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, 'Let's 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 Seagar's 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 April 2019...

Guest Service: A Culture of YES

In a recent global consumers report, 97% of the participants said that customer service is a major factor in their loyalty to a brand, and 76% said they view customer service as the true test of how much a company values them. And since there is no industry more reliant on customer satisfaction than the hotel industry, managers must be unrelenting in their determination to hire, train and empower the very best people, and to create a culture of exceptional customer service within their organization. Of course, this begins with hiring the right people. There are people who are naturally service-oriented; people who are warm, empathetic, enthusiastic, pleasant, thoughtful and optimistic; people who take pride in their ability to solve problems for the hotel guests they are serving. Then, those same employees must be empowered to solve problems using their own judgment, without having to track down a manager to do it. This is how seamless problem solving and conflict resolution are achieved in guest service. This willingness to empower employees is part of creating a Culture of Yes within an organization.  The goal is to create an environment in which everyone is striving to say “Yes”, rather than figuring out ways to say, “No”. It is essential that this attitude be instilled in all frontline, customer-facing, employees. Finally, in order to ensure that the hotel can generate a consistent level of performance across a wide variety of situations, management must also put in place well-defined systems and standards, and then educate their employees about them. Every employee must be aware of and responsible for every standard that applies in their department. The April issue of the Hotel Business Review will document what some leading hotels are doing to cultivate and manage guest satisfaction in their operations.