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HR Roundtable: Changes in recruitment and training for hotels

Devina Divecha, January 11th, 2018

Let’s talk training. Tell us more about the programmes that you implement in-house.

David Leman, Marriott International: It’s not as simple as what you do to train people. We have a learning management system that has 4,000 programmes, and there’s something for everybody, at every level, in every position, in every geography. Sometimes it can be too much, so strategically we are working on simplifying this, and we are bringing in three programmes that define our leadership development: Base Camp, which 
gets you into managerial positions; Ascent, which gets you into directorship; and Summit, which gets you into executive leadership.

The newer approach is to bring in external companies to train us, which we haven’t typically done. The challenge that we probably have with these programmes is the bandwidth of delivering them. We are 250 hotels, with another couple of hundred due to open in the next few years; that takes our associate headcount in the Middle East and Africa (MEA) to just over 120,000 associates, which is incredibly challenging. I’ve had to expand the learning and development (L&D) team; I have 16 people now, to manage that complexity and volume.

Peter Mitchell, Movenpick Hotels & Resorts: At the end of the day, retention comes back to you, and the value that you get from your job. Most companies have programmes that are hotel-based, plus individual ones. We have what we call ‘area learning forums’ in four areas: Europe, Africa, the Middle East, and Asia. These are regional programmes that are run by certifying trainers from the region, from supervisory to middle management.

You’re looking to grow skills all the way up. From that point, we have Mövenpick Business Academies, where we use external consultants to deliver programmes that are aligned to our culture and our needs. This all leads to making sure that we have got the right people for the future. How do we identify the potential department heads for the number-two roles; how do we identify the number -twos for the number-one roles? And then, do we have general managers to meet our growth needs? Identifying them and then training them is our key priority.

I’d say we are successful with that, because most of our senior managers — I’m going to say 20% to 30% of those — have gone through that programme and are sitting in either GM or number-two roles. This sends a very powerful message: if you have both the skills and the potential, then there’s a path.

Laura Laugier, Kempinski Hotels: For us, it’s really focused on luxury. We focused last year and this year on the junior team members. The middle-management trainers who are training the employees on the job have been our main focus. We have been implementing on-the-job training tools, and for us, as a luxury company, our niche is such that it’s a service. However, leadership is very important, because no matter what you bring in, if your leaders are not on board with it, they will continue to turn over and go.

What we’ve done in 2017 is to go heavily into a lot of assessments of our general managers and hotel managers, and cascade that down to the ExCom next. Based on those assessments, we are implementing leadership training next year, and it’s going to be a bit of a blend between e-learning and classroom learning.

We’re doing it very systemically because we are tackling quite a few things at the same time, including employee engagement, which was a very big topic last year. We have been measuring satisfaction for many years and now we’ve gone into engagement with Gallup. Recently, we received the results for this year and I’m pleased to say that we have improved. We’re not just taking it from the learning aspect, but also from the human resources and engagement side of things as well, to see how we are doing.

Lynne McGarvey, Media One Hotel: We are an independent property, so we have a different perspective, perhaps. This year we have looked at a lot from the recruitment stage. We have a lot of internal growth, which is good to see, but we are also looking at the people that are coming in — what can we offer for them? If we can’t grow them, we know that they might leave quickly. So, we are asking what we need to do for that person, at any level, in the first three months.

For leadership, we are also looking from outside. Managers and the senior team would value an outside opinion. We spend all day together, all year — we need to listen to what people from the outside are telling us. It’s in the recruitment, then on-boarding, then identifying who is the talent and how we can keep them.

Do you think graduates are equipped to handle the real work environment?

Peter: We take on a trainee each year from EHL (École hôtelière de Lausanne) and my experience is that they bring with them that difference in thinking. They’ve got a foundation of knowledge and experience gained in hotel experience — obviously limited experience, but with a hunger and a passion to question, think about, suggest, and be part of. They’re not shy.

Laura: For us as hoteliers, we are a very traditional bunch, and with a lot of the students that come through, it’s about us taking care of them and allowing them the space to spread their wings. At the Emirates Palace, we have a very good leadership programme where they spend 12 to 18 months with us, and at the end, hopefully, they become assistant managers. That’s something we have not had before, even 10 years ago. It’s a resource that more and more we need to harness as companies.

Is it more challenging to get interns?

Laura: It usually depends on which country you’re in and the length of the internship.

David: We try and partner with more local universities and colleagues; however, with EHL, you have a lot of students from this market, and that you can bring back to this market.

