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“Make cross-training a priority for employees” with Mark Heymann and Chaya Weiner

Make cross-training a priority for employees. Providing a training structure that allows employees to develop new skills whenever they are ready is important, thereby creating a richer work experience. The result benefits both managers and workers because it integrates employees more deeply into the operation, increasing retention, and providing them with more skills and higher pay.

As a part of my series about how leaders can create a “fantastic work culture”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Mark Heymann, a founding partner and the chairman and CEO of UniFocus, a leading workforce performance firm in the service sector. He brings to his position more than 40 years of expertise in the industry, particularly in hospitality. Today, UniFocus optimizes workforce performance with the most comprehensive systems and performance tools available on the market, including applications and services for labor management, time and attendance, budgeting and integrated survey solutions. Its platform is cloud-based with mobile applications for iOS and Android.

Thank you for joining us!

Lets jump right in. More than half of the US workforce is unhappy. Why do you think that number is so high?

There are many reasons why workers in the US find themselves unhappy on the job, many of which are personal factors that are out of any manager’s control. And while these factors surely have an impact on individual’s attitudes, managers should turn their attention towards issues they can control, and the largest one is engagement. Managers need to focus on how to engage their employees and work with them to achieve certain goals such as a desired salary or new job skills and an overall sense of success. All of this happens through engagement, which is about turning strategy into action.

Employees, particularly those within the millennial and Gen Z populations, want to have more flexibility within the workplace when it comes to activities such as scheduling and learning new skills. Knowing this, managers play an important role in driving employee engagement as these needs can be addressed through improved managerial techniques. Additionally, employee engagement can be supported by software technology that allows managers to perform tasks such predictive scheduling or getting real time feedack through simple surveys. By leveraging technology to perform these tasks, it frees up the managers’ to focus on what matters the most: helping to drive overall performance like improving employee productivity and increasing guests’/customers’ intent to recommend and return, all of which, in turn, grows engagement.

Typically, managers are burdened by the inability to make informed decisions about scheduling and operations without being stuck at their desk all day. This is why software technology is so important in many industries, including hospitality — it helps managers make better decisions. For example, when an employee calls out sick, it can impact operations for the day as the manager calls around for someone to find a replacement for that shift, creating less time to focus on more meaningful activities. But when management uses software technology, covering an open shift literally just takes minutes. And this process also improves the sense of communication with the staff as they can easily respond to the coverage needs..

Based on your experience or research, how do you think an unhappy workforce will impact a) company productivity b) company profitability c) and employee health and wellbeing?

As I noted, happiness of the workforce is partially out of a managers control, so it’s about how engaged the workforce is. In hospitality an unengaged workforce doesn’t just mean high turnover, it also impacts customer satisfaction. No matter how technologically advanced your hotel is or how automated your restaurant ordering process is, your employees will always be the face of your brand and a key deciding factor in how customers rate their experience. When employees are engaged on the job, they’re motivated to succeed for themselves and the company, which ultimately provides a higher level of customer service and general care about all operating conditions of the business, such as reducing waste, product quality and cleanliness, to name a few. Additionally, an engaged workforce has nearly 25% lower turnover and more than 40% less absenteeism.

Employee engagement is an irreplaceable part of successful workforce performance because it brings agility to operations, which in turn improves productivity. When employee engagement is combined with a discliplined approach to labor management, operators can have a powerful advantage that drives productivity and ROI through a customer’s intent to recommend and return.

So how can managers ensure this happens? One important way is to leverage software to garner employee feedback through surveys. The best insight on improving engagement comes directly from your team, so managers can take the information to identify rising issues and address them before they become pervasive. This type of feedback also gives employees a powerful voice and the feeling that they’re being listened to by management, strengthening the workplace culture.

Can you share 5 things that managers and executives should be doing to improve their company work culture? Can you give a personal story or example for each?

In hospitality, when employees are engaged, customers are happy. Managers who think they have a satisfied workforce have to go beyond believing and actually measure their level of management-to-employee engagement to turn perception into a reality. Employee engagement means that managers take a positive, active, and ongoing interest in working conditions of their workforce.

