Personnel – terms of engagement

12 March 2010
Personnel – terms of engagement

As businesses regroup after the recession, it's time to motivate staff for the challenges the upturn will bring, says David MacLeod.

It has been a challenging 18 months for the hospitality industry. But with the economy starting to show signs of improvement, management teams in restaurants, hotels and catering firms across the country are mapping out plans for 2010 and beyond.

As business owners and managers regroup, they need to think about the connection they have with their people - and how it could be improved.

Everyone knows that the past 12 months has been a difficult and uncertain time for employees. The question is: are your people prepared and motivated for the new challenges that the upturn will bring?


Last year the Government commissioned an independent review into the benefits of employee engagement. The final report, Engaging for Success, presented a compelling case for employee engagement as a route to business success. Those businesses that invest time and energy in informing, involving and supporting their workforce reap the rewards in terms of employee effort and motivation. This ultimately translates into improved business performance and real bottom-line benefits.

Research has shown that three-quarters of highly-engaged employees believe they can impact costs, quality and customer service, compared with just 25% of employees who feel disengaged from their organisation. Within service industries, where employees can make or break the customers' experience, getting this right is a no-brainer.

So, how can you make engagement work for your organisation? The hospitality industry faces some very particular pressures on its employee base. Long, sometimes unsociable hours, combined with the often seasonal nature of the industry can make it hard to retain good people. Indeed, the sector has long struggled with high rates of employee "churn" so it's well worth remembering that engaged employees are 87% less likely to leave an organisation than the disengaged.

Of course, in such a highly-pressured environment it can be hard to take a step back and assess how to engage employees more effectively. The good news, however, is that there are a number of practical steps that all employers can take to help ensure their people are committed both to delivering a great day-to-day experience for customers, and to delivering longer-term growth and success.

Following the publication of Engaging for Success, the Government has accepted the recommendations made by me and my co-author, Nita Clarke. We are now working with the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, as well as a range of leading employers, business figures, HR practitioners and employee engagement experts to develop a set of practical, no-nonsense guidance that employers can quickly put into practice. In the meantime, there are some very simple steps that any business can take to help foster greater commitment and motivation from its people.


Research for the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills found that only 17% of the 47 employees surveyed in the hospitality and leisure sector felt that their management had clearly communicated business objectives for 2010. Meanwhile, 40% said they thought senior managers had no clear vision for their future business.

This underlines the importance of communicating a clear vision about where the business is going, what it aims to achieve and the role that every individual employee will play.


Employees need to know what the organisation's plans mean to them at a personal level. Helping staff to connect their role - be it front of house, in the kitchen or as part of the cleaning team - to the future of the business is vital. All employees need a clear "line of sight" between their own role and company goals so they understand where they fit in.


No manager has the monopoly on bright ideas, so tapping into the ideas and opinions of all staff is an opportunity that no business should miss. One of the key barriers to effective engagement is to forget that frontline staff often have the best insights into how to address particular issues. So ask your employees what they think about customer service issues or how you promote the business.

Some leaders fear that asking for input means relinquishing control, or that too many voices might paralyse the business. This is understandable, but it's still up to you to set the agenda and to set out the areas on which you are seeking views (and those you're not) so people feel they are being involved.

If you are seeking views, make sure employees understand what you are looking for their input on, how ideas will be evaluated and what will happen next. Ensure that any areas not up for discussion are also made clear. And provide feedback on the points they do raise.


Make a commitment to share information regularly with employees on the performance of the business during the year and to discuss any issues or challenges openly and honestly. This is important in a strong economic climate, but even more so when times are tough - open communication is crucial to maintaining the trust on which an effective employer/employee relationship relies.


Take a step back to assess your own behaviour and how it might be interpreted by those around you. Identify areas in which you could change to better engage your people.


Make a resolution to give your people more autonomy in the way they operate. Work with them to agree objectives and set parameters, but give them licence to shape the way they approach and deliver on these. Micro-management is an unnecessary, painful, resource-intensive and de-motivating way of trying to get the job done.


Employees need to know you're available to give guidance, that you will offer support and that you're interested in their feedback and ideas at all times.


Regularly check with your people about their understanding of business goals and the contribution they are expected to make. Ensure that you are interacting with employees in a way that is relevant to them. Face-to-face communication is almost always the best.


During 2010, make sure that you regularly recognise employees for the contribution they make. Research shows the impact that this can have on motivation, wellbeing and performance. You could establish a formal award scheme, introduce "spot prizes" for business improvement ideas or create more team-building events during the year.

David MacLeod is the co-author of Engaging for Success - an independent report exploring the benefits and drivers of employee engagement in the workplace

Guidance on employee engagement will be available at the end of March at


MWB, the owner of Malmaison, acquired Hotel du Vin in 2004, bringing together the two hotel chains under the same ownership. Although the brands remain separate, the company was keen to initiate greater integration of the workforce and support services. The two hotel chains had very different cultures which had to be brought together, while maintaining the engagement of staff during a period of expansion. Good people management and practices were seen as key to maintaining good service standards.

As part of the acquisition and expansion plans, the company put in place new performance management systems, greater learning and development opportunities, new management development programmes, employee recognition schemes, and new rotas and flexible working practices.

The result has been increased retention and more senior positions being filled from within, which has also reduced costs for recruitment: 78% of general managers have made their way through the company's ranks, as have 92% of head chefs and deputies. The average working week has been reduced and staff turnover has reduced significantly. These changes have led to steadily improving scores in the employee survey, and sales and profit figures at each chain have been strong for the past two years.

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