With all of the change in the hospitality industry in the last two decades, it’s nice to know that certain things remain the same. Fluffy towels are still desirable, for example. Ample, clean washroom facilities remain important to guests. Most of the traditional tenants of good hospitality ring true, even if processes like booking and promotions are virtually unrecognisable to what they were in the 1990s and before.
Talent acquisition is, unfortunately, not among those areas in which hoteliers can continue to follow a traditional playbook. The need for quality people hasn’t changed — this has always been one of the most important pillars of a good hotel. But the way to attract and retain talent is markedly different.
Before we go in that direction, any discussion of talent acquisition in the hospitality industry should include at least a reminder of why talent is so important to us. Why do we need quality people?
Much has been made of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs as it relates to the hospitality industry. Abraham Maslow, an American professor, created an influential pyramid chart in the 1940s to explain what motivates people. From the bottom up, we have the following categories: Physiological, safety, belonging, esteem, and self-actualisation.
Physiological and safety needs are focused on amenities, facilities, comforts, and feeling of security that should be present at every hotel stay. As we move higher up the pyramid, we reach belonging, esteem and self-actualisation. These are more likely to involve employees and their actions. A good hotel must have a social aspect, even if it’s just the fact of staff being ready and attentive to guest requests.
We can see right away that this hierarchy is open to different interpretations, and that certain services or amenities could move into different categories through time. Wireless internet, for example, may have been in the “esteem” category once upon a time. Now it seems more appropriate to the “physiological” category.
But if we look at this hierarchy as a system of delivery requirements for hotels to become “self-actualized,” there is actually no part of the pyramid where quality people aren’t necessary. From housekeeping to guest interactions to the interpretation of key data in designing promotions, to the person designing the algorithm which drives more business from our website, we depend on having the right people working for us.
But the hospitality employment landscape doesn’t look like it did before the invention of the internet, and before travel was so accessible to so many people. The last decade in particular has seen the rise of gig culture, crowdsourcing, and the need to redefine traditional career structures. Translation: You’re less likely to fill all of your open positions with good talent at every level who see your hotel as a long-term career investment. If you do manage to hire a bunch of good team members, don’t rest on your laurels. Australians have seen the average job tenure drop to 3.5 years recently. That’s even lower than current averages in the United States (4.3 years, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics). And as every hotelier knows, the hospitality industry already suffers higher turnover rates than other industries.
Pam Caroll, Sydney-based Editorial Manager at ehotelier (a company that provides online courses and certifications for people looking to join or develop in the hotel industry) argues that it’s more about finding leaders who are good at curating talent, incentivizing employees, and maintaining a strong overall team. If you can find the right person to lead a team (housekeeping, food and beverage, etc.), the war for talent can be fought on the ground by team leaders who are both incentivized and equipped to use creative tactics in attracting the professional talent they need. Put more recruiting power in the hands of talented team leaders, and focus more on the “people qualities” that can’t be taught, instead of focusing exclusively on skills and qualifications.
This approach seems better fitted to chains and larger hotel organizations than to boutiques and smaller properties, but there’s a valuable take-away for every hotelier. Good things can and do happen when you empower the right people on your team, and allow them a greater role in defining that team.
But perhaps more important and basic is the need for increasingly greater clarity on how and why the right people are instrumental in delivering across the hierarchy of guest needs. (Focussing on EQ rather than IQ for instance). Until we understand this on a gut level, it’s going to be business as usual with hotel recruiting efforts.
Competition for good professional talent is expected to get tougher in coming decades. As a hotelier in this century, we need to think about who the right people are today and tomorrow, what’s going to incentivize them today and tomorrow, and how to create a more collaborative work culture. More and more employees want a say in what goes on and want to feel that they are valued and appreciated. If we are not clear on what we can offer them as much as assessing what they can offer us, the right people will pass us by.
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