Finding the Right People: Identifying Competencies and Hiring for Attitude
By Todd Walter Chief Executive Officer, Red Door Spa Holdings | December 04, 2009
Hotels and spas share many attributes, perhaps none more salient than that both are in the service industry. Whether we're selling rooms for the night or massages for the hour, what differentiates one service provider from the next is the overall guest experience. Frontline employees shape guests' perceptions and make the difference between a "Wow!" experience and just an average one. At Red Door Spa Holdings, we have come to realize that our associates don't just represent our brand, they are the brand.
About three years ago, we conducted a competitive analysis of the North American spa industry. The overall rate of growth for spa services, which had seen strong double-digit increases for well over a decade, was beginning to slow, yet the number of new spas opening continued to accelerate. We asked ourselves how we would continue to succeed in this ever-increasingly competitive landscape. Our conclusion: we would focus on the guest experience. Providing a quality technical service (whether it be a massage, facial, pedicure, or hair cut) was simply the price of admission…if we were going to succeed in the long run, then we needed to provide the best overall guest experience in the day spa industry, period. Our senior management team came together and documented our core values and beliefs. From that exercise came our mission statement to our guests – "to exceed your expectations by providing you with impeccable customer service, expertise, and the finest quality products." Our philosophy is a simple one: ensure that we have the right people doing the right things in the right way. If we do, then our guests will be happy, they will come back frequently, and they will tell their friends about us. With the "what" identified, we then needed to ensure we had the "who" to make it happen.
At Red Door, we are fortunate to have John Young, former EVP of Human Resources for Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts, on our Board of Directors. Following a board meeting, I asked John how he had helped to develop the customer service culture at Four Seasons. John replied, "You don't develop a culture. You have to begin at the beginning by hiring people who genuinely want to serve others. When you find those people, you can then train them to meet the business needs. In short, when you hire for attitude and shared beliefs, the culture will take care of itself." With John's help, we instituted a program at Red Door to define competencies for various frontline positions, to find people who exhibit those competencies (i.e., who have the right attitude), to hire those people, to train them to meet our business needs, to develop programs to retain them, and to identify and cull those people already in the company who didn't share our passion, our values, and our beliefs.
The first step in our process was to define the specific competencies each frontline position requires for the individual in the position to be successful (e.g., compassion, conflict management, approachability, etc.). To help us frame the definitions, we used For Your Improvement: A Guide For Development and Coaching, by Michael Lombardo and Robert Eichinger. In this resource tool, the authors define 67 competencies and provide examples of differing skill levels (i.e., unskilled, skilled, overused skill). We narrowed our definitions to the 15 most important competencies for our spa General Managers and Guest Service Representatives. We then evaluated existing staff and rated them on their proficiency against these competencies. This process allowed us to assess our associates against a benchmark for their respective positions, so that we could identify those likely to be highly successful in their current roles, those needing further development, and those who were unlikely ever to be successful in their position given the required job attributes. We established career development plans for those exhibiting the right stuff, and we reassigned the others, or moved them out of the organization altogether.
Finding and Hiring