Hotel / Catering

Making that subtle difference

by Charles Mak

Maurine Yeung
Head of People Development
Swire Hotels
Photo: Edde Ngan

Young hotels group hires for skills, attitude and by personality

A career in hospitality isn't all about having an innate knack for service, there is so much in it that an intrinsic sense of style and pleasing sophistication are more often than not essential.

"This is a people business, and therefore a love for people and a desire to create unique experiences for guests are also indispensable," says Maurine Yeung, Head of People Development, Swire Hotels.

As the hotel industry in bustling Hong Kong sashays confidently into a new era, players in the field are pulling out all stops to adapt their strategies in order to outpace the competition. People development, in particular, is considered now a new trump card.

"We hire not only for skills and attitude, but also by personality," Ms Yeung concedes.

The hotels group currently manages a small portfolio of "intriguing and urban" hotels in Hong Kong, mainland China and the UK. This includes The Opposite House in Beijing, The Montpellier Chapter in the UK; and locally in Hong Kong The Upper House, a 117-room hotel, and the 345-room lifestyle business hotel EAST.

"Being young gives us an advantage in HR management," Ms Yeung says. In fact, when Swire Hotels rolled out its recruitment drive early last year, the response was phenomenal.

Ms Yeung's team was heavily involved in the entire HR plan from hiring to on-boarding training. "Part of all this is to create and maintain our brand image, core values and cultural attributes," she notes. "Talent retention has to be another priority for us now."

Feeling good

EAST and The Upper House, however similar they are in terms of service standards, boast different clienteles. While the former aims to offer business travellers "what they want, where they need it most", the latter caters for guests who expect modern luxury and highly personal services.

"Guests arriving at The Upper House are greeted personally by a guest experience officer and complete the check-in procedure in the comfort of their rooms or at our Sky Lounge," explains Ms Yeung. EAST guests in turn check in at the reception but then again the process is paperless and streamlined to ensure efficiency.

She points out that Swire Hotels' staff should enjoy the same, if not a higher level of personal touch. "We want our staff to identify with our culture and feel comfortable with who they are and not just what they've come to represent," emphasises Ms Yeung. "Everything we do during recruitment is aligned with this belief, from the job advertisements, down to the job application form and the entire interview process in which a candidate's personality traits, flexibility and adaptability are also assessed. Every interaction they have with us prompts them to feel the difference. We celebrate individuality."

People principles

All new members of the hotels' staff take part in a brand culture training before they start work. "The people development team and department heads spend time talking to them as they settle down to drive mutual understanding of our brand values, what we do and how we do it, and to ensure that their questions and concerns are answered and their opinions and advice heard," Ms Yeung says. "Our systems and procedures, decision making process and internal communications are all in place to ensure a good experience for our new recruits during the first three months of employment."

Staff motivation is key to brand sustainability and service enhancement, which can be achieved via team building activities, and, on a more personal level, learning and development schemes.

The group's performance management system has been set up with a view to encourage career ownership. Non-management staff review their performance with their immediate supervisors twice a year to assess their career development goals, short-term development needs, and match these against the hotel's development.

Managers are required to keep straight communication with their staff, maintain transparency in their staff plans and identify the individuals' strengths and weaknesses. Ms Yeung adds, "Staff looking for the next step up need a clear understanding of the job requirements and how they should attain these. As such, managers should be able to offer improvement advice, arrange coaching and learning and development opportunities to keep aspiring individuals interested and inspired."

Promotions and other opportunities like overseas attachments are direct outcomes of this system of interaction between staff and their supervisors.

Ms Yeung stresses that the hotels do not compete head on with each other. "In line with our emphasis on individuality, we seek to measure HR performance without using one-size-fits-all tools. But then again we must communicate with individual properties and discuss how they should achieve their own goals as well as those of the group," she remarks, adding that such tools as employee survey and customer service survey are aimed primarily at making staff and guests happy.

Branded careers

  • Individuality promoted and valued
  • Initial training gets new staff up the speed with hotels' brand culture
  • Motivated staff give top performance
  • Managers take responsibility for talent development

Taken from Career Times 18 February 2011, B5

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