Hospitality is a tough industry for employee training: Constant turnover, workers in their first jobs, and legions of part-timers all add up to a bit of a headache in developing a customer-focused culture. Since most businesses have similar HR challenges, much can be learned from hotels and restaurants in how they plan and implement large-scale learning.
A couple of years ago I was introduced to Sandra McCormick, then-national director of food services with the largest provider of senior residential care in Canada. In the business of retirement living, food service is the No. 1 contributor to customer retention. Sandra's mandate was to revitalize the old dining room service training program known as "Pleasurable Dining." She showed me the 60 slides full of words and Corinthian columns. I tried not to scream.
In our needs analysis, we discovered that the majority of the target group had English as a second language. We also heard that one of the staff's key challenges was the difficult behavior exhibited by some residents, many of whom suffered from dementia. Those 60 slides weren’t going to cut it.
The new program had to be fewer words, more action. We learned many important lessons during the design and national rollout of food service training. Some of the highlights that may be useful for anyone planning a large implementation include:
- Never underestimate the importance of a catchy title. Which program would you rather attend?
1. Pleasurable Dining
2. The Main Course: Creating a Five-Star Dining Experience? (Hint: this one) Although attendance was mandatory, a title sets the tone of hip/worthwhile or for dinosaurs/deadly.
- Build on the expertise in the room. The training groups were mixed: employees who were new to hospitality, highly experienced service staff, and everyone in between. We needed to design activities where participants learned from each other and shared difference approaches. In table setting, for example, servers shared different holiday settings, and napkin folding was elevated to an art form. Sharing expertise is especially important when developing a toolbox for how to handle difficult behaviors.
- Engage high-performing staff as messengers. Customer service training is better delivered by a peer than a professional trainer. This is an opportunity to develop facilitation skills and customer service champions throughout the organization. The facilitator team for this national rollout comprised chefs, food service managers, managers who were promoted from food service roles, and a maitre d'.
- Trainers need to be facilitators, not expert talking heads. In the train-the-trainer program, we developed facilitation skills aimed at creating a learning environment of high participation. The facilitator team understood that this was not an opportunity for them to show off how smart they were. This was an opportunity to recognize the expertise in the room and build from there.
- Ongoing rollout requires ongoing support. Too many companies launch programs with much fanfare and no sustainable plan in place to ensure quality. This facilitator team met in bimonthly teleforums to troubleshoot and share experiences they were facing in the field. This ongoing contact with the project leader helped facilitators feel connected to the project's goals and continue to build their skills.
The result? In the initial evaluation phase, the program has been given ratings north of 9.0 by participants and their managers. The organization has succeeded in communicating that dining room staff are valued and appreciated in their service to residents. And you know the saying, "We serve as we are managed."
Until next time ...
Karen Brill is a learning and development specialist in Toronto and a monthly contributor to www.trainingmag.com. Contact her at Karen.firstname.lastname@example.org with your questions, comments, and ideas to share with our community of practice.