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  • Emily Goldfischer

Key Takeaways from Rooms 101

On Tuesday, March 15 over 100 hospitality operators and students gathered at the Hard Rock Hotel in London for a day of inspiration, and Rooms 101 delivered! What an energetic crowd and bunch of speakers, with topics ranging from talent search and retention to developing an inclusive culture and team building, the audience was wrapt in attention the entire day. In between sessions, a musical duo from Song Division, an innovative company that offers team building through music actually wrote an “anthem” for hospitality. Not gonna lie, what they ended up with was catchy! Here are some key takeaways from the sessions:

EXP101 Rooms 101

Elsa de Jager: Audacity of Positivity

Elsa de Jager, Guest House Hotels
Elsa de Jager, Guest House Hotels

Elsa is the head of people and culture at Guest House Hotels and brings over a decade of experience in operations and entrepreneurship in places ranging from the Michelin-star Eleven Madison Park in New York City to owning her own restaurant in London. Everybody knows UK hospitality has had an unbelievably rough few years, starting with Brexit to COVID and now the heartbreaking crisis in Ukraine. Elsa offered up reasons why now, more than ever, we have to have the audacity to hope, be willing to take bold risks, and most importantly offer genuine care to our employees, guests, and communities. She closed with the importance of storytelling and the magic hospitality brings to people, from a meal that reminds an immigrant of their home country to her own memory of her restaurant team helping to retrieve a credit card of a guest that had blown into the Thames, highlighting how people in hospitality no matter their backgrounds come together to bring joy.

Song Division: Music Lifts the Crowd

Sam McNeill from Song Division got the crowd up
Sam McNeill from Song Division got the crowd up

Song Division, musician Tom Billington and facilitator Sam McNeill kept the crowd going all day. Honestly, I was afraid when I read the program that we were going to have to help “write an anthem for hospitality.” I am the opposite of rhythmic and the idea of having to even croak out a few lines in a group setting makes my stomach turn. But it is easy to see why Sam is one of the world’s most in-demand Corporate MCs & Facilitators, in between sessions he managed to get the group to help write a song about hospitality, which admittedly was even kind of fun!

Panel 1: How Tech Helps Improve the Employee Experience

Panel at Rooms 101

Roy Walker, head of sales for harri, a market-leading employee experience tech platform, led a panel with Emma Brierley HR director from Royal Lancaster London, Daniel Vale, Group HR Manager at Andrew Brownsword Hotels, and Sarah Winter Group financial director from 67 Pall Mall, and Sridhar Pathigari Group Director of HR at The Stafford London. Using the latest data and drawing on their own experiences, the panelists discussed brand attraction, recruitment, onboarding, development, retention, exit, and advocacy.

Key points:

  • The labor market is more competitive than ever with 35% more hospitality jobs available and 50% fewer people clicking on them.

  • Tech-enabled tools like harri can be used to attract more employees, and help determine what is important to prospective employees.

  • Tech also reduces friction in recruitment, features like chatbots, and pre-screening are effective in recruitment and lead to more meaningful conversations with candidates as all the basics have been covered electronically prior to speaking in person.

  • Use tech to reach candidates where they are – WhatsApp, FB messenger, etc. and be creative––go to universities and schools to get them excited about hospitality.

  • “Refer a Friend” programs have been a success for several of the panelists in jobs in housekeeping and maintenance.

  • Emma from The Lancaster noted that tech has enabled every manager to be in HR, by enabling each department to take an active role in their own recruiting.

  • Top things candidates want to know about: salary, quality of work-life, well-being programs, and DEI efforts.

  • Lots of impressive stats thrown about, but the one the panel kept going back to was that every lost employee costs a minimum of £8,000 in training and recruitment, this is a good case for the importance of hiring for fit and not necessarily current skills set and for companies to focus on employee retention.

Panel 2: More on the Employee Experience

Rooms 101

Phil Street, Director at Momentum Recruitment and host of the popular podcast, Hospitality Meets with Phil Street, guided a panel with Jon Dawson, group director of people development at Lore Group, Tom Ross, group operations director at Pig Hotels, and Anne Golden, general manager at Pan Pacific London. This group continued the conversation about attracting and onboarding employees, and most importantly retaining team members once they join. Overall, there is a need to change the perception of careers in hospitality in the UK.

