Engagement learnings from luxury hotels

This is an excerpt from an interview with Eugenio Pirri, Vice President, People and Organisational Development, at luxury hotel chain The Dorchester Collection, who won Company of the Year at the 2014 Employee Engagement Awards.

We’ll also be sharing tips & insights at the Employee Engagement Conference in London on 18th September, with talks from inspiring leaders & industry experts, and a chance to network with some remarkable peers, all with the aim to help people realise the power of engaged employees, wherever they are in your journey.

In this interview we delve into the company’s approach to engagement and tease out key learnings to help others bring an evidence-based, joined-up approach to their engagement strategies. You can read the full, original interview on HRZone.

Q: If you had to pick one reason why you think you won the award, what do you think it was?

From our perspective, I believe we have a company-wide commitment and a real belief in our core values. We have our five core values of Passion, Personality, Respect, Working Together and Innovation. We underpin those with our ‘We Care’ philosophy and we align this to all of our people practices.

For example, when we create, design and implement either a particular service or a strategy such as our learning and development approach, which is known as Dorchester Collection Academy, we ensure that it aligns to those core values.

When new employees start they go through a two or three day induction programme called ENGAGE, where they will learn about the company culture, our vision and learn about each other.

I say to new employees on the programme, “every single day you will be faced with making a series of decisions.” We don’t have a great deal of guidelines. Instead, we try to teach the service philosophy.

I also tell them, “when you have to make a decision you need to ask yourself, does it promote passion, does it promote working together? If the answer is yes, then it’s the right decision.”

Q: You have a significant focus on the ‘employee/guest encounter’ — can you explain the thinking behind this? Is this your USP? The intersection where you add real value?

Let me start with what our USP is. I consider our USP is to deliver the ultimate guest experience. In order to push the organisation you have to live in that intersection. That’s my philosophy. It’s only in that intersection where you can forge those new strategies into the marketplace, which according to your own industry can be internal or external.

For us, it was internal, but it had an effect externally. If you were to just look at one side of the equation you couldn’t possibly have a complete handle on the ultimate guest experience, which is why they have to work in tandem. I’ve always believed that our role as employers is to create these engaging environments for our employees so they have the right talent, the right knowledge and the right skills to deliver the ultimate guest experience.

This is also why I believe, and I see this in many organisations, that you need to have one person, or one team, doing both. If you have different people doing each side of the equation you will not be able to have a holistic approach to the end result.

Q: Development is a core part of your engagement strategy and you see employees on a ‘developmental journey.’ Can you give some more detail on what you mean by this and why it’s important for long-term engagement?

The whole idea of bespoke development is key to the growth of our people. As you know, we have our Dorchester Collection Academy, and we have a lot of programmes which underpin and support it.

What’s important for me when you talk about development is understanding that people are joining the organisation for a number of different reasons. Some people join because they want a career, others want to be developed and learn new skills, others are happy to do a job for a long period of time and are not necessarily all that interested in being promoted.

People are motivated by different things. Some people are supporting their families, some people want to travel, and some want a career. It’s very important you understand those different motivations by talking to your people and understanding what those motivations are. Whatever their reason, we ultimately have one role as an employer: to create a safe environment where they can flourish.

Q: For organisations starting on a developmental journey do you have any tips?

If you are just starting on the path to creating an L&D programme, first make sure you are bringing in the right talent. A lot of companies think that they need to fill the job and so will hire someone who may not be right. I think you are better off waiting in order to get the right person for the company, rather than bringing in the wrong person.

Secondly, you need to make your senior leadership understand what your vision is and how they are going to get the best out of people. We no longer live in a world when you can just tell people what to do. Old school thinking was that the boss is the boss, and you do what the boss says. That approach hasn’t worked for years. The new generation is more knowledgeable than you. They may not have the experience, but they have the knowledge, the speed and the insight. Getting your senior leadership to understand how to lead and how to bring the vision and the mission to life and how to create an engaging environment is key.

The third aspect is the person who is between the leadership and the employee, i.e. the supervisor/manager. They need to have a lot of development as they can get stuck in the middle. Having those three elements as your core is a great way to start.

Q: How do you ensure that you keep momentum going in your engagement strategy?

This is not just about doing your course and then expecting it to happen. If I think about INSPIRE, which is our senior leadership course, it’s a five day programme. We fly our senior leaders to a different location each year and each day of the course is dedicated to one of our core values. We spend a lot of time on 360 degree reviews, one-to-one coaching and trying to understand where we are now and where we want to see the company in 10 years’ time.

It doesn’t end there. We then continue after INSPIRE with everyone getting one-to-one coaching assigned to them. You just can’t do a class and expect it to happen. You have to keep it alive, and you have to keep the momentum going. This is why it’s so important that you have the right relationship with finance. This sort of thing costs, but the return on the investment is huge in relation to achieving your core strategies.

We then do a follow up on day 30, day 90 and after day 365 — one year later how has it been? You have to keep the momentum going and you have to keep it alive.

Read the full interview on HRZone, or find out more about the Employee Engagement Awards and Conference.