A rendezvous with reward

by 14 Nov 2006

Melissa Yen speaks with Patrick Sheehan, VP of HR for Rendezvous Hotels and Resorts International, about what it took to win the Davidson Trahaire Corpsych Award for Employer of Choice (more than 1,000 employees) at the 2006 Australian HR Awards

Rendezvous Hotels and Resorts International currently operates in 12 cities across Australia, New Zealand and Asia. Established in 1997, it has now grown to employ more than 2,500 people and provides 2,800 rooms for hire every night of the week.

Rendezvous Hotels and Resorts International received the Davidson Trahaire Corpsych Award for Employer of Choice (more than 1,000 employees) at the 2006 Australian HR Awards for its “Exclusively Rendezvous” program, which encompasses recruitment, orientation, lifelong learning, career and employee development initiatives.

Since its inception, Rendezvous was founded on six core values of honesty, integrity, respect, transparency, teamwork and no politics. However, the seven hotels that formed the group at the time had multiple HR approaches. Essentially, there was no group-wide recruitment presence in the marketplace.

“There were various approaches towards learning and development,” according to Patrick Sheehan, vice-president of HR for Rendezvous Hotels and Resorts International. “As a consequence, the organisation was not doing what needed to be done at that point to be recognised as an employer of choice. But more importantly, it wasn’t necessarily capturing the best talent that was available in the marketplace.”This meant the organisation had seven different cultures, seven different approaches towards recruitment and seven different beliefs about making a presence in the recruitment marketplace.

“There wasn’t the need that there is now in regards to having a strategic approach to human resources. There was more of a day-to-day people management need. But now we have a very clear need for a strong, strategic HR approach to the organisation,” he says.

According to Sheehan, the term “employer of choice” is quite often misunderstood in terms of how an organisation recruits and attracts people. Rather, he believes it is as much about how an organisation retains people. “Once they commence with you, it is about how you grow them and then how you allow them to shine and gain the greatest amount of productivity from those people inside the organisation.”

Strategies of choice

There are three keys to Rendezvous Hotels and Resorts International’s employer of choice initiatives, Sheehan says. These are clear branding in the employment marketplace, a clear sense of culture development and talent management.

In executing the first point, Sheehan says clear branding relates to what Rendezvous is about and revealing what it is like to work there. Rendezvous’website contains a significant amount of information about its hotels, locations, key aspects of managing day-to-day operations and what it might be like to work there.

Rendezvous also makes a specific number of templates for recruitment advertisements available to all its hotels on a private website to improve corporate profiling. “They have very clear, strong messages about who we are and what the opportunities are to work with us. There’s a corporate profile on the site that talks more about Rendezvous, what it is like to work with us, what our beliefs are, what our culture is like and so on,” says Sheehan.

A crucial aspect of the organisation’s employer of choice status lies in marketing vacancies internally. “Part of the issue about being an employer of choice is that you give your own people, internally, as much or more chance to fill that vacancy.”

In order to provide its employees with growth and development opportunities, Rendezvous set up an internal job vacancy system through its intranet. Candidates who hold the skills and experience necessary to fill certain positions are also sourced internally, before offers are made to external candidates. In effect, the organisation has seen more than 20 per cent of its positions filled internally over the past year.

“If your position in the employment marketplace is strong, then it means your average position should fill pretty quickly and you should have a significant number of candidates to choose from. Our evidence from the statistics that we keep is that our positions generally fill within one month. Typically, we achieve more than 50 candidates and 50 applications per advertised vacancy.”

Culture also plays an important role in Rendezvous’ success as an employer. Sheehan says it comes down to establishing a clear message of what the culture is like and ways of encouraging people to engage in that culture. The six core values form a corporate foundation for Rendezvous’ culture. Everyone who joins Rendezvous understands the values are non-negotiable and is required to sign up to them. “They’re actually in all of our employment contracts,” Sheehan says. “We measure our managers in particular; we measure their performance against those core values each year to ensure that they are good, strong role models for the core values.”

