Constant communication keeps staff ahead of the game

by Alex Lai

Cynthia Leong, director of human resources
The Landmark Mandarin Oriental
Photo: Nolly Leung

Team spirit and effective feedback ensure service standards

Several new hotels have recently graced the changing Hong Kong landscape whilst certain established ones have undergone total refurbishment. Discerning guests have profited from the resulting competitiveness, demanding an array of services coupled with high levels of professionalism from hospitality staff.

To remain at the cutting edge of the industry and respond to market changes and customer needs, effective staff communication is essential. This is particularly so in the hotel business, says Cynthia Leong, director of human resources, The Landmark Mandarin Oriental. To thrive in such an industry, hotel employees must be team players, understanding the wider concept of belonging to the company rather than merely concentrating on their own specific job description. "Regarding internal communication, we strive to achieve two objectives: staff should be well informed at all times and we must encourage honest feedback from employees," she remarks.

Ensuring hotel updates reach all employees promptly and successfully involves circulating hotel news regularly. This also encourages staff to reflect on the hotel's wider business objectives. "A notice board is traditionally a one-way information channel," Ms Leong explains. "There is also a daily electronic newsletter shown on an LCD monitor in the staff cafeteria. Local and worldwide hotel announcements, operational status, occupancy rate and even colleagues' birthdays are all broadcast."

In addition, morning meetings between team heads and different department representatives allow managers to disseminate information to their teams. "This creates a platform to discuss recent events and better prepares staff for upcoming changes," Ms Leong notes.

Have your say

As with any modern businesses, two-way communication tools are well in place at The Landmark Mandarin Oriental. Since the first days of its operation, the hotel has been conducting "Say Something Sessions", where some 20 colleagues representing their departments convene an informal monthly meeting with the human resources team and offer feedback and suggestions, which are noted and followed up within the next seven days. "This form of direct communication has been well received at all levels," Ms Leong adds.

Furthermore, completion of an annual commitment survey is compulsory for all hotel staff. Ms Leong says, "It is an online survey conducted by a third-party consultancy firm and we invite our staff to fill in the questionnaire anonymously." The survey consists of a list of questions with multiple choices and two open-ended questions. This effectively consolidates all departments' experience and opinions which are then compiled and studied for ways to improve the hotel and its staff.

"Ongoing communications help us anticipate and evaluate performance. They also demonstrate that we care about our colleagues, their performance and development," Ms Leong stresses. "Therefore, any comments should be balanced and also aiming at assessing specific performance by raising concrete examples."

However, often the most important encouragement for a service-oriented business is to have the managers as role models. "Practising 'management by walking around' can help foster effective communication in the workplace alongside the theoretical guidelines and systems," Ms Leong says.

Feel the vibes

In the hospitality industry, care is primarily taken to ensure a relaxing atmosphere for guests. However, Ms Leong attests that the vibes of a corporate culture are in the hotel's uniqueness. "Mandarin Oriental is a group rather than a chain," she emphasises. "We have a comprehensive set of corporate guidelines comprised of our culture and values as a mission, with underlying guiding principles to develop overall service standards."

The Landmark Mandarin Oriental projects a contemporary image compared with the deep-rooted classic fanfare of its sister hotel, Mandarin Oriental Hong Kong. "Every Mandarin Oriental hotel has its own sense of place," she notes, adding that Landmark attracts younger leisure-seeking guests because of the vibrancy of its chic design.

Despite the individual character of specific hotels, working together as a corporate team for Mandarin Oriental is the major success factor for the group's people management philosophy. "Corporate influence can help consolidate our overall infrastructure, starting right from the top management," she says, explaining that a smooth transition is ensured for staff promotion throughout the group from entry to executive level.

To climb the career ladder, staff are encouraged to attend training programmes such as the thorough orientation sessions for new recruits, and management development programmes with RMIT Australia, or MBA programmes for middle management.

While creating a climate of enthusiasm for continuous development and learning, Ms Leong stresses that a hotel's greatest asset is its strongly committed, guest-oriented staff who create a unique environment for guests to enjoy. "Repeat guests give our staff a greater sense of belonging and pride," she concludes. This in turn leads to a greater level of employee professionalism as staff see the results of their ongoing efforts.


Taken from Career Times 26 October 2007
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