Regular staff meetings help build morale

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 27 August, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 27 August, 2005, 12:00am

At the Kowloon Shangri-La, it is management policy to keep the workforce well-informed

WHEN YOUR BUSINESS operates around the clock every day of the year, maintaining effective communication with every member of staff can be a challenge. How can you ensure that individuals who rarely come into contact with each other, let alone with management, feel like a valued part of the team?

Hotels often encounter this problem, and it can easily happen that some employees, particularly those working on night shifts, will have little chance to meet the general manager regularly. Despite this, most managers realise how vital communication is in building morale, giving deserved congratulations, pointing people in the right direction, and making sure that everyone marches to the same tune.

At the Kowloon Shangri-La, the problem is overcome by holding biannual 'state of the hotel' meetings, which every member of the 700-strong workforce is invited to attend.

A morning and an afternoon session are held on the same day, so that all staff can take part without leaving the hotel undermanned at any time.

General manager Mark Heywood uses the meetings to give an update on the hotel's financial performance, any renovations taking place and upcoming events, and to reinforce the 'One team - one way' corporate culture.

He also outlines his vision for the hotel and any policy changes.

'You tell people what we are going to do this year and how we are going to get there,' Mr Heywood said. 'The message is very clear for everybody.'

The meetings are used not only to deliver news and reward good performance; they also allow Mr Heywood to point out areas for improvement. 'It's a chance to communicate about the good, the bad and the ugly,' he said. 'We don't just share good news and positive things.'

If, for example, the results of regular guest opinion surveys show a shortfall in service standards, the meeting will consider the issue and decide what needs to be done. The different in-house departments will then tackle the items which relate to them in their subsequent daily briefings.

The 'state of the hotel' meetings have been run since the 1980s and been a definite success.

'It was clear from the outset that it is a very good way of communicating with staff from top to bottom. So, it was formalised and became a policy,' Mr Heywood said.

Guidelines about content and topics for discussion are provided by the head office, but beyond that each hotel does its own thing.

'How you get the message over can differ,' Mr Heyood said. 'Here, we inject quite a lot of fun.'

The July meeting began with a team-building exercise 'just to break the mould, to do something different', Mr Heywood explained. Each staff member was given a drum to beat, but received only visual instruction on how to use it. Nevertheless, after 20 minutes they were all beating complementary rhythms.

After this ice-breaker, Mr Heywood launched into his speech and moved on to other agenda items, but the fun did not end there. Daisy Wong, director of human resources, ensures that there are certain gimmicks and tricks at every meeting to surprise the staff and to keep their attention.

'You've got to make it interesting,' she said. 'If it's just about reports, it is boring.'

To this end, she co-ordinates skits based on popular television programmes or movies, with staff dressed as well-known characters. 'There is lots of talent here,' Ms Wong said. 'We can sing, dance and act.'

Some members of staff dressed up as the Axe Gang from the popular movie Kung Fu Hustle and performed a skit that introduced the employee activities on offer at the hotel and encouraged participation. Shortly afterwards, the new chef at Angelini, an Italian restaurant opening at the Kowloon Shangri-La next month, arrived on a motorbike and presided over a fashion show of its staff's new uniforms.

Ms Wong spends weeks preparing for and organising each meeting. She confirms details, ensures the general manager and division heads are available, arranges the presentation material, and co-ordinates the fun.

But making sure things run smoothly and are enjoyable is only part of her role. Her department is competing with every other hotel in Hong Kong to find quality staff, and she is determined to ensure that the Kowloon Shangri-La is seen as an employer of choice.

One key to that is good teamwork. Ms Wong emphasises the point when working with colleagues from other departments.

Communication is key

Special attention is given to communicating effectively with all staff.

Biannual meetings are scheduled so that every employee can attend.

Senior managers are given the opportunity to address current issues.

Action points and areas for improvement are identified.

It is a deliberate policy to make each meeting fun and interesting.

Staff are encouraged to get involved in presentations.

Meetings are used to boost morale, build motivation and encourage teamwork.