Hotel's winning heart and soul

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 22 June, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 22 June, 2011, 12:00am


JW Marriott Hotel Hong Kong is the winner of this year's Aon Hewitt Best Employer in Hong Kong award.

'The word that comes to mind is 'euphoric',' says general manager Mark Conklin. 'Since we were recognised, we came up with a little credo: 'It takes each and every one of us to make the hotel such a wonderful success. We are JW Marriott Hong Kong-proud.''

The hotel has about 750 employees in Hong Kong, most of them having worked with JW Marriott for unusually long lengths of time. Its annualised staff turnover in 2010 was just over nine per cent - the lowest rate of any five-star hotel in the city.

So what is making employees stay so long, in a sector with notoriously high turnover rates?

Conklin - who himself has been with JW Marriott for 30 years - puts it down to a genuine culture of caring for staff. 'Fundamentally, there's a deeply held respect, care and consideration. And that, as general manager, is why I come to work. In the service business especially, it's got to come from the heart. You can't fake that.'

Indeed, as Conklin strolls through the hotel, he is greeted warmly by everyone he meets. And he knows them, not just their names and jobs, but also their recent work achievements and personal milestones. Underlying this camaraderie is a detailed training and development programme, an extensive two-way communication system and a generous bonus scheme linked to performance.

That consideration starts with the careful choice of words, and works its way into all aspects of people management. For starters, the word 'employee' is rarely used here, says Conklin.

'The term we use in Marriott is 'associates' because when you call somebody an employee, it implies that they work for you. When you call someone an associate, it implies that they work with you. It's a very subtle distinction but I think it's very powerful,' he says.

The hotel builds its service culture through a four-stage process of selection, training, communication and celebration.

Potential employees must pass at least three interviews which Conklin says take time but ultimately ensures a better fit.

New hires undergo three days of orientation, followed by an extensive certification programme designed for each position that allows them to see clearly the courses and skills they need for promotion.

Daily meetings and a newsletter ensure everybody is informed of hotel news, recognition stories and guest feedback. In turn, staff share their views through an annual survey. The hotel has just started running two-hour sessions with groups of 25 staff to discuss core values and solicit feedback.

Celebration and recognition are the by-product of good selection, training and communication, says Conklin, who issues at least five handwritten 'thank you' notes to his associates every day. Celebrations include regular staff outings - last month, the hotel treated everybody to an Ocean Park trip. Bonuses are linked to business results and performance. In 2010, staff received a three-month bonus based on the hotel's financial results. 'Our bonus scheme ties in with the business goals, so everybody's very clear about the direction,' Conklin says.

Ultimately, the hotel's success is down to its soul, he adds.

'I think there are a lot of definitions for leadership, but at the crux of it, leaders have to care about the people they lead and I think there's a sense of genuine caring that permeates this hotel,' he says.