Launchpad for Success: The Heightened Priority of Effective Onboarding and Training for New Associates

Newly hired on-property staff, from the general manager to front-line employees, will be directly responsible for the guest experience, and laying the foundation for their performance—as well as their retention—begins on day one of the onboarding phase. While this phase and subsequent training sessions have always been key, the ongoing labor shortage in the hospitality industry calls for an even stronger emphasis on this area. Onboarding/training that is inefficient or does not create immediate engagement with the company can lead to recent hires soon looking for other opportunities, which are not hard to come by in the current hospitality labor market. So, the hotelier must ensure that initial experiences for employees in all roles are fruitful, motivating, and promising from a career perspective. “Whether they’re an industry veteran or starting their first job in a hotel, we want to make sure that they are prepared with the core customer service and technical job skills as well as provide them with opportunities for lifelong learning,” said Jennifer Rinck, vice president, global learning, Hilton.

Targeted Training

Although these general goals apply to all new hires, the onboarding/training process itself must be as targeted to each associate as possible to maximize success. Calvin Banks, senior vice president of people development and culture, Pyramid Global Hospitality, explained that the company deploys a “Mosaic” approach, which is “defined by creating ‘non-one size fits all’ options for onboarding and training,” beginning on the first day with choices in training medium that include instructor-led, online, and blended. “Understanding the correlation between immediate orientation and 90-day retention, we have created multiple mediums for our new associates to experience onboarding,” Banks said. “Beginning with our traditional instructor-led program, new associates are in a classroom together learning about the organization and their location. We also offer online orientation where associates self-navigate the onboarding and orientation experience. Additionally, some locations take a blended approach where orientation and onboarding happen both in person and online. The ultimate goal is for orientation to happen on day one.”

Toward a personalized approach, it’s also important to understand the particular challenges that associates can face in respect of their position or cultural background. For example, front desk/guest service agents often require the most time-intensive training, Banks observed. “These individuals need to know how to function in just about every system. They need to know who to call for every problem/opportunity and often need to step outside of their role to assist in other areas.” On the cultural side, language barriers can also be a challenge when onboarding and training new associates. “We work hard to combat these [barriers] by having a diverse group of certified trainers who participate and often lead the training experience,” said Banks. “We actively translate content into widely utilized languages. And when necessary, we bring in translators to assist in the onboarding and training process.”

The First Impression

Orientation, the first phase of onboarding, is where new associates should receive an “eagle’s eye” view of the organization, its vision and mission, and their role in it. At Hilton, orientation is “full of inspirational and engaging learning experiences designed to ground team members in our founding purpose, promote pride in our award-winning culture, and create excitement around our company, our brands, our hotels, and in each other,” Rinck explained. As an introduction to the company, orientation should ideally be attended by as many relevant leaders as possible so that relationships can be cultivated. “We believe it’s important that our newest team members can learn from our leaders, so we encourage our executive team, including our hotel general managers, to take part in the new hire orientation process and in teambuilding opportunities to keep building those relationships,” she added.


At Pyramid, property executives participate in the onboarding of all new property associates, while “all our C-Suite executives participate in the onboarding of our Key Property Executives including general managers, director of human resources, director of sales and marketing, and director of finance,” said Banks. “They provide a look into the organization from a 30,000-foot view, communicate the resources available and how to access them, and most importantly, demonstrate the culture that is living and breathing.”

Tailoring the Process to GMs

More than any other associate, the GM is the “face” of the property, and so many hoteliers take special measures to ensure new GMs are smoothly integrated into the hotel’s operations and aligned with the company’s mission. “We offer a specific General Manager Orientation, a bespoke program designed for newly starting or transferring general managers featuring a blended learning experience with asynchronous and cohort learning,” Rinck said. “The program exposes them to Hilton’s ecosystem, enterprise tools, and resources they need to succeed in their roles.”

While experienced GMs have been through these sessions before with other companies, it’s still a good idea to lay out the process for them so they know exactly what to expect. “We create a customizable onboarding template/outline for all positions, especially general managers,” said Banks. “We often promote or hire leaders in these key roles believing they know what they need to know. An onboarding template/outline ensures a consistent yet customized onboarding experience.” He added that regularly checking in with the new GM is also a best practice. “Whether it is weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly, having a regular check-in cadence allows for the senior leader to have a pulse on the onboarding and training experience.”

