The Seven Deadly Sins…of Promoting Employees

How many times have you looked at a manager within your own organization and wondered ‘how the hell did they did they get into that position?’

Notwithstanding that ownership for performance lies primarily with the individual themselves, the answer to this question can frequently be found in the original decision made to promote the employee.   It is during this decision-making process that human resources and senior managers making the final selection are susceptible to the seven deadly sins – not the traditional sins mind you, but a special set of sins, reserved purely for promotions.

Referring to an error in judgement when promoting an employee as a ‘sin’ may sound deadly-sinslike an extreme proposition.  However, the person that is today selected to be promoted may stay in a leadership position for years, even decades; they may be transferred around the world; be moved into increasingly more senior positions; and effect not only the direction of the business, but also the careers of hundreds of employees. Consequently, the importance of that single promotion choice requires decision makers to be a combination of objective and visionary – and free of the following sins.

Neglect

Performance; individual character; and suitability for the available position.

When a manager chooses to promote an employee despite of significant deficiencies in any, or all of these three categories, they risk neglecting their responsibilities, their team, and their organization.

As an example, I have an ex-colleague who whilst a good person, his performance as a junior manager would be a 4 out of 10, maybe a 5.  This rating is due to the constant personal drama that he brings to the workplace; an inability to develop team members; and a low level of displayed dedication and enjoyment in his actual work.

He is also about to be promoted to a manager position.

With such a negligent decision, nobody wins.  Not the staff, who will have to follow the directions of a lowly skilled manager; not the organization who have given greater responsibilities to the wrong person; and not the soon-to-be promoted individual who will likely lose a key motivation to make required professional improvements.  After all, if they are rewarded with career advancement despite of average performances and minimal managerial suitability, where will their intrinsic motivation to become a better manager come from?

Bias

A managers’ biases are one of the most common causes of employees being promoted into positions that they are ill-equipped for.  Consciously or subconsciously, many managers will have their decisions influenced by biases including their personal views towards an employee; skin colour; gender; religion; caste; and nationality.

These biases become particularly evident in locations such as Dubai, where the high percentage of expatriates leads to there being a greater range of demographic differences.  In such locations there is a greater temptation for some managers to form, and protect their cliques.  Often referred to as ‘mafias,’ these cliques can be Egyptian, Australian, Indian, Caucasian – almost anything.  But whatever the demographic, for those outside of these cliques it can make the chances of being promoted dispiritingly low – particularly beyond supervisory/junior management positions.

Now just because a promoted individual has demographic similarities to the decision makers, it does not automatically make them the wrong choice.  I would much prefer the employee best suited for the position be promoted, rather than chasing demographic balance for the sake of having balance.  Nevertheless, managers and entire management teams do need to be conscious of the demographic mix within their leadership groups; be aware of their own individual and collective biases; and to guard closely against having these biases negatively influence the decisions that they take.

Silence

Joining the list of promotional sins is when managers have either doubts or support for an employee being considered for promotion, but choose to say nothing.

UnknownThis silence can be caused by many factors, including apathy and intimidation.  But regardless of the reason, to sit back and say nothing when promotions are being discussed is a managerial failure.   By keeping silent whilst an individual is promoted to a position that they are ill-equipped to succeed in, a manager is essentially complicit in a decision that places employees and the business at heightened risk of future negative consequences.

Of course, just providing an opinion does not guarantee that a better decision will be taken, and can also lead to some uncomfortable discussions between managers.  But progressive management groups do not shy away from such discomforts, knowing that open discussions are necessary to create an environment of transparency and accountability for the decisions that are taken.

Selflessness

That’s right, selfless, and not selfish.  This sin is committed when managers fail to consider how the decision will impact their own workload.   They will think about both the business and the team, but do not consider if the candidate is actually going to be of suitable support for themselves.

Before promoting someone within their own team, a manager can avoid this sin by considering each candidate with questions such as:

  • Do they have the capacity to take some of my existing workload off my shoulders?’
  • Will their performance allow me to focus on bigger responsibilities?
  • Will they be independent enough to notrequire excessive attention? Or will I need to constantly manage the way that they manage themselves, the employees, and the business?

By not asking and answering such questions, a manager can unwittingly sacrifice themselves by promoting someone who rather than adding to their support structure, instead adds to their workload.  The promoted employee gains the new job title and increased entitlements, and the manager is left with increased headaches – with no extra benefits.

Longevity Lover

Seeing an employee receive a promotion after many years of service can be a terrific outcome – loyalty of course is usually a positive trait.  But longevity on its own is a sinful reason to promote an employee because if the individual is not suitable for the role, not only do they now have greater responsibility and influence, but their very longevity can result in the organization being stuck with an underperforming manager for years…and years.

This is not to disparage length of service, however having experience does not automatically translate into high levels of performance.  Indeed, on occasions this gained experience is actually the result of an employee wallowing in their own comfort zone for an extended period of time.  When an employee is promoted despite being in such a zone, instead of getting a motivated leader capable of driving their Department forward, businesses may well be stuck with a complacent manager whose best performances were delivered long ago.

The hidden impact of promoting employees based on longevity, is that it can put the thought into employee’s heads that rather than performance and suitability, the key to moving up is just to hang around long enough.  When this mentality develops, an organization can be faced with an increasing number of employees who stay in their position not because they are loyal and high-performing individuals, but because they believe they will eventually be rewarded with promotion.