When an employee comes to work every day and believes he or she is delivering the best product, interactions with the customer have a huge impact on the customers’ perception of value. And, as service organizations become more data driven, there is growing need for technology that translates employee perceptions into hard data. Managers should:

1. Use technology like periodic employee surveys to gauge satisfaction that supports business culture. It tells the employee that they are valued and management wants to know what is going on with each person. Then, managers can use the information to address key issues and drive employee engagement — and ultimately ROI. For example, using our UniFocus Pulse Survey, Best Western was able to determine that a 10% increase in employee engagement could reasonably result in a 4% increase in intent to recommend, generating two to three additional rooms per night.

2. Regularly communicate with employees, whether in person or via mobile device. In doing so, managers can create open lines of communication for employees to feel valued, heard, and supported.

3. Incorporate digital experiences into the workplace. As digital experiences outside of work have made life simpler, easier and more convenient, today’s top talent is demanding the same at work. The more positive the employee experience, the more positive a guest’s satisfaction is, whether it’s at a hotel or a restaurant.

4. Make cross-training a priority for employees. Providing a training structure that allows employees to develop new skills whenever they are ready is important, thereby creating a richer work experience. The result benefits both managers and workers because it integrates employees more deeply into the operation, increasing retention, and providing them with more skills and higher pay.

5. Use predictive scheduling. When managers use software technology to predict and schedule employees ahead of time, employees have more control over their work day and are able to better plan in advance.

It’s very nice to suggest ideas, but it seems like we have to “change the culture regarding the workplace”. What can we do as a society to make a broader change in the US workforce’s work culture?

If we look at how we approach the overall workplace culture in the US, it’s important to have technologies in place to make managing the workforce easier and improve the decision-making process. However, workplace culture is generally changing because of the values and expectations that millennials and Gen Z staff are bringing to the workplace. These generations want greater flexibility in their workday, to receive regular feedback on the job they are doing, and to feel that the organization they are working for has a broader view of the world around it.

When looking at service and hospitality in the hotel and restaurant industries, we often experience a crisis of turnover, but also understand that managers cannot fully control the happiness of anyone on their team. Engagement itself isn’t directly dependent on happiness, but is a driving factor in reducing turnover and a measure of the rewarding experience one feels for a job well done coupled with the overall supportive culture in which one operates. Through this perspective, managers can focus on working with employees on activities such as cross-ultization to keep them on the team and prevent employees from, for example, seeking a job elsewhere. Appreciation towards the employee impacts engagement and helps them to meet their goals on the job. Finally, management’s engagement levels have a high correlation to employee engagement, and should also be a focus of the corporate team, which will in turn be reflected at each operating site.

How would you describe your leadership or management style? Can you give us a few examples?

My goal has been to create a family-like environment — I’m very hands on and passionate about what I do and in turn want our employees to have that same attitude. I make a point to talk with staff everyday and strive to create a progressive environment where employees can have ownership over solving problems while providing mentorship, rather than just handing down the answer. I do this because I want all of our employees to meet their full potential, so I continuously manage and help them reflect upon their goals while recognizing the needs of today’s workforce.

Traditionally, employees expect leaders to make decisions, but now — with millennials and Gen Z in the workforce — they want to take more ownership over their roles in the workplace; it’s not a traditional environment anymore as people expect to have a greater ability to be part of solutions. I find that employees tend of have more enjoyable experiences when they have a hand in what the organization does, internally as well as externally.

I also instill a very strong culture of recognition and appreciation for employees. For example, we have monthly meetings where management, peers, and teams have the opportunity to recognize each other for their achievements and good work, in addition to a daily call out “WOW” culture.

Lastly, I’m always looking to do better, whether it’s inside or outside the company through new goals. It’s okay to be satisfied with what the company has accomplished so far, but there’s always the need to do more and adjust the goals as necessary. In doing so, I can help create an engaged culture within our company and meet the needs of today’s hospitality industry.

Thank you for all of these great insights!

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About the author:

Chaya Weiner is the Director of branding and photography at Authority Magazine’s Thought Leader Incubator. TLI is a thought leadership program that helps leaders establish a brand as a trusted authority in their field. Please click HERE to learn more about Thought Leader Incubator.



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