Style over substance – the balancing act

With ‘The Night Manager’, ‘Happy Valley’ – and if you’re into ‘Nordic Noir’ and who isn’t – ‘Trapped’ hitting our screens almost simultaneously we’ve been finding it difficult to tear ourselves away at times.

We’ve been particularly hooked on The Night Manager and the character of Jonathan Pine (played by Tom Hiddleston) who puts an entirely new spin on the role of concierge. Once we managed to focus on work again it brought to mind a recent article we read on organisational productivity, by E McNulty (great name bringing to mind another visual addiction from a while back, The Wire!).

Sadly, it doesn’t actually cover secret agents and government conspiracy but it does give some interesting insights into what businesses can learn from the hotel and hospitality industry. Here are a few theories that we loved…

The complex process of keeping it simple

Simplicity in business is by no means an easy feat – reviewing which processes are actually needed and streamlining functions accordingly can take a lot of time and input. ‘Knowing when to keep it simple’ is a skill in itself – which processes do you need to really drive effectiveness? How can you cut out the unnecessary in order to harness productivity and creativity?

McNulty uses hotel showers of all things to rather neatly illustrate this point;


“Have you ever been in a hotel room with stunning bathroom fixtures? They’re gorgeous objects, right out of Architectural Digest. But, as the clock is ticking down to your first meeting, you can’t figure out how to turn on the shower.

Smart organizations do the same. The more time and effort spent wrestling with internal processes, the less energy is available for innovating and serving customers. So how can we root out the disruptions created by unnecessary complexity.”



Karyn has her our own version of McNulty’s bathroom example; shown into an exquisite Hempel Hotel suite courtesy of a rather stylish client event we were facilitating it did indeed require careful instructions from the Armani clad staff member as to how to operate bath and shower. Unfortunately, what they failed to demonstrate was how to actually open the room door – so minimalist that there was no handle – leading to an almost catastrophic start to the morning’s proceedings as she struggled post breakfast to get into the room for her laptop and notes.

It took the concierge of course to just come and lightly touch a certain spot on the door for it to glide open – that unnecessary and embarrassing complexity!

The concierge and ‘rendering the impossible possible’

Much of the work we do with teams is in helping them align their vision and objectives with the organisational strategy. Defining the vision is one thing, but living and achieving it is another entirely – it requires a cohesive unit with a shared understanding of team and individual priorities, along with honesty, openness and trust…much like a great concierge team.

As McNulty puts it:


“A great team at the concierge desk routinely executes complex tasks with ease, and sometimes renders the impossible possible. Team members navigate internal systems and external resources with great facility. Their success is built on relationships that add value for multiple stakeholders.”



These are competencies we often see teams striving for – perhaps ‘the organisational concierge’ is the missing piece of the puzzle in the work-place?

Inspiring action – cutting to the chase

Processes and systems aren’t the only areas where the right balance between ‘style’ and ‘substance’ pays off. It can also be fundamental in bringing people with you in key strategic decisions.

A recent day we held with an Exec team looked closely at leadership styles and influencing – getting your teams on board during a time of transition whatever your preferred leadership style can be tricky. More often than not you may need to flex and adapt, sometimes way beyond your comfort zone.


If you’re a natural visionary thinker, then the ‘why’ may not be imperative to you but it is to those who like and need a bit more detail. Simon Sinek’s ‘Golden Circle’ is a useful model in emphasising the importance of focussing on the ‘why’, before moving on to the ‘what’ and ‘how’. Communicating the purpose and cause behind a vision can be extremely powerful when wanting to inspire real commitment to change and action.

Post-script – the sudden death of the inspirational architect Zaha Hadid is somebody who, for us, epitomises the perfect balance between style, function and substance.