Tunnel Vision

This sin refers to when managers underestimate, or entirely overlook the potential for the quieter members of their team to gain career progression.

In every business there are a number of employees who are skilled at gaining constant attention from human resources and senior managers.  Sometimes it is because they have a natural charm about them; sometimes it is because they are outstanding performers; and sometimes it is because, well, they bring the boss a coffee each day, and the boss kind of likes that.

But regardless of the reasons for their higher profile, they are not the only employees in the team who should be considered for promotion.  Yes, these employees are likely to express their career ambitions more readily (sometimes a little too readily), but often the best choice is the less obvious employee – the one who makes no fuss, asks for no attention, and just gets on with getting the job done.

So be the manager that has 360 vision of their team, and notice the capabilities of all your employees – the obvious ones, and the quieter, perhaps more humble individuals.

Contradiction

This final sin is where the stated values of a business are contradicted by the promotion of an individual whose behaviours repeatedly go against these same principles.  An example of this would be if honesty is a value of an organization, and an employee proceeds to receive a promotion despite consistently acting in a way that goes against the said value.

For human resources and senior managers, the process of deciding who to promote should include a component of holding each candidate up to the mirror of their company’s values.  If the individual does not reflect these values in their current role, but is nonetheless moved into a more senior position, then the decision makers have essentially undermined the desired pillars of their business.

Additionally, as with some of the previous sins, the act of contradiction sets a dangerously low bar for other employees to follow.  If people can progress within an organization despite working against the values, why would other employees not follow their example?

By avoiding the seven deadly sins when deciding which employees they promote to managerial positions, leaders can position themselves to significantly benefit their company.  But commit any one of them, and they risk burdening their organization with a manager whose responsibilities and influence far outweigh their capabilities.  If this unsuitable manager proceeds to stay with the organization for a long period of time, or worse, continue to rise up the company ladder, it can be enough to send the original decision maker to purgatory…

The Two-Way Burning Bridge

Don’t burn your bridges.

Ever been given this advice?  Provided this advice to someone else?   Burnt a bridge or had someone burn the bridge connecting them to you?

Usually we associate this phrase with a volatile action from an employee before or after they leave an employer.  Burning bridges though can be a two-way street, with the more damaging approach often coming not from employees, but rather from managers towards their employees. 

This is particularly the case with employee resignations, where receiving such news can be a genuine test of a manager’s composure.  Some will pass this test, responding in a manner that takes into account the best interests of all parties; whereas others will fail by resorting to a variety of bridge-busting tactics.  These tactics can range from one end of the scale in the form of refusing to ‘accept’ the resignation or ceasing to talk to the employee – through to the more vindictive responses of removing entitlements; or gathering multiple other managers to essentially bully the individual into reversing their decision.

The most extreme response I witnessed though came from a manager who responded to an employee resignation by repeatedly, and aggressively threatening the individual with what was unjustified legal action.  What made the response so baffling was that for months the manager had openly discussed their desire to terminate the individual – so the employee resigning should have been a win-win outcome.  But instead, and ignoring the employee’s considerable contributions to the organization, and their textbook professional resignation, the manager’s ego rendered him unable to accept that any employee had control over the circumstances in which they left the company.

This manager made the mistake of taking the resignation personally rather than professionally.  When this occurs, a manager’s response can become similar to the emotional situation of being dumped by a partner in a personal relationship.  Outbursts will be used such as ‘why are you leaving me?’ ‘You won’t find anything better out there!’  ‘I am the one who developed you!’  It always leaves me bemused when I hear of managers saying this last line.  If you have developed your employee, well, congratulations, it means you were doing your job.  Nothing more.

Bridge

So instead of acting with petulance when an employee resigns, there are a number of steps managers can take to respond in a more constructive, and relationship-conserving manner.

  1. Walk Away – Before you explode at your employee and say things that you shouldn’t say, go for a walk. As managers we regularly tell our employees to walk away before they respond overly emotionally to a difficult situation; yet in the moment of having an employee resign, we ironically often neglect to follow our own advice.  So do whatever you need to do to maintain your composure; consider things from the employee’s perspective; and then give your response – it could save you from reacting in a way that verbally bombs that bridge.
  2. Be Realistic – Were you really expecting your employee to work with you until the end of time, or until you yourself were ready to leave the company?  Your people will likely have different priorities to you, and different options to you; and these priorities and options will lead them to opportunities that whilst for you will sometimes be bewildering, for them will be something that they simply need to do.

I encountered this several years ago when a tremendously talented and mature young chef (Katie) walked into my office with a box of tissues (never a good sign). We had identified Katie as a rising star, and so as she sat there informing me of her resignation, I could feel my stomach dropping at the realization that we were losing a fantastic professional with the priceless ability to make her colleagues walk taller when she was on shift.

Katie explained to me that there were two reasons for her choosing to depart.  Firstly, when she looked at the excessive working hours of the senior chefs, and the lack of a life that they had, she knew that she did not want that for herself. Secondly, she wanted to travel – seriously travel.  Not for a week-long tourist trip to Bali or Thailand, but to drop everything and explore Europe for months, perhaps years.  There was no point in trying to convince her to stay.  The same characteristics that had made her such a wonderful employee, had ensured that she had thoroughly considered what she wanted her future to look like.  All I could do was feel sorry for myself and the company, but at the same time be impressed that she had worked out what she wanted.

