The Victory Services Club in London has won numerous employer awards in recent years and has seen its staff turnover plummet from 120% to 14% in five years. Daniel Thomas reports on why it is one of the best places to work in hospitality.
The Victory Services Club (VSC) in central London, which provides bars, restaurants, conference facilities and accommodation for serving and retired members of the Armed Forces, has less room in its trophy cabinet than Barcelona FC.
Sector skills council People 1st has recognised the club as a "good employer", the VSC was the first London venue to achieve the Meetings Industry Association's "Gold" standard for "Accredited in Meetings", while it holds the highest hotel and club sector scores for "Hospitality Assured" - the hospitality industry's quality accreditation.
The company has had to clear yet more space for two more awards, after it was a double winner in the Best Places To Work ceremony, picking up Best Individual Unit (Caterer, 19 February) and the award for retention and talent management.
For Eamonn Cole, operations manager at VSC, winning two awards in a single year represents "a huge achievement" for the company.
"The Best Places awards are so auspicious, for an organisation even to be considered, as we have been on two occasions previously, is a great accomplishment," he says. "To win this year's Best Individual Unit award outright as well as the inaugural retention and talent management award, is fantastic."
Cole believes that the success can be attributed to the fact that actions speaks louder than words at VSC. "Our people confirmed that what we said we were doing in our business, we were actually delivering," he says. "We stated that in the past year, we were stringently committed to the further development of our staff and their retention and we put in place initiatives to achieve that."
VSC offers a blend of effective and targeted training and development; a coaching culture that spans one-on-one mentoring, team coaching sessions and supervisory workshops; internal skills management delivered through appraisal and the talent toolbox system; and an impressive benefits package.
Staff retention is critical, especially as VSC invests time and money in training and development, stresses Cole.
"Hospitality organisations will often say that they will not invest heavily in staff training because their turnover is high and the training is wasted," he says.
"This is the wrong attitude. High staff turnover is usually symptomatic of a lack of investment in training and development. If you really want to retain your people, train them properly and put it at the top of your business plan. Few organisations are successful when they cannot keep their people. Our business growth has gone hand-in-hand with our people development."
Keeping staff also makes sound economic sense, as it cuts the cost of recruiting new staff, according to Cole. "We certainly cannot afford to be spending to recruit staff all the time, which can also be very time-consuming for management," he says. "We much prefer to invest that money in their engagement, development and retention."
VSC's success in retaining and developing staff is certainly borne out by the numbers. Its latest annual staff survey revealed a 97% staff job satisfaction ratio, while staff turnover has plummeted from 120% in 2004 to 14% in 2009 - virtually unheard of in hospitality.
Cole attributes this fall to the club adopting a policy for staff training, development, engagement and retention.
"It is now that we are reaping the rewards of this," he says. "Hospitality organisations are quick to state that their people are their most important asset, but how many companies actually deliver on that by investing everything necessary for that asset to achieve at the highest level?
"The past year has been tough, but we said we would not compromise on our commitment to developing and retaining our people and this was reflected in an increase in our training budget and the adoption of other benefits to improve engagement, recognition and reward," he adds.
Talent management is an oft-used buzz word in HR circles, but many employers are unclear about what it actually entails. For Cole, it starts with knowing exactly what skills are required to do the job through succinct person specifications and ensuring that the recruitment and selection process is effective in eliciting that from candidates. "The induction programme has to be rigorous and thorough, core skills developed and, thereafter, through regular appraisal and review, personal development plans constructed for each individual so they each have their own challenges for growth," he explains.
VSC has worked with training providers Stonebow, Learnpurple and Straight A for several years and they support the club in putting together programmes for individuals and teams.
"We have placed particular emphasis in the past year on the development of ‘soft' management skills such as behavioural profiling and emotional intelligence and bringing that innovation into the training process has been invaluable to developing and retaining our talent," Cole says.
Succession planning is another important aspect of talent management for companies, regardless of size, according to Cole. "Succession planning is usually cited as something only the big companies do because it takes a great deal of resources and planning, but it is something all organisations should strive for," he says.
"In fact, adopting the process is simple and is something all management should practise."
WHY IS VICTORY SERVICES CLUB A BEST PLACE TO WORK IN HOSPITALITY?
This year Caterer invited employees of the nominated companies to comment on why their employer was a Best Place to Work. We round up some of the views of the Victory Services Club staff:
- "We recognise most of the visitors and they know many staff members by name. It makes everyone feel welcome. Working with staff from all over the world is very exciting."
- "The organisation cares for its employees and puts more attention in training and development for staff than many others. Equal opportunities prevail, no matter your race, sex or origin. It also accepts feedback from clients and staff, helping to improve our image in the industry."
- "There is a friendly atmosphere and a lot of opportunities for development. I don't feel any stress when working here."
- "Teamwork is spread in every department and the whole building has ‘team' written through it like a stick of rock."
- "Reward and recognition is good, there is also flexibility, equal opportunities and good training and development schemes. I feel that it is one of the best companies I have ever worked for. It respects and develops staff very well."
HOW TO ATTRACT THE BEST EMPLOYEES
Great businesses recognise that employees with true career aspirations can choose the type of company they work for. That may sound obvious, but if you want to attract and retain quality workers who truly replicate the service standards you want to deliver, then an equally great package of benefits, training and support is key.