Up the Workers – Taking Care of Your Staff
Effective staffing is one of the hotel industry's biggest challenges. And in 2016 human resources is an even more challenging field.
Guests want to stay at hotels possessing unique personalities, with peccadilloes that can be tough to communicate to new workers. And in a globalised world our customers also value a sense of community, which suggests managers recruit from local neighbourhoods. And workers, especially the young, want to invest their time in progressive brands, at happy and fulfilling workplaces.
As a result turnover, always an issue, seems ever more rapid. Some workplaces struggle to fill certain roles at all, whether due to increased competition (chefs) or shifting attitudes (cleaners).
David Bowd is the former senior vice president of operations at Morgan's Hotels, and COO at André Balazs Properties. Having launched Chiltern Firehouse in 2013, he now runs his own lauded chain of contemporary bed and breakfasts, Salt, in the USA. Key to Salt's brand is its ‘Salt School' aimed at training and recruiting local workers.
Avril Owton MBE took over The New Forest's The Cloud when her husband died unexpectedly in 1991. A dance teacher with no previous management experience, she soon increased profits by 800%. Some of Avril's staff have been with her for over two decades. Her book, Delighting Your Customers: Delivering Excellent Customer Service without Breaking the Bank is now in its second edition.
Here are their sure-fire staffing tips…
1 - Lead from the Front
Attention to detail, and communicating your ethos effectively to your staff, has become especially vital for the trade. You must shine when compared to your competitors – and not give fussy guests the opportunity to flag their pet peeve up on TripAdvisor.
“I see myself as a host,” says David Bowd, “I prioritise sitting in the lobby listening to what guests have to say, and take breakfast in the restaurant. On Friday, our busiest day, I'm in the lobby helping out. It can be uncomfortable for the staff at first, then they get used to it.”
This entrepreneurial role is difficult to assign to colleagues, but consider what other tasks you can deputise. “It's actually easier to delegate admin than front of house,” says Avril Owton, “Owning a hotel is a way of life, and I've done every job here including washing up and cleaning rooms. The young are put on the shop floor and left to get on with it in some places… I feel that they're not supervised enough. Then they could listen to us a bit more, and we could listen to their ideas too.”
2 - Be Human
In a world seemingly run by lawyers it's easy to get bogged down with bureaucracy. But don't forget the common courtesies that everyone you work with will appreciate.
“Whereas other companies may be more focussed on revenue, everything we do at Salt is centred around the guest experience,” says David Bowd. “So it can take time for new staff members to assimilate to an environment where they do have an autonomy to implement that. It's important to let them make mistakes and learn that way, but also to explain why we do things the way we do. It's about respecting and communicating with other human beings, and fostering a fun working environment.”
Avril Owton agrees. “I don't just tell my staff not to do something. I concentrate on the reasons why, or why not, to do it. Treat them how you would like to be treated. Say good morning to everyone and thank them when they go home. The staff are more important than the customers – in the sense that if they feel part of a team and listened to, then it creates a happy atmosphere that the customers really appreciate.” Confusing formality with efficiency is something both warn against: “You can still have a laugh and get things done,” says Avril.
Be easier on yourself, too. Avril's been awarded an MBE and a tranche of business awards, but she says, “Managing people isn't easy. I don't always get it right and I seemingly spend my life reading books about it.”
3 - Communicate Your Reasoning
David Bowd says, “Working for Ian Schrager, I learned very early on that having a brand specialist, who explains everything to the staff, keeps on top of it all, and pitches in when things aren't working is very helpful. We have lots of pictures, lots of training aids, and lots of manuals with explanations as to why that chair must face that way.” Explaining the reasons staff must act in a particular manner, or carry out tasks a certain why, is vital for securing their goodwill – and making sure they do it right next time.
“We are essentially entertainers,” says Avril, “and to please the guests here, who are mostly retirees older people staying for leisure, the staff should present themselves a certain way. It's no good trying to be all things to all men – you must be the right hotel for your guests. I won't let staff say ‘Hi!', for instance. My other rule is no swearing, even in the kitchen. They see it on television and think that no-one can hear it in the dining room.”
David Bowd and his partner Kevin O'Shea run a 25-hour training course over ten weeks, The Salt School, to inspire locals near their new hotels to embrace the hospitality industry. “Airbnb came along because there were so many interchangeable, bland hotels. Airbnb represents the urge for a neighbourhood experience,” he explains. If you're looking to recruit local, career-minded staff a similar initiative might be exactly what you're looking for.
4 - Challenge Recruitment Orthodoxy
Unlike the segmented ‘Downton Abbey' approach favoured by some British hotels, David Bowd believes that staff should be trained in multiple areas so the team as a whole can accommodate guests's needs. “I get up most days at 5am, and even in the best hotels in the world you can't get a decent cup of coffee at that time. At Salt, everyone is trained as a coffee barista. The front desk is trained as a concierge and as a grab 'n' go.” Training in a range of skills builds a sense of autonomy – often cited as the biggest factor in job satisfaction – and fosters a sense of professional development.
David also advocates a challenging employment policy. “The key is recruitment and recruiting the right people,” he says, “I spend a huge amount of time researching and interviewing. I don't believe in psychometric testing as it never represents who else is in your team. That person has to be a complement to the others, or they will never succeed. I've always employed the most disruptive people I can find, who challenge the norm and challenge the business. I don't like ‘yes' people. I like people to challenge me, each other and themselves. It provides an environment where everybody has a voice.”
Avril Owton doesn't believe in being dictated to by perceived wisdom either. “We don't expect degrees in hospitality and frankly I'd prefer it if they didn't have them,” she says.