Successfully Recruiting Hotel Executives in the 21st Century
By Andrew Hazelton, Managing Director at AETHOS Consulting Group and Matt Peterson, Managing Director at AETHOS Consulting Group
Extreme competitiveness in today's business world demands that hotel companies consistently outthink and outpace companies within and outside their immediate hospitality verticals. Such competitors include cruise lines, home-sharing, and other luxury or niche experiences like "glamping," all of which constantly strive to dominate market share.
There are always inherent risks with hiring new executives — such as steep learning curves or hiccups in acclimating to new company cultures - so it's imperative to understand why you are venturing "outside" a sector to acquire talent. Remembering the "why" throughout the entire search process allows everyone to maintain focus on the core objectives.
For example, a luxury hotel company that intends to tackle a major branding initiative could consider hiring an innovative Chief Marketing Officer from the cruise industry to infuse new ideas into their organization. A boutique hotel group may want to focus more on the customer experience and therefore look at hiring a forward-thinking VP of Experience from a home-sharing company. Ultimately, a company needs to define the "where, what, and how" to successfully achieve its functional objectives. On this point, we recommend establishing clarity of purpose and need across three critical areas when recruiting leadership talent: FIT, Transferability, and Onboarding.
The path of least resistance that ideally yields the best results is keeping the talent pipeline within the umbrella of hospitality-related industries before expanding the search beyond this universe. There are clear differences among executives within specific verticals of hospitality, but the trademark for success is reasonably consistent, i.e., an ability to deliver high-quality services and products in a highly customer-centric environment. Thus, the cruise, gaming, and restaurant industries are all viable options for potential talent for the hotel industry. But, taking it a step further, recruitment efforts can also include parallel industries to hospitality. Particularly, there's no reason not to consider candidates within the retail segment since they typically have a similar focus and passion toward customer service, as well as a drive for quality. In fact, some brands like Apple and Mercedes-Benz often set the standards for service standards and quality for any type of business.
Many skill sets are deemed critical and "transferable" across segments. Notable examples include functions like marketing, sales, finance, IT, supply chain, and human resources. For instance, regardless of industry, a Chief Financial Officer must possess robust problem-solving skills and strong integrity. In contrast, an SVP of Human Resources should exhibit creativity, service orientation, and strong leadership skills as a strategic business partner at the enterprise level.
Most recently, we have encouraged our hotel clients to look specifically at certain segments for specific roles. Casino-gaming businesses have some of the savviest marketing and revenue management minds to be had, which makes intuitive sense given that these businesses arguably constitute the most "data-driven" segment of the hospitality industry. Therefore, marketing and revenue management industries tend to be cutting edge. Additionally, HR executives from the cruise industry are well versed in complex administrative and tactical logistics, international labor laws, and dynamic company cultures. As such, they are well positioned to be strong value-adds to any global hotel team.
However, not every vertical is a match. For example, the hotel business is an around-the-clock industry with multiple service lines. This could prove to be a difficult adjustment for an Operations Executive who comes from a narrower business model, such as the hours of retail stores.
The recruitment process doesn't end when an offer letter is accepted. Indeed, a company's onboarding program is crucial for helping new hires succeed in their roles and the workplace dynamics. Lack of technical competency usually isn't the primary reason why newly hired executives fail or drop out - in this respect, the main issue tends to be a lack of cultural fit.
Accordingly, onboarding supports new hires with the necessary knowledge and expectations to assimilate into a new culture. To be most effective, the onboarding period should include setting very clear short- and long-term expectations, as well as provide ongoing feedback to new executives so they can properly calibrate. It is also essential that full transparency is offered during all disclosures and interactions with new leaders. Knowledge of key "company-wide" issues helps these leaders to navigate the new company. Organizations invest considerable time to recruit new leaders in an intentional manner. Onboarding those new leaders should adopt a similar approach, especially when they are outsiders to the sector or the wider industry.
The bottom line is that any new addition to your executive team is a mission-critical decision that should advance the business with a strong ROI. In some respects, hiring affects the entire company and potentially alters the voice or tone of the company culture or even brand. Bringing in talent from the outside can introduce profitable new perspectives and experiences and result in extremely positive outcomes. The key is to identify the needed skill set, know where to look for those competencies, and subsequently ensure there is a systematic onboarding process to set up new leaders for success. And finally, don't regard FIT, Transferability, and onboarding as independent issues or actions. These are three, proven focus areas that work best in tandem — much like three legs of a tripod that set a stable and enduring foundation.
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