Operators of independent hotels view the lack of brand guidance on employee training and management procedures as a plus, enabling greater creativity and flexibility.
REPORT FROM THE U.S.—Managers of independent hotels are enjoying the freedom to shape and evolve staff training and management procedures as they see fit, thanks to the lack of brand standards and guidance on these policies. At these independent hotels, taking a unique approach to training often runs parallel to the goal of providing a unique, service-driven experience.
Brands offer numerous resources, but for training, independent operators don’t typically miss having a flag to guide them. Rather than relying on a corporate training manual handed down from the franchisor, independent managers are often able to pull together the resources and methods that make the most sense for both the property and employees.
“I’ve always felt that you can use a little more creativity on the independent side, where everything isn’t so super structured,” said Shawn Roach, GM of the HGU New York. “On the branded side, you need to go back to an answer and guidance via the brand about whether you can actually do certain things. The brands are a little more rigid about how everything is done, and when I say everything, I mean everything.”
Writing the handbook
Independent hotels tend to be known for having their own unique identities, aesthetics and property nuances, but that sense of individualism also extends to operations. That’s where savvy GMs—especially those with the experience of working in both branded and unbranded hotels—can shine, borrowing the best practices they’ve witnessed or used at other hotels, and then modifying and supplementing those practices as needed at an independent property, adding their own personal touches.
At the Plunge Beach Hotel in Lauderdale-By-The-Sea, Florida, GM Tom Mulroy takes a comprehensive approach, bundling a series of checklists and printed materials with online learning, job shadowing and role playing, including proprietary processes, plus training offered by vendors, such as technology providers. Much of the training, however, is conducted on the job, with the trainee performing tasks in the presence of a manager.
“Most of the training is done by shadowing after you’ve learned through the computer-based training and the printed tools,” Mulroy said. “You actually begin the process of checking in guests while somebody shadows you. Then you evaluate and retrain if needed, praise where it's warranted and give direction regarding where more training is needed.”
Training equals results
For many independent hotels, particularly those competing in a cluttered marketplace, effective staff training and management has become one of the most crucial components of hotel operations. Operators often seek to train for and implement high levels of guest service, which can differentiate these hotels from their comp set. Processes are devised and checklists are tweaked based on ownership’s goals and vision.
At The Madison Hotel in Morristown, New Jersey, GM Scott McArthur has spent the better part of a decade elevating the circa-1936 hotel’s service levels and image, and consequently, its performance. Under McArthur’s watch, the hotel has gone from being ranked at the bottom of TripAdvisor rankings for hotels in Morristown to a consistent ranking of either No. 1 or No. 2 overall in the county. McArthur chalks much of that success up to his own personalized take on staff training.
“A lot of my management was done by walking around in the beginning,” McArthur said. “I’d step in on some of the training sessions, or as I’m walking through the property, I’d observe the staff doing things and would make sure I stopped to tell them if they were doing something good, and correct them if they’re doing something that doesn’t meet the goals and standards. We kept reinforcing it and put a new checklist in place.”
When in doubt, sources said they couldn’t go wrong with modeling training processes on the standards set forth by ratings agencies like AAA and Forbes Travel Guide and then modifying as needed from there. Sometimes, long-standing hotel fundamentals are still applicable regardless of being independent or branded.
“There are a lot of manuals out there that I have used,” said John Sheedy, managing director of the Troutbeck in Amenia, New York. “The standards set by AAA and so on are the foundation for our training programs. We use four-star and four-diamond standards as the basis for our training.”
Although many independent hotel operators rely on traditional training methods for the base of their procedures, they’re also using the greater freedom they have to evolve training processes over time. Sometimes this happens through employee input, sometimes it’s due to changing guest expectations, and other times it is simply explored in hopes of building a better mousetrap.
For example, at the Troutbeck, Sheedy puts great emphasis on breaking training sessions up into small, digestible pieces presented in greater frequency, even daily, rather than conducting training during the course of marathon meetings. He said the approach leads to much better results and knowledge retention. In the future, he said he’ll keep investigating ways to keep training short, yet effective.
“I'm a great believer that we cannot keep people’s minds in place for too long, but if you can give five minutes of training a day, it’s 30 hours of training a year,” he said. “And it can be something simple: How to how to say no to a guest without saying no; how to do the perfect greeting for a guest; how to drop the check properly; or how to use the guest’s name during service. It can be something very small.”