The Caterer's latest Business Breakfast showcased the achievements of four companies named in the top 30 Best Places to Work in Hospitality 2014. Rosalind Mullen finds out what it takes to be one of hospitality's most enlightened employers
When your competitors are willing to share their trade secrets, it is madness to stay away. A keen crowd turned up at the Dorchester in London in September to hear what four HR experts had to say about their staff engagement successes. And we all knew they were successful because they had been named in the top 30 Best Places to Work in Hospitality 2014 awards and, being the highest achievers, were also shortlisted for the Best Employer Catey. Run by The Caterer in partnership with people engagement expert Purple Cubed, the listing recognises those employers who excel in staff engagement.
Staff retention: the key to a happy team, happy guests and good business results
The panel agreed that the HR department can generate a good return on investment through simple, effective and cost-efficient methods. In short, through staff retention, training and promoting from within. All four boast labour turnover rates of below 24%.
Jane Sunley The true cost of replacing a member of staff can be £5,000 because you might lose guests, have to pay agencies and so on. If you lose a director you can spend up to 10 times their salary to replace them.
Sean Wheeler Staff retention adds value because regular guests like to recognise staff. We grow talent from within to avoid recruitment
costs. This also helps to maintain our company culture, values and passion. A happy team equals happy guests and ultimately an impact on business results.
We drew up a plan to put people on the agenda and to get the right staff in the first place. Our strategy has been to map everything out, from attracting the right recruit through to succession. It is simple and measurable.
You need to get managers to see the importance of appraisal systems. You need a meaningful conversation and plan for that person.
We now find we don't recruit through advertising; it's through word of mouth.
Patrick Beaume We are a small independent country pub, so we don't always do statistics, but we measure success through return customers.
They tell us how wonderful our staff are. We have built family values and high standards into our family business. It's not about entering an award. It is about having a plan, enjoying the fruit of a long journey.
In our business plan we agreed on values and the philosophy of the business. My wife, Julie takes care of recruitment and she tends to recruit for personality rather than skills. The advantage is that it makes a difference in customer relationships. Once the recruit is comfortable you can build on their skills.
Casual dining is taking over from fine dining so it is more important to give good personal service than boring service with the forks
placed correctly. We let our staff be themselves.
their talents. It creates a feelgood factor.
Get operators to buy into staff engagement policies
No-one disagreed that the HR department needs to show the operations team it is making a return on investment. But, while as winners
of the Best Places award they have all clearly illustrated that the business arguments for increasing staff engagement are compelling, the panel conceded there is a knack to persuading the hotel owner or operations team of this.
SW The HR team works with the operators because the ethos has to live in the organisation if it is to make an impact. We are very clear that staff are the brand in the eyes of the guest, not the manager. The people who greet a guest as they arrive at a hotel are very important.
Joanne Monk You can sit in a silo in HR. The return on investment comes if you are involved in all aspects of the hotel - and that includes finance. You need to be able to argue your case to the board so you need to become their business partner. We must be commercially savvy and expert in all fields. If you achieve this, you will get success.
You shouldn't just think in terms of awards; you need to look at your results over a period of time. You need to add value, to have consistency.
The HR team needs to be visible. We don't have tribunals because we are busy loving everyone to death.
Human resources are the biggest cost for a business. When you ask for more investment, you need to have a watertight case. If you approach the COO for a new programme make sure you have all the facts and figures. Don't ask for loads of money. Stack it up.
Mike Williams There is a direct correlation between our high scores in engagement [which recorded a 15% increase in the Best
Places survey] and customer satisfaction. And we haven't had an industrial tribunal case this year, which has saved us £160,000 compared
We all do similar things in our businesses. We all give staff rewards and so on. But it's easy to be transactional and lose focus if you
don't have a plan. HR teams have limited resources, so we help the operators become brilliant at it themselves by embedding it in the culture. It isn't salary that gives staff that spark in the eyes; it's culture. Reassuringly, we did three surveys last year, and pay and benefits
were not near the top.
We have kept our guidelines simple and practical because operators have no time to read long handbooks. We make it measurable and focus on top and bottom performers. It becomes a team effort, embracing general managers, HR team, chief operating officer and the chief executive. I can't influence 27 general managers; I need to influence the people who influence others.
How to embed values
Most hospitality businesses share the same values - great customer service, going the extra mile and so on - so it pays to focus on a few that differentiate you. Nevertheless, it can be hard to translate company values from the handbook into reality. As Monk told the room: "Chanting won't work; you need to talk about it and live it."
