Leverage your leadership

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Increasing your employees’ training engagement is a win-win for everyone.

by STACEY OLIVER-KNAPPE

Hotel operators are in a wonderful business. You help guests enjoy a home away from home. You help business travelers succeed in their work. You affect many other situations where your hospitality improves the quality of lives for others.

Besides the tangible assets of your properties to make this happen, your greatest asset is the talent you hire to deliver your brand promise.

But how do you get the most from that talent? First, hire well. Second, create clear and concise policies and procedures. Finally, train them well using engaging and smart techniques that speak to today’s working adults.

As a hospitality training consultant, I have seen an evolution in training. Prior to the invention of the smart phone, it was simple to plop employees in conference room chairs, review a PowerPoint, conduct a knowledge check in some form, and you were done.

Today, that doesn’t work. It’s not engaging. It’s even worse, it’s boring! The world is more sophisticated, your guests are more sophisticated, so you must develop a more sophisticated staff. Here’s how.

Definition of Training Engagement

My definition of training engagement is when each employee is mentally present during the training event, and interacting in a positive way with the materials as it is presented so it can be applied effectively after training. This is a broad definition because workplace learning today occurs in various formats: classroom, e-learning, videos and more.

For this article, I will focus on increasing classroom engagement. I will also use the broad term of participant for those attending a training event. Training your leaders is just as critical as training staff.

Engagement Tip #1 – Shorter Events

The number one question I receive from clients is, “How long is this going to take?” I advocate no more than four hours, and less is better.

Most clients are surprised by this. There seems to be a false idea in leadership that if you keep employees in a class for eight hours, learning automatically occurs. Training is like baking a cake. The ingredients are the facilitator, the content and the employees. Mix them all together and let them bake for 8 hours, and success!

It doesn’t work that way.

From the participant’s point of view, eight hours is a hard pill to swallow. First, picture your staff’s typical work day: they are on their feet, they are talking to guests and coworkers, and they may even be outside. Next, picture the typical class environment: 8 hours of mostly sitting in a chair in a dull-colored conference room, listening in a language that they may not fully understand, doing nothing more than watching a visual, with periodic activities. Sounds like a disconnect.

To help fix the disconnect, it is easier to accept four hours. Even the most antsy participants can stay engaged for that length of time. However, shorter doesn’t mean condensing eight hours of ideas into four hours, which leads to my next tip.

Engagement Tip #2 – Make Frequent Trainings Your Overall Strategy

The mistake organizations make most is by treating training as a one-time, overstuffed event, instead of an ongoing strategy. When they’re overloaded, participants hate going, managers hate scheduling them and trainers aren’t fond of them.

If you have more frequent events with one or two specific ideas presented as part of the ongoing life cycle of the property, it improves engagement at the training itself. Ideally, make it the master schedule, where every employee attends one to two hours of training per month.

The property trainer can be the facilitator, or they can be the support expert for your leaders. It can be games about the property, team building, compliance training, etc. There are plenty of topics that can be addressed during a given year.

Then when that email blast arrives saying it is time for the next event, it is a part of normal operations.

Engagement Tip #3 – Stop Lecturing and Start Engaging

As I mentioned before, the default for training in the past was a PowerPoint and have the trainer lecture 80 percent of class time. Unfortunately, many companies are still using the same format, just with prettier graphics. This is basically the format for most e-learning events as well.

That methodology worked before personal laptops and other technologies came into the K-12 classroom and our daily lives. Successful training programs have adapted.

As you develop training programs, design them to increase engagement for our busy minds. The best timing is lecture the content for 10 minutes or so, then set-up an activity to apply or experience the content.

For example, I get the participants active within the first 10 minutes. This is not the typical ice breaker question, but physically moving. The movement is unexpected, and I want them to be off guard for the rest of the event.

You also must use technology. There is easy access to cost efficient or free programs, so there is no excuse. I like using web polling software to ask open questions. Participants use their smart phones to answer, and their answers display onscreen in real time. You should see eyes pop open once the answers start coming in.

It is also easy to make videos and cartoons. I would advise to not always be polished with movies and worrying about brand standards. Yes, make clear boundaries, but some of the most effective videos I have seen were ones created by the participants using their smart phones and hearts.

Engagement Tip #4 – Encourage Diversity in the Classroom

There is a distinct culture at every hospitality property. There are also distinct subcultures within the site. Typically, it falls to front of the house, employees with direct contact with guests, and back of the house, employees who rarely have direct contact with guests. These cultures and subcultures that exist can get murkier with geographical cultures.

Of all the projects I have worked on in hospitality, the most successful was one where we blurred the lines of the subcultures. We did not train by departments, but by language. It was an investment for the company, but all materials were professionally translated into the second primary language of the company’s employee population.

In the English language classes that I taught, there were a lot of “A ha” moments and increased respect between departments. Front desk, housekeeping, landscaping and recreation could all be in one class. It was a beautiful thing. In the second language class I observed, I have never seen such appreciative participants. The engagement was astronomical.

Evolve

Learning is a part of our lives. We watch YouTube videos to repair our cars. We play with our new phones, using experience to teach us. We might read a book or listen to a podcast if it is something we are interested in. We are no different at work.

If you desire to increase participants’ engagement during training, you have to do your homework too. Keep events short but active, focus on a fewer topics more frequently, add engaging technology and activities, and use the diversity of your staff.

Then your training events will be welcomed, effective and worth every dollar.         ■

Photo credit: Tashatuvango/Shutterstock.com

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