Aug 03, 2011
David Makarsky, VP of Operations for B.F. Saul Co. Hotel Division contributes an article for the August 2011 Issue of Talent Management Magazine about how the hospitality division of the large real estate firm transformed its employee culture and guest experience through a powerful initiative and the help of the behavioral assessment tool the Predictive Index® (PI®).
By Dave Makarsky, B.F. Saul Hotel Division
The superstitious say bad luck comes in threes. Several years ago, that may have been true for the B. F. Saul Co. hotel division as it struggled with three issues: annual team member turnover that approached triple digits, guest satisfaction ratings that fell below brand averages and a division’s workers’ compensation insurance premium in excess of $1 million annually. However, by leveraging the power of the company’s quality pledge as its employment brand, B. F. Saul transformed its bad luck.
The B. F. Saul hotel division, based in Bethesda, Md., owns and operates 19 hotels in Washington, D.C., Maryland, Virginia, Florida and Michigan. Eighteen of the properties are mid-market, business-class hotels that operate under franchise agreements with IHG, Marriott and Hilton. The 19th property is The Hay-Adams, a luxury property in Washington, D.C., that overlooks the White House. The hotel division employs more than 1,100 employees, which it refers to as team members.
The physical demands of the work required in the 24/7 hotel business, potential workforce demographics and the presence of many independent owner/operators who offer limited benefits and variable workplace cultures make talent management a serious challenge in the hospitality industry. High turnover rates cause training and development challenges, which lead to inconsistencies in both the guest and team member experience.
Fostering Team Member Engagement
From 2000 to 2005, B. F. Saul struggled with turnover that ranged from 72 to 92 percent. But a change in HR leadership for the hotel division in 2005 brought a new vision. The company established its quality pledge, Our Big 3, as the hotel employment brand, leveraging its message to create a culture that would foster higher satisfaction for both guests and team members. Our Big 3 states that B. F. Saul will provide:
1. Happy, professional team members who demonstrate aggressive friendliness.
2. A clean, crisp, safe property where everything works.
3. An environment where guests and team members receive all they expect as employees are empowered to satisfy guests, ensuring their willingness to return.
Although Our Big 3 has been around since 1988, it had yet to be fully executed by 2005. Guests often knew B. F. Saul hotels by brand — Courtyard by Marriott or Holiday Inn — but team members had to recognize Our Big 3 as the glue that binds the 1,100 team members across all of the hotels. Thus, the company embarked on a journey in 2005 to use the spirit of Our Big 3 to foster team member engagement, fusing an emotional connection to the workplace and nurturing each team member’s sense of purpose — a spirit to serve.
The hotel division’s annual leadership conference in 2005 was themed “Our Big 3 — Building a Brand.” During the gathering, the hotels’ general managers and key department heads received an education on the principles of internal branding. Two themes emerged. One, senior leadership must lead by example, and instead of forcing the employment brand on the employee, leaders had to allow them to experience it.
To improve selection as well as team member retention, B. F. Saul added the Predictive Index® (PI®) assessment tool to its human resources toolkit in 2006 and is still using it. This two-question survey can be completed online in less than five minutes and provides company managers with information about a candidate’s needs, motivations and drives. This insight allowed managers to better understand their people to improve employee retention, coaching, leadership development, talent management and team performance. The company also reviewed its job roles using PI®’s PI Job Assessment tool, which profiles behavioral requirements needed for optimal performance in a specific job. Working together, these tools help to ensure a strong job fit for any given employee.
Having successfully integrated surveys to screen candidates into the management recruitment process, for the past two years B. F. Saul worked to more effectively manage team dynamics and re-engineer existing roles to adapt to the changing economic climate. For example, this past year the company upgraded the front desk agent’s position description to guest service and sales representative.
