FocusED 2018 | Issue 1 - Proper onboarding and training of new hires is a crucial process for any organization and particularly in complex service-oriented businesses like hotels. But what happens once their formal training is done? We spoke with human resources experts at a global hospitality brand and two third-party hotel management companies to gain their insights on the best ways to prepare new employees and keep them motivated and performing at their best. Our experts include Debbie Brown, Vice President of Human Resources, Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts; Christine Andrews, Vice President of People and Culture, Hostmark Hospitality Group; and Mike Siegel, Vice President of Operations, Huntington Hotel Group.

What is your company’s protocol for employee training and orientation? What is your preferred method for delivery?

Debbie Brown (DB):  Our two-day orientation is a great way to get new employees teed up. They partner with a designated trainer – a fellow line employee to whom we pay a premium – and they’re in a classroom with other new employees, which allows them to bond as they review standards and policies and procedures. We bring in the general manager, human resources manager, operating manager and others to tell their personal stories and make connections with people they might not interact with every day. The designated trainer stays connected with the new employee for 90 days.

So much of our training is on the floor and while delivering service, and it’s not complicated. There are core standards employees have to know and follow, but we tell them to throw it out the window if their intuition tells them to read the guest differently.

Christine Andrews (CA):  Our hotels range from small select-service to large full-service hotels and resorts, and from global brands to independent. As a result, nothing is cookie-cutter, including our onboarding. Our human capital tool has electronic onboarding to ensure compliance that all new ‘artists,’ as we call our employees, are not only receiving and signing the right documentation but are introduced to Hostmark from the initial hiring process. The onboarding tool helps us build and foster a collaborative relationship with all of our artists and help them understand they’re not only part of the hotel but the larger Hostmark family as well. Some of the major brands for which we operate hotels provide great online resources that help teach the brand way but it’s important we put the Hostmark touch on that. The brand provides the guidelines, and we color in the lines.

Mike Siegel (MS): We use an electronic solution that disseminates all the different documents for the onboarding packets to the associates, which they digitally sign and review with their manager. They also complete a set of five online video classes that range in topics from wage and hour to ethics to harassment training, and they’re tested on the video content. After that, it’s on-the-job training.

In short: Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts starts its onboarding with a full two-day classroom orientation that its VP of Human Resources calls “a fairly religious experience,” while Huntington Hotel Group and Hostmark Hospitality Group lean more on technology. But all three agree that a blended approach to training is best.

Once an employee is on board after 90 days, how often do you address training or refresh the messages delivered during orientation?

CA: This is an area that will depend on the property, but it is important that training doesn’t just end after the initial effort. The on-the-job training has to be continuous as it affects the quality of experiences we are providing our guests. 

DB: Four Seasons provides the onboarding experience, then the hotel determines how that designated trainer stays in touch. That could mean pulling them back into the classroom. We encourage a culture of continual feedback. Many of our hotels make everyday feedback a practice. Millennials engage with that kind of feedback and it improves performance. In addition, every time we get people together in our hotels there’s a learning component. That could be a daily briefing at the front desk, but someone is always in charge of conveying the learning tip of the day. It’s always framed in a positive way, for instance, “how can we help you improve performance?”

MS: Marriott and Hilton mandate on-the-job, brand, service, and technical training for the hotels we manage and operate on their behalf. We use their LMS system to make sure that training is up to speed, whether it’s training on rewards, hospitality or cleanliness, then Marriott and Hilton come in with a QA process in which they review and ensure all of that is done. We have found that to be very effective. 

In short: Whether it’s pulling employees back into the classroom or providing frequent, informal feedback, training needs to be an ongoing process, long after the initial 90 days.

What benefits are derived from a consistent focus on employee engagement? Is there anything formal that you do to foster it? What type of information is communicated? 

CA: We have found that engagement improves retention because it helps foster the work environment, and people want to be engaged. They want to be active. Hostmark partners with UniFocus on an annual engagement survey and we are working to add more formal touchpoints a couple of times a year. All of our hotels highlight an Artist of the Month or Artist of the Quarter. We also have a Make Your Mark recognition program to bring attention to instances in which artists demonstrates Hostmark’s core beliefs in the workplace. We’re in the process of creating a Facebook-like internal communication tool available to our artists to help them connect, share and communicate what’s going on within Hostmark. We’ve initiated Promise Committees on the property level and at the home office that are part of Hostmark DNA. Their purpose is to keep our mission and core beliefs alive and well, tracking and improving what we provide our artists, our guests and our communities. Each location creates a promise activity calendar of community events, and three weeks each year all Hostmark properties are focused on the same type of event, such as a back-to-school drive in August.

