There were lots of thoughts to absorb from the Cornell University HR Executive Summit, held as part of the HR in Hospitality® Conference at the Marriott Wardman Park in Washington this morning.
It was a huge roundtable discussion, with 16 panelists, but moderator Bruce Tracey, associate professor of management at Cornell’s School of Hotel Administration did a good job of engaging the entire group and keeping the conversations pithy.
Some food for thought:
*HR Hit Hard: At the Four Seasons, the HR department “took a disparate hit” of a 20-percent reduction in headcount, said Debbie Brown, its VP of HR for the Americas. Overall, the organization lost 4 percent of its workforce.
HR was hit even harder at Hilton Worldwide, where there was a 40-percent global cut, said Barbara Holkamp, senior vice president of HR consulting, who said the HR function focused on providing simple, automated toolkits and models related to people practices and focused on “top grading,” meaning talent development.
She noted that the reductions did not affect hotel-based HR directors – and that guest-service satisfaction scores remained “very high.”
Brown said the organization looked at outsourcing transactional work, “anything that is not mission critical” and that “learning took a real hit.”
*Doing More with Less: In a survey result taken by attendees, 100 percent said their organizations are doing more with fewer resources. In another question, asking for important HR issues for 2011, retention (23 percent) came in first (if you don’t include other, which received 28 percent of the votes); followed by recruitment (21 percent); productivity (18 percent); and compensation (10 percent).
* Adding Instead of Cutting Training: At the Fairmont Hotels & Resorts, the recession actually prompted “the most comprehensive service training program than we ever had in our company’s history at a time when many of our competitors were cutting back or cutting training all together,” said Carolyn Clark, SVP of HR.
But the difference was the program was led by operations, she said, not HR.
“We were really looking for behavioral change to drive business results,” Clark said. The workers completed a self-audit at the end of the training program and created an action plan that was integrated into future performance reviews.
This year, she said, a refresher course will use 30 actual case studies drawn from guest survey results.
* Finding Talent: Recruiting “actually got harder for us” during the downturn, said Greg Smith, executive vice president of HR for Denihan Hospitality Group. “Yes, there were more people looking for work but the people we needed were harder to find.”
So, he shifted the recruiting function down to individual properties and further down, to individual functions, so room attendants were involved in looking for room attendants; front desk managers looked for front desk managers, and so on.
“We have had some pretty good results,” he said.
* Salary Grumbling on the Rise: Don’t expect workers to accept doing more with less forever, the panelists said, especially if their pay is not seeing an increase.
“Their patience is wearing thin,” said Laura FitzRandolph, SVP and assistant general counsel at Interstate Hotels & Resorts. “You have to manage expectations,” but noted that, for the hospitality industry, “the climb back is going to be longer than the fall into the basement.”
* Just-in-Time Staffing: John Longstreet, president and CEO of Quaker Steak and Lube, said he remembers when one major brand laid off 130 managers in a single day – and he wondered how an organization could be so overstaffed.
“I am trying to do more with the same,” he said, noting that he would prefer to under-staff and over-pay. He also has invested in technology to make it easier for his restaurant managers to access the information they need and therefore be able to spend more time with team members.
* Preparing for Retirement: Want to engage your workers? Ask them when they will retire. That’s the advice of Alan Momeyer, VP of HR at Loews Corp.
“There’s nothing wrong with that question,” he said. Plus, it will require them to think about designating successors and then making sure those successors are qualified to step in when necessary.
Those conversations will cascade through the organization — and that’s what results in engagement, he said.