For the culture to be real at a local level, it needs to be relevant to each and every person in the organisation, Sheehan says. With disparate operations across the Asia-Pacific region, Rendezvous ensures its culture is alive and strongly representative of employees in local businesses. “We do that through a system called UGRs (Unwritten Ground Rules),”Sheehan says. UGRs refer to the way tasks are carried out. “They’re often unspoken about, but they’re real to the local people in regards to how we think and behave and operate inside our company.”

These rules are explored through Rendezvous culture sessions, which every new employee attends. During these sessions, employees are asked questions about what UGRs they find to be the most positive or negative and what they believe can be done to improve them. This information is then given to the general manager, and the management team of each hotel is required to respond to and implement plans to improve UGRs within one month. Managers then publicly talk to their employees about what will be done to improve the UGRs in that hotel. “As a result, we find because those response plans are driven locally within the hotel that our culture is alive and kicking and it’s talked about by our people. This means our UGRs have a really strong, positive impact and we have a strong lived culture.” Rendezvous also runs an employee engagement survey twice a year across each of its hotels. This helps evaluate the management of the hotel as well as the effectiveness of learning and development systems.

Another key plank in Rendezvous’ employer of choice status is talent management. This comes down to early talent identification, Sheehan says. “It’s about having quality learning and development systems that allow us to assist these people to improve their work and personal skills. Research worldwide reveals that development of work-based skills is important, but development of personal skills is even more important for people today, in regards to wanting to stay with an organisation and develop a better organisation.”

The company provides broad-based personal and professional career and development opportunities. One example is “Taskforce”, where a group of employees with a variety of skills and knowledge assists with the acquisition of new hotels to the chain. “Job enrichment” consists of a program of experiences and activities designed to enable key employees to learn through exposure to other Rendezvous hotels and operating environments. Internal conferences among senior management are also held several times a year, and Rendezvous also provides 12-month management traineeships. The chain invests more than 1.5 per cent of payroll in learning and development each year, with a focus on supervisory skills, culture, customer service and sales and marketing programs, for example.

Good performance management is also essential. “If we help our people meet their aims then they’ll stay with us longer, and as a result of it we will meet our aims as an organisation,” Sheehan says. As such, Rendezvous provides a range of performance-linked competitive rewards and recognition.

Crossing the barriers

Rendezvous is spread over a large geographic area traversing four countries, which presents a number of challenges in communicating and implementing initiatives across a variety of cultures, languages and beliefs.

Senior managers are engaged in establishing HR initiatives in order to add value across the whole of the organisation. “I met with every single one of them, spent time with them, talked to them about what was important in their business in regard to people management and what were the challenges that they faced.” He asked them what they would change about the people management landscape within Rendezvous, which assisted in establishing support for some of the HR initiatives that were in the planning stage.

One of the major lessons for Sheehan in this process was about buy-in and communication. “You can never communicate about these initiatives enough. You can never encourage people to get engaged in the process enough … If I had the time again and the opportunity, I would slow down some of the implementation to try and gain a greater understanding, buy-in and engagement at a business unit level in the initiatives that we were going to implement,” he says.

Becoming an employer of choice

In order to become an employer of choice, Patrick Sheehan, VP of HR for Rendezvous Hotels and Resorts International, says organisations should first ensure their HR strategies are inextricably linked to the business strategies.

Secondly, HR professionals should be considered true business partners if they can add value across the organisation, not just in HR. "You can't afford to allow HR people to just sit in HR and not be involved in the broader range of the business."

Finally, a clear understanding of the reasons behind each HR initiative is necessary. In order to be effective, Sheehan says HR needs to measure the outcomes of all initiatives against the objectives, and never undertake any HR initiatives that are not directly linked to the business impacts. "We need to get past and stop doing the nice-to-do things, and we need to only implement initiatives that are measurable and that directly add value into the business," he says.


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