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Leading Through Digital Transformation

There is no shortage of headlines and articles about the advances taking place in artificial intelligence. From how people are experimenting with text generation tools like ChatGPT to discussions about how robots are being used in new ways (click here for more on robotics in the catering industry), there seems to be a constant buzz about the topic.

When new technology comes out, people tend to fall into one of two camps: either they are excited by the potential benefits and become early adopters or they are leery about the downsides that may come with it, and they wait to explore it until the kinks have been worked out or it becomes absolutely necessary to adopt.

As leaders, it’s important to be aware of what is out there and constantly evaluate the implications it will have on our respective businesses. Roy Amara, American scientist and president of the Institute of the Future, coined what is now known as Amara’s Law; “We tend to overestimate the effect of a technology in the short run and underestimate the effect in the long run.”

It’s difficult to keep up with the speed of technological advances happening, especially when people are touting how each one will “change everything,” but if we don’t at least pay attention to what is going on, we risk being left behind. Here are three questions leaders should ask when deciding if new technology is worth adopting. 

Does it improve the guest experience?

Finding and hiring staff members continues to be a major challenge for the hospitality industry. In several states, companies are also dealing with onerous pieces of legislation that make it more difficult and expensive to have employees.

Those factors have led to business owners being more willing to explore ways to automate positions and reduce headcount. More and more robots are popping up around dining rooms and kitchens in restaurants across the U.S. I’ve been to Las Vegas and had a drink poured by a robot bartender. While it was attention grabbing and novel, I can’t say that it enhanced my experience as a guest. Robots won’t be replacing all labor needed on a catered event anytime soon, but there is potential for companies that can figure out how robots can be integrated with their team members. A robot that brings plates from the kitchen to the dining tables would allow a server to stay on the floor and provide a higher level of service.

Does it improve the employee experience?

Technology that makes us more efficient can allow our team members to spend more time doing meaningful work that they enjoy and are truly gifted at doing. Years ago, when we automated our pack lists for events, it freed up hours of time each week and allowed our event coordinators to spend more time planning events and working with their clients. I know caterers who are using ChatGPT to assist with tasks such as writing job descriptions, creating proposal language, and drafting marketing blogs. While there still needs to be time spent editing, it creates more time for team members to do tasks they are passionate about. Technology is also critical for attracting the next generation of talent. One of the top things Gen Z is looking for in a job is the presence of technology. They expect it to be integrated into day-to-day operations and to be able to access that technology from their phone.

What resources are necessary?

From the price of the actual technology to the time needed for training and implementation, adopting new technology comes with a variety of costs. In addition to calculating those costs, it can be difficult to quantify the potential benefits to determine if it is worth pursuing, especially when some of those benefits are intangible. Like any investment, leaders must decide if tying up cash and resources in the short term will pay off in the long term. To do that, it’s important to evaluate the capacity of the team and the communication systems in place. If there is no bandwidth to learn a new system or technology, then it’s unlikely an organization will be able to maximize the value of that investment. I speak with many companies who have spent significant money on new technology yet are only using a fraction of what it can do. Healthy communication systems are a great way to expedite implementation. When team members are clear on the end goal, they are more invested in realizing the benefits as soon as possible. They take steps to learn new systems and encourage others to do the same instead of watching others do the work while they wait to see what will happen.

Computers will continue to become smarter and able to perform tasks that previously required humans. As technology advances, leaders will differentiate themselves not by how much they know, but rather by how they treat other people. Focusing on interpersonal skills, emotional intelligence, and other skills that computers can’t do will insulate leaders from their jobs being automated. Those who can blend the tools of automation with the human emotions and heart leadership will find it easier to retain top talent, take advantage of efficiencies that make them more profitable, and create opportunities that put their organizations ahead of the rest.

Just because new technology exists doesn’t mean it should be implemented. While artificial intelligence tools, robots, and other emerging technologies dominate headlines, leaders need to determine what is applicable to their businesses and their teams both in the short and long term. By evaluating the resources necessary as well as the impact on both guests and employees, they can make informed decisions that will lead to the successful implementation of new technology

Anthony Lambatos

Owner/CEO, Footers Catering, Denver, CO

Anthony Lambatos grew up in the catering business working for his father and founder of Footers Catering in Denver, Colorado.  Anthony and his wife, April, purchased the business in 2010 and have successfully made the transition to a second-generation family business.  They recently moved Footers Catering into a new facility that will also house their newest venture – an event center called Social Capitol.  Anthony is passionate about helping other companies create great places to work and inspiring people with heart leadership and does that through his sister company MIBE (acronym for make it better...