Mr. Stark

Human Resources, Recruitment & Training

Leadership Development is Your Key to Effective Retention

By Peter Stark, Principal, Peter Barron Stark Companies

Far too many business leaders in the hospitality industry today are failing to invest in one of the most critical aspects of a successful business - their leaders of tomorrow. Most hotel executives recognize the importance of leadership in building the long term success of their business. Yet, many executives fail to develop their managers of today into great leaders that will successfully drive and guide the future of the business tomorrow. With guests raising the bar and demanding more every year, the ongoing success of your properties is ultimately determined by the recruiting, hiring, development, and retention of your future leaders.

Do the current leaders of your organization recognize the high value of providing leadership skills development for your organization's future leaders? Zappos, Southwest Airlines, Deloitte and General Electric are all great examples of companies that take pride in selecting, developing and retaining strong leaders at every level of the organization. Great companies know that developing and retaining future leaders gives them a steep advantage over competitors who lack this focus. As businesses compete to attract and retain top talent, it is also important to consider what the best employees are looking for in a job. One of the top considerations is whether or not employees believe they have opportunities to continuously learn and grow. Leadership skills are invaluable to employees as they advance in their respective positions and careers, and opportunities to hone these skills are attractive to future candidates and current employees alike.

As you consider the value of leadership development, it is important to distinguish the difference between management training and leadership skills development. Although the behaviors exhibited and skills needed for both managers and leaders may be identical, the outcomes of the respective training sessions are significantly different. Leadership skills development helps managers who are focused on numbers, revenues and outcomes learn how to build strong relationships where (regardless of a formal title) employees are motivated to follow them and deliver discretionary effort that goes above and beyond just performing a job.

[According to the Association for Talent Development][1], U.S. businesses spend more than $170 billion on leadership-based curricula. Some would argue the leadership training business hasn't been very effective, since we still have a plethora of managers in the industry, but very few real leaders.

Part of the problem is that many leadership programs focus on training managers rather than developing leaders. Again, this is an important distinction to make. Managers can be trained to follow processes, procedures and best practices. When the focus is on training, the goal is immediate learning and compliance. It is much more difficult, however, to train managers to build successful relationships where employees are highly motivated, engaged and excited about following their leader. Development is a two-way, experiential process that takes time. Successful leadership development doesn't generally produce the desired results in just one or two sessions.

It is estimated that organizations spend over $14 billion a year trying to train and develop the workforce. Unfortunately, many of these leadership development programs fail for several reasons:

Lack of Owner and Senior Leader Sponsorship

If the owners and senior leaders are prioritizing day-to-day operational activities and failing to commit the time needed to strategically develop their leadership team, then the program will most likely fail. Leadership development programs need time, commitment, and attention from the senior level.

Lack of Context

A leader who is an operational savant may not be the best leader when it comes to building relationships with employees, managers and guests. The program needs to be designed around the context and competencies that will produce the desired outcomes.

Selecting the Wrong Leaders for Development

About one-half of the leaders who come to us for development and coaching actively utilize the feedback and experiences to become an even stronger leader. The other half of the leaders have a strong mind-set that we call Popeye syndrome. Popeye, the famous spinach eating cartoon character, was famous for saying, "I am what I am!" These strong willed leaders spend their energy on defending how they have done things in the past. Organizations have limited resources dedicated to development. Choosing the wrong leaders to develop drains resources and undermines the effectiveness of the program.

Selecting Facilitators Who Do Not Represent Your Organization

Sending your managers to leadership development is an investment. Sending your leaders to a generic program, or hiring a facilitator who does not understand your organization or lacks leadership credibility,y is a quick way to undermine your success. It is important to hire a facilitator who is truly an extension of your organization.

What's the Solution?

Stop trying to train leaders, and instead place the focus on developing leaders by coaching, mentoring, and providing opportunities to learn and practice their skills. You can ensure a successful process by keeping the following keys in mind as you implement a leadership development program:

Gain the Owners and Senior Management Support

Before your program can begin, owners and senior leaders must see the value of a leadership development program. They need to believe that a leadership development program brings more long-term value to the property than keeping managers at their desks, working on whatever operational tasks happens to have the most immediate need that day.

Create a Clear Vision of the Leader, Employee and Customer Experience You Want to Create

To create an extraordinary experience for your guests, you will need to create a powerful vision for the program that will develop your leaders and employees. The vision is a clear mental picture of the outcome, described in words, that you hope to create by implementing a leader and employee development experience. Although leaders and employees who feel they are learning, developing and growing are more likely to stay with your organization, the ultimate outcome needs to be an experience that keeps your guests coming back again and again.