Mentors and Buddies

Pyramid also assigns a “buddy” to each new GM—“a GM counterpart who can assist in showing the new leader ‘the ropes,’” said Banks. “This individual helps accelerate a sense of belonging for the new leader.” In general, “whether it is a certified trainer, buddy, mentor, or all three, having someone assigned to the new associate or leader provides an accelerated path to cultural immersion, productivity, and belonging, while increasing retention.” Selecting the right person for that role is a key “hiring” challenge in and of itself, Banks added, quoting customer experience consultant and former Disney executive Dennis Snow: “The most important job we have is hiring the right people; the second most important job we have is selecting the right person to train them.”

Hilton utilizes the buddy system along with robust mentoring programs where “rising hotel and corporate leaders are given the opportunity to formally match with and learn from senior leaders from across the business,” Rinck explained. “Additionally, every member of our executive committee commits annually to mentoring rising leaders from across the organization.”

Tech-Enabled Training

Thanks to technology, new hotel associates have a broad variety of learning modalities as well as learning management systems where they can access training in a guided and convenient way. “Our learners can sign on to Mosaic Learning Center, Pyramid Global Hospitality’s branded learning management platform, where they are automatically assigned content to be completed. The content is delivered consistently to all learners,” said Banks. Regarding modalities, “video chat has allowed us to create in-person virtual classrooms to deliver orientation,” he added.

Hilton shares that commitment to catering to individual learning styles through technology, for example, in terms of virtual vs. in-person onboarding. “We want to meet them where they are on their learning and leadership journey and are working to offer a variety of ways to make the onboarding experience as accessible as possible,” said Rinck. “Most of Hilton’s learning programs offer a mix of channels to learn, including mobile, e-learning, and in-person classroom learning. This multi-modal approach creates a consistent experience for those team members, whether they’re onboarding individually or with other team members.”

And like nearly all areas of hotel operations, AI is also supporting onboarding and training, including overcoming language barriers during the process. “Open AI platforms have provided us with instant material translation, and apps such as Apple’s Translate have provided an avenue to immediately communicate with non-native language speakers,” said Banks. Even more impressively, AI can assist coaches themselves, one example being the services of BetterUp. “Through our partnership with BetterUp, a virtual coaching platform, we’re able to provide generative AI-powered one-on-one virtual coaching services to corporate and hotel leaders within Hilton’s owned and managed portfolio,” said Rinck.

With effective onboarding and training more crucial than ever in promoting employee retention, hoteliers do well to capitalize on these technologies to enhance their longstanding practices.

The Long View: Growth Opportunities for New Employees Beyond the Initial Training

Naturally, the focus during employees’ first few weeks is on giving them all the tools for success in their new role. But concurrently, it’s important to make them aware of the professional growth and learning opportunities the company offers. This practice lets them know that they’re coming on board for a career path, not just a particular job, and that personal development resources are not limited to training for their new position.

“Our overall philosophy for training and people development is to offer access to growth for all associates,” said Calvin Banks, senior vice president of people development and culture, Pyramid Global Hospitality. “All Pyramid associates at minimum have access to over four thousand courses to promote their personal growth and development. We have also evolved our tuition reimbursement policy to remove degree plan restrictions and have partnered with continuing education organizations and universities to offer affordable access to GEDs, certifications, and degrees.”

One of the company’s newest offerings is the Virtual Train the Trainer Certification program, which certifies frontline team members as trainers. “These trainers then train new associates as well as provide additional/follow-up training for current associates,” Banks explained. “Having someone in the role of the new associate who is certified to train has created an accelerated path to productivity for the new team member, which in turn creates confidence and a sense of belonging, thus increasing retention.”

Jennifer Rinck, vice president, global learning, Hilton, said new associates are advised about the company’s continuing education opportunities. “In 2022, we were proud to be the first in the hospitality industry to offer access to debt-free educational opportunities to all U.S.-based full- and part-time team members at our owned and managed, customer care and corporate offices through a partnership with Guild, a continuing education platform providing tuition-free education and skilling,” she said. “Beginning on day one of employment, team members have access to Guild’s platform of educational offerings.”

In addition, new Hilton GMs benefit from their own professional development resource. “In 2020, we heard from our community of GMs that there was a need for accessible, dedicated content targeting the needs of this unique role,” Rinck said. “In partnership with our General Manager Advisory Board, our Global Leadership Development team created ‘GM Academy,’ which is designed to continue the development journeys of our general managers at our managed properties around the globe.” GS

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George Seli is the editor of LODGING.