Industry NewsManifesting Destiny: The Indigo Road's Program to Bring Team Members to the...

Manifesting Destiny: The Indigo Road’s Program to Bring Team Members to the Next Level

Nearly every hospitality leader mentions a special quality sought in prospective team members, one that’s generally universal within their own ranks. Yet, as Jennifer Krapp, director of operations at Indigo Road Hospitality Group (IRHG), told LODGING, developing those with the potential to find success and fulfillment in her organization can require an investment. She noted her company is proud to make that investment through a program that rewards—and encourages—a select group of food and beverage employees “with the desire and ability to rise to the next level in our company.”

As Krapp put it, “It seemed that many of our team members with the heart for our industry just didn’t know how to get to the next level. Through this program, we hoped to develop people who want to pursue a life in this industry, not just with skills, but with confidence and a desire to develop as human beings and to grow within our company.”

That was the thinking behind The Indigo Road Hospitality University (IRHU) event, the first of which was held in August. What sets this program apart from traditional training, said Krapp, was its approach to developing the all-important “soft skills” of hospitality, basically by turning the tables on the diverse group of nine team members who survived the selection process. “What we wanted to do was create a special moment in time to make them feel seen, heard, safe, special,” she explained.

Krapp said the three-day program sought to treat these promising employees—all who’d been with the company for at least a year during which they were promoted at least once—as the valued talent they were: “We literally curated every single moment of the experience based on what they needed and what they wanted. We wanted them to walk away with a renewed sense of destiny about finding the industry and a determination to do whatever it takes to succeed in it.”

The selection process began with nominations from general managers and/or executive chefs of properties and senior leaders of team members who met this criteria: “They have shown a desire to grow with us, have the heart for hospitality, and are ready to learn.” Eligible employees could be from all levels, except senior management.

Of the 35 nominated, 20 were sent questionnaires, and nine were chosen based on their responses. “In the questionnaire, we asked them to be very specific about what it is that they were looking for in life, in their career in the coming couple of years, and what they would like to learn if offered the opportunity,” Krapp maintained. The questionnaire also sought information about hobbies, favorite foods, and their idea of a special time—information used to curate their activities.

Krapp said many of the activities were meant to “surprise and delight” attendees: They were given a tour of Charleston in Mercedes van, served their favorite Starbucks coffee (as per the questionnaire), took a boat ride with company founder Steve Palmer, and even had an intimate dining experience at their Airbnb where they were shown what Krapp described as “true servant leadership:” “Steve, the head of financial operations, the head of HR, and I were the servers and bartender during their dinner, and the culinary directors of our company cooked their dinner. It was an unforgettable moment where they had a chance to see our desire to care for them in action.”

The “curriculum” included training geared to their specific interests—eg, an attendee interested in events was paired with the head of events—as well classes that pertained to all including one on “how to have better conversations and how to handle uncomfortable conversations with people.”

In addition to skill-based learning, there were also activities focused on physical health, personal growth, and mindfulness. Among them, one that surprised but did not delight everyone was the “cold plunge.” However, nearly all regarded that unpleasant surprise as impactful, said Krapp. “It was something difficult that they didn’t want to do, but being put in an uncomfortable position changed their mindset.”

Krapp said there’s no question that the program was a hit and plans are already being made for the future. “There were comments such as ‘I felt seen, I felt heard, I felt like I was special and that means a lot because I don’t get that very often.’”

Krapp said she herself was changed by the experience: “I feel an immense gratitude that we had the opportunity to create that experience for them and watch them grow right before our eyes. In doing for them what we’re asking them to do for guests, we were planting a seed, so they could spread what they learned about caring for others. It really does come down to hospitality.”