Given the drastic erosion of revenue in the hotel industry during the past two years, B. F. Saul also placed a much greater emphasis on sales training. Employees listen for potential business as individual travelers check into the hotel, and they also provide property tours and information to prospective walk-in clients on evenings and weekends. To reflect this new standard, position descriptions and behavioral interviewing questions also were updated.
In addition to improved recruitment and team building techniques, B. F. Saul created an Our Big 3 University partnership with the Cooperative Leadership Institute to develop a proprietary online leadership development program for all exempt managers.
Seeing the Benefits
To overcome its obstacles B. F. Saul’s talent campaign needed to integrate several elements and get buy-in from all levels of management, and the organization’s commitment to implement change has yielded results. Since the inception of its employment branding initiative, team member turnover has been reduced from 77 percent in 2005 to 28 percent for the past 28 months, which is half the industry average. Faced with workers’ compensation insurance premiums in excess of $1 million, the hotel division opted for a self-funded program. The annual incurred expense has been reduced from $990,000 to $332,000 from 2005 to 2010.
Marketing professionals in the organization recognize that commercial brands have limited shelf life, making it essential to continually innovate if the company wants to stay relevant in today’s market. For that reason, the B. F. Saul hotel division launched a number of new initiatives in 2011:
• As the industry distances itself from the recession, the hotel division’s leadership has challenged each hotel team to “Think Big. Be Remarkable” in 2011. Team members are charged with generating greater revenues while delivering a remarkable and memorable guest experience. The logo for this campaign is also linked to Our Big 3. Team members who embrace this vision in tangible ways will be awarded a keepsake coin embossed with the Think Big. Be Remarkable crest accompanied by a handwritten note from the hotel’s general manager.
• Launched in April, Our Big 3 Talks are roundtable discussions with line team members at each hotel led by the vice president of operations and the vice president of human resources. These feedback sessions allow line team members to interact directly with senior management, helping to ensure that Our Big 3 remains active and top of mind for team members.
• Team members follow 10 Steps to Living, the health component to Our Big 3. The steps are simple, actionable behaviors like “Present a polished image,” and “Safety is no accident” to aid team members in delivering service excellence. Earlier this year, in partnership with health care provider Kaiser Permanente, all team members choosing to participate in a wellness program titled “10,000 Steps to Healthy Living” were given pedometers. They also were given the opportunity to have a biometric screening at the beginning and end of an eight-week competition from Jan. 24 to March 18 among hotels to identify the most active individual team member, the most active team and the most active hotel. The challenge was to reach 10,000 steps every day. While metrics for the contest period are not yet available, the hotel division has experienced a six-point reduction in claims-to-premium ratio during the past year, in part due to wellness initiatives.
• The next generation of Our Big 3 University launched this summer. Known as Leaders Lab, the private, socially-networked experience connects corporate team members and exempt managers at hotels across the company. Empowered to form groups, ask questions of the community, upload media, create a personal profile and initiate relevant discussions, the learning community offers content resources, relationships and experiences to inspire greater performance through best practice exchange, peer mentorship, virtual collaborations, coaching and a deeper emotional connection to the organization.
Unlike Our Big 3 University’s traditional course format, in which learners receive and respond to information, participants in Leaders Lab exercise their leadership skills immediately. As members of a collaborative social learning community, participants actively contribute to the design, content and continual evolution of their learning experiences, allowing them to readily address market changes and industry trends.
• In the same way the guest service and sales representative position has been overhauled, the Hotel Division’s airport shuttle drivers will be transformed into hotel ambassadors later this year. Once again, position descriptions and training materials will be updated to emphasize the driver’s responsibilities in sales and guest relations. PI will be used to ensure the personality and skills of prospective new hires complement this enhanced role. Greeting guests curbside at the airport, the hotel ambassadors create that first impression. They can’t simply drive vehicles and handle baggage. They must be ambassadors of Our Big 3, fostering relationships with guests that will yield repeat and referral business.
Dave Makarsky is vice president of operations at B. F. Saul Co. hotel division. He can be reached at email@example.com
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