Hotel / Catering

All systems go

by Natasha Rogai

Christina Cheng
general manager
Harbour Plaza 8 Degrees
Photo: Edde Ngan

Well-trained staff and meticulous organisation to give new hotel a winning edge

With a number of international hospitality groups planning to establish new hotels in Hong Kong, competition for quality staff is increasing.

Developing new talent is therefore key to the Harbour Plaza hotel group's success, says Christina Cheng, general manager of the brand new Harbour Plaza 8 Degrees, which is set to open in October.

Having been with the Harbour Plaza for almost 16 years, Ms Cheng has a deep understanding of the group's mission and values, as well as the opportunities the group has to offer. She started off as a guest relations officer and worked her way up to her first general manager appointment through a variety of roles, including positions in catering, sales and marketing.

The 702-room Harbour Plaza 8 Degrees will be the group's ninth property in Hong Kong. This vast network of local properties is a distinct advantage to employees, who can expect ample opportunities for inter-hotel transfer and promotion. In keeping with the group's promote-from-within philosophy, existing staff have also enjoyed priority during the recruitment process for the new hotel. "Some staff wanted to join the team because being involved in opening a new hotel is a great experience," Ms Cheng says.

Structured training

Harbour Plaza sees training as a priority and the group has its own training department consisting of a manager and three trainers operating from its corporate office. "It's great to have a dedicated training team," says Ms Cheng. "It makes it much easier to consolidate the group's strengths."

The trainers consult with all the hotels' division heads on an annual basis to evaluate their training needs. Staff also takes part in comprehensive annual appraisals that help to identify their areas for improvement and development. Rather than simply being an option for interested staff, training is therefore targeted, Ms Cheng explains.

A wide array of group training programmes are designed and scheduled for staff on different levels. Topics range from generic skills for frontline staff, such as telephone manner and handling complaints, to leadership skills. Senior managers are also immersed in training like the popular Seven Habits for Highly Effective People courses.

In some cases, employees receive individual training to prepare them for promotions or lateral moves. "If a member of staff expresses an interest in another job function, we may draw up a special programme for the person to cross train in the relevant department. If mutual expectations are met, we will promote or transfer the employee accordingly," Ms Cheng says.

Developing multi-skilled employees benefits the business as a whole. In view of this, the hotel group runs a one-year management trainee programme for fresh graduates. Young recruits are rotated through different departments to obtain a comprehensive view of the entire operation before they settle down in a specific area.

Thorough preparation

On-the-job training is another important factor to ensure a smooth customer-centric operation. Some of the staff recruited for Harbour Plaza 8 Degrees will spend anything from a week to a month working in the hotel's sister properties before officially taking up their positions at the new hotel.

Ms Cheng and her team will move into the hotel to start hands-on training two months before the grand opening, giving employees plenty of time to familiarise themselves with the environment and facilities. "This will also make sure they really want to be part of the team, minimising turnover once the hotel opens," she remarks.

Some recruits already have hotel experience, while others are new to the industry. Newcomers are in for a steep learning curve, but the right personality is as important, Ms Cheng says.

"Only a few seconds of contact can make all the difference to a guest's hotel experience. I want to see smiles," she stresses. "Staff should prioritise the guests' comfort and happiness."

A firm believer in fast-tracking employees with outstanding potential, Ms Cheng notes that all division heads watch staff closely to identify future leaders.

The ultimate aim is for all employees to enjoy and take ownership of their work. Ms Cheng concludes: "Harbour Plaza 8 Degrees is going to be a happy hotel, with happy staff and happy guests."


Taken from Career Times 21 August 2009, p. B5
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