Passion to Serve: A Great Place to Work Institute Series
Take care of your people and they will in turn take care of the customers
Gurmeet Singh, Area Director of HR - India, Maldives & Pakistan, Marriott International Inc., shares with Basuri Dutta how change in the hotel business led to critical changes in their approach to people management
What are the key trends in the way people will be managed in the hospitality industry in the near future?
Any change in the approach to how people are managed in organizations, is completely a function of the requirements of business. There has been a sea change in the way hospitality is perceived today. Ten years ago, if I visited China I could have never imagined eating a dosa or listening to Hindi music. But today in Beijing, I have 10 Indian restaurants to choose from. Today with lots of people travelling internationally, air travel becoming easier, businesses becoming more globalized and lots of NRIs returning to India, the customer profile has changed. Today’s customer has tasted the international hospitality experience, which provides a comparable benchmark with respect to the service design.
Earlier, when few domestic chains competed with each other, the customer expectation was of a different kind. With the international brands coming in, service design has undergone a transformation. Alongside, the expectations of the well-traveled customer, who has experienced international service quality have also changed. Therefore, the HR function now needs to get out of its offices and onto the battlefield. Stronger networks, better market intelligence, keeping pace with the latest trends in induction, training or compensation and the need for redesigning of all of these has become extremely critical.
Today, there is a non-negotiable demand to create transparency at the workplace. The current generation is more goal-oriented and feels dejected when they are not recognized for their efforts. The meaning of loyalty has changed. If it took 5 years for a person to become a manager, it is not necessary that today’s generation will also wait for 5 years to become one. Back then, for a hotel management graduate, the hotel industry was the primary career option available but today, they have numerous other options like aviation, customer service, call-centers, banks, etc. The talent competitors have become very diverse and employability has increased manifolds.
The management style is changing and will be more driven by empowerment. Even if employees make mistakes, have faith in them. ‘Take care of your people and they will in turn take care of the customers and the customers will keep coming back’. This indeed needs a mindset change.
What characteristics should a people manager possess and why?
The ability to listen is the single most important characteristic that every people manager should possess. In a people intensive industry, where people come from a diverse spectrum of socio-economic backgrounds, from a Dharavi chawl to Malabar hill, a people manager has to engage with this entire spectrum. The ratio of educated and qualified people with college degrees to those who have no educational qualifications in a hotel is about 40:60.
In the kitchen, there is a big department of dish-washing and for the people employed there, the only job 365 days a year is washing dirty dishes. To keep the motivation levels of that set of employees high, so that they keep going at their routine job, is a far higher challenge than motivating a qualified professional who graduates from a hotel management institute.
Listening helps in empathizing, understanding the problems and then finding solutions.
Do share an example of managing people which has been personally rewarding and meaningful for you.
This was not very long back at one of the hotel properties. There was a person in house-keeping who I used to observe on the floor. He was very good with people, very well built, had a desire to do something meaningful, but he was very active in the labor union, carrying out signature campaigns and instigating associates. One day, while sitting in the cafeteria, I struck a conversation with him and asked him why he was doing all this. He told me that he got some kind of a kick out of it. I told him that if his purpose was to look after the welfare of the employees, he should do something constructive and meaningful and still get that sense of accomplishment that he could in many other ways, than being a union leader. He came back to me a few days later asking what I had in mind and I told him that I wanted him to be a part of my department. He said he did not know anything about HR and I told him that it was my responsibility to ensure that he learnt and did something meaningful. Today, he is an assistant manager HR in one of the newer properties. His salary has doubled and he is at a point in life from where he can make a significant difference. It is heartening to see someone grow from the role of a union leader to a manager, handling complex responsibilities. His talking to the associates and narrating his own experiences has a far greater impact on them compared to some of the MBAs doing the same, since there is a greater connect. These things make the HR cake taste better.
What are the top 5 people concerns that you face every day. Personally, what has been the most challenging aspect of managing people?
The first one is maintaining consistency in people practices. It is a more challenging task when each hotel is an independent property, owned by a different owner and one is responsible for management of such properties. Updated knowledge is also becoming scarce among professionals. People are too confined to their own domains and market knowledge is missing. I see this urgency to complete the job and tick the check-box, without the same being thought through. Sometimes, people fall into the trap of having a microscopic view of their own hotel property, ownership being separate, ignoring the overall Marriott view.
What is your elevator pitch to justify investment in strong people practices?
I have a situational story. An operational manager goes to a Chief Executive and says, “Why do we need to spend so much on training our people? Let us stop all training because attrition is not coming down and people are still leaving. So, what is the point in having all this training?” The Chief Executive turns around and says, “I prefer to have a situation where people are trained and then some of them leave, rather than having a situation where we do not train our people and they do not leave. Imagine what will happen to my company?”
What makes it so difficult for most organizations to become great workplaces?
The only thing I can think of is passion. You need passion to build great workplaces. With what degree of passion is one doing the job that one is assigned? Sometimes, people do things just to tick off an item in the checklist. If 10 people are given the same recipe and ingredients for the same chicken curry, it will still never taste the same. The ones that are done with passion will always come out as the wi