“Employees can make or break your success,” Melissa Salibi, CHRO of global luxury hotel brand Kempinski, tells UNLEASH.
While this is true for every business, it is essential in hospitality. Employees are at the “forefront” of hotel businesses; “we are fully reliant on our employees to create unique experiences for our guests. It is our employees who welcome and take care of the guests, manage their complaints and sort out concerns”.
This explains why being people oriented and driving not just great but “beautiful” experiences for its 24,000 employees across 70+ hotels in 30 countries is a top priority for Kempinski.
“The higher the employee engagement, the better the customer experience and loyalty,” adds Salibi.
“Engaged employees come to work with pleasure, have the motivation to solve issues, put the company resources to good use. They care about the business….and they know that the company’s success is their own success too.”
We don’t have to take Kempinski and Salibi’s word for it that customer and employee experience (and financial performance) are intertwined – the proof is in the awards (from Gallup and Forbes) as well as the data.
Salibi shares: “We measure engagement against critical key performance indicators (KPIs), such as the Global Review Index, Competitive Quality Index, and the Revenue Generation Index.
“We noted an organic link between engagement and these KPIs; for instance, after analyzing the data, we concluded that there is a correlation between the engagement scores achieved over the years and the share of revenue attributed to Kempinski.”
How to create a people-first culture
Of course, creating a people-oriented culture that really drives employee engagement is much easier said than done.
Salibi shares that it was “the result of strategic decision-making, of processes and policies carefully formulated, of tools carefully selected”.
“With today’s technology, getting feedback from our employees anywhere around the world the globe is not a challenge” – and given how important continuous feedback is to Kempinski, the company has invested in multiple tools to help.
Given its distributed workforce, the tools are all “accessible from everywhere”. In addition to having local feedback tools for Kempinski’s 70-plus hotels, the employer does an annual global engagement survey in collaboration with Gallup.
“For us, the most important part starts after the survey, this is our chance to take into account the feedback and put it into action,” notes Salibi.
She shares that every hotel “must” develop an action plan, and update on progress – “communication is key!”
Examples of changes that have been made as a result of feedback include simplifying the performance management process (as feedback said it was long and tedious), as well as implementing flexible working for corporate office staff.
Beyond tools and processes, Salibi is clear that a key to success was “leadership leading by example, managers practicing what they preach”.
“Engagement is about simple things and genuine care. Our understand that the only successful engagement strategy puts employees and their needs first.
“The simple question, ‘how are you today?’, when asked genuinely and with real interest is so powerful – it shows employees that we care and that we are also there to listen.”
COVID-19, the war for talent & engagement at Kempinski
Engagement is not a new focus for Kempinski – it has been top of mind for Kempinski for many years; the hotel chain has been working with Gallup since 2016.
In fact, employee feedback was so ingrained into the culture of the organization that rather than getting sucked into crisis mode during the COVID-19 pandemic, and abandoning engagement surveys, Kempinski leaned in.
Given the impact of the pandemic on employee wellbeing and morale, “it was absolutely clear to use that we must focus, more than ever, on employees’ welfare”, notes Salibi.
Yes, “there was a lot of pressure on company finances”, but “we wanted to show our employees that we were not hiding, and we wanted to continued this culture of listening”.
The HR team was “ready to deal with, what we thought would be, harsh feedback” – and “even worked with Gallup on adding some questions relevant to the year of hardship” to really dig into the extreme challenges.
“Hearing from our employees, getting their feedback, was far more important than an engagement percentage result” – this shows that for Kempinski engagement isn’t just a tick box exercise, as it can be for some organizations obsessed with consistency of scores.
Ultimately, “our scored did not drop. They were, in fact, the best we have had since the launch of the survey”.
Kempinski is continuing its focus on engagement amid talent shortages, which are particularly acute for the hotel sector.
“Our industry is facing great difficulties in sourcing talent. We noticed post-pandemic people look beyond salaries and choose to prioritize their family and social life [and] avoid stress,” Salibi shares.
While this pushing some people to leave the hotel business altogether, Kempinski has “proactively” designed and launched learning and development (L&D) programs for its internal talent.
The hotel giant also ensures it benchmarks its salaries and its wider benefits package to complement its L&D and people-first culture focus.
“We all know companies that offer top benefits; however, they fail on the culture or work environment side,” states Salibi.
“We actually believe in finding the right balance between various employment aspects – that makes [each] employee’s journey with Kempinski worthwhile.”
The hotel chain isn’t taking its foot off the gas on engagement, despite its success to date.
Looking ahead to 2025 and 2030, Salibi shares Kempinski is going to continue to challenge the status quo – and “ask ourselves what we can do better to improve the work environment” for employees.
“We will continue to automate and simplify processes” – to make their lives easier – and invest more in mentoring and L&D.
“Our priority will remain [our] people – they carry our business forward and want to make sure we…continue to be an employer of choice,” concludes Salibi.
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