. For many, it will be their first visit to our fine city, our city with roadways designed around a peninsula, a basin, an inlet, a highway and a harbour. Getting lost in Halifax isn’t uncommon, and if you’re not lost then you might be confused by intersections with five and six street options to choose from. I live here – it’s just a regular thing. But for new visitors, it can be mind-boggling.

I mention the traffic as an example because the Games are spread across 13 different venues, 11 of which are in the Halifax Regional Municipality. Here is my question on the traffic. How will our local population react to the massive influx of tourists, driving around Halifax trying to find their venue? Will we honk in annoyance when someone needs to cut in front of us because they are in the wrong lane? Will we curse under our breath when the Rotary slows down as they tentatively try to exit the combat zone?

You see, visitors remember some of the events that they attend, but they will hold close the feelings they have of the place. How they were treated by the locals at dinner, over breakfast, in traffic and just walking down the street. The economic spin off of events such as the Canada Games can be measured immediately; however, this is myopic. The benefits come over the next 18-24 months, when future tourists decide to come back to our region and our province based on either firsthand experiences or the recommendations of their friends and family. Parents who travel here to watch their son or daughter compete and have a warm, welcoming experience will likely a) come back in the next two years for a more leisurely trip or 2) influence someone else to visit with the stories they tell.

I have great faith in Haligonians to step up our game during the Games. After all, this is the Maritimes – hospitality is what we do! But it will be the little things that make the different, the smiles on the street, the quick hellos, the appreciation of their effort to come here in the middle of some less-than-pleasant weather.

So if you find yourself on the roads in February and the driver in front of you seems obviously lost, give them space, a wave and a smile. This patience will help in multiple ways. The likelihood that they will return will go up. They will return with an increased knowledge of our city (thus as better drivers). And our tourism industry will benefit in both dollars and reputation.

Just my two cents…
WCM

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

When the Sisters school the Prof

What a great day I had today. I was once again a student, learning at the feet of masters.

You see, here at Mount Saint Vincent University, we have an annual event called Caritas Day. It is a day about giving back to the community through volunteerism. The roots of Caritas Day comes from from a fire on campus in January 1951 which displaced students and the Sisters off campus throughout the community. Through the generosity of the community, everyone had a bed to sleep in and a roof over their head. Local halls and parishes served home to classes, keeping our students busy with studies during this tough transition. In return for all of the support, Caritas Day occurs every year in January when classes are cancelled and we try to focus on giving back to others in our community.

Today, dozens of students from the Business and Tourism department were out collecting food donations for the shelves of our on-campus food bank. It is shocking how many students become cash-strapped during the school year and need the hand up that our on-campus food bank provides. As citizens of the campus, we need to help our community members first, then we can lend a hand outside to others.

For my part, I had the pleasure of going up to the Sisters of Charity residence, located on our campus, with 10 students to work side by side with the Sisters. As we entered the dining hall, over two dozen Sisters were seated, waiting for our arrival with applause - what a fantastic way to begin. Then we heard from three of the Sisters about how they have tried to infuse the tenets of 'caritas', Latin for charity and brotherly love, into their lives. Some spoke on volunteering time with pregnant girls, committing to be with them before, during and for weeks after the birth of their child. Others told us about their weekly letters to members of government on issue ranging from authentically listening to their constituents to global warming issues. For me, the most powerful story was the sister beginning a new challenge in her life, post-70 years old, relocating to the Sudan with others of Faith in an effort to restore education and health services to a people in great need.

And why did these wonderful women welcome us with praise and cheer? Because we agreed to sit with them, side by side, making turkey sandwiches and decorating sugar cookies this morning. We gave an hour or so of our time this morning. Sandwiches and cookies. In return, it was made crystal clear to us that we were making a difference.