I’ve been in the market for 15 years and it’s changed dramatically in that time. There’s been a much greater push for localisation, but it’s become even more intense now, to the point where, if you look at a country like Saudi Arabia, there’s a decree that every GM of a hotel has to be a Saudi national in three years. How do you do that? It’s a goal that we have to aspire to. As an example, Marriott launched a new programme, Tahseen, this year; it’s got 40 students on it, all Saudi nationals, a combination of both men and women.

They’ll go through an 18-month programme. And you can’t say to an intern or developee now that if they work hard, and do the time, and perform well, we may give them an opportunity. It has to be a guaranteed opportunity, in a specific timeframe, and at a specific salary level, as well. The expectations and demands are a lot greater. The crowning jewel is that you get a Cornell University qualification at the end of Tahseen, so it’s blending the experience with the degree.

As we’ve gone out to recruit, we did a video blog on Saudi Arabia and what it’s like to work in hospitality; this blew me away. We had a famous Saudi influencer in his 20s, and we asked him to come and work in the hotel for a day. He cleaned rooms, he answered telephones, he cooked food, and he cleaned pots and pans. He posted a 17-minute video online, and within less than two weeks it had half a million views and 150,000 likes, and we received 3,000 applications from Saudi nationals. These are people who saw that working in a hotel, in this industry, was not totally undesirable. They saw this guy cook and clean rooms, and they were still interested. There’s a myth buster in here somewhere — that the perception that we have created for ourselves is a self-fulfilling prophecy, not a reality.

A recruitment strategy has to be global, but also culturally relevant. A key part of the Tahseen programme is that we teach in Arabic. Whilst English is a requirement of the industry, you learn in your mother tongue better than you do in your second language. So you have to teach in the local language, and operate in the industry language.

Mark Reimer, Ecole hoteliere de Lausanne: You hit on an interesting point about the employers having to up their game in their offer to the employee. We see this through our recruitment fair. Every year we have more employers attending, only half of which are hospitality companies, meaning you’re not just competing with hospitality companies for the talent. That means that the students have multiple offers, so there’s got to be something attractive that will engage them.

David: You’ve just got to make it the most desirable workplace, one you can have fun being in.

Lynne: Look at all the hotels opening. We have to make sure that we have the right package so that people will be happy and stay. The generation has changed, their needs have changed, they want experiences.You need money, you need a work/ life balance, and that’s the challenge now — that there are so many jobs out there, people will come and go. The culture should be right.

Laura: It goes back to localisation. we’re opening in Oman and we have to do that there. Today, to attract people, even to get into the industry, millennials need to know what’s in it for them and their plans. We are working on something where we put plans in for the Saudis and, if it works, then we will be able to do the same for the Omanis. We have trained the person well enough that there shouldn’t be anything stopping us from giving them the next position. Governments are making us do this, and they are right to do so.

Has the increased number of millennials in the workplace affected how you as hoteliers approach issues such as recruitment and training?

Lynne: I would say that the communication style has changed, thanks to the mode of communication having changed, with social media, internal Facebook pages, and so on. You can either e-mail all the managers or post it on the Facebook page and tag all the people. Whatsapp groups are also used widely now.

Laura: As was mentioned, the way that we learn — this has now moved online. Mobile learning is becoming a very big part of our culture, as well. Then there’s the character of management. Gone are the days when you had an egotistical, tyrannical GM! This it has had to change. It’s changing, and we are seeing a lot of GMs behaving as though they’re  younger because they need to adapt.

Peter: In the past, we didn’t have enough tools that would help people understand themselves, and we see those more and more now.

What I’m also seeing is a lot of the newer general managers that are coming up, who are somewhere in the mid-30s age bracket. They have been through multiple assessments.

It’s about how we communicate the message, and how we give feedback, and where this is going to. That’s where maybe — years ago — we weren’t quite as robust in having those conversations and in talking about people’s development and potential.

Now we are a lot more comfortable because we’ve got better tools. We have data so that, all the way  across the board, everyone has a comparison set and a development plan that is based on their own individual needs.

We’ve got a lot better as organisations at supporting people and in them providing value, and then knowing what their next steps are.

What about different learning styles?

Lynne: Self-learning is now huge, and online platforms — look at YouTube. I tell people they need to also work on their self-learning. There’s so much online, whether it’s videos, links, or books, and there’s networking. Everything is at your fingertips, unlike in the past. There’s no excuse now to not learn.

