Training and Retaining the Right Staff
By Jane Renton General Manager, Jumeirah Lowndes Hotel | October 2008
"Never relinquish clothing to a hotel valet without first specifically telling him that you want it back." Wits and wags throughout the ages have made much fun at the expense of hotels, usually for their failings. Oscar Wilde, while lying in a Parisian hotel, famously said, "Either that wallpaper goes, or I do." He died before the d'ecor was changed, or so the story goes.
But, it is rare to find a joke about the failure of training. In suggesting that a hotel valet might need reminding to bring her clothes back, the American writer Fran Lebowitz may have made the only one about a subject that can be, after all, dreadfully dry. Or is it? Beyond someone simply looking for a bed for the night, the number one desire of most hotel guests, I believe, is to feel good. That may mean different things for different people but, overwhelmingly, it means, first and foremost, to be treated well, not by things but by people. A friendly welcome, a listening ear, a quick response, a bit of help when needed, a charming waiter: in short, customer service. To be surrounded by the objects of luxury or high tech functionality, to be immersed in refinement and beauty are lovely; but, in the long run, lasting memories and loyal customers are made by the quality of personal interactions in the hotel, not of bath amenities or high speed internet access.
Increasingly, there are pitfalls to those interactions. A globalized and intensely competitive hospitality industry, especially in major cities like mine, London, present serious challenges to finding good, qualified staff and keeping them. The same globalization - reflected in clientele from all over the world traveling for all sorts of reasons - presents the challenge of teaching and using cultural sensitivity to ensure guest satisfaction. So, perhaps the subject of training and retaining staff is not so cut and dried after all.
We are an industry all too often noted for its revolving door staffing: front line staff are quickly hired and quick to go; management views moving from position to position, company to company, as necessary for career advancement. But what explains that too rare hotel where everyone stays? Almost without exception, its staff feels strong ownership in the property; even when pay scales may be less than elsewhere, there is a sense that "this is a rewarding place to work, a place where I am learning and advancing, where I am respected and I feel confident and competent. And this, of course, is the result of good training.
At the outset I should note that, as the General Manager of a boutique hotel, Jumeirah Lowndes Hotel (by London standards), I think smaller properties often have advantages when it comes to motivating and retaining staff. By necessity there are more opportunities for staff to learn new skills and move from department to department, and thus advance a career. Individual strengths, aptitudes and accomplishments are more easily observed and recognized by senior management. Probably a greater percentage of staff have reason to interact with guests and therefore learn valuable customer service skills. The disadvantage, of course, is that in this "multi-tasking" integrated environment that promotes rapid staff development for those interested in advancing, there is little room at the top.
It would appear to me that there are several essential components to training and retaining staff, whether the hotel is large or small. The first, and perhaps most important in achieving good training and retention results, is recruitment. Hire the right people to begin with and the job is half done. Whatever method or combination of methods are used - resumes, personal interviews, sophisticated psychological testing, software systems that match personal skills and aptitude to job categories - there is no substitute for the investment of time and money in recruitment.