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Lessons from the Field
A Common Sense Approach to Success in the Hospitality Industry
By Dr. John Hogan, CHA MHS CHE, May 19,2009

A Baker’s Dozen of Fundamentals
for Retaining Quality Staff


By Dr. John Hogan CHE CHA MHS 
May 19, 2009 

In 2008, I felt honored to be asked to create and deliver a focused program on the experience economy for one of the major international hospitality companies that offers a number of brands in its portfolio.  This series of ten programs held across North America offered practical ideas on ways to capitalize on guest understanding and the program was added to their corporate university web site as a resource.

This organization has several advisory groups representing various ownership entities and I was asked to share some ideas on ways to improve staffing quality in these demanding economic times for one of their newsletters.   I was pleased to do so in early winter and have extended that introduction to include Fundamentals to Retaining Quality Staff

Every economy has its cycles and demand in the hospitality industry for quality lodging will have its peaks and valleys.  The availability of quality staff in hotels is a critical reason why it is essential to retain quality staff in all cycles.  The cost of turnover for a line level position is estimated to be as much as $6,000 according to research  by Cornell University faculty. 

When the economy is strong, recruitment and retention is critical because of volume. When the economy is mixed or struggling, retaining our trained staff is essential because of the obvious need to exceed the expectations of our guests.

Inspiring and retaining quality staff does not take place because compensation is “adequate “ or the staff “ is fortunate enough to work in a new hotel, as we have all seen a great team spirit exist in older facilities . Retaining that team spirit and the exceptional staff requires capable and caring business practices and strong leadership skills.

“A company culture cannot be imposed or mandated.
It must grow from within over a long period.” 
Isadore Sharp, Founder Four Seasons Hotels 

Here are a baker’s dozen of fundamentals for retaining quality staff

1. Define who you and your hotel are.   Every hotel, business and organization has a “culture.’  I have personally worked in family businesses, partnerships, associations, small and large companies and brands.  Each of them had a certain approach or  “way of life” in which they chose to operate.  Isadore Sharp implied,  in the quote above, care and action must be taken to develop the right type of culture to meet the long term needs of a successful hotel and/or company.

2. Hire the right people the first time and place. Screen new prospects to verify that they will buy into your culture.  Find people who are looking for the characteristics of your hotel culture – you need people who are service oriented. The right fit makes for a cheerful and appreciated person who is less inclined to leave.

3. Reasonable compensation is certainly an important factor, but look at the total compensation package.  This could include such items as full or partial benefits like health care, a 401(k) that has a potential employer match, physical examinations, prescription discounts, annual flu shots, CPR training, and reimbursement for wellness classes.    

4. Make certain that raises or bonuses are tied to performance and not just time in the position. Performance-based plans should be designed very carefully to make certain that your staff is motivated to strengthen the business as appropriate to their contributions.

5. Provide recognition by thanking staff for a job well done, with a handwritten note or hotel wide recognition if appropriate. When you observe a specific achievement, reward it right away with a bonus or non-cash items such as event or movie tickets or an extra paid vacation day. 

6. Acknowledge your staff birthdays. Follow the example of Southwest Airlines, known for promoting a feeling of family among its employees. 

7. Showcase your staff. Again, Southwest Airlines is a leader in the many ways they express pride of their staff and accomplishments.  They exhibit pictures and bios of new employees in common areas, they feature a number of staff in company wide consumer magazines and have photo collages at many boarding gates showing “happy” people enjoying their jobs!   People who feel appreciated and valued are more likely to stay in that work place.

8. Ask for your employees' opinions and actually use their ideas when appropriate.  

9. Facilitate your staff's professional development. Possibilities include university or community college classes, professional seminars and conferences, membership in a professional organization, or even cross-training for career moves within your hotel. In tough economic times, one may need to limit this to staff that have been with you a certain length of time.

10. Create community supporting events such as a charity drive or local cause.  Treating staff like family by support (financial, facility, equipment, time, etc) extends the culture of the hotel beyond the daily business and makes the hotel a real part of the community. Some hotels have additional and more informal events, such as a non-holiday celebration after your busy season.

11. Adequate training is essential. I am familiar with a number of major brands and management companies that effectively cross-train as many staff members as possible, across disciplines to allow for keeping the best staff  integrated into the hotel's long and short success.   

12. Tools and equipment must be able to support the system, the culture, the guest and the staff. Payroll, taxes and benefits are usually the largest expense in the hospitality industry    Not having adequate tools to do the job is a very short term approach. 