Katie was resigning so that she could chase her real ambitions, and I had to be realistic enough to know that nothing we offered her could compete with her own priorities and desires.

  1. Be Appreciative – When receiving a resignation from particularly the employees we want to keep, managers will sometimes protest the decision based on all the training, development, and perhaps even promotions that have been provided to the individual. Such talk gives the impression that the company has given everything to the employee, who in return has not given enough to square the ledger.

Instead of this one-way view, consider the great work that they have done; the extra hours and workload they accepted; the flexibility they demonstrated; and the sacrifices they made for the team.

Then, graciously acknowledge the employee’s efforts both one-on-one, and in front of the entire team so to provide your department with a positive message that communicates that whilst you are not happy that the individual is leaving, you nonetheless appreciate their significant contributions.

  1. Be Honest – When an employee resigns, managers can often resort to making desperate commitments in an attempt to convince them to stay. They will tell the employee that if they stay they will soon be promoted to a desired position; or that they have a development plan ready for them.  In my experience such commitments are too rarely followed through with, and it can crush an employee when they realize that they gave up an opportunity elsewhere because of a dishonest and/or desperate manager.

If you do want your employee to stay, go about it with honesty by telling them what you can actually bring to life; not with unrealistic commitments that will inevitably create future problems, and provide the employee with justifiably negative sentiments towards the company.

  1. Ask Questions – Rather than freaking out when an employee resigns, a more tactful approach is to ask questions that guide the individual to contemplate whether they are prepared for the consequences of their decision. If they are going to another employer ask them about the development prospects there; or if they are resigning without another job ask how they plan on supporting themselves.  Basically ask questions not to attack their decision, but to support them in considering all angles.  Through these questions the employee may actually work out for themselves that leaving is not the right thing to do; or alternatively it can also prove to them, and yourself, that their decision to resign is the correct one.

If the individual is one who I want to stay, then along with asking such questions I will tell them that this is my preference, and that we are a better team with them in it – it is important for their own sense of value that they hear this.  However if the employee has been a nightmare to work with, then better to ask no such questions, just take the resignation letter and hold a private celebration in your head.

  1. Stay Classy – It works for Ron Burgundy, and it works when dealing with resignations.  If you can stay classy even when your employee is handing over their resignation, it allows you to listen to the employee’s perspective; influences you to respond with understanding and reason; and gives you control over any negative emotions that would otherwise hinder your ability to provide constructive guidance.

By handling a potentially difficult resignation with class, you create a positive final impression that can have long-term benefits for your organization.  For if the departing employee goes to work even for a competitor, they will almost certainly develop their skills and knowledge to the point that should they ever come back to your company, they will be of even more value than when they left you.  So that final impression that you created during their resignation, coupled with a positive overall experience with your company, can be enough to make them return in the future.

Of course there will be ill-considered resignations that make several of these suggested steps less relevant.  But in most cases, when your employee resigns it is something that is right for them, and is a decision that they have been considering for weeks, and sometimes months.  Yes, it would be preferred if they were not leaving, and it would certainly make life easier for your team.  However, is their departure going to break your department?  Do you really rely so heavily on this one person?  Or in a round-about way, is it an opportunity to find a great new addition to your team, provide new responsibilities to other team members, and drive your department forward once again?

So be the manager that demonstrates commitment to employees from their first day, all the way through to their final day.  This consistency in attitude can be the difference between having an individual being an ambassador for your company even when they are no longer working for you, and having someone who openly sways potential employees from joining your company.  It can also be the difference between having a wonderful ex-employee returning to your company when the time is right; and having that same individual who because of your bridge-burning reactions, never again sets foot in your organization.

Are You Valuing Your Values?

Values

What are your company’s values?  Real values?  Regardless of the circumstances your company encounters, are these values non-negotiable?  Or do the desired values exist only on company posters and PowerPoint slides – pretty to look at, but too often sacrificed at the first sign of a challenge?

Since my high school days (a long time ago), each education institution and workplace that I have been part of has sprouted their values in one way or another. Early on I paid little regard to these values purely because I did not understand the point of having them.  However as my career progressed, various experiences showed me how influential values can be, and how rare it is for an organization to stay true to them, regardless of the business environment that the company is operating in.

From company-to-company there is usually little difference in values aspired to.  I often see high schools and primary schools with remarkably similar values to those of multi-national organizations.  I am not sure why I find it ‘remarkable’ – the list of probable values to choose from is not particularly large so there is bound to frequently be some cross-over. For example, respect is a common value; empathy is in-fashion these days; and there will usually be something linked to being innovative.

No matter what values a company selects as its guiding principles, the ability to bring them to life invariably starts and ends with having leaders who believe in the values enough to be constant role models of these behaviours.  If senior managers represent these values, and uses them as part of their decision-making process, then it is much more likely that their employees will follow suit. However should these senior managers pick-and-choose when they apply them, then the same values become a word-only concept that risk being a source of disengagement and internal mockery.

With senior managers playing such a pivotal role, what then is the responsibility of a HR team to their company’s values?