MS:  Huntington conducts an engagement survey once a year to track engagement at our hotels and highlight opportunities. We celebrate employee birthdays once a month and all anniversary dates, and hold an employee appreciation week each year. Managers at each location determine an activity to show their appreciation – it might be washing their employees’ cars, or hosting an outing. And we share the news of these events through a quarterly newsletter. In each issue we choose an employee to profile and share what makes them unique. 

DB: Four Seasons has been able to correlate our employee engagement satisfaction scores very directly to our guest satisfaction scores. You can’t always tie it to profitability because of market factors, but if you go on the premise that if you treat employees well they’ll treat your guests well, we have the data to make that clear. The real engagement comes from following the golden rule in every interaction that we have. That has been Four Seasons’ mantra since the company was founded. We make sure our managers are agile in the way they manage and lead rather than sticking to the script. 

In short: Efforts to monitor and improve employee engagement pay off in higher retention and more satisfied guests. 

What do Millennials look for in terms of engagement and training? How are their needs being met within your organization? 

MS: With our share of millennial employees growing, most of the effort our organization is spending with UniFocus has shifted towards their needs. In fact, the most compelling argument to partner with UniFocus was the mobile aspect of its Time and Attendance solution and the ability to communicate with staff via their mobile device, which is an essential feature for a millennial workforce.

CA: Millennials want more frequent feedback. We’re changing the formal review process from once a year to more of a performance management process with more frequent formal touchpoints. We’re also focusing on how to identify the high-potential people who want to grow and help develop a path for their success. We strive to help our artists be the best they can be in their current roles. Training comes into play here, too – we need help our managers cultivate the feedback, coaching and mentoring skills they need to be effective in this new performance management process.

DB: Millennials have driven us away from an annual approach to anything. They need constant feedback and they have short attention spans. If on Monday a high-potential millennial employee says they’re interested in cross-exposure or transitioning into another department, we have to act fast. It used to be that we promoted people when they were 110-percent ready. Now, we look at people who are 80-percent ready. Our millennials say, “I’m close enough, let’s go.” Jobs have to have meaning for them. Meaning leads to pride. And so we approach every job that way. We’re customizing the experience for our millennial employees like we do with our guests. We apply that customization to how we pay and reward people, and we give them as much empowerment as we can. For instance, employees can access the HR system and add to their own development plan. There’s transparency in our technology. And we’re mindful to have millennials represented in every decision-making group we have. 

In short: Motivate millennials with constant feedback and mobile, transparent technology.

What do you find to be the best way to keep your finger on the pulse of your organization? How have recent technological developments changed how managers engage with employees?

DB: One of the best ways to check the pulse is just by looking into someone’s eyes and asking how they are doing, how their kids are doing, is their work environment comfortable. At the same time, it’s also important to use communications technology that our employees want to use, enabling them to text any schedule changes, for instance. Workplace communication today is more mobile and more transparent. Employees can access technology for information if they can’t reach a manager. Using technology, and transparency in technology, helps people feel very connected. 

MS: We have a guaranteed open-door policy with everyone, and make sure our regional teams are on property once a month. In addition, we have an outside service that maintains our hotlines for anonymous calls from the standpoint of complaints or ethics issues, and we make sure our employees know that’s available. Our high morale and tenure numbers speak well of our results.

DB: Workplace communication today is more mobile and more transparent. Employees can access technology for information if they can’t reach a manager.

CA: Technology is critical in today’s work environment in providing access to information and resources. With the increased use of technology, there are some negative impacts in the way we communicate with people – particularly in coaching, performance and/or development opportunities. When people tend to rely solely on technology to communicate because they are comfortable with it, dialogue may be faster but not necessarily better. A lot can be misinterpreted in the written word, whether in texts or emails. Nothing compares to sitting down and having a conversation with someone either over the phone or face to face. We can’t forget that we need to connect personally with those we support and work with.

In short: To monitor the pulse of your organization, an open door is the best policy. Embrace technology, but not at the expense of face-to-face conversation.