Now, I've been involved in the hospitality industry in one way or another now for two decades. I've served government officials and dignitaries; hosted rock stars, TV personalities and sports teams. This is to say that I've experienced pressure and stress in the pursuit of meeting the high demands of the affluent and note worthy. But today, I watched two sisters use butter knives to spread homemade icing, blue and green and pink, onto handmade sugar cookies with the care and patience of artists. Gently, through word and by example, they advised us how to get in right to the edge of the cookie without going over. And how much icing to put on each cookie - not too much but don't be stingy. Once the icing went on, they reviewed the options of sprinkles and toppings available, each cookie decorated slowly and with care. It was Zen-like. Everyone around the table slowed down, moving in a gentle rhythm, letting the Sisters lead the conversation, telling their stories and sharing their skills.

Why did they take such care, and expect us to do so, with this simple food?

Because tonight, in the heart of Halifax, in the cold of this wintry night, at a shelter that cares for those without homes, someone will receive this cookie. They will look down at it and clearly see that it wasn't store bought. That another human being gave their time and attention to spread the icing just so, and place the sprinkles on them just so.

It will be food for their body and warmth for their soul, if only for one night.

Before returning to our regular routines, we were asked to reflect on our day at some point and think about our experiences giving back to our community. So here is my reflection, using technology that didn't exist 60 years ago.

Today, I sat at the gentle feet of masters who have chosen to give unto others in a full time, no-holds-barred way, not just as a side note in their busy lives. It was humbling and inspiring. I was in school again, learning how to be a better human being. And before I tucked my sons in tonight, I was able to tell them that I learned something today. And when that happens, it is always a good day.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

When inauthenticity has a scheduled appointment…

With four mouths to feed in this family (not counting Luna’s cat kibble), my wife and I are always trying to keep our radar open for some savings, whether it is more quantity at a reduced price or better quality at a similar price. Let’s face it, food isn’t cheap and the money tree has trouble surviving our Canadian winters.

One of our discussions centred around purchasing a part of a cow and/or pig. We were up at the market in Wolfville, NS speaking to some fabulous cattleman who will rough butcher and deliver a cow to you (1/4, 1/2, or the portion you want) as long as you find the right group of people to split the rest of the animal with. Fair deal – four families who all want a 1/4 of a cow each can purchase directly from a local farm, and have it butchered and delivered by his team.

We hadn’t pursued it any further. We became distracted, busy with the day-to-day business of life, but we still have their contact information. Easy to find at the market every week and we could visit the farm to talk more at any time. Great people! But this story isn’t about them, not directly anyway.

To quote the great Bill Cosby, “I told you that story so I could tell you this one.”

Last week, we get a call from a ‘local’ company who somehow had my name, saying that we had talked about buying 1/2 of a cow. This company apparently does all the middle work – we no longer needed to find the other families to split the animal with. They asked if they could drop off a price list on Friday around 6 pm.

Friday comes and it is storming out. We get a call from the representative staying that he’ll still be by – no worries about the weather. Door bell rings at 6 pm. Being hospitable, his coat is taken and hung to dry and he’s invited in to the kitchen. It was storming after all. Come, sit for a second, share the price list.

The sales pitch begins. He’s asking questions about how much meat we eat, what would we like to eat if price wasn’t an option, how his company would customize a one year delivery of our chosen food and specific cuts of ‘local’ meats. He’s using such badly prepared sales patter than we wonder if this actually works on people. Twenty minutes go by and he’s still building our list; no mention of prices yet, just dreams.

The boys are getting bored playing by themselves at this point and need encouragement to leave us for just a bit longer. But he’s not getting to the point. The ‘local’ meat just became Canadian meat, and he’s not able to provide one example of a local farmer that they deal with. “We don’t share that, but it will be on the government ID sticker that comes with the meat.'” Scanning his four page list upside down, we start tossing in items not listed – trout is our preferred fish, and boy do we like lamb. The ''local’ fish just became Ontario and Pacific; the meat they can now get becomes international. “We can’t always guarantee the meat is Canadian but we get you the best we can.”