My answer to that came to me on a day off several years ago where I was super-relaxed; and feeling pretty good about things.  Then the issue of values struck.  It was not my choice for this to happen, however I ran into a colleague who I had not seen for several months and rather than beginning with the usual small chit-chat, she looked me with zero warmth and told me that the company’s values that I had spoken about on her first day of employment did not exist in her hotel, and that they were a load of nonsense (a more colourful word was used).  She was genuinely angry, and it challenged my good mood, but I knew she was right.  Completely right. We had given hope of something better but failed to back it up when it counted – beyond the posters and PowerPoint slides.  She viewed me, a representative of HR, as being an ambassador for the company’s values – and so she should.  That interaction still burns me – and it is the type of burn that I don’t want to disappear either.

That interaction significantly shaped my view that HR needs to be the guardians of their company’s values.  ‘Guardian’ is a heavy word filled with responsibility and even sacrifice, but from before each employee is recruited, through to the same individual’s final day of employment, HR has the opportunity for repeated and meaningful interactions with every single colleague.  Because of this, there is no better Department in a business to act as the guardians of values.

Though a HR team has many different functions, their responsibilities that best contribute to fulfilling the role of guardian are those of recruitment, promotions, and recognition.

  1. Recruitment

The best HR practitioners I have worked with actively seek to recruit individuals who if not completely representative of the desired values, at the very least come damn close to doing so.  They understand that recruiting candidates with values similar to those of existing desirable colleagues not only gives the new employee an increased chance of successfully fitting in, but also serves to strengthen the values of the company.

Throughout the selection process these same elite HR professionals will also role model the desired values, and observe how each candidate responds to such principles – do they respond positively; do they reflect in kind; or are they oblivious to the importance of such behaviours?

When HR fails to consider values in the recruitment process then too often the result is the selection of individuals whose appointment serves to disengage existing employees, and destabilize entire teams.  Sometimes I see newly recruited individuals enter an organization with a powerful on-paper combination of experience and qualifications. They will look the part, and talk the part, but from day one there will be something missing that leads them to not quite belonging.  That missing ingredient often is what they value – what is important to them, is not what is important to the company, and the contrast in priorities can invariably lead to a toxic mismatch between employee and hotel.

If this outcome occurs regularly, then rather than being guardians of their company’s values, HR’s recruitment practices instead contribute to employees losing faith in the validity of the very same principles.

  1. Promotions

There are few topics that get a workforce talking as much as that of employee promotions.  When a deserving and suitable colleague is promoted it can create a feeling of goodwill and positivity that travels across an entire organization.  But too often poorly considered promotions result in a sentiment of incredulous deflation amongst colleagues and peers.  The employee will have the ceremony of being promoted, and everyone will smile for the camera as recognition of the moment is given, but across the company the majority of the workforce will be wondering how such an outcome can occur.

An example of this came when I found myself arguing with a HR Director who was supporting the promotion of a senior manager. I urged against such a move because in essence, the employee was fake – skilled at putting on a good show in front of certain individuals, but without the depth in ability or character to effectively lead people or a Department.  The individual was able to recite the company’s values verbatim – but in a style similar to that of a politician repeatedly spruiking their catchphrase at election time. But did this manager understand the values, or display the values?  Not even close.

The HR Director eventually proceeded with the promotion, advising me that they were tired of the individual asking to be promoted, and that it was the best way to shut them up.  At a moment when the Director should have stood up for the company’s values, they chose the personally less annoying option, and in essence communicated to employees that displaying such values was not a key ingredient to career progression.  It was a galling moment for many within the organization.

The final say with promotions is rarely that of HR – usually it rightfully goes to the senior manager of each Department.  But if a set of values are to be respected within an organization, then before promoting anyone, a HR team has the responsibility to hold that individual up to the light of those said values, and ask:

  • Does this individual reflect what our company aspires to stand for?
  • Does this individual demonstrate these values to all staff, or only when trying to impress those above them?
  • With extra responsibilities and pressure will they be able to be an ambassador of our values?

The best HR professionals will ask and answer such questions in front of key influencers.  They will take the responsibility to look through the politics, the maneuvering, and the person who puts on a show to say the right words in front of the right people. They do so knowing that although they may not win every promotion debate, the act of engaging in the values discussion sets a positive precedent that communicates to all managers that every single suggested promotion will be scrutinized with the same set of guiding principle criteria.

  1. Recognition

In every hotel there are a group of individuals who for various reasons are skilled at receiving more positive attention than what their colleagues gain.  These will be the staff who have the sometimes annoying habits of getting more guests to remember their names for use on guest feedback forums; and in having their better performances constantly noticed by senior managers.

Most HR individuals I have worked with tend to be drawn into providing more recognition to such individuals.  Now this is not necessarily a negative thing – this recognition is often deserved.

However a sufficiently interested and aware HR professional will put themselves in a position to recognize the efforts of allof their people.  They will observe the Housekeeper staying back to help a colleague with an excessively messy room; the Commissary Chef working diligently to prepare food for the 500-person function; and the Telephone Operator skillfully handling a guest screaming at them for a problem that they were not responsible for. In every Department, at every level, they will see their staff demonstrating their company’s values, and in these moments, they will take the opportunity to provide due recognition.