David: Organisational structure hasn’t changed over the years. You need a sort of edginess, even in job titles, and when you market those jobs, you attract a different kind of candidate. You’ve got to take the old structure into this century, and how you do that when it comes to job titles? While job description is important from many perspectives, in terms of assessment of performance, and the protection of the organisation, it also puts everyone in a little box — and that’s not necessarily a wise thing to do.

Are companies looking to change organisational structures and job titles?

Peter: I think, going forward, that’s something that’s been considered within our organisation. We’ve gone back to looking at the guest experience in light of the changing demographics, and really, from our traditional set-up, what is the future going to be? We really need to start working now, because the change needs to happen now in order to get where it needs to be in the future.

From our guest experience point of view, it means we need to organise to meet that need. We recognise — from the whole lobby experience, which incorporates some type of dining area or café — that this is a shared and more communal experience. We have seen the emergence of these places, not really just to sell coffee, but also as a place to interact. The workplace, in the future, will be more like that.

That whole change in the way we departmentalise everything is on the verge of a journey towards change, which means we need to change organisational structures, and change the way that we hire, the way that we train, and ensure that people deliver service in a different way.

David: If, in the future, people are crossing the traditional boundaries of job structure, how do we educate? How will that affect curriculum design and delivery?

Lynne: We have a flat structure at Media One, and we have varied names for the departments. We introduced the lobby experience team, and we called them ‘lobby ambassadors’, but they said they weren’t comfortable with that, so we changed it. All the departments are flexible; you find people doing more jobs that overlap.

Peter: It will take more time because, if you think of the current structure of a hotel, the current facility is built around the traditional organisational departments. Newer hotels, or hotels with more flexibility in design, will be able to move to more organic structures a little bit more quickly.

Now, let’s talk engagement.

David: We work with Aon. Our engagement is based on six questions that relate to pride in the job: willingness to stay, willingness to recommend jobs to friends and family... satisfaction is a measure, but engagement is not driven by satisfaction.

Traditionally, we’ve been perceived as a lower-paying industry, but we compensate that through the engagement, environment, culture, and L&D that we deliver. We make it a great place to be, that’s why people keep coming into this industry, and stay with us for such a long time.

Lynne: Once you get into the industry, it’s an addictive place to be. I can’t imagine working anywhere else.

Peter: From a service industry point of view, you have a number of benefits that are tangible. We have the best of both worlds: we’re probably mid-market payers when it comes to industries, but we’ve got a lot of other tangible things that most people would grab with both hands. There’s not many other industries where you can say that. Once you fit in to the culture, you stay here for a long, long time.

Lynne: It comes down to leadership, as well. Leaders are key to creating a culture in which people are treated well. You need good leaders that will take care of guests, and take care of your team.

David: The career opportunities in this industry are  significant, more so than in others. Leaders in our industry often rise through the ranks. The industry develops them, and education is supplementary rather than necessary.

Peter: From a student point of view, they need to have all the information about what different companies provide, because they need to understand what opportunities a particular company will be able to offer them, compared to another company.

Laura: A hotel is like an island, and the general manager is the chief; he is an influencer. If the culture that is being presented to new recruits is not followed up, it causes disillusionment, so the brands that are able to try to differentiate themselves. The die-hard employees who stay with a certain company not only promote the culture, but also do the follow-up.

David: I get cautious talking about age, because you can still be 60 and be millennial at heart.

Peter: To me it’s a mind-set.

David: The ability to ‘gen blend’.

Peter: You’re 100% right. It is the individual. Although there are generational themes, there’s still an individual. Even if I look at my style, certain aspects of my behaviour are indicative of my age, but in other things, I think differently. The requirements are the same for all generations; we just need to recognise that we need to move towards things that meet the needs of the specific generation that we’re targeting.

Mark: The literature shows that it’s actually the challenges that drive people to choose this sector.

Lynne: I agree; yesterday, three of our eight new joinees were engaged when it came to cross-training and learning.

Peter: We have a programme that we call ‘ExCom Y’. When we talk about this in relation to new starters; they always ask when they can apply to it. We have 10 individuals on it, six internal, and four external. They meet and mirror our normal ExCom; they are engaged in the discussion, and are involved in conversations that the ExCom has. They want to be involved in areas where they can add value, getting involved in programmes that can meet their needs, drive their careers, take them to the next position, earn them more money, you name it.

We’ve got opportunities that link with people’s individual needs and motivate them. They have what’s required; we just need to provide the opportunity.