Then it’s food knowledge time. He starts into the speech on their aged meat and why it’s so tender. “You know why meat shrinks so much when you cook it, right?” Andrea looks at me. “Umm, yes. I actually used to teach food chemistry.”, I say. He doesn’t even pause, he explains it anyway. I start to ask about this list he is creating as it is apparently based on a pre-set total price that he is simply arranging our ‘optimum’ order to fit. I see a few unit costs, but not many, and he is not writing down quantities. He keeps saying they always send ‘enough’. The grocery store gives me unit prices. My tourism students will not pass unless they can calculate and work with unit costs. But none here. This is a strange combination of aggravating and insulting with the train-wreck, can’t-look-away phenomena.

After an hour, I very casually say, “You know that we won’t be buying anything tonight. Right?” Shock and horror as he looks down on his questionnaire form that looks remarkably like a filled in order sheet. I mention doing my due diligence, looking them up online, getting references first. No web page I’m told; can’t be found except via the one phone number to his head office in Ottawa. Saves on costs that way – lucky us.

From the get-go, he didn’t pass the smell test. His information on his company was vague and he had no collateral material or business cards. When pushed for a method of contact, he wrote down his name and an Ottawa phone number; that was the owner’s number of course, even though this guy apparently had an office in Burnside not 10 minutes away. Payments were easy he said, and scheduled to best fit us, but I had to push for the financial institution they use to perform ‘light credit checks’ and had never heard of them. When I said that we were going to discuss it first then call him back, he was offended and left his entire order sheet, including all of our contact information. Friday night, inauthenticity rang the door bell and we took in the full floor show.

I think next week, Andrea and I will take a drive up to that local farm, visit the cows in the barn and shake hands with our cattleman. You see, even he had a business card, given to me after the first inquiry. He prints a map on the back so you can find his ranch easily. I remember him working his small booth at the market, looking each local person in the eye, shaking their hand, and answering every question they had about his product. He took his time; people bought what they wanted. If not today, maybe next week. No rush.

Maybe, if I’m lucky, I’ll even get some of his dirt on my hands as I shake them once again with renewed respect. He’s the real deal. And his value just went up tenfold.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Just keep half of your canaries flying.

Over the last week, my schedule has filled up pretty quickly. Classes are finding their rhythm and my writing is moving along. Yet as things fill up the little rectangles in my day timer, I find that I start to lose track of some of my pet projects.

Whenever you find that you need help, always seek advice from someone smarter than you. In my case, that is most often my wife. Just the other day, I mentioned this time crunch issue, seeking her help in coming up with some blog topics; my problem was that I was too busy to think about what to write about.

She immediately said, write about that!

I am no expert on the application of time management. But I do try and keep some general guidelines in place. Different systems work for different people; for me, I find I work best managing priorities over time. Time blocks can often be shifted around fairly fluidly. Priorities on the other hand have importance, immediacy and impact. So, how do we manage all of our priorities.

First, keep focus on what is most important. Hopefully, that means family and friends. As a professional student, I could spend hours working away on projects and topics that few people close to me care about. As a professional academic, I have a never ending pile of marking, reading, preparation work and other classroom projects.

I often feel guilty when I work long hours away from my family. Yet, I never, ever feel the least bit guilty when I invest time with my family. Just a few days ago, my boys and I played in our snowy backyard. I built them a snow slide down the back hill and we all shovelled up snow banks, out of which two snow forts were created (and the subsequent ‘epic’ snowball fights). They don't yet have great throwing arms, but they make up for it with enthusiasm. As the time flowed that morning, I didn’t once wish I was on my laptop or reading emails.

Second, be sure to know which demands on your time have immediacy. An upcoming class tomorrow would have immediacy; my dissertation has importance. An internal piece of paperwork might claim to be urgent, but a student in need at my doorstep has immediacy. Some of our tasks need to get done in order to keep the machine moving; others are time stealers. I could grade papers for hours a day over the next 25 years. I will not experience my son’s happy explanation of his day at preschool beyond this day. For example, this morning I'm off to do a morning radio interview that was requested and booked midday yesterday. To be a relevant and timely piece, it has to be executed quickly. Although I'm busy, it gets into my schedule and I'm up early to do it.

