In-House Hiring


Best practices for identifying and nurturing high-potential employees

Prior to a horse race, it’s often difficult to separate the athletes from the also-rans, but it’s a different story in the conference room, where ambitious employees come armed with their best ideas and a positive attitude, becoming standouts within an organization.

That’s been true consistently for Chris Guimbellot, president and chief executive of hihotels, which holds a weeklong strategy and team-building session each year in Fort Lauderdale, FL. The annual visit to the Sunshine State really is the time to shine for the franchise company’s dozen or so employees, most of whom work remotely.

During those trips, Guimbellot will try to visit Gulfstream Park, where he’ll read the racing form and place a wager or two. But when he’s with his employees, he reads the room, taking note of workers who grab the bit, so to speak, and offer sensible suggestions.

Employees who provide useful recommendations are showing they care about the company’s success, Guimbellot said. Even proposals that are discarded can elevate an employee in the eyes of management as long as they’re well thought out and indicate an understanding of the business, he added.

“Everyone has a seat at the table, and it’s an open forum,” Guimbellot said. “I’m looking at who’s bringing in ideas and the caliber of those ideas. That’s definitely a technique that has helped us a lot.”

For companies of all types, the benefits of promoting internally are obvious. They avoid recruiting and onboarding costs, and since internal candidates already know the business’s operations and culture, there’s less risk of a bad fit, according to Dr. Finley Cotrone, associate professor of hospitality at UNLV and director of the Sands Center for Professional Development.

Seeing a colleague promoted also can inspire workers to stick with their companies, according to the 2020 Global Talent Trends report from LinkedIn. The report found that workers at companies that promote more internal candidates stay 41% longer than employees at companies with poor internal hiring rates.

Yet some companies don’t do enough to identify their potential stars, and when they do, they pay them like benchwarmers, Cotrone said.

“We’ve seen what I call a loyalty tax, where employees who stayed with a company a long time were actually paid less when they were promoted than those who had job-hopped,” she said. “Why would I stay if the people who are new to the organization are being paid more than me?”

Paying top performers what they’re worth is one way hoteliers can nurture their talent pipeline. Here are eight additional best practices for promoting from within.

The prolonged labor shortage means most hoteliers never stop looking for jobseekers. But Neil J. Flavin, chief operating officer for HVS Asset & Hotel Management, said it’s best to be choosy, to the extent possible, focusing on jobseekers who want a career and not just a job.

It may sound simple, but asking jobseekers what they want out of a job and where they see themselves in a few years is a good way to start, Flavin said.

“Obviously, the key is hiring the right person to begin with, and given the current labor situation, that often takes a bit longer than it has in the past,” he said. “It’s worth taking additional time to find that right employee who has a real desire to be successful in the hotel business. What we do from there is what makes the difference.

“I focus on attitude,” Flavin added. “If someone has the right attitude, you can teach them the skills they need.”

Guimbellot, of hihotels, echoed that sentiment, saying there’s a reason why every employer asks jobseekers about their goals.

“I really think the answers to those questions can help you gauge what type of staffer that person is going to be,” he said.

“The most challenging leadership position is that first one, going from a peer to a boss,” said UNLV’s Cotrone. To smooth that transition, it’s best to speak with employees in small groups about what makes a good manager and which behaviors are problematic, she said.

Problems arise when workers get promoted despite having badmouthed other employees or having spread gossip, so employees need to be trained to refrain from those behaviors.

Likewise, new hires often discover that there are two ways to perform any task: the way management wants it done and the way workers actually do it every day. When one employee gets promoted to manager and asks former colleagues to adhere to the stricter standard, that’s a recipe for friction, Cotrone said.

“Everyone in the organization needs to know that if you want to be promoted, you don’t get to cut corners,” she said. “You have to be the best version of yourself so when you’re promoted to a supervisory position, you don’t get pushback from former peers who say, ‘You can’t tell me not to do that. I saw you do that for the year that we worked together.’”

