ILHA European Chapter Webinar Report Back

The Message is the Mission

Moderator: Chris Mumford, Managing Director at Cervus Leadership Consulting

Panellists: Bryan Grierson, Director England & Wales at The Springboard Charity & Springboard UK

Martin MacPhail: Human Resources Director, RBH

Michelle Crosby: Principal at Crosby Consulting LLC

Alex Sogno: CEO, Global Asset Solutions

This month’s webinar, hosted by the ILHA’s EMEA chapter, addressed the issues around the search for talent and the need for better messaging about what hotels can offer.

The webinar was hosted by Chris Mumford, managing director, Cervus Leadership Consulting, who opened with the acknowledgement that the difficulties of attracting and retaining talent in the hospitality industry had been around “for as long as I can remember”, but had been made worse by the pandemic and people’s reassessment of work/life balance, commenting: “The good news is we’re all in the same boat. But the question is, what do we do about it?”

Michelle Crosby, principal, Crosby Consulting LLC, called for better messaging around the opportunities in the hotel sector, which was echoed by Bryan Grierson, director England & Wales at The Springboard Charity & Springboard UK.

Grierson said: “It’s not a quick fix, it’s a long term plan, where organisations have to come together to work together, creating that pipeline, from kids in schools and colleges, inspiring them and whetting their appetite.

“There’s so much opportunity for people who come to work within the sector; from learning lots of different roles, to having the opportunity to travel the world.”

Crosby called for more open minds from hotels on how they viewed qualifications. Crosby said: “We’ve been rather closed minded about who we’re looking for, as entry level managers, for example. There’s a lot of great talent in the frontline roles that could get tapped for management development programmes in ways we don’t have not traditionally thought about.

“Think about people who are not of the hospitality industry, but could quickly learn, whether they’re recent college grads, or maybe they’re working in an adjoining sector, like retail or restaurant service, where there’s the customer service piece.”

Grierson wanted to see a more open approach to apprenticeships, adding: “I think there’s a little bit of a stigma around apprenticeships, and, sometimes people think apprenticeships are only for younger people that are entering the sector, but actually, apprenticeships open up a massive of opportunity.”

One area where the sector has realised that change was necessary was with wages, which have been rising to attract talent. This was not, the panel agreed, sustainable. Martin MacPhail, human resources director, RBH, commented: “The other things we have to concentrate on to make us attractive and help us retain people is the actual culture of, of the workplace.

“If you’re looked after, if you’re cared, if there’s health and wellbeing, this is a perk which doesn’t have to cost a lot of money. The workplace’s attitude towards diversity and inclusion, as well as ESG – all those things add up to the employer value proposition. It’s not all about money.”

Crosby agreed, adding: “There are organisations that have an opportunity to raise the bar on the value proposition that they’re offering to people. And for me, that really starts with leadership.”

MacPhail elaborated: “I don’t think culture is comes from having ping pong tables in the break room. It’s about people and emotional connection between the frontline associates and guests, and equally importantly, emotional connection between the leaders and the frontline associates. And if you do those things right, the money will take care of itself.

“It’s been proven over and over again, that if leaders take care of the people, the people take care of the guests, and the financial performance follows. And that doesn’t require a big investment. It’s really about a focus on human beings as human beings.”

The panel agreed that more flexibility and more cross skilling was needed in the sector. Grierson said: “We live in a world where people need to be a bit more multi skilled and it definitely makes people’s roles a bit more interesting, but they do need to be trained to deliver or it can have a negative impact.”

Closing the debate, the panel looked forward to what was forecast to be a financially-difficult winter. Crosby said: “One of the first things that gets cut in a downturn is any investment in people.

“I have never been able to understand why that is the first thing we throw out. It’s done by leaders who don’t understand the business that they’re in. If you’re a luxury hotel you are in the service business. And you cannot give great service if you’re not taking care of your people.”

Alex Sogno, CEO, Global Asset Solutions, concluded: “I tell the owners that they have a hardware – your hotel, your physical building – and the software, which is your team. And the software is more important that than your hardware. It’s your business.

“The hardware may be broken, it may be old. But if you have great software, the client will be happy. You have a fantastic experience in Europe, in the old palaces, despite it not being the same standard as Dubai. On the contrary, you can be in a new building, a new five-star hotel and have the worst experience in your life.

“It’s something that we need to keep in mind as owner and operators.”