Mr. Nijhawan

Human Resources, Recruitment & Training

Essential Staff Motivation and Retention

By Sanjay Nijhawan, COO, Guoman Hotels (UK)

Fail to look after your people, be they staff or customers, and you won't be around for long - whether you're selling shoes, diamond watches or burgers. In the hospitality industry duty of care, at a premium standard, for both staff and guests is what makes the difference between a good hotel and a great one.

It is certainly true that the hotel business certainly has to go a step further when it comes to its 'people'. If anything, the emphasis on getting your employment and retention policies 'righter' than the rest is even more marked and important. Hotels are in a pretty unique position in that what they provide for customers in terms of experience is 100% in the hands of the team on the ground. And since you are running a 24-hour operation, it means genuine consistency of service is required throughout each guest's stay.

Putting aside the economic disadvantages of high staff churn (the advertising for new employees, the time spent interviewing and chasing up references and then the cost of getting them up to speed with your organisation), having a settled workforce automatically brings with it the seamless delivery of constant excellence. Of course, your hard assets count - the location, a well-furnished property and great conference facilities are important because they draw in the guests. But they'll only do that once. Mess up the service and you can kiss any return visit goodbye.

So how do we ensure are staff are satisfied? We're all very different animals, and respond to situations in myriad ways. What's right for one surely can't fit all?

While it's true that deciphering what makes us all tick is a centuries-old puzzle, there are certain traits that we all display. Understanding them is the key to unlocking the best performance. Perhaps the best way to understand is to appeal on an almost primeval level to the things that drive us all as human 'animals'.

1. Moving on up

Firstly, let's look at the fundamental desire to advance and thrive. Okay, so we've come a long way as a species since the days of living in caves and searching for the secret of fire, but the basic principal of moving up the ladder is still as relevant as it always was. What do staff want now? Money comes first, obviously, since with it you get a better house, faster car and nicer clothes - as well as being better able to provide for loved ones.

But it's not all about cold, hard cash. Social status matters too. Promotion for a job well done, maybe a nice parking spot, or even just a more comfortable office chair all count towards satisfaction. Don't be fooled into thinking that everyone acts selfishly either; while it is important for individuals to feel they have been recognised, the well-being of colleagues is an important driver towards a general feeling of well-being.

The easiest way to meet this desire is to have a well-structured reward system. Vital is the need to discriminate between good and bad performers and highlight the positive effects of doing a good job. Giving workers some flexibility to take decisions when it comes to delivering exceptional service - say, for example, allowing the head chef to have some autonomy when it comes to sourcing great local products for the menu - and you are tying performance to reward. This can be done on both an individual basis, through the staff appraisal scheme, as well as giving managers a wider responsibility for those under their charge. Monitoring the satisfaction levels of guests is a great way of making these 'perform-and-you-benefit' schemes transparent. Oh, it may seem simple, but don't forget to benchmark pay level against competitors either!

2. Family affair

As I mentioned, the tribal nature of humans means we are inclined to care about those around us. With the time everyone spends at work, it is no surprise that people often regard co-workers as an extended family, often striving towards the same goal.

Being well loved is important to the group, and so the second factor to consider is how to develop this feeling of belonging. It is relatively easy to get staff to share best practice to keep them motivated. But when staff feel 'betrayed' by their employer it is remarkable how quickly dissatisfaction can quickly spread to undermine morale. If a 'them-and-us' mentality develops it is almost impossible to remedy without drastic action.

Breeding a sense of mutual benefit, unity and camaraderie needn't require hiking staff off into the woods for a weekend of paint-ball warfare and problem solving. Much simpler is setting an inclusive tone in everything you do and ensuring ongoing communication. Regular staff meetings, especially where all staff have the opportunity to feedback their issues and concerns, are a must - as long as points are actioned in a reasonable and timely manner. Likewise, a sympathetic attitude to family issues that individuals may face fosters inclusiveness. You cannot underestimate the value of staff feeling that their boss, and company, cares for them.

Meanwhile, my third and fourth points are closely linked and often run hand-in-hand. In general people in the workplace want to do a decent job. Sure, there are always a few content to take it easy, but I believe the vast majority look forward to something of a challenge.

3. Train and gain

If we take it as read that staff want to make a valid contribution to their particular organisation, we also have to accept that they can only do that if they are being developed.

As such there is two points to address - that we find the right people for the job AND that we invest in our people in terms of training.

In my company, Guoman Hotels, we have recently embarked on a reorganisation of the business that means positioning the brand as a quality, deluxe collection of properties - some of which are moving significantly upmarket in the process.

In this regard we are starting with a blank sheet of paper to develop a training programme and academy that will deliver the quality of staff we require when making our 'great leap forward'. Good news for us, obviously, but it is an investment that demonstrates to our employees that improvement is a two-way relationship that helps them in their future careers.

4. The right staff

In the recruitment and promotion process, there needs to be real focus on indentifying who is right for the jobs you have available. As an example of how all these strands link together, it is simply pointless to promote a person because they have performed well, only for them to find themselves in a role they hate or that does not make the best of their core skills. All jobs must have a distinct place in the organisation (it will make you keep a closer eye on your structure) to prove that those doing them are genuinely making a difference to the whole.

5. Fair play

The final step is one that requires the least effort of all, and one that essentially wraps up the previous four I've already covered - in short, it's the transparency that you develop to allow staff to see they are being treated fairly.

Exercises such as a simple 'employee of the month' programme are easy to deride and criticise, but when run well allow all those involved to take an active part in the welfare of the brand in terms of the service they provide.

Allied to this, regular sessions that keep staff in the loop about where the business is and how well it is performing show you consider them to be a vital cog in a much larger wheel.

In summary, the five essential practices in staff motivation and retention are having a fair and effective rewards and recognition programme; communication to breed a feeling of belonging; recruiting the right people and training all employees to your own business standards; a competitive benefits scheme to attract and retain people, and; creating a dynamic culture and environment in which people want to thrive.

With extensive experience oin working for some of the biggest brands in the business, including Hilton, Holiday Inn, Marriott and Forte, Sanjay Nijhawan has been in the hospitality industry for over 17 years. Mr. Nijhawan joined Thistle Hotels in 2004 as general manager for The Tower in central London. Earlier this year Mr. Nijhawan was promoted to Chief Operating Officer of Guoman Hotels (UK) overseeing the development of a collection of six international deluxe properties in central London. Mr. Nijhawan graduated from Thames Valley University in 1992 with a degree in hotel management. Mr. Nijhawan can be contacted at 0870 333 9280 or Extended Bio... retains the copyright to the articles published in the Hotel Business Review. Articles cannot be republished without prior written consent by

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