'Lodging Hospitality' Magazine Expotel Vice Presidents Seven Steps to Better Employee Communications

While hotel owners and operators universally agree that employees are their most important assets, few know how to communicate with them, let alone inspire and motivate them to better serve guests. Expotel Hospitality is a New Orleans-based eight-property management company that both appreciates its nearly 700 associates and has a detailed and effective plan to communicate with them on a regular basis.

The company's top management, including Executive Vice President Operations Mark Ku-cera and Vice President Marketing/Sales & E-Commerce Jeff Iavarone, recently conducted one of its regular employee meetings at its Embassy Suites North property in Phoenix. The fast-paced, two-hour-plus session is a good lesson for any hotel company — be it an international chain with thousands of properties or a Mom-and-Pop operation with one hotel — on how to engage with employees in a format that's informative, entertaining, inclusive and fun.

“We've never questioned the return on investment of these meetings since the tangible ROI is reflected in the meetings, but the intangible benefits are evident in the employee feedback we receive,” says Iavarone.

The meetings are nearly equal-parts revival, teambuilding, information sharing and motivational session. Kucera and Iavarone, who switch back and forth as meeting leaders, exude sincere passion about their company and its employees.

Expotel's approach provides seven keys for better employee communications:

Engage them often

The Expotel team tries to hold team meetings twice a year at each of its hotels. All hourly and management employees at the hotel are invited to attend each meeting. The events typically draw 90 percent or more of a hotel's team, including some who return to the property on their day off. A few brought their children to the event in Phoenix. Iavarone says they rely on the associates present to “spread the word and convey our message to those who are unable to attend.”

Be open and honest

The executives give the associates a simplistic yet comprehensive overview of the hotel's finances, including a detailed look at revenues and expenses year to date as compared to budget and the previous year's performance.

“Mark uses a ‘checkbook’ example to effectively equate what it takes to operate the hotel, and how much of our top line runs to our bottom line,” says Iavarone. “It's really just an overview but a very educational eye opener for this audience. We try to limit it to an overview/summary approach, as our goal is not to overwhelm the associates. Each associate manages their own personal checkbook, so the objective is to show them the hotel has the same challenges they do.”

Share the news — the good and not so good

In Phoenix, as at each property, Kucera and Iavarone shared with employees several property-performance, quality and service measurements to show them how the Embassy Suites compares to other hotels in its market, brand and within the company.

Using Star Report data from Smith Travel Research, the executives showed how the property is outperforming hotels in its competitive set in the key measurements of occupancy, rate and RevPAR. “This hotel is experiencing rising market share in a declining market,” Kucera told the associates. “You all have as much ownership of this success as does the sales staff.”

The executives share data with employees at all their hotels, even the ones not performing as well as the Phoenix Embassy. In addition, when visiting those hotels, the executives spend time with individual department heads to discuss challenges and to seek solutions.

“After concluding the associate meeting, we bring the executive team and managers together to discuss action items as one group,” says Iavarone. “We then drill down deeper to address and analyze items on a more intense and concentrated level than we have with the associates. The takeaway is a plan of action that is been developed to address these opportunities for the hotel to keep ‘climbing the ladder’.”

Celebrate achievements

Kucera and Iavarone took time during the Phoenix meeting to recognize and celebrate a number of managers and line-level employees. Those recognized included front- and back-of-the-house associates of the year, manager of the year and associates and managers of the month and quarter. They also read a letter from a guest complimenting the staff on the service they received during a recent visit.

Send a message

Kucera and Iavarone use the meeting to provide subtle training hints and reminders to the associates. At the Phoenix session, the theme was service recovery.

“Be sure to ask yourself, ‘Did I do everything possible to instill a positive reaction in the guest?’” Kucera asked the audience. “You must capture every opportunity with a customer to exceed their expectations.”

Invite feedback

The session ended with an open-forum discussion in which associates could ask the executives questions on any topic. As expected, some queries concerned bread-and-butter issues (the status of raises and concerns over medical insurance), but others focused on the property, its facilities and plans Expotel has for the hotel. The associates wanted to know about the company's green philosophies and plans as well as the status of a planned renovation.

Detail future plans

In addition to sharing plans for the hotel, Kucera and Iavarone discussed the state of Expotel and its growth goals. As the executives told the audience, five of its New Orleans properties received significant damage during 2005's Hurricane Katrina. The company has had to focus on the clean-up and fix-up for the past several years, but it is now on the prowl for additional third-party management contracts and, where appropriate, joint-venture partnerships.

By Ed Watkins (Editor Lodging Hospitality Magazine)


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