Developing and Supporting Your Team's Talent

Cultivate From Within

By Dan Vargo Executive Chef, Hilton Sandestin Beach Golf Resort & Spa | August 27, 2017

A boss says, 'Go'. A leader says, 'Lets go!' H.G. Selfridge

It is widely agreed that a great team requires great leadership, and I believe that a truly great leader empowers his employees with leadership skills. All of my employees are capable of greatness, and it is my job to cultivate that in-house ability. When cooks are humble, ready to learn, and hardworking, they are on the path to become the next generation of leaders. These are the chefs I seek out and hire because I know they are invested in developing themselves. In the long run, these chefs become the best candidates for promotion.

Hilton Sandestin Beach Golf Resort & Spa prides itself on having loyal employees. Many have been with the property since they opened the doors in 1984. As a native of Maryland, I was first introduced to the culinary world in Florida, where I discovered and began to pursue my passion for food. I joined the Hilton Sandestin Beach team as the executive chef of Seagars Prime Steaks & Seafood in 2012. I was enthusiastic about continuing the AAA Four Diamond standards and establishing a solid culinary atmosphere in my kitchens. As executive chef of an award-winning restaurant, there were very high expectations and standards to uphold. With a dedicated group of talented chefs, we worked to maintain the four-diamond award. This continued success can be largely attributed to the dedication of our culinary team, and the shared commitment to cultivating the talent from within.

Throughout my 20 years in the industry, I have noticed that every successful chef understands the value of building and developing talent within an organization preferring to promote from within, before seeking outside candidates. Focusing on skill development and training, then promoting from within benefits everyone in an organization and sends a clear message that hard work and enthusiasm will be rewarded. This is a demanding career that favors people who have a relentless work ethic. Successful chefs demonstrate that they are dedicated to owning their tasks, mastering them and continuing to learn as much as possible. That is the key to moving up and taking on new responsibilities.

This is one of the reasons I prefer to utilize a tier training system at Hilton Sandestin Beach. In doing so, I am able to focus on training my direct reports, and then follow up as they train theirs. Whether it is with recipes, technical skills or administrative responsibilities, it is important to establish a clear chain of authority and accountability. This system is especially beneficial for the cooks who are able to observe the chef working with the sous chef, while still developing and working on new recipes and leading by example.

When you invest as much time and effort into training our team as we do, it is natural to want to see them eventually grow into new roles and begin developing their own leadership skills. A strong mentor mentality develops organically when you invest your time into eager, motivated cooks. That, of course, requires that you hire eager, motivated cooks to start with. One of the most important lessons I was taught early on is to hire people who are motivated to learn and we can further develop their technical experience.

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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.