Interview: The correct way to cluster

Radisson Hotel Group cluster GM James Berry talks to Hotelier Middle East about the growing popularity of clustering hospitality roles in the region

James Berry
James Berry

As Hotelier Middle East’s Secret Concierge feature highlighted in March, the clustering of roles in hospitality is not always successfully executed. It often spreads an employee too thin with little pay increase to justify it. Radisson Hotel Group cluster GM James Berry recently sat down with us to go through the right way to cluster, what the pitfalls are and which departments benefit most.

Has clustering become a trend recently?
I wouldn't call it a trend at this point. It’s more common now as the Dubai hotel market has got to a point where it is no longer emerging, it’s now more stabilised. Regionalising and clustering roles is much more common in established markets such as these. Radisson Blu Hotel, Dubai Media City for example is a well-established hotel in Dubai which many people know, having been around for 14 years.

Then there are properties such as Park Inn by Radisson Dubai Motor City, which is two years old and entering a phase of stabilisation. As demand in Dubai's hotel market continues to grow but at a slower rate than supply, we need to protect our talent, progress careers and therefore hotel owners feel better supported.

Are there specific roles that are more conducive to being clustered?
It can be done across the board though you have to be careful and selective. It is dependent on the business’ dynamics and expectations, along with the expectations of its owners. However, easier ones to do are human resources and finance because in those departments you are replicating systems, processes and controls that don't necessarily change.

It’s very common in revenue and sales to regionalise or cluster, but you need to be mindful you don’t cannibalise your own business by stealing business from your other hotels and their owners. Operations is harder because you physically can't be in two places at once.

Is one of the pitfalls of clustering that an employee might feel torn between more than one property?
The struggle is time and balance. Are you spending your time and energy on the right things in the right hotel? Does your owner think that he's getting enough of you?

I have very supportive owners in Radisson Blu Hotel, Dubai Media City, but I'm still growing my relationship with owners in Park Inn by Radisson. You need to keep a lot of different stakeholders happy and when doing that you can’t stretch yourself too thinly and reduce your own effectiveness.         

How do you mitigate that?
The simple answer is having the right people on board. If you have the right people in the right roles, then you avoid those pitfalls. Clustering can be a great method to retain and grow talent, something which Radisson continuously does. You need to ensure you’re putting people into a role which best suits them.

What expectations must a manager have when clustering roles?
From a general manager's perspective, you have a responsibility to protect your teams and manage that relationship with an owner. I think the general manager has to be the barrier, the buffer to that. You're giving someone more responsibility, but you're not giving them any more time. You need to have a very balanced, common-sense approach on what these expectations are. I would say 95% of the general managers in Radisson come internally and there's a reason for that. The incentive is not necessarily to save money, it's normally about the relationship with the owner or effectiveness of the business and retaining talented people.

How can clustering be justified from an HR and employee point of view?
I think you need to consider the middle-level management or supervisory level. Are you resourcing it properly? Often because your senior team is spread thinner, there’s less engagement with that but you're actually putting more responsibility on to them.

Is it always about the right people?
It always is. I'm quite lucky in that I've essentially taken the Radisson Blu Hotel, Dubai Media City team and clustered them with me at Park Inn by Radisson, Dubai Motor City. So they know me and I know them. They know my mannerisms, my nuances, my working style, my leadership style. So I think that's a lot easier. I would imagine that recruiting into in cluster teams from outside is a lot more difficult in terms of settling in and making sure you've got the right employees.

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