Finally, remember that it is a game. You can work 20 hours a day. But what do you get out of it? What is your endgame - what you hope to accomplish during your journey. Where will your actions and attention have the greatest impact today. Watching television is often called a time-waster (especially by those strange people that dislike TV, of which I am not one). However, when my boys ask me to sit and watch a cartoon with them, I am actually having a huge impact for 20-30 minutes on our relationship.

Choose where to spend your time. You'll be amazed how many things we do everyday that do not fit into the categories of important, immediate, or impactful.

When dealing with more than your share of canaries, the goal is always to keep half of them flying. Now I need to run and get mine in the air.

WCM

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Time Management and TV

Man, I was busy today.

But so many people can say the same thing, so to write a blog about being busy seems odd. Thus, my next blog will be about time management. Today, we talk about TV.

Mental note folks – whenever someone asks if you would like to be on TV, radio or any other form of media, you say “Yes Please”. Today was just my normal day of busy with a topping of crazy. Then, at midday, I was asked if I could help the regional news with a story. I hummed for a couple of seconds and then said “Yup!”

First of all, sitting down with the local news outlets (thanks CTV Atlantic News and Steve Murphy) can never hurt. I really, truly believe that we need more perspectives on tourism and service. As such, should someone come knocking on the door, you answer. I will be that voice if asked. Every single time.

Secondly, I have already said that I want to build a tourism/service brand here. TV can never hurt. I’m going to take every single opportunity to speak about these issues, whether it’s my topic of choice or another's.

Finally, it doesn’t matter how busy you are; there are regional service tasks that deserve your time. That is why I’ll be up at 5:30 am tomorrow grading papers and prepping classwork. There was a timely question that they asked my help to answer. I said yes. One day, I will need some timely news coverage and have no doubt that "what goes around, comes around." I’ll give 10 times for each one I draw out.

Now, how do I manage tomorrow. Some of today has spilled over somewhat.

But that, as Hammy Hamster would say, is another story. Right now, I need some sleep.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Walking the walk in the first week back

I haven’t written much here in the last few days. The first week or two back into a new semester are always a tad chaotic and disjointed, no matter how well you plan. So I have been writing, but just other things.

The first exciting piece of news is that I’ve resubmitted a chapter of my dissertation for review. This little victory came from following my writing goal (captured Jan 2nd on Mark Leslie’s blog) and getting up very early each day to craft bits and move it forward. Yeah me! Now I’m starting to work on some administrative paperwork and ethics approval forms, followed by the next chapter and then likely some revisions.

Mostly though, I’ve been reading textbooks, taking notes and solving problems. Yup, just like a student. And no, I’m not taking these courses – I’m teaching them.

There is a method to my madness. I’ve encountered the ‘we don’t read the textbook’ groups; maybe it’s a generational thing, but who has time for a new research project right now. Many of my students are buying the textbooks, but not reading them. Boring, they say. But sometimes that’s just how the presentation of information is the first time.

At first, I pondered about the demise of attention spans in this, the YouTube generation. (I don’t hate me YouTube; I spend more time than I should watching stuff there.) Then, I thought about the ramifications of the whole group of parents/teachers who focused on self-esteem over real accomplishments. This might be the outcome of that failed esteem love fest; Johnny won’t read the textbook because is makes him feel confused and sad with all the new information he has to work to understand.

The question I was faced with is how to address this, not accept it. Do I rant about it? Perhaps waggle my finger and shout “thou shalt read the text!” Fear is an effective motivator? Then I had a different thought.

My students struggle with reading, with writing and math. (Do not get me going on the public education system teaching actual skills.) Perhaps it’s just the case that no one ever taught them how to independently approach the material in a textbook.

So, for the next few weeks, if not the whole semester, I will read everything that I assign to my students, approaching it from their point of view. I’m highlighting key items and definitions right in my text, making notes in the margins, and summarizing the chapters in my own words and with my own examples. On paper. With a pen.