Cotrone said training should become increasingly sophisticated as workers climb the corporate ladder. Once a company identifies the gap between a worker’s skills and the knowledge needed to advance, it can tailor its development classes accordingly, she said. Hotel companies that lack internal career-development resources can turn to universities and organizations like AAHOA for expertise.

Hotels may have promising employees gain exposure to several different departments, broadening their understanding of the business. Workers also benefit from having a proven mentor show them the ropes, Cotrone said. Important topics include how to interview jobseekers, coach employees, apply progressive discipline to underperformers, and handle HR compliance issues, she said.

Hoteliers should attempt to pair mentors with mentees who share similar interests, and they should ask for frequent progress reports to ensure that mentors are taking their role seriously, Cotrone said.

“Mentoring is really important, especially for women and people of color because men generally aren’t shy about asking for what they need,” she said. “A mentorship is really personal, so one potential pitfall is mismatching people. But when a rockstar employee has a solid mentor and that relationship is strong, they will climb the ladder quite well, and a strong mentoring relationship can last forever.”

Give ambitious employees a taste of life as a manager by making them a shift supervisor for a day or by putting them in charge of a pilot project. The way they handle that added responsibility will reveal whether they’re management material, according to Dr. Cass Shum, another associate professor of hospitality at UNLV.

“Basically, you slowly empower them and test their leadership ability,” Shum said.

Guimbellot, of hihotels, said he recently employed that strategy successfully, appointing an employee to spearhead the creation of the company’s online franchisee education portal. Guimbellot and several others developed an outline for the project and then handed it off to the employee, who steered it to completion with guidance from management.

“The portal was launched on time before the end of the year, and we’ve been adding to it ever since,” he said. “You have to strike a fine balance because you don’t want to leave them out in the cold with no help, but you also don’t want to micromanage them. I’ve found that, generally speaking, the more faith I put in someone, the better they perform.”

When internal candidates are promoted, those workers’ stories should be shared on the company’s website and social media channels such as LinkedIn and Facebook – with their permission, of course – said Flavin, of HVS Asset & Hotel Management. Doing so illustrates to existing employees and jobseekers alike that the company is serious about developing top employees, he said.

“Not only does it promote your business, but it’s certainly a feel-good moment for the associate who’s just been promoted,” Flavin said.

It’s a cliché because it’s true, according to UNLV’s Shum: People don’t quit jobs, they quit managers. Hotels may lose talented workers before they can progress because they’re being verbally abused or treated unfairly by managers.

“Younger workers aren’t just the next generation of leaders in the organization; they’re the next generation – full stop – so one of the things organizations can do is to remove that kind of hostility from the workplace,” Shum said.

UNLV’s Cotrone said the hospitality industry has built a diverse workforce when it comes to entry-level positions but is more homogenous in the management ranks, and implicit bias is partly to blame. If workers from diverse backgrounds can’t see themselves in a leadership role, that’s a major problem, she said.

“Making sure we’re tapping high-potential workers across the board is vital, so if we’re not attracting diverse candidates, we should ask ourselves, ‘Why not?’” Cotrone said.

There’s nothing wrong with simply clocking in and clocking out, doing your job professionally and collecting a paycheck. But if employees with good customer-service skills and a strong work ethic don’t express interest in moving up, hoteliers should ask them why, Shum said.

It could be those employees have family obligations or are attending school and don’t believe their circumstances would allow them to advance. In some cases, providing scheduling flexibility or some other accommodation could help the hotelier get more out of that employee, Shum said.

Since workers’ circumstances may change at any time, don’t wait for an annual review to address their goals, said Flavin, of HVS Asset & Hotel Management.

“A good manager is going to spot potential and follow up with that associate at least every 90 days,” he said. “You want to make sure you’ve created a path for that associate to advance and that you’re helping that associate follow that path. If we don’t do that, we’re failing. If a manager says they don’t have the time to do that, I might start looking for another manager.”


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