Key points:

  • The Employee Experience starts way before candidates are actively looking for jobs, it starts with your Instagram page or adverts they see and messages about your brand. People have more of a chance now to choose brands that suit their personalities.

  • Managers need to set the tone, head chefs, etc. need to demonstrate company core values.

  • People need to be paid for the full value of their input, the industry needs to move away from unpaid overtime and offer more flexible hours.

  • Lots of untapped potential with women who leave the industry, need to explore why they leave and entice them back.

  • The industry is guilty of unconscious bias as it relates to women and people of color, things like promoting men on potential and only promoting women when they have proven themselves.

  • The industry needs to be better at sharing best practices to improve the overall reputation and entice more people to the sector. Several panelists mentioned programs that turned employees into “brand ambassadors” such as when the Pan Pacific encouraged employees to stay overnight or bring their families to the hotel during Christmas, or when the London EDITION had a “Be Our Guest” program that had new employees stayover, people still talk fondly of these initiatives.

  • Need to focus on taking care of employees, and leaving people “better than you found them” either through training or apprentice schemes.

  • Leadership needs to show vulnerability, that it is OK to make mistakes and move on, that it is OK not to have all the answers, and to ask for help.

  • Need to recognize people that offer special skills such as knowing multiple languages, advanced training, etc., and to pay for that knowledge.

Students from University of Surrey (L to R) Kristina Tsa
Students from University of Surrey (L to R) Kristina Tsaneva, Nikol Koleva, Mira Makaveeva, Rosita Todorova, Saria Sheh Hadid, Rados Gieorgieva

In the afternoon there were two further motivational speakers:

  • Angus Collins, a world champion ocean rower, spoke about building strong, resilient, and flexible teams, based on his world record rows across several oceans.

  • Ben Drury, aka The Culture Guy spoke about “being part of the change you want to see in the world” and building experiences and cultures that people remember and want to talk about.

The Culture Guy on 22nd Century thinking:

  • Provide structure not control

  • Trust people

  • Be open and share

  • Be forward-thinking

  • Be humble

More on Employee Experience

Jane Sunley Purple Cubed
Jane Sunley, Purple Cubed

Jane Sunley, founder of Purple Cubed and an expert on culture training and employee wellbeing. She picked up on the concept of leaving people “better than you found them” from the panel and continued on with more insights on the Employee Experience. She shared the results of a recent survey with that noted the best places to work:

  • Respect the team

  • Offer work-life balance

  • Positive working environment

  • Offer clear purpose and the ability to set goals

  • Pay employees on time

  • Open communication between management and employees

Jane added that in her diagnostics with clients, other important factors are cultural alignment, fairness and progression, and contemporary leadership.

She stressed the importance of thanking employees, that in her research this comes up time and time again as the most simple yet effective way to keep employees happy and motivated.

Jane reinforced the importance of setting clear goals and values, making this information easily accessible by audio and videos, to support diversity and find ways to treat people as individuals.

Simon Drake, Chris Fletcher, Kieron Bailey and Naomi Heaton
Simon Drake, Chris Fletcher, Kieron Bailey and Naomi Heaton

Introducing…The Other House

To conclude the day, EXP101 founders Chris Fletcher and Kieron Bailey walked over to the bar (which incidentally had been offering beer since 10 am!) to chat with general manager Simon Drake and founder and chief executive Naomi Heaton from the new residents’ club The Other House, one of London’s most exciting openings of 2022. They spoke about the innovative concept of The Other House, which combines a members club, luxurious apartment-style residences, and hotel facilities, all of which are tied together with state-of-the-art app-based technology. It definitely sounds like a groundbreaking concept opening soon in South Kensington and Covent Garden.

Student Norrisa Gayle and Pan Pacific GM Anne Golden
Student Norrisa Gayle and Pan Pacific GM Anne Golden

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