NIMBYism: The Most Significant Cultural Threat for our Industry in 2018

In a meeting with the CEO of a student housing owner-operator just before the holidays, our conversation steered from ‘anticipated challenges for 2018’ to local politics and frustrations caused by difficulty in getting through planning permission for new-build developments. The conversation reminded me of others that I have had with hotel companies and developers as well as restaurant operators in the recent past – they all referenced the rise of ‘NIMBYism’ as something that has caused a lot of frustration to them and their companies. NIMBYism is the acronym for ‘Not In My Backyard’ – a phrase often used by opponents to relaxing building regulations, allowing development on brownfield sites or the green belt, or increasing building density in residential areas. NIMBYists, in essence, often say they might accept change – but not if it affects them. Whilst I can sympathise, to some extent, I also appreciate that it is change that helps to stimulate growth, progress and innovation. Therefore, I wondered, what were to happen if 2018 saw the ‘NIMBYism’ culture spread to the corporate world?

Separation. Autonomy. Resistance to Change. We cannot ignore these warning signs.

In its harshest form, NIMBYism can be seen as a display of egocentric thinking or a lack of comradery. Unfortunately, such resistance to change, and reluctance by the few to personally give up something for the greater benefit of the many, seems to have spread into other areas. Just think of the recent changes in the political landscape with many countries wanting to ‘close their boarders’ or ‘win back control’. Regions are calling out for greater autonomy, or to outright split from their countries, and some individuals are saying that they are fed up with having to pay in over the odds into an association or political apparatus from which they do not reap the rewards. Putting politics aside, for hospitality businesses around this world, human resource departments and talent management executives, disaster would strike if such an attitude were to ‘infiltrate’ their corporate cultures.
  • Can you imagine a hotel company where teams suddenly want to ‘disassociate’ themselves because they see themselves as the ‘contributors’, whilst other departments (seemingly) just chip away the profit? What were to happen with, what traditionally have been considered, the cost centres of a hospitality organisation – such as human resources, finance or IT? Would other departments not recognise that without the support of, and collaboration amongst, everyone, success cannot be achieved – no matter how great oneself performs in the individual ‘bubble’ of the area of responsibility that one holds?
  • Say a restaurant or hotel company has successfully ventured into new territories, but those territories still need time and management expertise to reach the same operational and financial performance levels of the more established home markets. Is it right for the management team in those mature markets to call for independence because their yearly bonus, based on overall company performance, could have been negatively influenced by the expansion efforts (growth plans that would have been originally backed up by the leadership team and in which everyone saw a benefit)? Is this perceived unfairness, a feeling of having to pay for other people’s learning curve, a justified reason to break apart? And when is patience allowed to run out?
  • Say the hospitality industry is once again hit by another global crisis – be it financial, economic or of a different nature (think travel bans or health and safety concerns). Would it be right for CEOs and other business leaders to continue demanding, by default, their usual remuneration packages? Would it be right to say that they appreciate that their businesses are going through rough times and that cost cutting measures need to take place – but that they do not want this to alter their pay-outs? Would one accept such an attitude, such resistance to change and disregard of the new market realities?
The answers to all these questions are obviously nuanced, and sometimes the change that is needed is exactly such disassociation (e.g., by outsourcing departments) and/or separation of unprofitable business units (e.g., by selling a division or considering a management buy-out). Other times, change may not be what is needed – with stability and consistency providing strength in leadership in times of unrest. What remains true is the fact that hospitality businesses are based on interdependence – internally, within an organisation, as well as externally, with all its potential businesses partners and stakeholders. An egocentric mind-set will never foster positive outcomes. It is also a commonly accepted truth that today’s generation of workers has a different mind-set. A lot of the times, millennials, for example, are willing to go the extra mile if they believe that they will receive a similar or equal benefit from their employer in return for putting in those extra hours. Attention spans seem to have shortened and patience has become a virtue that is not often displayed. Additionally, the work environment has become increasingly more flexible and accepting of much greater individual autonomy. What hospitality business leaders and HR departments need to be mindful of in the upcoming year is the provision of strong leadership, to keep ‘the finger on the pulse’ of their organisations and to understand the drivers and root behind such cultural movements as represented by NIMBYists – and, above all, to proactively strengthen and foster collaboration and an interdependent mind-set.