SW One of our values is passion, so we encourage staff to bring their own passions to work - poetry, photography, art. We used a member
of staff as our in-house photographer. It's also part of the sifting process. We want staff who live our values.
MW You mustn't let your actions contradict what you say. Set behaviours, targets and expectations. People can transform or sabotage
your business so you need to be clear about your strategy and measure the impact on performance.
We focus on performance, and that is written into our Talent Toolbox online programme. It's more than an appraisal system; it's how you engage leaders. Our focus was how we identify talent to facilitate expansion plans and future recruitment needs. If the owner and the COO aren't behind it, it's no good.
JM Values are what you want the business to be, how managers behave, who you are and what you are like. You might want to inspire
trust, which breeds loyalty, so you need to look at what actions manifest that. For instance, honesty and openness. But you have got to be
consistent. You have to live the dream every day. That is your job.
We invited staff who were giving particularly good customer service to meet up regularly and drill down to the five main values that we wanted guests to go away with.
PB As an independent, we have a smaller team and they have become our HR department. They welcome our new recruits and drive our
shared values. Day-to-day, we have a consistent work ethic and live by example to pass that on to new staff and drive standards.
You need to set high standards. I have experience working in four- and five-star establishments, and I now run a country pub to those
standards. We were named Best Freehouse 2014 in the Great British Pub Awards. When we added bedrooms we invested in the right product, so the staff feel good working here.
They work in an environment that is clean and well-organised. I want to see happy staff because I don't want miserable customers. They are part of the ambience of the place.
Building on what you have achieved MW Our opportunity is F&B at the moment, and we need to improve on that. So far, we have seen a 20% increase in sales through an initiative to sell more pre-starters and side dishes. We created an audit sheet to check its implementation.
We also have a Big Idea Competition, a bit like Dragons' Den, where staff present ideas.
SW We are rolling out a programme called Lead, which puts waiters through nine modules, taking them through supervisor and upwards. Next year, we launch a programme to measure our people's productivity, to ensure that we are using this resource profitably.
We do in-house surveys twice a year and are always sense-checking through Gallop surveys and guest data. This is then fed back to staff. We also encourage 'innovation ninjas'.
These are people who come up with new ideas, whether for team engagement or to save money.
JM Our company was purchased earlier this year by Starwood Capital Group, which creates change. Next year, we will see how the brands
can homogenise to create one organisation. The techno side is hard. You don't need a room full of people doing admin. You need time to do exciting things, so we have invested in a networked HR system. This cuts out the boring stuff and means you can do more with your time.
PB We've refurbished a disused barn for corporate functions and private dining. There are now different dimensions to the business so
we need to train staff for different work.
Our new website will launch soon and it will project images of happy staff as well as the Best Places to Work logo. If we project a good image, it should be easier to recruit the right people.
How to be a Best Place to Work in Hospitality
•Be clear about what standards you measure. Choose, say, five key performance indicators and either show their impact or take action to improve them.
•Keep your staff handbook simple as operators often don't have time to read it
•Promote staff retention through training and developing. A stable team means you can drive standards instead of battling with recruitment.
•Get your managers to see the importance of doing appraisal systems. Encourage them to draw up a plan for each member of staff.
•Embed your values by bringing them alive for staff - if you promote a fun environment, organise staff events to create that ethos.
•Concentrate on improving your staff engagement scores as these have been proved to correlate with customer satisfaction ratings
•Get staff to help with the recruitment process and to buy in to your company values
•Involve staff in generating new ideas for the business, its culture and their welfare
How to manage without a huge HR resource
SW In a small business, you need to get someone to own the HR function and drive it. Your product is your people. Service standards make a difference to the bottom line and you need to get this across to owners or operators. They need to think about who they are going to recruit.
MW It doesn't have to come from HR. We formed working parties during the company merger [of the hotels and resorts]. I led the pod, but they project managed their own teams.
JM I would challenge you not to have too many in an HR team. Use your people. Our graduates recruit the next lot of graduates. Get them to do it and to buy in to the company values.
The hunt is on for the 2015 Best Places to Work in Hospitality
We're now looking for next year's Best Places to Work in Hospitality. Entry is simple and each entrant has the benefit of a confidential staff survey, which can be used to inform people practices and improve business performance.
So if you want to know what drives your employees to perform, enter the awards now. The top 30 employers in the survey rankings will be recognised with an award for being a Best Place to Work in Hospitality - a vital differentiator when it comes to recruitment and retention.
Plus, each of the top 30 has a chance of winning the 2015 Best Employer Catey www.bestplacestoworkinhospitality.co.uk
Closing date is 16 January 2015