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 February 2018...

Social Media: Engagement is Key

There are currently 2.3 billion active users of social media networks and savvy hotel operators have incorporated social media into their marketing mix. There are a few Goliath channels on which one must have a presence (Facebook & Twitter) but there are also several newer upstart channels (Instagram, Snapchat &WeChat, for example) that merit consideration. With its 1.86 billion users, Facebook is a dominant platform where operators can drive brand awareness, facilitate bookings, offer incentives and collect sought-after reviews. Twitter's 284 million users generate 500 million tweets per day, and operators can use its platform for lead generation, building loyalty, and guest interaction. Instagram was originally a small photo-sharing site but it has blown up into a massive photo and video channel. The site can be used to post photos of the hotel property, as well as creating Instagram Stories - personal videos that disappear from the channel after 24 hours. In this regard, Instagram and Snapchat are now in direct competition. WeChat is a Chinese company whose aim is to be the App for Everything - instant messaging, social media, shopping and payment services - all in a single platform. In addition to these channels, blogging continues to be a popular method to establish leadership, enhance reputations, and engage with customers in a direct and personal way. The key to effective use of all social media is to find out where your customers are and then, to the fullest extent possible, engage with them on a personal level. This engagement is what creates a personal connection and sustains brand loyalty. The February Hotel Business Review will explore these issues and examine how some hotels are successfully integrating social media into their operations.