  • Technology and computers are always changing – keeping up with the latest is not always possible but they do need to be fast and dependable enough to minimize guest and staff frustration. 
  • Copiers should be reliable and fast. 
  • Internet access is now as critical as the phone for effective communications.
  • Comfortable, functional office furniture and fixtures are essential, as are the basics of office supplies such as staplers, paper supplies, mouse pads, etc 
  • Food and beverage areas (including those at select service properties) need proper levels of equipment to professionally and properly service guests.
  • The engineering, laundry and housekeeping areas all need their levels of equipment to be successful.  (These areas have been discussed in earlier BAKER’S DOZEN columns for Executive Housekeepers and Chief Engineers.
  • 13. Finally, recognize that clear and effective communication is a critical responsibility for every hotel manager, regardless of hotel size, location or affiliation.   Regular and consistent two-way communication with all staff is an essential component of closing the loop on clear expectations and to avoiding potential mixed signals.

    Feel free to share an idea for a column at anytime or contact me regarding consulting, customized workshops, speaking engagements …………. 
    And remember – we all need a regular dose of common sense.

    Autographed copies of LESSONS FROM THE FIELD – a COMMON SENSE APPROACH TO EFFECTIVE HOTEL SALES can be obtained from THE ROOMS CHRONICLE and other industry sources. 

    All rights reserved by John Hogan and this column may be included in an upcoming book on hotel management.   The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of this publication

    John Hogan, a career hotelier and educator, is frequently invited to participate at franchise meetings, management company and hospitality association industry events.  He is a successful senior executive with a record of accomplishment in leading hospitality industry organizations at multiple levels, with demonstrated competencies as a strong leader, relationship builder, problem solver and mentor. He conducts mystery-shopping reviews of quality in operations and marketing, including repositioning of hotels.

    Expertise and Research Interest
    • Sales Management and training
    • Turn-around and revenue management
    • Professional Development & Customer Service 
    • Hospitality Leadership and Executive Education
    • Making Cultural Diversity Real
    • Accreditation & Developing Academic Hospitality programs

    He writes weekly columns for a number of global online services and has published more than 400 articles & columns on the hotel industry.  He co-authored (with Howard Feiertag, CHA CMP) LESSONS FROM THE FIELD – a COMMON SENSE APPROACH TO EFFECTIVE HOTEL SALES, which is available from, ROOMS CHRONICLE  and other industry sources.  He resides in Phoenix, Arizona and expects to publish in 2009 his 2nd book based on his dissertation – The Top 100 People of All Time Who Most Dramatically Affected the Hotel Industry.

    Hogan’s professional experience includes over 35 years in hotel operations, food & beverage, sales & marketing, training, management development and asset management on both a single and multi-property basis, including service as Senior Vice President of Operations in a specialty hotel brand for six years.

    He holds a number of industry certifications (CHA, CHE, MHS, ACI) and is a past recipient of the American Hotel & Lodging Association’s Pearson Award for Excellence in Lodging Journalism, as well as operational and marketing awards from international brands.  He has served as President of both city and state hotel associations.

    John’s background includes teaching college level courses as an adjunct professor at three different colleges and universities over a 20-year period, while managing with Sheraton, Hilton, Omni and independent hotels.  He was the principal in an independent training & consulting group for more than 12 years serving associations, management groups, convention & visitors’ bureaus, academic institutions and as an expert witness.  He joined Best Western International in spring of 2000, where over the next 8 years he created and developed a blended learning system as the Director of Education & Cultural Diversity for the world’s largest hotel chain. 

    He has served on several industry boards that deal with education and/or cultural diversity and as brand liaison to the NAACP and the Asian American Hotel Owners’ Association with his long-term involvement in the Certified Hotel Owner program.  He has conducted an estimated 3,200 workshops and classes in his career. 

    Service to the Industry and Hospitality Education includes working with the Educational Institute Certification Commission of the AH&LA, the Hospitality Industry Diversity Institute, the AH&LA Multicultural Advisory Council, the Accreditation Commission for Programs in Hospitality Administration, the Commission for Accreditation on Hospitality Management Programs, the AH&LA and AAHOA Education and Training Committees, the Council of Hotel, Restaurant and Institutional Educators (CHRIE), the International Hotel Show and the Certified Hotel Owner program for the Asian American Hotel Owners’ Association.


    Dr. John Hogan, CHA MHS CHE

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