During my induction to Village Urban Resorts and De Vere Hotels, I spent an intensive two weeks meeting with heads of department, supervisors, general managers and employees from the front line. It soon transpired that De Vere had more than enough HR resource but no strategy, while at Village there just wasn’t the HR resource to be proactive or strategic.

I decided to restructure to a regional function, with 10 people development employees for all 34 sites – saving £150,000 in the process. At the same time, I began developing a people plan that would support the organisation’s customer intimacy agenda, backing it up with an abridged version of the Harvard Business Review’s Service Profit Chain theory.

I worked closely with marketing on employer brand and logos for each strategic area, and with operations to identify the performance behaviours we were looking for. We branded these as: ‘V.detailed’, ‘V.driven’, ‘V.resilient’, ‘V.commercial’ and ‘V.inspirational’.

Successful incentives for employees

My next step was to develop and name the people strategy. On this, I followed  my boss Robert Cook’s advice to give it a catchy and memorable name that was catchy and memorable. And so it went from being titled the People Development Strategy 2013 to the People Plan.

Along with a reward and recognition system called Extra Inch, we introduced a customer service incentive which offered a trip to New York for the winner. The focus here was to encourage employees to give extra service or giveaways to customers, which they shared with managers. These acts earned them ‘V. happy moment’ vouchers that they could redeem for prizes. The New York trip generated a lot of buzz within the business and we’ve been able to share news internally about the 6,000 examples of where employees have exceeded our guests’ expectations.

In each department there is a competition to find the best front-line employee performance, beginning with heats in each region to make sure more people take part. Employees must show evidence of going the extra mile in one of these categories: wine service, cooking, personal training, fitness classes, selling higher spec rooms and dealing with customer complaints and knowledge of brand and products.

We’ve also built an employee communication forum called ‘Very Important People’. This involves us holding a national meeting twice a year where we answer all the questions our staff put to us really honestly. In doing these we create a feedback loop to the CEO about what our guests do and don’t value in the service we offer.

We’ve been very serious about training managers to be inspiring leaders and making sure they can manage the people process well. We are quick to act when things aren’t right and regularly lose the bottom 10% of our managers each year.

Adding purpose to process

I believe that it’s not what you do, but how you do it that makes the difference. It’s important to ensure all processes have a real purpose. By linking all our initiatives to our objective of greater customer intimacy, we can better align employees’ behaviours to our strategic goals.

We use our employee competitions to create a passion for great customer service. But they also help us to assess how well our people are complying with our brand standards and developing their product knowledge.

By incentivising our staff to tell us about steps they have taken to improve a customer’s experience, we empower them while keeping an eye on the decisions they make to do this. The results can also lead to greater competitive advantage and repeat business.

Employee engagement improvements

Our employee engagement levels have increased by 15% in a year and we have switched our recruitment focus to develop our best performing staff.  Part of this has involved working with Purple Cubed to create an online performance measurement tool so that we can more easily identify the talent we want to mentor, train and coach. We don’t have to work hard to educate them about our KPIs or values as they have grown up from within the system and instead of spending money on consultants or external training courses we are choosing to use the experts we already have within our business to deliver modules. These changes have made quite an impact on our bottom line – recruitment costs are down by 80%.

The People Plan helps employees understand what to expect from working here and it encourages teams to focus on our goals in terms of people and service. We have also seen our people development budget decrease by 30%.

With the support of the general managers who I personally thanked recently for their efforts so far, I am really looking forward to developing the plan even further in 2014.

Written by Mike Williams, director of people development, De Vere Hotels & Village Urban Resorts

Mike Williams, director of people development, De Vere Hotels & Village Urban Resorts

Mike’s strategies have achieved recognition including the CIPD award for employee engagement. He focuses on delivering commercial results within customer service and EBITDA.

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