All Aboard: Expert Advice on Taking a Personalized Approach to Employee Onboarding, Training, and Retention

Carver

Joel Carver, who is founder and CEO of the hospitality-facing human capital organization The Carver Companies, is also co-author, with Mary Weber, of the book The People Effect, Find, Grown, and Retain The Best of the Best, in which the authors claim, “Hotel operators must treat their teams like the great assets they are to the company—not like commodities.” It was that point he stressed while sharing his thoughts with LODGING about the importance of employee onboarding, training, and, most of all, retention to set up hotels and their team members for success.

Commenting on the latest labor woes the hotel industry is facing, Carver says, “In the last 24 months, we first saw layoffs, then a reluctance of employees to return to work, and now what’s being called ‘the great resignation.’ While there’s always been high turnover in the industry, it wasn’t a significant problem when demand for jobs was high. That’s not the case now.”

He says to achieve the goal of creating and growing a team that can meet the ever-changing demands of expectations of both guests and owners—especially in a tight labor market—hotel employers need to make a commitment to giving employees the information and support they need to adjust and succeed right from the start. “Instead of throwing new employees to the wolves, we need to make a greater effort to help them succeed,” he says.

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Onboarding

This, says Carver, starts with a conscientious approach to onboarding new employees so they are less likely to become a turnover statistic. “The onboarding piece is hugely important now. Too often, new hotel employees come in and don’t clearly understand what they’re walking into.” Carver observes that with high demand for their services, prospective and new employees have more leverage when it comes to getting their own needs met. “Employers have always had high expectations of employees; new team members now have their own expectations of us.”

To meet those expectations, he says, employers need to be prepared. “I know one of the greatest frustrations for a new team member is not knowing where to go or what to do when they first arrive. For example, if they need a laptop, is it there and ready to go? What about passwords and access? Is their training and their orientation scheduled and ready to go? For these reasons, everything should be spelled out on day one. Nothing should be assumed.”

Carver says when an employee accepts a position only to quit within a short period of time, it begs these questions: “Did we do a good job of onboarding them? Did we make them feel welcome?”

Training

Carver considers training as an ongoing process that continues long after the initial designated program, as employees flex along with their hotel to meet changing demands and, ideally, their own career growth goals. However, Carver describes his preferred approach to that new-hire training process, which, depending on the position, can last anywhere from two to four weeks.

“The only thing that I always have found works very well is to mix it up; don’t just park them at a computer with videos and modules, which give them a great foundation but can become boring really fast.” Because new employees need hands-on experience and the chance to apply what they’re learning, Carver recommends rotating module training, human interaction training, and hands-on training. He notes, too, that there needs to also be some level of testing, which gauges learning and assesses how well the trainer did their job.

Then, he says, there is retraining. “Providing support really does come down to training and retraining when things change, as during the pandemic, when along with new cleaning and social distancing protocols, many hotels began providing limited housekeeping. Now, as this reverts back to daily housekeeping, we need to retrain our team members appropriately.” Observing that things will continue to change, he says ongoing training is essential. “Hotels must be able to provide the services guests expect—regardless of what the expectation is.”

Retention

And, last, is what Carver says he would actually place first. “If I had to prioritize, retention would be number one, and then firing, onboarding, and training would be number two. He says it’s a mistake to take employees who have stayed over the years—especially during the pandemic—for granted.

In his opinion, meeting staffing needs comes down to meeting team member needs. “We may think it’s all we can do to keep up with the demands of our jobs, but if we can’t maintain the staffing level we need, we need to make changes.”

Carver recognizes that it may be difficult to incorporate yet another “demand,” but says, “We need to show our employees just how much we value them. We need to respond to their feedback, just as we do to that of guests.”

He urges hotels to take seriously feedback from hotel employees, whose expectations include that hiring employers make a good impression on them, that they are onboarded correctly and understand exactly what’s expected of them, and that they are trained completely before they are turned loose to do the job.

Carver’s own additional suggestions—getting back to pairing new employees with a mentor to guide them and making employees feel valued with expressions of thanks—all come down to the personalized approach he favors in all matters related to human capital. “The bottom line is that it’s really all about a personalized onboarding and training experience. For those who think they don’t have time to do this, I would say they don’t have time not to do it.”

Training Tricks

Joel Carver, The Carver Companies’ founder and CEO, says a way to take some of the stress—and the guesswork—out of employee training is to have at the ready a written onboarding document detailing exactly what they need to do. “Every new person should have a sort of roadmap for those first days. They shouldn’t be just sitting around, wondering. On day one, this might read: ‘First go to HR to finalize new-hire paperwork and get set up with equipment, passwords, etc.”

Carver also recommends developing a mini-training manual of perhaps five to 10 pages for every position. “This tells them the things they need to be aware of that aren’t necessarily in the general employee manual—what they need to do to start off on the right foot in their new job. I know my own organization works at a frantic pace, and new employees who aren’t prepared for that can struggle,” he says, adding, “Even the most seasoned professional needs to learn how to function in the new world they are entering.”

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