Becoming The Best Employer: The Grand BrightonCase Studies

Becoming The Best Employer: The Grand Brighton

9 min read, by Steve Cater

It's fair to say that the People team at The Grand Brighton have had an excellent year. Following back-to-back awards, I sat down with their People Director to hear more about their strategy, to talk about the moment that they were crowned "Best Employer" at the Catey Awards, and to hear what's next on their people agenda after all of their 2019 successes.

I hope you enjoy!

"Undoubtedly, winning the best employer at the Cateys this year is not only the best moment of my year, it's probably the best moment of my career."

Andi Hirons - People Director, The Grand Brighton

In my discussion with Andi, I learned just how competitive the talent market is within the industry. There are well over 1,000 food, restaurant and hotel outlets in Brighton and Hove and the competition for talent is extremely high. Pay is fairly consistent and businesses have to stand out by doubling down on creating the best employer brand, to see them have a chance of both attracting talent and continuing to retain talent in a very active and competitive market.

Combine this with the fact that a career in hospitality, does not always get the best rep. In fact, it's been reported that only 17% of parents regard hospitality as a positive career.

And with Brexit looming, uncertainty in the labour market brings even more challenges to a business and an industry that relies so much on its people.

Building robust and innovative people strategies, is critical to business success. And there's no doubt that The Grand Brighton are leading the way. In the last few months they've donned their frocks and picked up gongs for "Best Employer" at the Cateys, "Team of the Year" at the HR in Hospitality Awards, and "Best Employee Engagement Programme" at the Caterer.com People Awards.

So, what's their strategy and why is it working? How does an iconic hotel focus on what matters to attract the right people and nurture those people, to ultimately deliver an exceptional customer experience in an already highly competitive market? One where customers care more about the overall experience than the bricks and mortar they call home for a night or two?

The focus is threefold.

First: learning and development is key to the strategy. Making sure that there is a robust L&D strategy that allows their people to grow and progress.

Secondly: employee engagement. Whilst their recruitment strategy is massively important, you'll see that the awards they've won this year aren't for talent attraction. As Andi, puts it, "it's because our focus is creating the best experience for our employees so that they choose to stay with us."

And finally: Employer brand. Recruitment is the byproduct. The focus is on continuing to build their brand.

Practically there is a lot of advance planning going into preparing for a hard Brexit. But there is generally a level of confidence that the industry will continue to attract EU nationals.

The hotel is also very active in the community, trying hard to continue to build relationships with parents, with schools and colleges through local events and at career focussed events, to engage with the future local workforce and put the opportunity that exists forward fairly as much as possible.

Andi was also very passionate that in delivering on their people strategy, they continue to do everything possible to put the welfare, well-being and best interests of their people first.

So, how does this all fit into the business strategy and is it working?

The Grand Brighton is focussed on creating a brand experience that enables their customers to have an exceptional experience when they're there. By exceptional, they mean something that is unusually good and something that is clearly outstanding. In trying to create something exceptional for their guests, they need an extraordinary team and to create an extraordinary team, they have to give their people the same level of extraordinary experience that's being demanded for customers. Or, an extraordinary employee experience that delivers an outstanding customer experience (service profit chain).

Proof that the strategy is working can be seen in the hotels highest ever level of employee engagement (eNPS results measured through pulse surveys) combined with their best results for customer experience.

In 2014 the retention rate was 42%. Over the last few years, The Grand has increased this to over 70%.

"I think we won Best Employer because we were genuinely able to demonstrate that we put our people at the heart of the business, through our initiatives and through the results."

Mo has been working with The Grand Brighton throughout 2019 and we've launched a very successful reward and recognition scheme to all employees. I wanted to understand more about how Andi and her team approach considering and launching new initiatives to support their strategy. What is clear, is that before things happen, there are two phases to launching anything. The first thing that needs to be achieved is complete buy-in at an executive level. With this initial commitment comes the next important phase - validation by employees.