I’m showing them what I’m doing as well. I pass around my notes so they can see. We spend 5 minutes talking about the structure of the chapter, how to deconstruct it, and what the author is actually trying to focus your attention on. I’m sharing my stories of what I think the material is saying to me. I want them to start sharing their notes, their stories of engaging with the textbook, even where they thought it was dry or thick. I’ll tell you how this ends up, success or a failed experiment, down the road.

Right now, I would love to hear your thoughts on getting students engaged in the reading process, whether textbooks or other resources? Let me know. But, I have to run now; a few more pages call out to me before tomorrow’s class.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Starting to run when the starting gun fires

First week of a new semester is always an enlightening time. You learn a great deal about students in the first class.

For example, who shows up to the first class? I've had the 'first' class in two different courses this week; roughly 75% attendance in the first class and 60% in the other. Now every student knows when the first day of classes is held - they signed up for the course, right? And they paid tuition. Approximately $550+ if you’re a domestic student and over $1000 for international students. So why not come? Curious.

But to the students that show up, what do I learn from them? Firstly, who is really paying attention and who is going through the motions. Some already have a copy of the course outline and have purchased the textbook. Others seem to be happy having found the classroom and are curious when the introduction class will be over. First impressions are powerful, as they should be in a world in which first impressions are so powerful.

Speaking of, after stating in one class that I would be forming students’ teams for a major project, I was approached by a handful of students asking if they could actually form their own team. I said that it wasn't my habit to make exceptions but was curious why they asked? Their response was "We would prefer not to work with students that didn't show up to the first class. They have already made a bad first impression."

It gives me hope; my students have learned some valuable lessons already.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

More Juice in 2011

Ah, 2010. You crazy last year of this, our first unnamed decade in quite some time (we still haven't yet given it a moniker...the 00's? ooohhhs?)

I'm still processing all that has happened personally and professionally over the last decade. Ten years ago, I was in charge of a 3 a.m., multi-floor evacuation of one of the nicest hotels in Ottawa after someone decided to humorously pull the fire alarm. Today, I'm working on my dissertation and course planning to wrap up my tenth full year of teaching.

Ten years ago, I recall having fewer people in the house and a tad bit more hair.

Some things have changed dramatically, but other things less so. I still think that if you're my customer, you deserve an authentic experience. Back then, it was hotel and restaurant guests. I never recommended food that I hadn't eaten myself or wine that I hadn't tasted (good gig by the way!)  I always did the very best for the customer standing in front of me; it's likely one of the reasons that I can logically explain why hotels and airlines overbook but it fundamentally goes against everything in my DNA. A la Seinfeld, I had a clear appreciation for the difference between 'making' and 'holding' a reservation and never wanted to take the cash in front of my face if it meant breaking a promise to an incoming customer.

Today, I don't serve tables or check guests in. I get nostalgic about it occasionally but it's no longer my role. Now I have students, and for them, I try ensure an authentic experience as well. What does that mean exactly? Do I always have the right answers? Tell them what they want to hear?

No. It means that they get to see me in action, faults and all. When we hit a road block, we work around it. If I drop the ball (and it happens), I want them to tell me where I dropped it! You can't fix what you don't know is broken after all. And I rarely tell them what they want to hear; they didn't pay high tuition prices for unearned self-esteem (more on that in a future post). I try to customize my message to each student, telling them what they need to hear, especially if it's constructive. I want them to be open with me so the best thing I can do is attempt to be open yet sensitive with them.

After ten years, I could be cynical; anyone who has taught for a while gets that way. But I still want the best for my students, still see the potential in them that they might not yet see in themselves. That's the juice.

So, to 2011, I welcome you! In the wise words of Gary Vaynerchuk (just finished his last book), I'm going to try and 'crush it' this year with hard work and hustle. After all, the kids and my students are watching =).

Just my two cents...WCM