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There's no escaping the 'R' word in this current economic downturn and one of the challenges facing employers is how to Recruit and Retain the Right people during this Recession, says LINDA HALPIN.

Companies may not envisage increasing staff numbers at the moment, but many still have to recruit to replace existing jobs where vacancies arise or for seasonal positions. Research from previous recessions suggests that organisations not investing in their most valuable asset, 'their people', are more likely to fail than those that do. Therefore, with a reduced or indeed with no recruitment budget employers need to work smarter by thinking about the key factors in retaining their existing talent and where necessary recruiting during these difficult times.
Most people are feeling insecure and unsure about their future and the future of the industry in general. This impacts on performance and productivity, damages morale, disillusions current employees and makes it difficult to attract good candidates when recruiting. Planning for the future will show a commitment to the existing workforce and will reinforce relationships down the road. Encouraging passion, motivation, enthusiasm and involvement in the organisation is particularly important in the hospitality industry and will be a major factor in retaining and recruiting staff.
Prior to this current recession surveys of labour turnover showed that typically the hotel, catering and leisure industries experienced one of the highest turnovers of personnel. It is clear therefore that employers have to be innovative and think creatively about retention or face the challenge of recruiting the 'Right' people in 2009. Making the wrong decision is expensive so the challenge is to hold on to your best people and this does not necessarily depend only on the financial reward. It's time to consider creative, non-financial ways of motivating employees such as recognition schemes, team-building days, employee awards, providing opportunities for flexible working hours.
Astute owners and general managers are supporting their managers and HODs so they are prepared to cope in difficult times. Coaching and mentoring could help with their leadership skills and allow them to play a larger role in employment relationships and beat the rumour mill. Communicating with them, allowing them to take ownership of the situation will engage staff and encourage them to become innovative and creative in finding solutions. With awareness comes responsibility. Ensuring that procedures are in place to support and include your staff in the challenges ahead will help to create an attractive working environment. Investing in their long-term career aspirations will help to retain the talent you already have and also attract the right people when recruiting.
Recruiting the 'Right' people means having a structured recruitment policy. Do not take shortcuts and do not hire under pressure as you will undoubtedly hire beneath your required standards. One of the most common mistakes when recruiting is lack of preparation. In the past, the availability of jobs and shortage of applicants meant that candidates tended to be more selective about the positions they applied for. In a recession employers are inundated with applications for every position. Forward planning will ensure you develop clear job descriptions and person specifications. Apart from identifying the qualifications, knowledge and specific skills required for the job, the person specification will highlight the required aptitudes and personal attributes. It will also help recruiters to adhere to the general rule of thumb which is to hire attitudes and teach skills. It is possible to teach someone new job skills but much harder to change their values, beliefs, attitudes and philosophy.
Do not compare applicants against each other - match candidates to the job requirements. The lesson here is to be careful not to evaluate personality instead of job skills. It might be encouraging to know that a candidate for a sales and marketing position within your hotel is confident and has high energy levels, it is much more important to know whether they can retain and grow your customer base and improve your rooms' revenue.
Do not rely on just an interview to evaluate a candidate. In the US a study conducted by John and Rhonda Hunter at the University of Michigan on The Validity and Utility of Alternative Predictors of a Job Performance found that the usefulness of the interview in accurately predicting success in a job and increasing the likelihood of selecting the best candidate increased by just two per cent. In other words you could just flip a coin and you would be correct 50% of the time, if you added the interview process you would be correct 52% of the time. However, the reason for this is because in most cases recruiters do not structure the interview and determine the best answers (develop a scoring weight) before the interview. Interviewers should have received appropriate training and be able to apply proven competency-based interviewing techniques. Experienced interviewers will probe, ask the correct questions and not do too much of the talking themselves. They will quickly spot those who may have inflated their CVs or embellished their previous experiences. It is also important to use all the interviewing tools at your disposal. Use the opportunity to hold a second or even third interview and include relevant HODs and get their input on possible suitable candidates.
The interview, when prepared for and structured properly, is the most important recruitment tool you have, but there has to be an agreed policy and procedure in place to ensure that the process delivers the required results. Careful background reference checks are vital. Many recruitment companies report that there is a fairly high percentage of false information presented on CVs and job applications (15% to 20%). Individuals who twist the facts on a CV are just as likely to twist the rules of your operation.
Attracting the right people needs some creative thinking from hotel owners/managers. Seth Godin, in his book called The Dip, expresses the opinion that 'quitting is an extremely poor tactic just because the dip is hard'. During a recession it is imperative that companies attract the best people, inspire their people by positive action and reinforce the goals and vision of the organisation. One of the most obvious ways to do this is to rebrand or revisit the company brand.
The Chartered Institute for Personnel Development in the UK recently carried out research and introduced a guide on how to develop and communicate an employer brand, supporting the idea that employer branding can help to attract, retain and/or engage both potential and existing employees. It is important to recognise that, apart from attracting new employees, it has never been more important to re-energise current employees to encourage them to feel a loyalty and a future for them within the organisation.
Brand management is a well established concept which is usually used to develop customer loyalty, grow the business and increase success within the market. However, it can be directly transferable into companies to help drive the organisation's values. The relationship between people and work is changing and the HR professionals are seeking new ways to demonstrate the true value it brings to an enterprise. Recruitment and retention offer a huge challenge. Introducing or revisiting the company brand seems to offer HR a model by which to link their people strategy and the company's brand ethos to achieve success. A strong brand that includes a set of attributes and qualities that makes an organisation distinctive, unique and promises a particular kind of employment experience will also appeal to employees who will thrive and perform to their best ability.
An organisation's vision - their destination - needs to be clear and attainable.
The mission - how you achieve your vision and reach your destination-needs to be communicated to all employees and everyone should be encouraged to contribute to the journey.
Your values - how you do things in your organisation, the culture you want to promote within the operation - are what define you and help to build your reputation.
Nurturing a culture of inclusiveness and encouraging innovative contribution from within your organisation will promote accountability for each individual's growth and will establish loyalty between staff and the business. Employees will be motivated to develop personally, take on new responsibilities and offer the support that is needed within most organisations in the hospitality industry at this time.
Employer branding has a relationship to, and an impact on, other issues like leadership, management behaviours, service culture and performance measurement. How do you want customers to feel, what do you want the customer experience to be and how do you measure customer satisfaction? How does your employer brand impact on your employees? They need a clear vision, they need to know how to deliver your standards and they need to know the values that will help them to achieve your mission.
The company's people strategy and HR policies should be intrinsically linked to the company brand. For prospective new employees the brand will help to attract the 'Right' applicants, but the real value comes later when that new employee has been with the organisation for a few weeks or months. If companies recognise the importance of 'Living the Brand' new and existing employees will feel an affinity and pride in their place of work and that helps to build the loyalty that is so badly needed, particularly in these recessionary times.
Communicating the company brand provides clarity between the anticipated and the actual working experience within the organisation. Designing or revisiting a company brand offers the opportunity to engage employees in the process of developing new and innovative ideas to enhance the organisation in terms of value for money, improved customer service, increased revenue etc., thereby giving managers the opportunity for updating SOP manuals, coaching and mentoring of their team and continuous development and improvements in staff training.
Employer branding is most definitely not the answer to every manager's/owner's prayers. However, because so many aspects of an organisation impinge on the brand, it can be a channel through which some HR issues can be identified and addressed.
Constant monitoring of the organisation's adherence to its values and behaviours has to be maintained. Achieving the alignment between what you say and what you deliver is most important.
As with your customers, an organisation has to live up to, or even exceed, the expectations of those it depends on for its success - its people .

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