On Training: Chatting with the big brands


Major hotel brands share their brightest tips for staff development and training.


With labor a top concern, due to high turnover and cost in the industry, hoteliers need to focus now more than ever on providing quality training to team members. Many of the big brands have found the recipe for success, and with it, the benefits that trickle down to the bottom line.

“At Marriott, we look at training as a way to show people we care, and we pride ourselves on offering careers, not just jobs,” says Ty Breland, global human resources officer, talent development, Marriott International. “Learning and development is instrumental in the career journey.”

Lori Castro, regional director of talent and organizational performance for RLH Corporation, says well-trained employees improve guest service, increase sales bookings and ensure that satisfied guests will return.

“If we invest in our associates, they will invest in our guests,” she says.

Providing great training and development opportunities helps to build trust and engagement with team members, according to Gareth Fox, vice president of human resources in the Americas for Hilton.

“It’s an important part of how we attract, retain and engage our talent,” he says. “Fundamentally, it provides team members a career path with Hilton. It’s not uncommon to discover that many of our general managers started their careers in entry-level positions at hotels and have worked their way up.”

While the benefits of a quality training program are clear, so too are the consequences of not having one in place, the executives say.

Breland says if hoteliers don’t offer robust training, team members won’t feel prepared or confident in their roles. That can create a ripple effect that leads to poor guest satisfaction because employees are not serving guests in the way they should.

“Training helps people accelerate in their career and aids in retention so that you don’t have to go back and hire new people,” he says. “You can leverage their experience over time, and it helps with the customer relationship and makes for a happier culture.”

Castro says trained associates will be happier and stay longer in their positions because they have been invested in and empowered with knowledge. If you don’t invest in employees, the competition will, she warns. What’s more, she says an untrained employee base will create uneven levels of knowledge and skill sets and have lower morale.

Fox agrees that a lackluster training program will lead to poor retention of quality employees, especially when it comes to a new generation in the workforce.

“These days more than ever, the millennial generation raises some unique training needs, ones that focus on coaching and mentorship, accelerated career advancement and access to senior leadership,” he says. “A failure to focus and to deliver on this will see an exodus of talent from your organization.”

That exodus can be costly, he adds, as employee turnover is one of the highest variable costs to most companies.

For example, every time a company has to replace a salaried employee, it costs six to nine months of salary on average, according to a study from the Society for Human Resource Management. But not only is turnover costly to the bottom line, it’s costly in time and culture from lost productivity and engagement as well as customer service errors.

“Retaining great talent helps solidify the company culture and is critical to success,” Fox says.

A focused approach

Hotel companies often will spend a lot of time and money on developing training programs, but sometimes those programs don’t target the real needs of team members or they aren’t made accessible in a way that helps guide employees to the resources they need, Fox says.

That’s why both Hilton and Marriott have established one-stop-shop approaches associates can access for the training programs that match their level in the organization and make it easy for them to plan their development.

“When I first got into this industry in the early ‘90s, the focus was on very structured craft and group training programs that would take team members out of their job and into classrooms for extended hours or even days at a time,” Fox says. “Nowadays the shift is to a higher level of experiential learning that team members incorporate into their normal work day.”

This experiential learning approach is often delivered in pre- or post-shift huddles and supported by manager coaching throughout, according to Fox, which he says is better for the business and creates a continuous daily approach to learning.

Marriott leverages technology in its training program, which allows associates to have access to the training they need without interruption of their daily workflow.

“Technology aids us. We’ve been working with technology over the last few years as we integrate with Starwood,” Breland says. “We’re leveraging digital mobile responsive training solutions so we can meet the needs of all associates worldwide.”

The technology is helping the company focus on making training content digestible and meet the changing learning style of today’s workforce, he says. What used to be a training course that took several hours now is broken into bite-sized videos.

“The way people learn is changing, and we are figuring out that recipe. People are going to YouTube and watching videos. That’s how associates learn, so we need to have those offerings for them,” Breland says. “In between check-outs, they can do a quick module. If there’s a slow point during the day, they can jump on and leverage a module quickly. It’s all at their fingertips whether it’s via mobile or PC; it’s giving them that digital workplace.”

While Castro says a great training program starts with the basics – for example, a proper onboarding experience – it’s important to remember that training is a continuous cycle.

“The day we stop learning is the day we stop growing. There is always something to learn; we just have to be curious,” she says.

Training generally continues with new associates until they have mastered skills, whether it be checking in a new guest and hitting all the touch points or a sales person executing a one-call close on a piece of business, Castro says. The length of training then varies by department and position. There should be no set time limit because everyone learns and retains at a different pace.

“As managers, we need to continuously check in and guide when needed,” she says.

Feedback, too, should be continuous, she adds. Clear expectations should be set with each team member and feedback, both positive and negative, needs to be continuously given– not just at an annual review. All associates desire success and require continued assurance and coaching to feel confident in their jobs, she says.

Fox agrees. “Learning is a continuous journey from the most junior through to the most senior roles. In my opinion, no one ever stops learning even when you reach the top; we are always adapting and improving our leadership skills.”    ■

Photo credit: Wright Studio/Shutterstock.com


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