Marketing content shared with Michigan Business Network by:
Bonnie J. Knutson, PhD
The School of Hospitality Business
Broad College of Business
Michigan State University
Not long ago, I had the opportunity to talk with a Manager. He humanized, for me, the issues that he, like many of you, have been facing – staffing, supply shortages, cancellations, rising costs for virtually everything…ad infinitum. As we said goodbye, we “bumped elbows.” He then smiled and said, We will get through this because my employees are heroes. They are all heroes. But are they heroes? Are they really? Or are they just doing the job for which they were hired and are being paid?
If you have read some of my other articles, you know that I often draw upon Latin (Yes, I truly did study Latin for several years.) and my Merriam-Webster Dictionary to get a fresh perspective on words because they often change meaning over time. Hot does not mean just a temperature anymore; GOAT is not just a funny-looking animal and Zoom has surely morphed from meaning “move or travel very quickly” to something with which we all have a love-hate relationship.
So what about hero? According to Eric Partridge, the word hero is rooted in Greek and akin to Latin, meaning “to protect” or “safeguard.” It is thought to have evolved from the name Hera, the Greek goddess known for her protection. So are your employees heroes? After all, they do protect and safeguard your customers, their colleagues, and, perhaps most important of all, the value of your brand name.
Just when I thought I had an answer, something I once read popped into my head from Pixar’s The Incredibles movie. You may recall the scene where Dash got in trouble in school.
On the way home, he says to his mother, “Our powers make us special.”
To which she replies, “Everyone is special.”
Dash then responds with, “Which is another way of saying that no one is…When everyone is super, no one will be.”
By calling everyone a hero, are we diluting the specialness of what they do, who they are, and how they help, save, or serve? Are First Responders heroes? Are the truckers who drive through the night delivering much-needed supplies to our stores, offices, or warehouses heroes?
Is the little 10-year-old boy who voluntarily shovels the sidewalk of an elderly widow living down the street – without being asked and without expecting to be paid -- also a hero? And what about the receptionist, the cleaning staff, and the salesperson who come in and work a double shift so that your business can function? Are they also heroes? It seems as if just about everyone is being called a hero today.
Maybe the dilution of the word hero evolved from the “every kid gets a trophy” era in which many of us received a blue ribbon or a little plastic trophy for just participating. Some of us might still have a few of those blue ribbons or little plastic trophies in an old shoebox tucked away in a drawer somewhere. But is just participating or just “showing up for work,” worthy of a trophy, of being given the distinction of being called a hero? Tell that to Olympians or to the contenders for the Oscars. Tell that to the National Spelling Bee contestants vying for the $50,000 prize. Should that award be equally divided among all the participants just for participating? As Dash pointed out, “They keep celebrating mediocrity, but if someone is genuinely exceptional, they shut him down because they don’t want everyone else to feel bad!” Was the hotel manager right, then, when he said all his employees are heroes?
COVID seems to have up-ended every aspect of every operation. Things have not been normal for the past few of years, nor will they be normal when this pandemic crisis is in the rear-view mirror. There will not be a new normal either. What there will be, however, is a next normal, giving us the opportunity to reimagination what it means to be a hero. To reimagination how we recognize our heroes; how we reward our heroes; how we honor our heroes. An article in Forbes called this Good Employership, pointing out that, in a world where skilled people are scarce and increasingly demanding, a successful [hotel] needs to embrace good employership as a key business strategy. The bottom line is that every hotel needs its heroes. To borrow the lyrics from Bonnie Tyler’s celebrated recording:
I need a hero I'm holding out for a hero 'til the end of the night He's gotta be strong, and he's gotta be fast And he's gotta be fresh from the fight I need a hero I'm holding out for a hero 'til the morning light He's gotta be sure, and it's gotta be soon. And he's gotta be larger than life Larger than life.