Expert’s Voice: Today’s leader wants to work for hotels willing to invest in their development

by | 13 Jul 2021 | Opinions, People

The hospitality sector needs to get back to fundamentals by identifying and nurturing the next generation of talent, argues David Lund, The Hotel Financial Coach.

More than ever, our industry is facing big challenges when it comes to attracting a workforce. With the current unemployment situation, who knows what will emerge once people start to travel again?

Typically, when there is a crisis in hospitality, we are one of the first industries to release people from their jobs and one of the last to rehire. What can we do differently this time, so our leaders and managers stay with us, knowing they have a place and are valued? That is what this piece is about.

Things will be different going forward

No one has a crystal ball and the only thing we know for sure is things will be different going forward. If we look back at the last ten years, there are some clues we should not overlook when it comes to the next positive wave.

Last time, 2010-2019, our industry experienced a serious labour crisis, in many markets, it was impossible to find people to fill our line positions. The dynamics of our economy, immigration and government programmes are largely the driver for our unskilled labour. Hopefully, the powers that be have their act together and make it easier for hospitality workers.

But what about our leaders and managers? What has happened to the key players that really help us drive the business forward? I say that they have largely left to other industries because they need jobs, period. So, we must start over with attracting and hopefully retaining key positions into the future.

The question is, how can we do this? And how can we make it stick, so the next time we have a dip in business, we retain more talent than we lose? There is a significant cost associated with training and developing the leaders and managers, and we want to make sure we don’t lose all of that again.

I say the only way to build a hedge against that loss is an investment in their development. If managers and leaders see a future for themselves, they are more likely to stick around and come back. When I came up through the ranks, we had what I call loyalty built-in. No one had a contract that protected their position, but rather a code existed that was followed for people like me who were committed to the business.

Part of the fabric of the company

What I know and experienced in our industry in the ’80s and ’90s was what I will call ‘the drinking of the Kool-Aid’. If you drank the Kool-Aid, you were part of the fabric of the company, and the telltale sign you could see is the programmes our company had and administered to the people they wanted to keep and develop.

I know I am speaking from my experience and what happened in my company, but I also know it was like that in many other organisations. As an industry, we were moving in the right direction.

But in the last couple of decades, things have changed. Owners and their asset managers have squeezed everything they can out of the middle, leaving the programmes and the investment out. Gone is the development of the new wave of leaders.

This is incredibly shortsighted, and brands need to find a way to energise their ranks with programmes that support investment and development of their talent. When we all worked in a largely owner-operated world, we could determine our own fate much easier than the world that has brands there to exclusively service owners’ wants and desires.

Investing in training

A commitment to the development of our people only works if the brands mandate and the owner pays. To refresh your memory on how our industry should function, read about The Third Pillar.

It should not be an option or something that we allow to be removed. Things like strong management training programmes (remember those – they were like wide-leg jeans) and robust development programmes that focused on preparing our key members for the task ahead.

Owners come and go. Brands are the stability and glue of our industry, but only if they truly have a commitment to the big picture and the long run.

This might mean an owner, or a management contract, goes elsewhere, but the smart operators and brands know what makes things work in the long run is talent. Investing in this and never taking your foot off the gas is the only way to ensure we have a future as hoteliers. Self-preservation is the only way to guarantee our industry survives and is there to deliver what corporate-focused, profit-taking owners cannot.

Let us not make the same mistake twice.

This is an edited version of an article that appeared on Hotel Financial Coach.

David Lund
David Lund

The Hotel Financial Coach

David Lund is The Hotel Financial Coach, an international hospitality financial leadership pioneer. He has held positions as a regional financial controller, corporate director and hotel manager with Fairmont Hotels for over 30 years. He is also a speaker at many hospitality events and delivers financial leadership workshops to hoteliers in the industry.

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