This recognition does not need to be a massive demonstration of gratitude.  Indeed often these employees will be so humble and unassuming, that acts of over-the-top gratitude would be horrifyingly uncomfortable for them.  Instead, it can be a quiet word of encouragement; a hand-written note of reinforcement to the individual; a word to inform their boss – essentially anything that lets the individual know that their behaviours are exactly what the company wants; that we see the good in what they have done; that they are appreciated; and that we need more of it.

By being actively aware of the efforts of all Departments, HR position themselves to communicate that values matter across the entire hotel; and that employees who demonstrate such values will be recognized and appreciated regardless of job title or skill set.


In comparing one company’s values to another I do not pay much attention to which values have actually selected.  Rather, I am more interested in who is successful in bringing their values to life; who is effective at creating an environment where their employees believe in these values; and in challenging times, which companies sacrifices their values, and which ones galvanize themselves to protect them?

For HR teams, ask yourself what are you doing to protect, grow, and role-model your values?  Does your approach to recruitment, promotions, and recognition enhance your company’s values, or do they serve to undermine them?

And finally, and perhaps most importantly, are you personally stepping up to battle for your company’s values when you need to? Or are you rolling over each time your values are threatened? After all, guardians do not drop to their knees without a fight…

Arise. Saints of the Hotel Night

Man-sleeping-under-desk-credit-whitetag-467189761-630x419

Picture it.  It’s 3am in any city or decent-sized town in the world.  The majority of the population is sleeping, or depending on the location, enjoying a social life in their own way.

At the same time there will also be a group of individuals at work, who in general, will be serving the community.  These are the taxi drivers, the nurses, the doctors, the police and firemen and women, the street cleaners, and more of course.  And within hotels, there are people at work as well.  The Front Office Agent, the Room Service Attendant; a lone Chef; the Security Officer; a Duty Manager, an Engineer, and perhaps a Bell Attendant.  This can be a motley crew of individuals who often have little in common other than the dark hours that they share.

An interesting part of hotel life is that this small number of staff will be responsible for a far higher ratio of guests-to-employees than any other shift.  For during the day and early evening when most managers are present along with the majority of line staff, most guests will be out of the hotel either at work, taking in the sites of the location, or moving on to their next destination.  Whereas when the comparatively smaller overnight team is on duty, generally every guest will be in the hotel, enjoying the comfort, or struggling with the discomfort of their hotel bed.

The reasons for overnight employees taking on such responsibility and working these hours are as varied as they are.  Some do it as it can be viewed as necessary to advance a career in particularly Front Office; some do it as they enjoy the solitude of the night; and some do it because, well, because their managers instruct them to do it.  Many will resent the overnight shift and the personal struggles that will come with it, but there is also a small number who genuinely adore such hours of work, and will happily work the shift for years, and sometimes decades.  If you ever have such an individual in your team, do whatever it takes to keep hold of them – for they are priceless in reducing the need for ‘normal’ staff to work the overnights, and should they resign, it can be close to impossible finding a like-minded replacement.

If an overnight employee is fortunate, they will have a good team of colleagues working with them.  Team members that have a similar sense of humour, and an equal desire to get the job done effectively and efficiently.  But if luck is not on their side, then being paired up with colleagues who are quick to irritate them can be a version of hospitality torture.  Sharing duties with frustrating colleagues is tiresome at any time, but when it happens at 3 o’clock in the morning it just seems like some sort of sick joke that will make a person question what they have done to deserve such an outcome.

The habits of the night crew are humourous to be part of, or even to observe.  Walk into the back offices on the overnight shift and you will invariably find a dieticians’ nightmare – a hardcore supply of candies, chocolate, energy drinks, and coffee – basically anything to keep the eyelids open.   The consequence of such a diet is that individuals will have peaks of buzzing physical and mental energy, followed by troughs of such desperate tiredness that serious thought and internal debate will be given to getting a few minutes sleep on any possible surface – a desk, a massage table, an event room floor, even a guest room.

This tiredness can at times cross over into pure deliriousness that will produce both hilarious conversations and moments of stupidity.  One colleague revealed to me that he once stood in front of an elevator for more than a minute becoming openly furious that the doors would not open.  Physically pounding at the elevator, his brain eventually awoke to the realization that he had not actually pressed the button to open the doors.  Yes, the night hours can turn even the most professional of hotel workers into raving fools.

Outside of these humourous moments, there are the darker consequences of performing thimagee overnight shift.  If an individual is a negatively-emotional type; going through a break-up; or enduring other life difficulties; then working the midnight hours provide far too much time to think – and over-thinking at 3am rarely results in rays of positive vibes going through the brain.

Additional to this emotional stress (and most likely contributing to it) is that the body of the overnight worker is often in a state of confusion.  Sleeping patterns will be completely thrown about, and basic eating habits do not apply when working such hours.  If you wake at 20:00 to prepare for your night shift, should you have cereal before commencing your work?  Is that breakfast? Is that dinner? Who knows, just put something in my stomach!  And lunch?  That meal period is a mythical concept for a hotel’s night team.

Through food, hotels can demonstrate the sense of value they have towards their overnight team.  Some will provide leftovers from daytime meals – thank you for working such difficult hours, please enjoy food that was served to your colleagues more than half-a-day earlier.  These companies might as well put a leash on their employees and have them drink water out of a bowl.  But there are others who recognize the importance of providing their team with some form of edible incentive, and will have the Room Service Chef prepare meals from the guest menu.  Now we are talking!

