Are You Valuing Your 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…


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.