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 February 2019...

Social Media: Getting Personal

There Social media platforms have revolutionized the hotel industry. Popular sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, Snapchat, YouTube and Tumblr now account for 2.3 billion active users, and this phenomenon has forever transformed how businesses interact with consumers. Given that social media allows for two-way communication between businesses and consumers, the emphasis of any marketing strategy must be to positively and personally engage the customer, and there are innumerable ways to accomplish that goal. One popular strategy is to encourage hotel guests to create their own personal content - typically videos and photos -which can be shared via their personal social media networks, reaching a sizeable audience. In addition, geo-locational tags and brand hashtags can be embedded in such posts which allow them to be found via metadata searches, substantially enlarging their scope. Influencer marketing is another prevalent social media strategy. Some hotels are paying popular social media stars and bloggers to endorse their brand on social media platforms. These kinds of endorsements generally elicit a strong response because the influencers are perceived as being trustworthy by their followers, and because an influencer's followers are likely to share similar psychographic and demographic traits. Travel review sites have also become vitally important in reputation management. Travelers consistently use social media to express pleasure or frustration about their guest experiences, so it is essential that every review be attended to personally. Assuming the responsibility to address and correct customer service concerns quickly is a way to mitigate complaints and to build brand loyalty. Plus, whether reviews are favorable or unfavorable, they are a vital source of information to managers about a hotel's operational performance.  The February Hotel Business Review will document what some hotels are doing to effectively incorporate social media strategies into their businesses.