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Style over Substance

Style over Substance

Nicola Hopes

26 October 2021

Picture the scene: I’m on my way to work with an amazing client to facilitate their workshop. The prep is done, the agenda is set, and I’m ready!

I travel the night before to my beautiful hotel in Marylebone – stunning architecture, incredible location. This couple of days is going to be great!

Then I check in to said beautiful hotel and quickly fall back to earth with a bump.

I call reception (from my mobile because the in-room phone doesn’t work) to tell them there are no bath towels in the bathroom. The very nice receptionist explains they haven’t had the towel delivery, so hand towels are all they have. I don’t really know what to say to that other than – ‘Wow. Really?’

On further examination the picture gets worse – the tap in the bathroom only aims into the sink when on full blast, which soaks the mirror and me every time it’s on. There’s nowhere to put the soap. So, a soapy wet sludge runs across the whole sink area every time I use it – which is frequently, given it’s COVID times and the hotel is not giving me confidence that it has its act together.

And it got me thinking. How many times do we undermine all the hard work we do by messing up the basics? How often do we damage all the things that make us special (as individuals and businesses) by ignoring the details?

Once I’m in my hotel room, the beautiful architecture is an irrelevance compared to not being able to dry myself after a shower or wash my hands without getting drenched.

A classic way to erode a brand is to over promise and under deliver… All the stunning pictures on the hotel website were made laughable by the actual experience of staying there – which I won’t do again.

Building on sand

To highlight how this shows up in business, here’s a summary of utterly incongruous discussions I’ve had with clients where we need a reality check.

• ‘We need a state-of-the-art career development framework for talent mobility’
• BUT our performance management process is archaic, we don’t ask for (or get) quality feedback and nobody can set a decent objective for toffee.

‘We need an expensive new customer relationship management system’
• BUT we don’t have a single common process for sales, and we don’t share any information about customers / potential customers because we care about our individual bonuses – thank you very much!

• ‘We need a fancy new app’
• BUT we haven’t actually asked customers how they want to be served by us and our existing channels are a car crash.

You get the picture.

No organisation is perfect and I’m not saying don’t think big…

I’m just saying that if where you are is such a jarring distance away from where you want to be (and what you portray), you have to go back and fix it. Fast.

And if you don’t, your colleagues and customers will vote with their feet. And tell all their friends.

This hotel experience took place only last night as I write this and I’ve already told everyone in the workshop, my husband and a London cabbie – I will rely on her to spread the word further across London!

Have I told people about the beautiful architecture? The amazing location? The glossy marketing?


I’ve told them about not having a towel or a sink that works.

As Anthony Hitt (President & CEO at Engel & Völkers Americas) simply put it:

‘Keep every promise you make
and only make promises you can keep.’

Or (if you prefer), as an old teacher of mine once said to the class:

‘Before you reach for the lip gloss,
check that your shoes are clean.’

So, what basics do you need to fix in order to get where you need to go?

In the meantime, I’m on the hunt for the illusive bath towel…

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