As the night shift comes to an end, things can become desperate.  If the morning shift scheduled to take over has a briefing that goes for an excessive amount of time then although the night person will remain at their post, they will seethe at the injustice of their life.  Whilst if their morning replacement ever sleeps in and is late for their shift, then there will be little point trying to pacify the night person because the news that they will need to stay back longer will invariably transform them into a combustible ball of rage.

Attempts to have a ‘normal’ life away from nights means having a perpetual cycle of tiredness.  On a day off your body is still in night mode, but to stay in this realm means sitting at home until 07:00 going slightly crazy over late-night television and social media.  So instead, the night worker will stay up for as long as possible during their day off – venturing out to a café, a cinema, a beach – anywhere that will help them feel like they are part of society, even if it means sitting there in a state of complete exhaustion.

Because of their hours of work, our saints of the night can be easily forgotten.  By the time most of the HR team and managers arrive for work, the night crew has either gone, or are close to being out the door.  So for management, it is up to you to actively, and sincerely recognize your night team.  Let them know on a regular basis how appreciated they are; how valuable their role is; and choose recognition events at times that are engaging for the overnight team – not for HR or management.  For example, hosting a ‘thank you’ morning tea for overnight employees at 10:00 is punishment rather than intended recognition.

Recognise your overnight team not because you have to, but because it is the right thing to do.  Because at 3 o’clock in the morning when you are fast asleep, there is a small unit of your employees who are sacrificing part of themselves to oversee the safety, comfort, and satisfaction of every single guest you have.

A Quiet Word To HR Managers

The relationship between HR professionals and their Learning counterparts is an intriguing one.  The two can share the same office, same hours, and even sing side-by-side at their colleague’s birthday celebrations, but despite this common ground a gap often exists in the relationship that hinders progressive collaboration from taking place.  This gap is rarely as obvious as what sometimes exists between say Front Office and Housekeeping, but excluding the very best HR/Learning environments, it is nonetheless usually there.

When such a gap exists, the consequences are usually greater on the Learning professional as more often than not, they will be the junior person in the relationship.  These consequences will vary, but can include reduced engagement; lower productivity; and limited career growth.  With these such implications, the wider effect is that the hotel will invariably gain less value out of the Learning function.

So what then can a HR Manager do to get the most out of their Learning colleague, and maximize their output for the benefit of the enterprise?

  1. Be Genuinely Interested in Their Work

I have worked with a number of HR professionals who demonstrate the belief that the role of a Learning person is to host orientation programs; run a couple of basic customer service related sessions; and make sure compliance trainings are completed on time.  If that is all a hotel wants from the function, then well, they will retain only average Learning professionals, and drive away any ambitious individual who could have been of greater value.

To expect more from a Learning colleague, and to get more from the individual, then show an interest in what they do.  As simple as it sounds, ask them what they are working on; what challenges they have; what they are most proud of with their work; and where they need guidance.  Go and sit in, and even participate in their sessions – this doesn’t mean every single session, but for 10 minutes every now and then, go there with a view to support, encourage and give feedback.  For particularly less experienced Learning professionals, this can make a significantly positive difference to know that their boss is actually interested in their work.

If you are not knowledgeable on what the Learning function genuinely should be then fill this knowledge gap with the diligence that you would show towards any other part of the HR function – Payroll, Labor Law, Employee Engagement, etc.  Understand the difference between a trainer, presenter, and facilitator (this is important!); research how to develop learning programs; and build up an awareness of different approaches to training – essentially do whatever it takes to make sure that you expect more from a Learning colleague then orientation, basic sessions and compliance.

The added three-pronged bonus of showing more interest in the Learning function is that it will result in you being better equipped to select the right candidates for future Learning positions; allow you to  more effectively hold your Learning employee accountable; and, because you are knowledgeable, will result in you being a manager who your Learning person can approach with confidence when they need guidance.

2. Respect The Learning Function

Connected to the value of showing due interest, is the importance of demonstrating respect for the Learning function.  Sometimes when we indicate a lack of knowledge and/or interest in another person’s work, this can be perceived accurately or inaccurately as a lack of respect.

Relating this to Learning, I once had a HR Manager tell me that they only needed a junior Learning person in their hotel because they could get the F&B Manager to develop learning programs for all staff.   Disturbingly, the nomination of the F&B Manager was a random selection – not because of any specific qualities the individual possessed.

How exactly the F&B Manager was ever going to find the time to do this I never quite worked out, but the observation that essentially anyone else could design Learning programs best served to highlight the individuals’ lack of knowledge, and respect for the Learning function.

If it were suggested that the same F&B Manager look after the payroll or recruitment function for the entire hotel, then the HR Manager would most likely have passed out in horror.  A more balanced approach for this HR Manager to have would be to demonstrate equal respect to all aspects of HR because to develop great Learning programs for an entire hotel takes time; (good luck in getting a manager in operations discovering that) research; and often a good level of innovation.  It is not a function to pass onto to randomly selected individuals.

So respect the Learning function and the value of the role – if you can do this, then getting a more advanced performance out of your Learning colleague will invariably become a more likely result.

