AETHOS Talks Talent – The Human Factor

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By Georgianne Fsadni, Director at AETHOS Consulting Group

AETHOS frequently advises clients on the considerable nuances involved in finding and developing talent. Recently, much has been published about today's sourcing and hiring processes, which seem to have become dramatically "technologized" for efficiency. However, speedy and transactional processes do not automatically equal quality outcomes. Until AI (artificial intelligence) can accurately and consistently mimic or perfect what human interaction can discern, technology can only assist in the match-making. The ultimate decision takes a bit more finesse. Let's revisit the basic challenges hiring managers continually face, and then consider our thoughts on how to best tackle each.

Challenge 1:
When looking to fill a specific role, how can you ensure a candidate is the right fit for your organization?

"The recipe for fit is simple in principle but tough for pressured hiring managers to put into practice – 50% technical skills and 50% cultural compatibility." An organization must fully understand the context of the specific role and what will drive the role's success. Although they may have an idea of who the perfect candidate is, the culture of the organization or the leadership style of the senior report may necessitate a different type of candidate. For example, the job description for a VP of Sales and Marketing for a small hotel management company with a new brand may describe an individual who can work in an autonomous environment, make quick decisions and not require hand-holding. The CEO or COO may think that s/he wants that type of individual but, in reality, s/he is more of a micromanager and wants an individual who will be able to balance this work style.

Taking the time to understand all the positions with which the role will interact up and down the organizational chart, what types of people are holding those existing positions, what were the successes and failures of the predecessor, and what measures will define the success of the role is paramount for finding the right "fit."

It is best to be as prepared as possible—examine all aspects of the role so that you are targeting the appropriate talent pool. Regardless of the role, it is important to understand 1) the culture of your organization, 2) the leadership style of the senior reports, 3) the strength and weaknesses of the bench, 4) the technical requirements of the role and 5) the success measures for the role.

Challenge 2: How much thought should go into a candidate's potential rather than existing skills?

"The best performing organizations always hire for tomorrow and not just today."
We advise our clients to consider potential, in addition to the present skill set; however, it is a trait that should be assessed carefully. An example of this would be in the case of hiring a VP of Operations for a brand company on a strong growth path. There may be excellent, however potentially pricey, candidates who have done this exact role for other companies. They may be able to jump in and be effective immediately. They may also be less nimble and flexible to adapt to the culture of the new organization if they are coming from a very structured background. Talent could also be approached from the regional or cluster general management bucket – plucking candidates from this pool could be quite rewarding. Finding someone who demonstrates strong potential with a balance of the right competencies – knowledge of how to run multiple properties, exposure to standard operating procedures, nimble and flexible, motivational yet hands-on, tactical yet strategic – can produce a candidate who can truly make their mark and take the organization to the next level.

Hiring for potential can happen at all levels of regional management and the C-Suite. Can a VP of Asset Management move into a development role or an operations role? Can someone with no hospitality experience step into a hospitality role? This happens quite a bit now, particularly in branding and digital marketing positions. We also see this at the CEO level – a great number of CEOs in our industry are from other industries – never worked a day in a hotel. The Boards are clearly hiring them based on their functional skill – ability to trail blaze, manage disruption, and move the organization in a different direction.

Challenge 3: Once a new employee is in place, how can you help that person develop her career and contribute in a meaningful way?

"Communicating clear expectations for the role and encouraging the new hire to think and act like a business owner is a permission slip for high performance."
We encourage companies to take very seriously the onboarding and professional development of their new employees. Often new hires leave due to a lack of alignment from the induction phase, resulting in a huge cost to the employer. It is important that communication from the get-go is clear – that the job description is as finely tuned as necessary, the performance metrics are agreed upon, the appropriate tools and authority are provided, and a schedule for performance reviews is created. On an on-going basis, particularly in that first year, regular meetings on performance development should be held. This can be accompanied with standardized testing to ensure appropriate competencies and action plans are discussed. Moreover, employee engagement or opinion surveys are an underutilized tool to understand spoken and unspoken cultural factors of an organization that affect both compatibility with candidates and the needs of the onboarding process.

Challenge 4: How do you build and keep a team that drives innovation?

"Actively building a team with both high curiosity and intellectual diversity, and allowing them the fun and freedom to fail, will drive both innovation and engagement." The theme of "innovation" is one that is becoming a focus in our industry. With 115 brands offered by the top ten hospitality chains, how does the hotel industry differentiate one brand from the other? Is the brand unique in the physical structure, design, technology, clever marketing, bespoke food and beverage options, unique amenities or service? Wherever you chose to differentiate, the ideas start with your people.

Creating innovation within your organization requires humility and self-awareness at the leadership level. Whether it is at the C-Suite level or at the property level, how do you balance and incorporate for the skills that you or executive team may not have? If everyone is a creative visionary and no one has a financial pragmatic side, the results may not be so kind.

To encourage innovation, you must create an environment that supports creative thinking – allow team members to think out of the box, have fun, test ideas – without detrimental recourse. Performance metrics must be aligned, as well, to continue to have engagement from your team. Give them the wiggle room and ability to flex their minds, and reward them accordingly.

When hiring new team members, you must assess for curiosity and intellectual diversity. You can also hire based on previous creative accomplishments – for example, a VP Food and Beverage who has a track record of developing interesting culinary concepts. However, by asking the right questions through behavioral interviewing and standardized testing, you can uncover creative tendencies where it might not be plainly visible.

Challenge 5: What advice do you have for hoteliers looking to build an innovative team?

"Invest in the people and tools necessary to assess for talent and then properly resource that talent."
As discussed, it all starts at the top – with the ability to fully understand capability. The first step is to take a step back. Conduct a critical review of your bench as it relates to your strategic plan. What have your successes been? Where are your challenges? Where do you want to see innovation?

Look at the people you have in both the successful and unsuccessful parts of your organization. Get an in-depth understanding of their weaknesses, capabilities and potential. Then you can determine if the innovation capability is present, but potentially misaligned. Depending on where these gaps in innovative performance are, take very measured steps to get organizational alignment – restructure, train, redefine performance metrics and fill the gaps as necessary with new talent.

Let us know on Twitter if these perspectives resonate with you and what other approaches or solutions have worked successfully in your organization. What the industry needs more than ever is the sharing of best practices and the encouragement to hire talent that is intellectually curious and willing to change the status quo.

Georgianne Fsadni, Director at AETHOS Consulting Group

Georgi’s 30 year career has taken her from New York to the Middle East and, more recently, to the Asia Pacific region. Her global hospitality experience includes hotel and restaurant management; strategic, financial, marketing and operations advisory; asset management; and principal investment and private equity. The breadth and diversity of her business acumen spans from corporate governance working with and on boards to strategic planning for family-owned business and not-for-profit organizations.

A common thread throughout Georgi’s career in the hospitality industry has been her passion for training, coaching, teaching, corporate ethics and sustainability. As a world traveler, avid reader and well-connected hotelier, she continues to stay on top of the trends and best practices that drive the hospitality industry at all levels.

A graduate of Cornell University’s School of Hotel Administration, she also holds an MBA from Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management. She has authored several hospitality-related articles, been quoted in trade publications, taught hospitality courses and guest lectured at New York University, Columbia University, and the Cornell-Nanyang Institute of Hospitality Management, and spoken at several real estate and hotel conferences.

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