The "Think Grand" team is an internal forum that makes the decision. Leadership buy-in is not enough.

By getting this validation from a broad group that represents the overall employee voice, the People team is in the best possible position to launch things that not only have top down blessing from the business but also has validation from employees that the initiative is needed, and fit for purpose; giving any initiative the best possible chance of working for both the employee and the business.

In exploring reward and recognition, key to the solution (or scheme design) was the option to have "custom rewards" that focussed on what is meaningful to the different types of people that work at The Grand. They knew that the team didn't just want voucher-based rewards or cash-based rewards. They wanted experiences. The rewards given to employees for exceptional effort and contribution are all experience based. And a large portion of those experiences (and the most desirable) are based within the hotel!

"The most used experiences are those in the hotel. And that makes me really happy! That someone would take the vouchers we've given them and choose to come here for dinner."

The fact that employees are choosing rewards that are based within the hotel demonstrates how connected their people are to the brand. Choosing to come back to "work" to go for lunch or for cocktails shows that they feel part of it and that they're proud of that.

I'm sure many of us have worked at an organisation that once we've finished for the day, the last thing that we'd want to do is return later that day!

The custom reward options are constantly growing. Annual cinema tickets, National Trust membership, gym memberships, new dining experiences in the hotel have all been added. These are constantly reviewed by the team and by the wider employer group.

"We focus a lot of our time as a leadership team understanding performance, not results. If we focus on delivering performance, the results will follow."

So, a successful people strategy. The highest level of employee engagement. Exceptional customer experience results. Three industry leading awards. Retention right up at 70% in a challenging market and at a challenging time. Does it get any better than this? What are the plans to continue to build on these successes and go from strength to strength?

I asked Andi if things can get any better. Her answer, "yes we can!"

A core value to the business is being "progressive". The aim for them is to be at the forefront of everything they do. This mantra resonates massively with us here at Mo as one of our values is "progress". We both share the drive to be better. For 2020, Andi are her team are really focussed on diving into the data of everything that they are doing at the moment to make sure that they are getting the most out of everything. This determination to incrementally increase the performance of what they're doing from a people perspective, plays true to the value that their people are determined to live and work by.

"2020 is about really focussing on everything that we are doing to absolutely maximise the impact of our initiatives and what that means for the business."

So, what can we learn from the amazing success seen at The Grand Brighton? I asked Andi for her three tips for anyone else determined to move the needle for their people, regardless of whether they are in hospitality or not...

#1 - Make sure people are at the heart of your culture

Challenge those around you and specifically challenge the leadership team to make sure that people are absolutely at the heart of the culture of your business. A lot of people say it, but words are cheap. And often we hear these words, but they are left wanting when the output demonstrates otherwise.

It's important to have total confidence that this approach is right.

#2 - Be in a position to influence

Wanting to change things and being able to change things are two very different things. It's vital that to get things done, and ultimately make progress, you need to be in a position that is as equally heard as other voices in the business. If the people function is less heard, challenge this.

HR can often be about policy and procedure and in a people business, it's important that People are truly on the business agenda.

#3 - Always be listening

It's vitally important to always check, going back and always continuing to seek opinion with everyone. It's an ongoing cycle that means that you are consistently trying to understand things and keep improving. Include everyone in this. It's vital that people feel included in the decisions that are made! And it goes an awfully long way in understanding what matters and where things can be better.

A huge thank you Andi and The Grand Brighton for not only being an amazing and forward-thinking customer to work with, but also for lending us more of their time to be involved and share their story with you.

Mo is working with more and more businesses within the hospitality industry. And we've learnt what works well and how social recognition, meaningful rewards and employee-led ideas can play a central role in making work more meaningful for people that work in hotels, restaurants and bars. If you're interested in learning more, we'd love to hear from you. Get in touch.

To find out more about careers at The Grand Brighton, visit grandbrighton.co.uk/careers