3. Challenge & Accountability

If the HRM is not challenging their Learning colleague with suitable targets, and is not holding them accountable for the quality of their work, then their Learning colleague can become overly comfortable in what they are doing, or not doing.

To prevent this, challenge the Learning professional with accountability-based questions such as what are your targets for this week? This month? This year?  What are the learning outcomes that you are working towards? What have you developed this month? Who have you developed this week and how?  How have you contributed to the business this quarter?  What will you try differently with your induction plans and Orientations?  Tell me about a learning program you are developing that doesn’t involve PowerPoint?  What best practices in developing people are you researching right now to improve what we are doing here?  What non-hospitality industries are you looking into to broaden our horizons?

Asking such questions will of course not guarantee results, but if the right person has been selected for the role it will guide them to think more deeply about what they can achieve for the hotel, and what they can do to develop employees.  Without such challenges, if the Learning person lacks sufficient self-motivation, then the likelihood is that they will develop the habit of doing the bare minimum in the Learning function.   Once this happens, then your company’s Learning function risks becoming an after-thought in the businesses’ mindset – an implication that can see many years passing by before the lost ground is regained.

4. Develop Them

For most Learning colleagues to be able to best develop the employees of their hotel, they first will need to see a positive future for themselves with the company. Helping Hand

This is an approach I find to be fundamental to getting the most out of a Learning professional.  If your Learning employee is indeed junior in status to you, then take the obvious responsibility to develop the individual, and make them feel as though they have a career worth pursuing with your company.  If you instead put the Learning person in a corner and show minimal interest in them and their work, then you can hardly be surprised when they (a) do not produce amazing work; (b) display low levels of engagement; and/or (c) move on to a competitor.

So work with them to develop their basic training skills; their presentation style; their facilitation skills; and their program development abilities.  Involve them in HR specific tasks such as interviewing and selection; budgeting; manning levels; discipline discussions – anything that will broaden their knowledge levels; their involvement with the HR team; and indeed, their future career options.

This last point is one that is particularly important, as the number of Learning professionals in hotels that genuinely desire a long-term career purely in Learning is in my experience not a high number.  For most individuals in the field, Learning is a temporary step while they pursue other options – often in HR specific.  If the individual doesn’t feel that they are being developed, then their ability to develop others (i.e. Do their job) is invariably significantly comprised.

5. Work With Them 

Not disregarding the heavy workload of HR Managers, creating the chance to work directly with your Learning colleague can have a terrific impact on the individual, and their future output.

Examples of working directly together can be through collaborating to co-facilitate a learning session; reshaping the orientation program; or even on a HR specific task such as reducing employee turnover. To do such activities once, maybe twice a year will not only allow you to directly observe their capabilities and weaknesses (or ‘development areas’ for those that don’t like the ‘W’ word); but more powerfully, provide stimulus to your Learning employee because it provides them with the opportunity to work directly with a manager who sees them as a colleague worth working with, and not as a distant subordinate placed in a small corner of the HR office.

6. Involve Them

If the set-up of your Department means that HR and Learning are part of the same team, then as basic as it sounds, make the Learning members feel that they are actually part of the entire unit.  Many times I have seen HR Managers conduct briefings and meetings with the HR specific members of the team, whilst the Learning person/people sit outside the briefing room.  Now occasionally there might be a legitimate reason for doing this, but when it happens regularly, the HR Manager is unwittingly (I hope) communicating to the Learning person that ‘you are not part of the team.’

The very best HR leader I have worked with was outstanding at creating an environment where HR and Learning were together not just in the sense of sharing in a physical space, but in having a collective mindset.  Results, forecasts, achievements, challenges, and social activities were consistently shared between the entire team, which contributed to a sense of being in this together.

If a HR manager can create this sense of involvement rather than one of separation then having a Learning employee working cohesively with their HR counterparts becomes much more likely to eventuate.

The advice I have provided here implies that it is purely the role of the HR Manager to build the gap between HR and Learning.  It is clearly not.  It is a two-way relationship that the Learning professional must contribute equally to.  But if you, as a HR Manager are the leader of the Department, it will almost always be up to you to take the lead to get the most out of the Learning function. Neglect this leadership role, and the learning function in your hotel risks becoming a token gesture only.

What RUN DMC vs Jason Nevin Taught Me About The Individual’s Responsibility To Learn

In their 1997 classic remix song ‘It’s Like That,’ Run DMC vs Jason Nevin beat out a line of ‘the next time someone’s teaching why don’t you get taught.’

I think of this line pretty much every single week as I observe individuals apply their different approaches to learning. For all the considerable (and warranted) focus on the strategies and techniques of learning professionals, what about the role and responsibilities of the individual professional, or student for that matter, to actually learn when they have the opportunity to do just that…?

I am intrigued and at times exasperated at the passive approaches people often take to learning.   There appears to be an increasingly sit-back methodology to learning whereby people take zero notes; ask few questions; and fail to contribute to what could be challenging and worthwhile discussions.  When all three habits take place, individuals, and even entire organizations are most likely on a slow-track to mediocrity when it comes to self-development.

Often these same individuals will come to me weeks or months later complaining that they have learnt nothing in their job or from their studies.  Are they perhaps expecting someone to crack open their head, and spoon-feed some mystical learning into their brain?

