HR Interview with Hilton's Koray Genckul

Hilton senior director of human resources Middle East, Africa & Turkey Koray Genckul is responsible for the well-being of more than 20,000 team members. He shares the operator's best practices for creating engagement

On a global level, Hilton employs more than 360,000 people around the world. Keeping its people happy and productive, therefore, is important for the hotel operator.

Under CEO Christopher Nassetta’s leadership, Hilton has rolled out a number of programmes to help its team members thrive both personally and professionally, from benefits related to parental leave, travel discounts perks, through to appreciation programmes and ongoing learning and development resources, and more.

In May this year, Hilton worked on its annual global career event called ‘Careers @ Hilton Week’, which was designed to showcase the many opportunities available in the hospitality industry for young people and other job seekers. Youth employment is a key issue in the Middle East, and as such, it has become a focus for Hilton. The importance of youth and their issues is something Nassetta highlighted during his visit to AHIC 2017 and in his interview with Hotelier Middle East (see June 2017 issue), and it’s something that even the Middle East, Africa, and Turkey HQ believes in.

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Leading the human resources operations of the Middle East, Africa & Turkey is Koray Genckul, Hilton’s senior director of human resources for those regions, and takes direction from the global programmes the operator works on.

As an example, just this summer, Hilton launched a global initiative called ‘Thrive@Hilton’ to focus on its team members’ well-being. In a public statement by Nassetta, the operator has re-affirmed that its team members are its “greatest asset”. Genckul tells Hotelier: “Over the years we have seen an increase in resources and benefits for all of the team members, and we believe that these are rising our customer satisfaction, which is very important.” That is why, he says, this new value proposition was launched: “It’s about doing the right thing, giving the right tools to our team members so they can optimise the quality of their life while they are optimising their health. It’s all about having a work-life balance and giving them opportunities so that they will feel better and be better.

“Look at it, not only from the existing team members’ perspective, but also at what is important today for the youth. It’s also important that they see that they can flourish in a work environment.”

The youth issue brings up the millennial issue — who are now an integral part of all workforces. Genckul says that with the change in the mindset of talent, there has been a strategy change in how recruitment takes place. “We knew, because we do continuous research and studies, that what a job means for a young person today is different from what it was 20-25 years ago.” Highlighting that Hilton worked on events specifically to meet and engage with millennials, he says that it’s also about educating them as well as their families about the opportunities the hospitality industry has to offer.

He explains: “If you ask a parent if they want their kids to work in a hotel, most of them will think, ‘Do I want my kid to be a waiter or a receptionist or a chef?’ But the reality is very different today. In a hotel today we have a hundred-plus different roles at so many different levels, in so many different departments. So it’s hospitality beyond F&B or organising accommodation. It’s our responsibility to educate everybody about what hospitality can offer to people.

“We have roles that people would not probably know about — consolidated revenue centres or we have people looking for energy efficiency. And we have people looking at very high-end marketing projects in our organisations. So we have lots to offer to young people. It’s key for millennials to understand the different opportunities in hospitality that they can actually get.”

And certainly, the company has been recognised by many for its workplace culture. In March this year, it jumped 30 places (to No. 26) on the 2017 Fortune 100 Best Companies to Work For list; in 2016, it was named one of the World’s 25 Best Multinational Workplaces in 2016, according to global research and consulting firm Great Place to Work, and ranked first in Saudi Arabia.

Genckul adds: “We are very proud because globally we have been ranked very high, and if we talk about the geographies of which I’m in charge, we received the highest hospitality company rank two years in a row in the UAE, and we won the number one place in Saudi Arabia two years in a row, which is a great recognition of what we have put in place.”

Engagement is what results in all these awards, and Genckul says that Hilton works towards this. “Engagement is not something that happens when you tell people to please be engaged. Engagement is self-driven. How do we create engagement? It is created by providing team members a purpose in what they’re doing — if they don’t believe in it or see beyond what they are physically doing, it’s difficult to create this. Our training programmes don’t only train on technical aspects, but also help our team members to understand that beyond the physical job, what’s the purpose behind everything, how are they contributing to the larger purpose?”

One of the company’s training opportunities include the Hilton Worldwide University, which offers more than 2,500 learning programmes for team members. These programmes are delivered in a variety of ways, including e-learning, webinars, eBooks and articles, classroom training, on-the-job experiences, social learning, iPads, and apps.

While all these global initiatives are carried out, Hilton also has local tailored programmes for this region. In Saudi Arabia specifically, Hilton has the Mudeer Al Mustaqbal (Manager of the Future — MOF) programme to train and develop Saudi nationals in F&B, front office, and housekeeping managerial roles over a two-year period; whilst offering various job skills programmes for local team members to improve their on-the-job skills set on an on-going basis.

Genckul, who has previously lived in Saudi Arabia, is enthusiastic about this. “When I worked there so many years ago, we probably had four to five Saudi team members. Today more than one-third of our workforce are Saudi nationals; that’s around 35% of our workforce. And around one-third of the local workforce is female.” He adds that this took time and happened with a lot of support from the Saudi Arabian government as well.

Another localised version of a global initiative is its partnership with the International Youth Foundation (IYF) and the King Khalid Foundation, for the Passport to Success initiative for Saudi Arabia. The programme is aimed at engaging and developing Saudi youth for future careers. Passport to Success is a global life skills initiative developed by IYF, which focuses its training on four core areas, including all-round personal development, problem solving skills, healthy lifestyle advice, and work place success.

Gender diversity is also a focus. Genckul says: “It’s a business imperative for us. We believe in diversity and inclusion from every angle.” Hilton has been organising Women in Leadership conferences across the Middle East & Africa, with the most recent one in March 2017 in South Africa. The next one is set to take place in Dubai on September 11 at the Waldorf Astoria Dubai Palm Jumeirah.

All of this contributes to a happier workforce, and one that is growing. Across the Middle East, Africa & Turkey, Genckul oversees a team of approximately 20,000 to 23,000 team members. And Hilton’s pipeline is ever-expanding. He adds: “It’s such a large pipeline that this number [of team members] is probably going to double in the next four to five years. It’s so difficult to be precise but it will create opportunities for people.”

He concludes: “It’s important to understand what appeals to people today in terms of what they expect from life and work, and how as an organisation you can deliver this. As an organisation you’re not there just to create jobs. You want to create opportunities for people so they can find a purpose in what they want to do.” 

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