Indies improving hiring, retention, company culture
Indies improving hiring, retention, company culture
17 MAY 2017 12:38 PM

Independent hotels are focused on finding a certain type of employee to best fit their environment. Here’s how these hotels find and keep that talent. 

REPORT FROM THE U.S.—Before employees are hired at an independent hotel, sources said ensuring new hires are a right match for the organization is critical in finding the best talent.

Karen DiFulgo, chief people officer at Benchmark Hospitality, said Benchmark employees are encouraged to be independent and utilize “outside-of-the-box” thinking, and managers look for talent to match that mindset.

“For us it’s really making sure that individuals are going to strive and thrive in an organization like ours … so we spend a lot of time in the upfront side making sure that from a cultural standpoint it’s really a great fit,” she said.

Strong training strategy
At Benchmark, new hires are treated to a busy onboarding schedule within their first 90 to 100 days, DiFulgo said. If a new employee struggles with a concept that is new to them, it’s all about repetitiveness and relying on lead trainers—or senior staff—to bring the new employees up to the standards of success.

“They’re really best at what they do in their department, and they’re put on these shifts specifically,” she said.

Stacy Pedersen, director of human resources at Eau Palm Beach Resort & Spa, which is part of Preferred Hotels & Resorts Legend Collection, said her property’s three-day orientation program is very thorough. New hires start by spending two days learning the values of the company and the third day focusing on service.

“Valuing our internal culture as much as we do, we hope it creates a natural fit with service,” Pedersen said. “During this time the future hotelier gets to discover if the fit is going to be a good one. There have been a few occasions during that three-day period we decide to part ways. The hoteliers that graduate from the three-day orientation are more committed and ready for onboarding in their work area.”

Florent Gateau, SVP of operations at Trust Hospitality, said the company looks to fill management positions with entrepreneurial spirits. He said people that come to work for Trust will find themselves challenged.

Gateau said Trust employees benefit from the company’s open communication system, which helps them thrive in the independent space.

“Once a quarter, we empower our teams to be able to share ideas and to always have new training ‘wow factors,’” he said. “We share those in between the hotels (through a communication portal) … I think that’s been a great way to communicate what one person is doing and then adapt that to one of our other properties.”

Setting expectations
DiFulgo said millennials are much more interested in the independent space than they ever were before. While millennials have a negative perception of brands as “archaic, black and white and in a box,” they believe independent hotels can provide uniqueness, different experiences and allow them to put their own mark on something.

One of the biggest challenges hiring managers face is setting the expectations of prospective employees who are considering applying to an independent property. Philip Wood, managing director of The Jefferson in Washington, D.C., which is also a member of Preferred, said an independent hotel is not a fit for everybody—both guests and employees—and some might be more successful in a chain environment.

“A lot of younger generation (employees) are looking for quick promotions and advances,” Wood said. “They’re more likely to get those in a chain affiliate than they are in an independent hotel.”

DiFulgo said Benchmark has noticed this, too, and to better establish the mindset for young employees, her team has formed partnerships with some of the colleges and universities that they recruit from. From there, Benchmark managers visit the students, deans and heads of the schools to outline more realistic outlooks.

In the food-and-beverage department, for example, DiFulgo said a lot of the graduates from culinary schools want to be an executive chef right away and are missing the prerequisite experience. Many entry-level candidates also have hopes of becoming a director of a department within their first year, she added.

Making sure a bait-and-switch doesn’t occur is important, DiFulgo said, and it starts before a job offer is made.

Wood added that hiring managers at The Jefferson are also upfront about the realities of an open position—the commitment it entails, the time, the length employees will likely spend in that role—and are honest with job candidates about when more opportunities might come along.

Independent hotels also emphasize employee retention to minimize the hiring process. Wood said promoting within a department and encouraging horizontal and vertical growth helps ensure more consistency and quality in service, as well as a better work environment.

“It’s far easier to train people for technical skills than train them to a hospitality culture,” he said. “Attitude however, which in our case is in integral part of our ‘Jefferson Culture,’ is something that grows as people become part of the organization.”

DiFulgo said Benchmark has a vertical growth map, but also likes to give opportunities for horizontal growth, which she said allows employees the opportunity to increase expertise, compensation and take on more responsibilities in their discipline.

“That really makes more of a well-rounded workforce and allows us to move talent around a little bit more, especially if they have a broader range of expertise,” she said. “… That’s one of the things we have to be really creative (with); we don’t have a source of 100,000 people, we’ve got a small force and less talent to pull from internally.”

If an employee feels they are ready for a promotion, but one is not available at the time, sources said they encourage the employee to branch out.

“On the occasions when we have a good person who gets a great job offer somewhere else, I’ve always viewed it as, ‘That’s fine, go somewhere else and we’ll call you when we’re ready’ sort of thing,” Wood said. “But we wouldn’t want to stand in the way of bright, young people getting better advancements, so sometimes we do urge people to do that.”

Wood’s team also conducts wage analysis for union and non-union positions every six months, which allows them to look at what’s going on in the marketplace for comparative positions.

“We want to make sure we’re in the top 25 percentile of comparable pay position by position,” he said.

Other sources also stressed the importance of employee culture within the workplace. At the Jefferson, for example, Wood said there are management retreats and team-building exercises within the departments. The property also hosts staff appreciation days once a month.

“It’s those sort of things that you can have fun with,” Wood said.

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