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Innovative talent formula = maximum potential and ROI at Dorchester Collection

By adopting a unique talent formula and strategic approach reflective of the individual’s skills, needs and personality, The Dorchester Collection’s talent strategy has had a tangible impact upon business performance, engagement and loyalty

It’s every employer’s nightmare. A competitor opens against you and starts poaching your staff. So, when a rival five-star hotel to The Dorchester Collection’s Le Meurice in Paris opened and not only actively targeted its employees but offered many a 35% pay increase to boot, it proved a true test of whether the prestigious hospitality group’s investment in talent development and culture had paid off.

Initially, the increased salary offer was just too good to turn down and 21 people resigned to take advantage of it. Yet, just three months later, 17 had returned – at their previous salary level.

Go back four years and the luxury hotel chain could also have come unstuck when its head florist left its eponymous London hotel in Park Lane. But, thanks to its investment in a talent strategy, a natural successor had already been identified. At the tender age of 25 Philip Hammond was promoted to head florist and within a year had increased engagement among his team from 76% to 90%, winning an external award in 2015 recognising just 30 talented hospitality employees under 30 years old.

It proves that a long-term investment in people strategy, as opposed to payroll, is what genuinely engages and motivates employees

Dorchester Collection’s Eugenio Pirri, executive board member and chief people and culture officer, puts stories like these down to a recognition of the talent development opportunities the company offers. “It proves that a long-term investment in people strategy, as opposed to payroll, is what genuinely engages and motivates employees,” he says.

Today talent management is an essential element of the Dorchester Collection’s business strategy, yet just five years ago it was sporadic. Talent management was not coordinated nor streamlined. Instead each hotel undertook a range of initiatives comprising recruitment, onboarding, performance management and learning and development, with little awareness of what other properties within the Collection were doing.

Developing the strategy

Working with regional hotel general managers and HR directors, Pirri set out to develop a standardised talent strategy that individual properties could tailor based on their own needs with just 1.9% of turnover budget. Aligning with the company’s business mission, the strategy focused on three areas:

  1. People: supporting the robust development and retention of talent across the Collection
  2. Guests: helping deliver the ultimate guest experience
  3. Owners: having a positive impact upon business and financial performance

As Dorchester Collection operates in a sector notorious for its high levels of labour turnover – on average between 35-50% – it was also mindful that any talent management strategy had to focus heavily on the engagement of people for retention purposes.

In March 2014, it launched Talent Plus with the simple, but vital, remit of selecting the right people for the right roles ­to enable continual global expansion, employee loyalty and business development.

Talent formula

Talent Plus was created based upon an innovative talent formula: Talent + Fit x Investment = Growth

Essentially this means that, as individuals, employees have a natural ability to achieve near perfect performance. This is measured and then matched with the correct job or skill (the ‘talent’ part of the formula).

By putting each person in a position where they utilise their natural talents and understand the Dorchester Collection culture (the ‘fit’), together with ongoing development within the Dorchester Academy (the ‘investment’), it leads to maximised performance for individuals and the business (the ‘growth’).

Dorchester Collection talent formula

So how does this work in practice?

Through Talent Plus, all line staff and job candidates complete talent online assessments and all managers have a telephone interview in order to determine:

  • Who are top performers?
  • Who has the potential to execute a specific role?
  • Whether they are the right fit for Dorchester Collection’s culture
  • What specific investment is required to help them grow?

Themes within Talent Plus relate directly to the Collection’s five values (passion, personality, respect, working together and innovation), thereby providing it with a natural insight into a person that is then mapped against a nine-box grid so that the company can plan the future of an individual. Personal development plans are designed for each employee, allowing managers and the people and organisational development team to better understand the needs of their talented people.

All personal development plans are aligned to the Collection’s values within its 'Your Future' talent management system, which enables employees to track their performance, goals and learning needs continuously. This provides managers with real-time information as to the talent situation across the business; most importantly, identifying high performers who are at risk of leaving, allowing them to intervene and find resolution, as well as to succession plan effectively throughout the Collection.

For recruitment purposes, Talent Plus has highlighted that top performers score on average 65% through the talent online assessments and therefore the company is able to rank applicants based on the outcomes of the software in correlation with its values and culture.

As Pirri notes, however: “People are not percentages. They are complicated and therefore this approach is designed to help us understand and predict an employee’s thoughts and behaviours when no-one is looking; giving our managers an insight into what a person will be like in the workplace. Adopting this approach has enabled our managers to quickly and easily decide whether an applicant should move forward within our interview process.”

A Dorchester Collection Academy was established to ensure consistent and continuous talent development in leadership skills and service excellence. The academy:

  • Provides development across the entire employee journey
  • Is supported by all leaders
  • Establishes learning partnerships with colleagues
  • Has been developed internally but draws upon expertise from external organisations such as CCL and Covey to ensure the group remains at the forefront of learning
  • Ensures tailored development that reflects learning needs outlined within the talent online assessments and personal development plans

Talent Plus has also provided the company with detailed insight into the DNA of its leadership talent. It highlighted that the top five attributes were: focus; conceptualisation; intelligence; relationships and individualised approach. Now when the company looks at leadership potential, it looks for the right balance of these attributes.

Senior and company-wide buy in

“Being able to identify the right talent to enter our company based on core values ensures what we do every day is maximising human potential. We strategise future growth, innovation and results through people; our talent management strategy measures our success in all of our service interactions”

CEO, Christopher Cowdray

Talent Plus has been designed as a framework, to be interpreted according to each hotel’s individual culture and style. “We believe our talent strategy must not be prescriptive – we do not want to create a host of cloned managers and employees,” says Pirri. “Not only does this ensure for high levels of engagement within people strategy, it also means we are abiding by our core values.”

The rollout was managed by then director of learning and talent Charlotte Gibson. To support this:

  • Senior members of the people and organisational development team visited each hotel within the Collection to introduce Talent Plus and obtain feedback from general managers, regional HR teams and organisational leaders
  • The talent strategy and launch of Talent Plus was shared at the company’s annual executive forum, ensuring all leaders shared in the talent vision
  • The director of learning and talent regularly visits hotels (collectively 150 days per annum are spent within the hotels) during which hotels are required to provide an update on talent within their property
  • Talent management and strategy are part of the agenda for every general manager meeting (held three times per year) and people and executive forums held annually

Measureable achievements

In less than a year, through this evolved approach to talent management, Dorchester Collection has enjoyed significant returns on investment. Results include:

  1. Employee engagement increasing from 90.3% to 92% (world class is 80%)
  2. Labour turnover stabilising at 20% annually for two years, 15% points lower than industry average
  3. Guest satisfaction showing 54% of guests fully engaged (world class is 50%)

As it continues to evolve, Talent Plus will remain an integral part of Dorchester Collection, says Pirri, allowing it to continue to grow talent internally and find top talent externally. To support this, the people and organisational development team is continuing to increase its global school partnerships to raise awareness of the opportunities a career with the company provides and boost young talent within the business. It has also launched the DC Exchange Program, enabling knowledge to be shared and skills infused between hotels to help talent mobility.

Through using detailed metrics, Dorchester Collection has understood the impact of the development and management of great talent within its business, not only in improving the future prospects of its people, in nurturing social mobility in its communities and in providing guests with great customer service but in positioning the company to grow exponentially. In doing so, it has also helped to raise the profile of the people that work in hospitality generally.

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