Ace Hotel general manager Chris Penn warned the audience about the dangers of the ‘only way is up’ mindset. “Some people just want to be the absolute best at what they do. If you try to deliver training and development to the people that don’t want it, that’s also a failure.”
Others agreed, admitting that after about two years doing a good job in one position, employees are almost ‘forced into a promotion’. “If people are happy and doing what they want to do, it’s a mistake,” said Jonathan Ragget, managing director of Red Carnation Hotels.
The panel explained that staff retention was also largely linked to management-driven inspiration.
Derek Blackburn, managing director of training provider Sidona Group, said: “It starts with the leadership of the organisation: if you have passionate leaders with a clear vision of the guest experience they want to deliver, they can inspire team members to do it.”
Cliveden House general manager Sue Williams pointed out that it’s immediately obvious whether or not the manager of a hotel believes in their product. “If they do, you have every chance of cascading it down to the team,” she said.
Appearing human and approachable is necessary to inspire and motivate staff. For example; Ragget spends a day doing a practical job in one of his hotels twice a year.
“One I remember most fondly was being a breakfast chef on a Sunday. I got in early, was dressed appropriately, had all the bits and pieces ready, but by 9am, we had served only 10 breakfasts out of our 200 guests. when they all came at once, I couldn’t cope with all the orders, and the manager kept suggesting eggs benedict to make it even harder on me as a joke. But word went around the company that I’d been there and understood that a hotel job is not easy,” he remembered.
For Penn, it’s all about going back to basics: “What inspires people most is understanding that you are human. When I was 20, I dressed up as Mr Penn, but now I’m always myself. By just being yourself, you inspire people. You sometimes make mistakes; you say sorry and thank you; you ask them about their lives as much as their jobs. Be genuine: it all makes a massive difference.”
Panellists also warned about overworking people or not taking the time to develop them. “Realistically, hospitality isn’t a 40-hour week, but how long can people work for and deliver the standard of service you want for your customer? I accept that it’s not easy; but we need to optimise people’s performance,” said Blackburn.
And what if three to five-year retention levels had become obsolete? At Ace Hotel, staff retention is not part of the managers’ KPIs, and Penn admitted he doesn’t care how long people stay.
“We get staff that aren’t necessarily looking for a career in the industry. I have people that stay for 2 months but do the most amazing job while they’re there. Neither is better than the other, they all add to the overall energy. I try not to judge people on how long they will be there or their experience.
“There’s an efficient level of retention: while they’re growing and learning and passionate then great, but after a while people start to plateau. I want people that are constantly upward in terms of energy, and I want them to stay with me for as long as they are challenging themselves, passionate and delivering the output that we need,” he said.