Define Leadership Competencies

It's important to design a development program that is in alignment with your organization's vision and values. Ultimately, this is what will drive the desired outcomes and success of your leadership initiative. Hire the right leaders. It is only after you have the competencies defined that you are ready to recruit the right leaders or begin a development program for your existing leaders. Here is the challenge: Not all the leaders you hire and develop are going to be successful. Some leaders are excellent learners and thrive in the challenge of becoming an even stronger leader. Some managers find the development process difficult and are unwilling to change. Here's what we have learned from the Best of the Best organizations. All organizations have managers who, from time to time, exhibit behaviors that undermine the vision. When you encounter managers who are not in alignment with the vision, the first step is to provide coaching, counseling and additional development experiences. What do the Best of the Best organizations do differently? When a manager is consistently unwilling or unable to change, they quickly share that manager with their competitors.

Transform Your Learning Model from Training to Development

There are few leaders born with the innate ability to lead your team or properties to success. Leadership needs to be learned. However, hiring an entertaining sage onstage is most likely not going to develop your future leaders. Research has shown that more than 70 percent of leadership development occurs through highly interactive simulation-type programs, mentoring, or informal, on-the-job training.

Develop a Pilot Program

Like leaders, great leadership programs are constantly being developed and improved. Programs need to be updated and tweaked to fit your future leaders in your respective business.

Start with Your Most Senior Leaders:

It's difficult to demonstrate the importance of a leadership development program if senior leaders don't lead by example. Senior leaders need to attend the program and put the skills being developed into action. Employees believe what they actually see in the halls more than what they read in internal newsletters or information posted on the wall.

Mentoring: Utilize Senior Leaders to Develop Future Leaders

It is critical for senior leaders to attend the development program as noted above. It will have an even bigger impact if senior leaders teach portions of the program, and then provide mentoring and guidance to future leaders. Utilizing senior leaders to teach the development program accomplishes two things. First, senior leaders will know the competencies, content and expected outcomes of the development program firsthand. Second, by mentoring future leaders, they demonstrate on a daily basis that they care deeply about their future leaders, and ultimately providing each guest with an extraordinary experience.

Measure Results

Leadership development can be measured through Employee Engagement Surveys, Guest Loyalty Surveys, the number of successful internal leaders developed and the level of turnover reported by a manager. When turnover exists, it is critical to gain feedback from exit interviews. Based on the feedback gathered in the interviews, managers who have higher levels of turnover can then be provided with additional development opportunities. When you measure the success of your program, tweaks can be made as necessary, and the benefits of the program itself become clear.

Provide executive coaching for leaders who struggle with building strong and effective relationships with their team members. In some cases, an Employee Engagement Survey will identify these leaders. In other cases, they can be identified by high turnover on a particular team or by consistent and numerous concerns shared with the Human Resources team.

Highlight Leadership Success Stories

Recognize and promote leaders who have done an outstanding job at both producing extraordinary results and providing outstanding leadership in developing and building their team. When these types of leaders are recognized and promoted, it sends out a clear message that "what" you accomplish and "how" you treat people in the organization are both critically important to your growth opportunities.

Great companies know that a formal title is irrelevant to great leadership, and expect all of their employees to play a leadership role. At the current pace of most organizations, it's easy to focus on only the immediate needs and pay less attention to the long-term success and development of your venue.

But when leadership development is made a priority, the benefits are numerous:

  1. More managers have the skills to build relationships where people are motivated, engaged and willing to follow their leader
  2. Increased engagement and motivation at all levels of the organization
  3. Internal talent is available for further growth, development and promotion
  4. Higher retention of the most desired team members
  5. More employees who love coming to work and more customers who love doing business with your organization
  6. Increased productivity, performance and profitability
  7. Increased guest satisfaction and loyalty

Organizations committed to continuously developing their leaders are gaining a distinct competitive advantage in business. These companies have no shortage of high caliber talent wanting to work with them, and these are the employees who will be genuinely excited about wowing your guests by producing high quality services or products. As hotel workforces continue to feel the pressure of ever-rising guest expectations, it is more important than ever for Human Resource professionals to focus on the development and retention of their top talent. If your team or organization is not investing in your future leaders, start now. You will be amazed at how much talent there is to develop, and the success that will result.

Peter Barron Stark is a management consultant, speaker and author. Over the past twenty-five years, his consulting firm, Peter Barron Stark Companies, specializes in helping leaders build organizations where employees love to come to work, and customers love to do business. Clients such as the NFL, NBA, Aetna, the Phoenix Suns, Lowes, Sempra Energy, Kaiser Permanente, the Boston Red Sox, SONY Electronics, Qualcomm, WD-40 Company, Stone Brewing Company, Wells Fargo, Farmers Insurance, and over 200 other leading organizations have called upon Mr. Stark to help transform their cultures and maximize the effectiveness of their leaders. Mr. Stark can be contacted at 858-451-3601 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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