This passive approach to learning is further compounded by the increasing habit of learners to be distracted by social media, and their phones.  The fleeting to prolonged glance down to check emails; messages; or their social media sacrifices their own learning, no matter how much people proclaim their ability to multi-task.  This action is worse when coming from senior people, for it creates a negative example for junior staff to follow, and risks providing the impression that the learning activity warrants token attention only.

So learners it’s time to step up and play your part with five fundamentals to increase what you gain from a learning activity.

  1. Be Purposeful – Before going into a learning activity, set yourself up with a learning purpose. Ask yourself what you would like to learn from the activity – about yourself; the topic; the facilitator; your colleagues – anything.   Having a purpose assists in developing an intent to learn, and can then assist you in being more active in the learning as you now head towards a specific target.
  2. Be Prepared – Walk into any learning session with a pen and notebook. They might be old-school, but their combined relevance remains true.  Obviously they allow for the taking of notes that then enhance (if reviewed later) the consolidation of knowledge.  But also, by striding into a learning activity with pen and notebook also sends a message of intent to your colleagues and to the facilitator that you have come to learn something.  Some will take notes on their phones or other devices, but if you lack the discipline to not be distracted by emails and social media then stick with the pen and paper.
  3. Be Vocally Curious – Ask Questions. Damn it ask questions. Questions assisting in holding facilitator accountable; draw out sometimes bonus information; and open doors to knowledge that silence otherwise will keep closed.
  4. Be a Contributor – Group discussions with peers remain one of the most powerful forums to learn in. So contribute to discussions when the opportunity arises, and if you have an opinion, or an experience that is relevant to the topic, then speak up.  Doing this not only hones communication skills, but contributes to the learning of others, who perhaps had not considered the perspective that you offer up.
  5. Drop Your Inhibitions – Inhibitions in a learner do much to prevent active learning from taking place, and in many cases it is the fear of the opinions of peers that create negative questions in the mind of the individual.

If I am the only one taking notes, what will people think?  What if I make a comment and it is ‘wrong’ or people disagree with me?  What if I ask a question and everyone else knows the answer to it? If I sit at the front will I be targeted by the facilitator for participation?  Will people think I am a ‘nerd?’

This concern of sitting towards the front stems back to our junior schooling days where the general perception is that the ‘cool kids’ sit at the back, and as we evolve (hopefully) into adults, for some individuals this concern of where they are sitting remains a higher priority than actually learning

Such thoughts and questions can paralyze individuals from participating.  I have seen individuals walk in with a note book and pen, and see them want to write, but look around, observe nobody else is writing, and put their pen back down.

It certainly is not easy to remove such inhibitions, but having the grit to push through when such questions enter your mind, can result in a significant step to enhancing your own learning, and of those around you.

And a final note to managers.  if you are a manager then your responsibilities to the learning environment, and the culture of learning are even more pronounced.  Put your technology away and give your full focus to the learning activity in front of you.  If you are unable to do this then your half-dedication is likely to do more harm than good; if the trainer is of high quality then fantastic, you can learn much. But if the trainer is not brilliant, which will often happen, then your role as a senior figure is even more important – the questions you can ask to draw out information, and the insights you offer to guide discussion can increase the value of any session, and allow others to walk away from the session having learnt more then what otherwise would have occurred.

Run DMC vs Jason Nevin.  They might now be the most obvious of educators, but their words from all those years ago ring true.  Whatever the learning activity is that you are taking part in, professional, educational, or personal, it’s up to you to make sure that you are actually putting yourself in a position where you can indeed get taught…

 

Learning & The Reverse Gear

‘We learn each day.’

I hear such a sentiment frequently, and confess the need to fight my desire to squirm whenever it is said to me.  Often the people saying this to me will contradict this statement through performance and actions which instead indicate that they stopped learning and developing a long time ago.  For me, if the mind of an individual is closed; distracted; or just not aware; then even the best learning and training experiences can be wasted.  When this happens, the best case scenario is the individual will stay static with their learning.  And in the world of learning, if you are static, you might as well be in reverse gear.

So why me as another blogger? And why focus on the field of Learning?

Well I am fortunate enough to have found and established a career in the hospitality field that I am passionate about.  This career has taken me across the world, and provided me with opportunities to study formally and informally the field of Learning.  Through these opportunities my interest in Learning, especially in professional workplaces, has been sparked,  and equipped me with the skills and knowledge to be able to comment on the topic with some level of awareness.

Encouraging learning; observing learning; observing resistance to learning – even the failure to learn; it all intrigues me.  What creates effective and suitable challenging learning environments and relationships, and what works against learning from actually taking place?

What about Learning/Training professionals?  What are their responsibilities to themselves, their own development, and of course their audience?

From a corporate level, what separates the small number of companies that embrace a culture of Learning, from the standard variety that outwardly preach the importance of Learning, but in reality place it far down the list of priorities, and fail to genuinely understand the concept of Learning?

And what of the individual learner themselves?  What are their responsibilities; their habits; and what makes their differences such a tremendous challenge (and opportunity) for Learning professionals to overcome?

So I am looking forward to expressing my thoughts on these many questions, and more, and hopefully contributing to public thought on what to me, is a fascinating, and globally relevant topic.