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Jamie Lawrence


Insights Director

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Interview: Sarah Banner, HR Manager at The Cavendish Hotel


Sarah Banner is HR Manager at The Cavendish Hotel in London, the only hotel to be featured in The Sunday Times’ Best Companies to Work For List 2013.

1. What is the number one mistake HR managers make when trying to build an engaged workforce?

A lot of HR departments think employee engagement is about championing their own department, but what you really need to build an engaged workforce is ‘buy in’ from the top. Whether it is from your CEO, Managing Director or General Manager, a successful engagement initiative needs to be supported and delivered across all senior management. It is also important to tie the initiative in with the company’s vision and values; involve the staff and get their feedback on what the business is doing right and wrong. This will really engage your employees.

2. What are the most successful initiatives you’ve introduced and why have they succeeded?

Looking back on the initiatives we’ve implemented at the hotel the biggest success was brought about by our vision and values initiative, which is at the core of everything we do. Our vision is to be the best four-star hotel in central London with special people creating special experiences – our values support this. We recruit, train, reward, appraise and discipline around them and they are delivered throughout the organisation. All new starters receive training on the values so they know what they are and how they can live them at work. I know if you walked into the hotel and asked anyone what our vision and values were, they would be able to tell you.

Another success has been the introduction of our Top Talent initiative to nurture and drive our star employees forward in their careers. Each year we identify our ‘Top Talent’ who are team members passionate about their work, who really want to learn, show promise and want to progress within the hotel and the industry. I conduct a one-to-one meeting with them where we discuss their career aspirations and what we can do to support them. From this we provide them with a tailored training programme to help them achieve their personal goals. The programme is proving to be a great success; since its introduction in 2011, we have identified 38 employees as our Top Talent, 17 of which have been promoted or transferred into a new role at The Cavendish.

We’ve also recently implemented the Purple Cubed ‘Talent Toolbox’ performance management system to promote on-going two-way communication, enhanced employee engagement and retention. The system enables us to identify training needs, highlight our top talent and includes a mini employee opinion survey about what our team believes we do well at The Cavendish and what we could improve. This also ensures that the team know they are being listened to and their opinion counts.

3. Why do employees become disengaged?

Communication is key; employee disengagement can easily emerge when there is an absence of effective communication. We communicate with our employees regularly via a monthly staff meeting run by the Hotel Manager, monthly departmental team meetings, individual fortnightly one-to-one meetings as well as a monthly staff newsletter written by the Hotel management team. Effective two-way communication is crucial in making your employees feel they’re part of something and that they count while also showing how they personally have a direct impact on the success of the business.

Empowerment is equally important; we believe individuals should be empowered to make decisions and not to be scared of making small mistakes, they learn and develop with every experience and are given individual responsibility for their roles.

Empty promises from management are also extremely disengaging and must be avoided at all costs. The relationship between a manager and their team should be built on mutual respect and trust, empty promises destroy this trust.

4. You have a strong environmental policy. Is this important to employee engagement?

It is hugely important to show our employees, and customers, that we are giving something back. We support three charities – St James Church (which is located on the same road as the hotel), Springboard (the hospitality charity which helps long-term unemployed and students find work in hospitality) and Hospitality Action (the benevolent charity for the hospitality industry). Employees want to get involved in our fun fundraising activities and we give all employees a day off a year to work for a charity of their choice, so they can give something back in their own community too.

Our environment is important and sustainability is at the heart of the hotel. We recycle as much as possible and we brief all employees on how and why. Recycling is part of most people’s daily routine now, so it’s all about our staff treating their workplace in the same way they would their home.

5. What precisely defines an engaged workforce?

An engaged workforce is when individual employees have an emotional commitment to the company, their manager and their own work targets. An indicator of engagement is when employees actively go beyond their job role and are happy to do so.

6. What’s the first step in turning a disengaged workforce into an engaged one?

The first step would be to look at your company’s vision and values and the internal communications around them. It is imperative that your team are aware of the vision and values, their meaning and that they are live in the business. If your team is not fully engaged, maybe it is time to look at recreating your core values. If you do decide to recreate your values, it is paramount that you obtain feedback from your employees on the existing values and their input on the development of the new ones. Once the new values have been finalised, it is important to ensure that they are communicated to everyone and that there are no empty promises.

7. The HR function is evolving. Where do you see it in five or ten years’ time?

The role of HR is constantly evolving. We need to adapt and keep up with trends and what is happening externally and in the industry, including everything from the condition of the economy to social media and technology development. In my opinion, social media will become more prevalent in recruitment, training & development and intranets will develop even further over the next few years. Emerging technology will also offer opportunities and changes in how we recruit, retain and develop our employees.

8. What three qualities define good HR managers/directors?

It is crucial to have strong leadership skills and be able to strategically plan and implement. You also need to “manage by walking about”, by making yourself visible, accessible and approachable to the whole team.

9. What is the key to recruiting the right people?

For us it is centered around our core values. The questions we ask at interview stage are based around each of our values and although candidates need to have a certain amount of knowledge and skills to do the job, we recognise that this is something we can train. For us it is more about assessing whether they have the right attitude and share similar personal values to our own.

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Jamie Lawrence

Insights Director

Read more from Jamie Lawrence

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