As a road warrior for my entire professional life, I’ve logged some serious time in hotels. I sent the folks at Marriott a friendly tweet recently… “@Marriott – We hit a milestone this week, sleeping together for the 750th time. Don’t worry, my wife knows. Seriously, keep up the great work!” My business partner, Richard Hadden keeps an even busier travel schedule, and we also do some consulting in the industry, so it’s not unusual that we’re occasionally asked about current or anticipated employment issues affecting the hospitality workspace. Indeed, we were asked that exact question recently, with regard to our outlook for the year 2017, which is just around the corner. As so much of it also pertains to any business operating in a labor-intensive service industry, it only makes sense to share some of that thinking for the use of others.
Excepting known domestic (U.S.) items that have carried over from prior years and are likely to remain on the table for some time, e.g., healthcare, contractor status, and overtime pay laws, I’ve taken a stab at identifying a short list of key workforce issues and opportunities that have already or will present to hotel industry executives in 2017. Here they are, in no particular order:
Putting Big Data to Work – There is a significant (and growing) amount of Big Data and attendant analytical capability available to the industry. Its arrival is not a moment too soon. As Allen Smith, CEO of Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts put it recently, “They (guests) want what they want, when they want it, and they expect us to know what those things are.” Management efforts to react to those needs by turning data into knowledge and then operationalizing it are beginning to take hold, with impacts on guests and employees alike. With respect to the latter:
- As service offerings, expectations, and the limits of flexibility are re-shaped by greater reliance on this information, the complexity of a manager’s job increases exponentially. Just ask any NBA coach, who now must feel as though his lips have been welded to a data fire hose for a couple of years . Managers who can filter large amounts of information, separate the nuggets from the fool’s gold, and act on them will soon be in short supply. Find those people now, and get to know them.
- As this avalanche of information embeds onto a housekeeping or groundskeeping cart (and it will), things like the ability to read, learn, and adapt come to the fore. Accordingly, hiring profiles, recruiting sources, job descriptions, learning methods and modes will all necessarily change. It should go without saying, but organizations that have long done the “wink, wink, nod, nod” over the matter of employee literacy (you know who you are) will find themselves weighed down by workers – many of them great, loyal, hardworking people, who simply won’t be able to keep up. Find them, have the conversation and help them, before it’s too late.
- I might suggest repurposing some of your networking and guest-centric data capacity for internal purposes. My guest profiles at four different hotel chains (please don’t tell Arne Sorenson at Marriott that I’ve been unfaithful) include all kinds of useful information about hotel, room, and food preferences, and other juicy tidbits, I’m sure. Why shouldn’t we similarly expand our HR Info Systems to include things like a worker’s preferred learning style, developmental interests, career aspirations, hobbies, and other information they’re already giving up on Facebook, and would likely be willing to share with us? Doing so allows us to have more significant conversations with staff, deepen the relationship in meaningful ways, and possibly strengthen engagement.
Motivated People Move Faster – Nowhere is this precept more applicable than in the hotel industry, where a cadre of motivated, well-trained and equipped staff can do more to put a smile on guest faces and impact the bottom line than any guest loyalty program. The same can be said for the converse effect of a dispirited, disenfranchised cohort. Sadly, reputable engagement surveys report with monotonous regularity that too few members of the workforce at large are sufficiently engaged for peak performance. On a more industry-specific basis, Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) data suggests that employee turnover in the Travel and Hospitality sectors remains stubbornly high, with quit rates often in excess of 50%. We can do better, and it is worth it to do so.
Organizations that distinguish themselves as Employers of Choice will, with the aid of social media, continue to garner ever-greater reputational recruiting and retention advantage over the rest of the market. Moreover, they get the benefit of copious amounts of discretionary effort. In a tightening labor market such as the one that currently exists, this becomes a significant force multiplier. In order to take full advantage of this opportunity, management teams should do three things in 2017:
- Tighten supervisory selection standards (with a strong bias for leadership traits) and provide much better training, coaching, and compensation for new first and second level leaders. Let me rephrase that just a bit: As a road warrior who consistently spends around 100 nights/year on the road, I am terrified of what my life is going to be like if you don’t do this.
- Use the aforementioned data trove and a dollop of courage to more quickly identify and deal with staff members who perhaps are miscast, or just aren’t measuring up. Doing otherwise is cruel to them, to their co-workers, and to guests.
- Particularly in the teeth of a tightening labor market, you do not want to get caught in the subprime end of the talent pool by virtue of inadequate pay or recognition practices. With the recent Wells Fargo Bank fiasco clearly in mind, be very careful what you incentivize people to do, but incentivize you must. Not unlike dynamic hotel room pricing, in this environment, you should be doing pay equity studies for all core jobs, making adjustments as need be, on at least a six-month basis. Where possible, build in significant variable pay components to keep things interesting for everyone, especially your better performers. We simply must do a better job of distinguishing between A players and C,D players. Bear in mind that one of the biggest factors that causes those A-players to power back a notch or jump ship is having to work with turkeys.
The War for Talent v 3.0 – Against a backdrop of about 1.9% expected capacity growth for 2017 (STR) and continuing high employee quit rates, hotel industry recruiters are going to be burning the midnight oil this year.
If you’re a manager or recruiter at Hilton, the enemy, at least from a talent perspective, isn’t just InterContinental, Wyndham, or another hotel brand. It would be nice if life were that simple. Rather, within fairly broad pay bands, you’re competing with everybody up and down the street in both public and private sectors. But, on the flip side of that same coin, your recruiting sources are equally diverse.
Accordingly, I would encourage you to contemplate improving and further diversifying your talent sources and screening / selection methods this year. A few examples:
- Recent retirees – Now that the Baby Boomers are finally getting out of the way, you’d like to draw a long, deep breath, right? Wrong. Truth be known, many of them, either by choice or necessity, aren’t going to be gone for long. They’re coming back to work, often in a reduced capacity. Many have a great work ethic, ample energy, and they’ve actually seen good service before, so give ‘em a look.
- Recent Military personnel – If you haven’t already gotten serious about recruiting former military personnel, you should, especially if you’re fast tracking people off the street into level one and two management roles. Junior to mid-grade non-commissioned officers who have seen combat likely have more leadership experience (and preparation) than you will find anywhere else.
- Legacy Network – Despite the fact that Facebook and LinkedIn have already done much of the heavy lifting, too few organizations take the extra step of forming or participating in a legacy network consisting of their former employees in good standing. Such individuals can be a wonderful source of applicant referrals, short-term contractors, and brand ambassadors when encouraged to do so. Last, and perhaps most importantly,
- Be a More Consistent Recruiter – Recruiting cannot be a purely demand driven proposition. If it is allowed to become so, all it takes is a handful of unexpected requisitions (aren’t most of them unexpected?) and very quickly the recruiter’s judgment gets minimized as they concern themselves with simply putting fannies in seats.