Professor Brian To | ‘Employee autonomy is only found in five-star properties’


Professor Brian To is a strategist, consultant and educator on matters of strategy, leadership, business and change management, among other topics. Currently affiliated with 10 different higher education institutions, he also consults with Asian governments, militaries, large corporations and wealthy individuals and families.
On Wednesday he conducted a seminar on strategic leadership for around 25 delegates at Banyan Tree Macau, presented by Inside Asian Gaming. To instructed delegates of the importance of great leaders and the shortage of them worldwide.
“Every year 19 percent of the Fortune 500 [corporation’s] leaders change,” he said. “If you are a leader… and a terrific one, then you are worth billions!”
Macau Daily Times sat down with To in order to understand Macau’s specific leadership challenges, and what overcoming them might mean to the MSAR.

Macau Daily Time (MDT) – What makes a good leader versus a good manager?
Brian To (BT) – It’s not management versus leadership. You need to have management in a formal, traditional sense, but you also need to have leadership. Most of the research talks about the differences between the two and that you should try to encourage managers to become leaders. But I don’t believe that. I believe you need to have both management and leadership skills.

MDT – What is your view of the state of Macau’s leadership and the focus on developing local leadership opportunities?
BT – That’s the only solution [to improving Macau’s leadership]. There are many reasons why [this is the case]; one is culture and language, another is that it represents a departure from dependency on foreign talent. Whether or not the government will actually inspire the local community to go beyond the obvious is one thing, but actually the most important thing is that they have leadership coaching beyond an academic foundation.

MDT – Are there factors specific to Macau that might hinder the development of leadership?
BT- There is no doubt in my mind that Macau still has a very provincial attitude toward hospitality. Not gaming, because Macau has leadership in gaming, but in hospitality and customer service.
Quite often [in Macau] the leadership might be foreign – that’s questionable because not all foreigners are experts, right? However, the Chinese community recognizes talent. If you have leadership skills [as a foreigner] they will respect you, but if you have a colonial attitude, you will not be forgiven. They are not forgiving of that. Those that come with an open heart and an open mind and have receptivity to appreciate a culture, they will do very well here. Many companies here are trying to transition [themselves] by implementing Western leadership practices, so you have that [cultural] collision, and the local community are trying to make sense of that.

MDT – What about micromanagement in Macau? Is that a problem?
BT – By nature, in gaming there are standards of conduct and processes and policies that give the appearance of micromanagement but are not actually micromanagement.
In hospitality, it’s the opposite. You have a lot of micromanagement and you have a lot of command and control, which doesn’t lend itself to developing communities of employees who feel empowered. In hospitality, the in-the-moment service you provide to the customer has to be now; not six hours from now after you check with three levels of supervisors.
That kind of autonomy and license that we give employees to make on-the-spot decisions is typically only found in five-star properties. The Ritz-Carlton [brand] is a good example, as is the Four Seasons, where employees have the autonomy to fix problems right on the spot, in front of the customer. The wow-factor [there] is very high, but the wow-factor here is very low. And you see that in all of the ratings and reviews.

MDT – What are the prospects for the government’s plan to diversify away from gaming?
BT – At the moment, Macau is really not moving fast enough [in the development of niche tourism offerings], especially when you look at the other tourism opportunities that are developing in the region. Macau is dragging its heels and staying reliant on gaming.
The diversification is going to take a while, but what can you do in the meantime? You can take steps in improving customer service and customer relations so that we can build on emotional investment, not just in gaming, but also in tourism. What Macau needs is a real strategy to rebrand itself. The government needs to consider its strategy and vision and how it wants to be seen around the world. There are other examples of where this has been successful, such as South Korea or Taiwan. Given the very many opportunities here, I am sure that Macau will emerge as the hospitality capital of the world – not just Southeast Asia.

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