The company is only four years old, but Abode Hotels & Michael Caines Restaurants has already established a fantastic reputation as an employer. Daniel Thomas reports.
When two-Michelin-starred chef Michael Caines teamed up with greetings-card millionaire Andrew Brownsword to launch Abode Hotels in 2005, they promised "stylish, accessible places to eat, meet, drink and sleep, underpinned by traditional values".
To achieve this, the company wanted to create a culture based on learning, progression and enjoyment. It set in place a structured training programme, including apprenticeship schemes for chefs, food and beverage service professionals and hotel staff, and a customer service training programme for all front-of-house staff. More than half of the training offered comprises bespoke in-house courses conducted by licensed trainers within each hotel.
This strategy would seem to indicate a perfect candidate for Caterer‘s Best Places to Work in Hospitality awards, but winning the prize for hotels (one to 10 sites) came as a slight surprise to the Abode team, admits HR manager Ros Young.
"We are only four years old so it's a real achievement for us to win this award after such a short period of time," she says. "I believe that we do many good things for our employees, but as we are so young I thought that it might take a little longer to ensure that we had the right culture for our people. There are also many good employers in our industry that have well-established infrastructures."
But this sense of surprise did nothing to dampen the joy of winning the award, according to Young. The company derived particular satisfaction from the fact that employees' comments were analysed as part of the judging process.
"Our employees are our brand, and their happiness in their job is very important to us; we know that if an employee is happy at work, that feeling will be passed on to our guests," Young says. "Also, as a group that is expanding it's good to be able to tell prospective employees that we are a very good place to work."
Creating a positive environment for staff to work in - from designated staff areas for breaks to a benefits website, complimentary staff stays and meals, monthly employee awards and a staff social calendar - helps Abode to retain staff, but the key to retention is development, Young says.
"Ongoing investment in training and development ensures that we are nurturing future supervisors and managers," she says. "Their career paths are structured through regular reviews and objectives being set to challenge and motivate them. Working with local and national skills providers ensures our employees have exposure to some amazing training opportunities, and all this contributes to high retention figures."
Many of the employees who provided comments referred to the "friendly atmosphere" and this comes from the top, Young says.
"It starts with our directors - both Michael Caines and [managing director] Nick Halliday are very approachable, quite active in and around all our hotels and they both take a keen interest in what our employees are doing," she adds. "The passion they have is infectious and is a key motivator for our employees."
With employees encouraged to work so hard to achieve Abode's service standards, the management strives to ensure there is "harmony" among the teams, Young says.
"We do many things to encourage socialising outside of work, such as summer barbecues, bowling and parties," she says. "When recruiting, personality is a key factor - ensuring we have enthusiastic and passionate people creates a culture of fun and positivity."
As for the HR strategy moving forward, remaining an employer of choice means "attracting talent at every level and then nurturing and developing staff and giving them the opportunity to grow," Young says. "We will continue to listen to our staff in order to ensure that we meet their needs, which in turn will help our business grow."
In early 2010, Abode is set to open its fifth hotel, in Chester, employing 120 staff, which will take its total head count to 450. It plans to continue to recruit and develop apprentices through the apprentice programme, while in April it will launch a new management development scheme.
And Abode is determined not to rest on its laurels, according to Young. Its "people vision" for 2010 states that: "We will add value to our hotels by understanding, nurturing, developing, communicating and motivating our teams while always delivering best people practices. We will strive to create an exceptional people culture and will exhibit the highest level of excellence in all aspects of supporting present and prospective employees."
WHY IS ABODE HOTELS & MICHAEL CAINES RESTAURANTS A BEST PLACE TO WORK?
This year, for the first time, Caterer invited employees of the nominated companies to comment on why their employer was the Best Place to Work in Hospitality. Here, we round up some of the views of the Abode Hotels & Michael Caines Restaurants staff:
â- "Career progression opportunities, along with approachable, supportive, encouraging and understanding managers - from line-managers to group managers and the managing director himself, everyone is appreciative of your efforts as individuals and as a team. We are not merely numbers on a payroll; we are people and treated with respect."
â- "The company listens to suggestions and takes them seriously, often resulting in positive change. There is training available on a regular basis and this is interesting and fun. We have fun nights out, a fabulous employee of the month (and year) scheme, quarterly hotel meetings which are informative and fun and monthly ‘share it' meetings."
â- "At Abode, people are employed on their personality and their passion for hospitality. Michael Caines is such an inspiration to all and you feel part of something special."
FINDING THE VERY BEST CANDIDATES
Consider the value of promoting your business as an "employer of choice" to really compel the very best candidates to apply for jobs with your business. Industry associations/accreditation, awards nominations and carefully chosen industry partnerships really do illustrate that you create an environment and culture where employee satisfaction is a priority.
For more information about the Best Places to Work in Hospitality awards 2010, please contact Lisa Goold on 020 8652 3656 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.