Key Ingredients in Effective Employment Programs for Your Hotel Brand

By Jim Holthouser Senior Vice President Brand Management, Embassy Suites Hotels | June 28, 2010

I believe there are two key ingredients for any successful employment program in our industry. First, the program must reflect and reinforce the basic concept of hospitality. A hotel is not a factory; we're here to open doors, not produce doorknobs. There's a very important difference between the two, and therefore fostering a sense of hospitality in everything we do is essential. Second, to be truly effective, it has to be more than just a program. "Program" implies rigidity and a specified regimen of instruction. If the program is to thrive, it has to be organic. People have to actually live it and believe in it. And it must be modeled vibrantly in every level of the organization.

Make a Difference

To this end, though Embassy Suites is a highly differentiated product, at a certain point, we realized that our service was neither entirely consistent nor reflective of that uniqueness. Make a Difference was born of the desire to grow a special and sincere service culture that is as distinctive as our hotels. It is based on the Embassy Suites Service Statement: "Gracious, engaging and caring... making a difference in the lives of others – in ways both big and small." From the beginning, we recognized that it had to be a grass roots approach. It needed to be cultivated and spread by team members rather than a program dictated top down. We wanted it to be uncomplicated and integrated both within the scope of our jobs as well as our lives outside the business so that it would have true relevance. A year into Make a Difference, we provided hotels with Recharge Kits containing decals with service-centric messages that reinforce the tenets of Make a Difference, as well as a special four-ounce silver and enamel medallion emblazoned with Embassy Suites' service statement. By spotlighting team members who truly make a difference, the medal is passed from person to person in staff meetings for special recognition of exceptional effort and performance. The "service culture" idea also encompasses community service, often organized and participated in by whole property teams.

The Circle of Leadership

The Circle of Leadership is a general manager initiative which started with the idea that our leaders deserve and require as much support and recognition as their teams. If they are to inspire a gracious, engaging and caring service culture in their hotel, how do we continue to motivate them? General Managers within the Circle are working with professional trainers and coaches to further develop their leadership skills. For everyone else, membership in the Circle is an achievement and reward to which they can all aspire.

In the end, both programs represent strategic approaches to making a sustainable impact in the lives of our team members which inspires them to escalate their performance. What has resulted, and continues to develop, is an atmosphere of accountability, recognition and appreciation. And our guests have taken notice. Since beginning the Make a Difference initiative in 2007, our post-stay guest survey results indicate an overall lift of three points in our service score and our customer loyalty index has improved by six points! That's an outstanding achievement of which we're exceedingly proud.

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Eco-Friendly Practices: Corporate Social Responsibility

The hotel industry has undertaken a long-term effort to build more responsible and socially conscious businesses. What began with small efforts to reduce waste - such as paperless checkouts and refillable soap dispensers - has evolved into an international movement toward implementing sustainable development practices. In addition to establishing themselves as good corporate citizens, adopting eco-friendly practices is sound business for hotels. According to a recent report from Deloitte, 95% of business travelers believe the hotel industry should be undertaking “green” initiatives, and Millennials are twice as likely to support brands with strong management of environmental and social issues. Given these conclusions, hotels are continuing to innovate in the areas of environmental sustainability. For example, one leading hotel chain has designed special elevators that collect kinetic energy from the moving lift and in the process, they have reduced their energy consumption by 50%  over conventional elevators. Also, they installed an advanced air conditioning system which employs a magnetic mechanical system that makes them more energy efficient. Other hotels are installing Intelligent Building Systems which monitor and control temperatures in rooms, common areas and swimming pools, as well as ventilation and cold water systems. Some hotels are installing Electric Vehicle charging stations, planting rooftop gardens, implementing stringent recycling programs, and insisting on the use of biodegradable materials. Another trend is the creation of Green Teams within a hotel's operation that are tasked to implement earth-friendly practices and manage budgets for green projects. Some hotels have even gone so far as to curtail or eliminate room service, believing that keeping the kitchen open 24/7 isn't terribly sustainable. The May issue of the Hotel Business Review will document what some hotels are doing to integrate sustainable practices into their operations and how they are benefiting from them.