How the Hospitality Industry is Rethinking Development for its Next Generation of Leaders

Who's Got the Next Round?

By Michael Warech Program Chair, HR in Hospitality Conference & Expo | March 19, 2017

So where will we find the next generation of leaders in the hospitality industry? Like their counterparts in other business sectors, this question remains top-of-mind for those responsible for finding, managing, and developing the talent needed to ensure the vitality of their organizations. While, arguably, not as glamorous as a new guest amenity or as important as a cost-saving innovation, there is nothing more critical than talent to succeed in an increasingly competitive and challenging global business environment. Leveraging the best strategies and tactics related to talent management, succession planning, workforce planning, training and leadership development are, quite possibly, a company’s most critical work.

From using psychometric tests and business simulations to assess candidate fit to touting environmental and sustainability efforts across social media platforms to attract millennials, hotels are investing heavily in efforts to capture- and keep- top talent. In an era where poor reviews on Trip Advisor or unflattering vacation posts on Facebook can swiftly and directly impact the bottom line, the stakes for creating and maintaining a robust cadre of leaders – from the front desk to the property’s senior leadership team- have never been higher.

In the end, it is the quality of talent which has been assembled, that the hotel, property, or management company is placing its bet on to create and maintain the brand and, ultimately, drive business results. In short, customer loyalty is pursued and built through the consistent actions of engaged individuals who have been selected, trained, developed and rewarded for directly or indirectly creating memorable guest experiences, consistent with the brand. In addition to solid selection, performance management, and reward systems, a robust learning and leadership development strategy may be the most critical piece of the talent puzzle. Moving past simple platitudes, such as ‘people are our most valuable assets’, and into ascribing strategic priority status to, and actual investment in, impactful development activities is what is required.

While the majority of businesses appreciate that development of employees is a prerequisite to the successful execution of the company’s strategy and overall long-term organizational health, not all are fully aware of the innovations which can transform a solid training and development strategy into a powerful business tool. Leading-edge organizations are recognizing the shifts in today’s business and human capital landscapes, and are taking traditional methods- like leadership development programming or career pathing frameworks- and modifying them to fit the realities of today’s talent pool.

The massive influx of millennials into the workforce has significantly changed the way businesses approach talent. This group of new leaders is looking for that next career challenge almost immediately, expecting a constant stream of learning and development opportunities and, are largely unwilling to play by the same organizational rules as their Baby Boomer counterparts. The notion of having to wait fifteen years before having an opportunity to assume a General Manager (GM) role is now anathema. As Robert Mellwig, Senior Vice President, Really Cool People, at Two Roads Hospitality reported to me, the ‘design and employment of alternative career path frameworks is just one reaction to the realities of the demographics’. One result at Two Roads Hospitality has been the marked increase of GM candidates emerging through more untraditional routes within the organization (personal communication, Robert Mellwig, SVP, Really Cool People, Two Roads Hospitality, December 19, 2016).

The Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts transformed their traditional GM Boot Camp experience into a GM Leadership Academy, aimed at accelerating the development of its next generation of leaders. The Academy design allows for some individuals to progress through the journey to ‘GM-readiness’ at a swifter pace than others, providing an engaging, tailored experience. Offered once a year to a targeted group of 15-20 high potentials, the Academy incorporates a wide variety of learning modalities, including pre-work, skill-based online resources, mentors, external executive coaches, formal face-to-face workshop sessions, assessment/feedback instruments, a series of action learning projects, and outside faculty. Outside resources are required to be well-versed in the ‘Four Seasons’ way before engaging with the program (personal communication, Ed Evans, CHRO, The Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts, December 21, 2016).

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Coming up in April 2018...

Guest Service: Empowering People

Excellent customer service is vitally important in all businesses but it is especially important for hotels where customer service is the lifeblood of the business. Outstanding customer service is essential in creating new customers, retaining existing customers, and cultivating referrals for future customers. Employees who meet and exceed guest expectations are critical to a hotel's success, and it begins with the hiring process. It is imperative for HR personnel to screen for and hire people who inherently possess customer-friendly traits - empathy, warmth and conscientiousness - which allow them to serve guests naturally and authentically. Trait-based hiring means considering more than just a candidate's technical skills and background; it means looking for and selecting employees who naturally desire to take care of people, who derive satisfaction and pleasure from fulfilling guests' needs, and who don't consider customer service to be a chore. Without the presence of these specific traits and attributes, it is difficult for an employee to provide genuine hospitality. Once that kind of employee has been hired, it is necessary to empower them. Some forward-thinking hotels empower their employees to proactively fix customer problems without having to wait for management approval. This employee empowerment—the permission to be creative, and even having the authority to spend money on a customer's behalf - is a resourceful way to resolve guest problems quickly and efficiently. When management places their faith in an employee's good judgment, it inspires a sense of trust and provides a sense of higher purpose beyond a simple paycheck. The April issue of the Hotel Business Review will document what some leading hotels are doing to cultivate and manage guest satisfaction in their operations.