Hotel Online  Special Report

Managing Human Resources in the Hospitality
Industry: Putting Values Into Practice


By David Wheelhouse, CHRE, Anchor Consulting, and 
Chris Longstreet, CHA, Society for Hospitality Management
July 2004

Our job as managers in the hospitality industry requires us to match our policies, procedures, and practices with the values by which our company operates.  A company’s values are put into practice in several ways: the choice of measurements that will be used to gauge performance and success, the treatment of employees, the allocation of wages and benefits, and the kinds of performance that will be recognized, rewarded, and talked about.  

What You Measure Counts    

Regardless of what a company says its philosophy is, what it measures is one of the biggest determinants of what its values really are.  If food costs, labor costs, and inventory turnover are all it measures, talks about, and uses to evaluate performance, people will adapt to that and the company culture will be control-oriented.  The frequency of measurement also has a profound impact on the organizational culture in communicating the true values of the company. 
An organization must decide whether its systems are there for the convenience of the guest or the accounting office.  Are bartenders, front desk agents, and cashiers part of guest service or are they really data-entry clerks?  Is the first priority of the company maintaining the accounting records or helping guests?  If your employees believe their first priority is keeping proper inventory and accounting records, in reality “service” isn’t your philosophy.  If you want service, you have to place equal or greater emphasis on measuring service.  This may mean evaluating guest satisfaction by measuring repeat business, responding to guest reactions, comments, and suggestions, and even conducting guest surveys and gaining other guest feedback.
How You Treat People Counts

How you treat your employees will also communicate how you think guests should be treated.  If you want guest satisfaction, you also have to measure employee satisfaction, since their behavior is part of the product.  Employees must be happy and content themselves before they can make guests happy.  When people feel good about themselves and are comfortable with their skills, they’re more willing and able to perform in public.  The happier they are, the likelier they are to go out of their way to help a guest or co-worker.  If your human resources strategy is working, you won’t need a customer service training program to teach workers to smile.  You won’t need a customer service training program to teach workers to smile.  On the other hand, employees in uncomfortable situations will generally tend to be ruder to guests and one another.  Employee turnover, absenteeism, attitude surveys, and accident rates are all indicators for measuring employee satisfaction.
When managers know that employers consider achieving guest and employee satisfaction to be as important as achieving financial results, they’re likelier to give proper emphasis to service and the importance of their employees in achieving successful service.  When that happens, employees know that management means it when it says, “Our employees are our greatest asset.”

What You Pay Your People Counts

Compensation policies will also communicate the values of a company.  If a company wants to emphasis service, employees who are on the service line should be adequately compensated.  If front desk agents, cashiers, and telephone operators earn minimum wage, while clerks in accounting, the storeroom, or the mail room are paid substantially more, this communicates that service isn’t the company’s top priority.

How Your Recognize and Reward Your Employees Counts 

Values can be reinforced through recognition programs and the rewards provided to employees.  When employees perform consistently according to your values, they should be recognized and rewarded.  These employees should be turned into heroes who become role models and examples for others to follow.  Others who see them being rewarded will know what’s important to the company and what it takes to get ahead, and they’ll want to follow suit.  It’s only when everyone understands what the goals and values are and can see that the company really does operate by them that they can begin to identify with and commit to them.

Your Rules and Regulations Count  

Your human resources policies and procedures are a practical application of your mission and values.  In essence they are the translation of a philosophy statement into a working operation.  No area of management communicates and controls your values more forcefully than the development and day-to-day administration of your personnel policies and procedures.  These are the rules and how-tos that determine what you require and permit, who you hire, how you train, what you praise and pay for, and why you discipline or terminate someone.   

The Art of Storytelling

One of the most effective ways of reinforcing values is to talk about the people who best represent them.  Every organizational culture is characterized by traditions and legends of which all employees quickly become aware.  The process, sometimes known as storytelling, has a powerful influence on the behavior and attitudes of workers, because it summarizes the beliefs and values of the company.
A favorite example of many in the hospitality industry is a story Disney employees tell all about Walt Disney taking his children to an amusement park.  After observing the level of maintaining there, he’s said to have vowed that if he ever had an amusement park, he’d never want to have chipped paint on the horses on his carousel.  Clearly, that determination is understood and upheld by employees in the Disney organization today.
Another example can be found in a true story told at the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel, in Grand Rapids, Michigan.  During the opening days of the property, in one of the hotel’s fine restaurants, a child asked for a peanut butter sandwich.  Not a jar of peanut butter was to be found, but a food server ran across the street to a convenience store during a snowstorm to get some.  Not only was the employee not disciplined for leaving the job, she won an award for putting the needs of the guest first.   Years later, employees still hear about the “peanut butter story” and the choice she made for personal service.

Jay Levenson, in his now famous speech and training program called Think Strawberries outlines one of The Plaza’s stories:

“Today, if you ask a Plaza bellman who is playing in the Persian Room, he will tell you, Jack Jones. He will tell you it's Jack Jones because he has seen Jack Jones and heard Jack Jones, because in the contract of every performer there is a clause requiring that performer to first play to the staff in the Employees' Cafeteria, so that all the staff can see him, hear him and meet him. The Plaza staff now sees the star first, before the guests. And if you ask a room clerk or a telephone operator what is on TV closed circuit movie in the guest rooms, they will tell you because they have seen the movies on the TV sets which run the movie continuously in the Staff Cafeteria.

Today, all the room clerks go through a week of orientation that includes spending a night with their husband, or their wife, or (laughter) — just like a guest. They stay in a room in the Plaza. The orientation week includes a week of touring all the guest rooms, a meal in the restaurants, and the reservation room clerk gets a chance to actually look out the window of the suite and see the difference between an $85 and a $125 suite, because the $125 suite overlooks beautiful Central Park, and the $85 suite looks up the fanny of the A-Bomb building.”

It is to this end that your human resources strategy should direct and dictate all of your personnel programs. You can’t buy a set of ready-made programs or borrow them from another employer and expect them all to support your culture.  Your own human resources strategy should control every program and event you implement.  How you use this strategy to manage - in recruiting, interviewing, evaluating, hiring, training, rewarding, promoting, firing - will communicate and reinforce your organizational culture.

Adapted from Managing Human Resources in the Hospitality Industry by David Wheelhouse, CHRE (Educational Institute of the AH&LA, Lansing, MI, 1989).  For more information on the SOCIETY FOR HOSPITALITY MANAGEMENT, visit our website at or call us at 616 457-3646.   

David Wheelhouse, CHRE, is an industry veteran who has spent over 25 years in hospitality human resources, most recently as the Vice President of Administration for the Woodlands Operating Company in The Woodlands, Texas.   For information on having David speak or work with your organization, contact the Society for Hospitality Management.

Chris Longstreet, CHA, is President & CEO of the Society for Hospitality Management.  Chris is also a visiting instructor for the Hospitality & Tourism Management Program at Grand Valley State University in Allendale, Michigan.


Chris Longstreet, CHA
President & CEO
133 Port Sheldon Road
Grandville, MI  49418
(616) 457-3646

Also See: What It Takes to be a Hotel Professional: The Things You Can Control / Chris Longstreet / May 2004
Quality and Value – The Trademark of the Society for Hospitality Management / February 2004

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