Hotel / Catering

Strength through unity

by Ada Ng

Mark Conklin (left), general manager
Sandra Ng, director of human resources
JW Marriott Hotel Hong Kong
Photo: Lewis Wong

Hotel reaps benefits of strong values and partnership

The key challenge for operators in Hong Kong's highly competitive hospitality industry is to sustain a level of service that differentiates them from competitors so as to ensure guest satisfaction and loyalty.

"Take care of your employees and they'll take care of your customers," founder of the JW Marriott empire John Willard Marriott's once said.

"The JW Marriott Hotel Hong Kong's service culture is based on this credo," notes Mark Conklin, general manager, JW Marriott Hotel Hong Kong.

In particular, the hotel's guest-oriented approach is the product of a caring environment for staff, says Mr Conklin, who prefers to refer to its 750 employees as "associates".

He adds, "We make a point to foster partnerships and a sense of family among our associates and this makes us different from other employers in the industry."

This partnership helps the hotel's employees to experience work as an opportunity for self-development and growth. As a result, they work as a team and look after guests' best interests.

Hands-on management

Since entering the Hong Kong market in 1989, the Marriott group has launched four hotels in the city under the JW Marriot Hotel, Courtyard by Marriott, Hong Kong SkyCity and Renaissance Hotels brands. It is expecting to open the new Ritz-Carlton which promises to be the world's tallest hotel, in the International Commerce Centre skyscraper in Tsim Sha Tsui later this year.

When it comes to people management, the hotel adheres to a "top-down approach", adds Sandra Ng, human resources director, JW Marriott Hotel Hong Kong. "Starting with senior management, our values are spread across department heads and managers," she explains.

A veteran in the hospitality industry with 30 years' experience working for Marriott, Mr Conklin points out that the hotel brand's full service general managers around the globe have an average tenure of 25 years, compared with the industry average of eight.

More than half of the group's managers worldwide started out in entry-level positions as line associates, servers, guest relations officers and room attendants. "People who have done these jobs are in a much better position to understand the challenge faced by frontline associates," he says.

The company's hands-on management style is a major reason why it manages to retain the best talent and maintain a stable workforce. Mr Conklin believes it is the group's value system of treating people fairly, with dignity, honesty and respect, and investing in their growth and development, that keeps them from moving on.

Managers view their positions as a responsibility to the people they lead. "The further they move up in the company, the greater their responsibility, and the more they focus on developing the team," he stresses. Under the company's fair-treatment system, employees with concerns or who feel they have been treated unfairly have access to an anonymous complaints channel that is taken seriously by the senior management team.

Developing people

Investment in staff is another way to reinforce a people-focused culture. "We have a huge commitment to develop our associates to their full potential," Mr Conklin emphasises. "This is crucial as we expand from 44 to 60 hotels on the mainland this year alone."

A number of goal-oriented development programmes at all levels aim to meet staff members' career aspirations, Ms Ng reveals. Individual training needs are determined through JW Marriott's unique "Leadership, Performance, Process" (LPP) performance appraisal system, which evaluates staff performance against nine competences ranging from leadership to technical expertise.

"Once we've mapped out a likely career progression path for an associate, we decide on the steps and training activities needed to prepare the person for additional responsibility," says Mr Conklin.

As the group expands regionally, there will be more opportunities for advancement within the organisation, Ms Ng anticipates. Existing Marriott staff get priority when new positions become available in the region—even at other hotel brands. Once this channel is exhausted, Marriott candidates from elsewhere around the world are considered. Only then does the group look to hire externally. Transfers between departments are also common.

"When associates move to other hotels within the group, they broaden their knowledge and skills base, enabling them to ultimately move into positions requiring higher levels of expertise," says Ms Ng.

While many of the techniques required by the hospitality industry can be taught, new staff must have a positive, can-do attitude and be enthusiastic and energetic. "Simply having an interest in the industry is not enough," Ms Ng concludes. "You've got to be passionate about serving guests and enjoy working with people on a daily basis."

Preferred employer

  • Caring environment boosts loyalty and a sense of value
  • Hands-on management style helps retain talent and maintains a stable workforce
  • Commitment to staff development reinforces people-focused culture
  • More opportunities for advancement as group expands rapidly in Asia Pacific

Taken from Career Times 7 May 2010, B9

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