I recently had the chance to speak with Jeff Kulek, General Manager of the London Hotel West Hollywood, about hiring great people and building a culture of growth. Below is a summary of what Jeff shared in our conversation.
Like attracts like: Get the right people by incentivizing referrals
Hiring the right people starts with our existing employment base. We have a lot of very talented and passionate people that we get to work with every day. We created an incentive program for them to provide referrals.
Like attracts like. People that are quality and passionate about living and about being hospitable are likely to have friends and family that are very much like that. As an example, my lead host just recommended two very talented hosts for us to hire during the summer months as an example of that and she’ll be having an incentive for referring two people to us.
Recruit on a Saturday morning visit to Target
Another way to hire great people is encouraging your leadership team to listen and look for those people that are out there in other service industries that have transferable talents while they’re out and about in their daily lives. People that smile, that you can feel their presence when they’re with you, that you know you have their undivided attention and they’re being so thoughtful and so professional and pleasant with you, whether you’re dining, whether you’re in a supermarket, wherever you might be.
It’s amazing where you can find talent. I actually found somebody, believe it or not, very early morning one Saturday at a Target store. You would think, “Why would a luxury hotel hire somebody from a Target store?” It’s really not about a place where someone has worked. It’s more about who they are as a person, their attitude, their sense of welcoming, their zest for living.
You can train anybody to do any type of job. Job training is very easy to provide, but what you can’t teach people is how to smile, how to make someone feel welcomed. You can find those people almost every day if you really open your eyes and pay attention to that. That’s another example of recruiting amongst the many other ways we go about finding talented people.
Treat your team as future leaders
When I started here, there was a breakfast supervisor that shined more brightly than any other manager in the front of house and food and beverage. Today, he’s our food and beverage director.
He worked his way up the ladder. He worked very hard. It wasn’t given to him. But through his attitude, his spirit, his determination, his pride, his commitment to guest service and team member service, he worked his way into that role. I have many, many examples of that. If you look at almost any department at this hotel, someone has been promoted in that department to a higher level based on their interest and desire, first of all, but also based on their skillset.
There’s somebody right now that’s working as a catering administrative assistant for us that we’re looking at as a catering manager because of how professional, how welcoming, how excellent this person is with our customer base, and how hard this person works. So, the spirit of the person really leads them on their journey to accomplish whatever goals they’ve set out for themselves, and by there, we all benefit from that.
Recognizing and respecting your team
As leaders, we have to recognize our team members are just not a pair of hands, they are a whole person with a life and a heartbeat and a family. This is somebody that we should care about and get to know.
I get here at six o’clock in the morning because I want to see my overnight crew before I start my day. I don’t leave until I see my night crew. I want to look someone in the eyes and I want to know that they’re doing well. I want to ask them how their family is and how things are going for them. I treat them with kindness and with mutual respect because of what they bring to the table. It doesn’t matter what your position is.
We’re people in a service industry being of service to everybody, and that includes our team.
A lot of times people will come forward and talk to you freely and they’ll tell you about problems in the operation or concerns they have about a challenge they may be facing or an opportunity to provide a better service product to guests. And then it also fuels those fans that help people rise above their current position and say, “I want to be in hospitality. I like this. I like how I feel when I’m servicing people.”
For me it’s about treating people with respect and looking them in the eyes and showing them I’m Jeff. I’m not Mr. Kulek. I’m not the title of my job. I am a person too, and you’re a person. We’re going to respect each other and we’re going to get to know each other along the path.
Make your team feel a part of something
You want your team to think, “I’m not just someone doing a job. I’m a part of this team that makes this hotel run successfully and provides amazing service to our guests. I know that my GM wants me to go out of my way to provide amazing service to you.”
The team is empowered to do that. They heard it directly from me and we work at this together on a daily basis. That’s why some hotels are so successful. We have an amazing structure of a hotel. It’s an all-suite product, but the building can’t talk. It can’t communicate with guests. It can offer luxury and it can offer amazing products and services, but the experience that you have in being taken care of while you’re staying here and getting to know the team during your stay makes it extra special.
Live your mission and vision in day to day work
Our company has a mission, vision, and values, which we have shared with everybody. Pre-COVID, we did have round table meetings where we met with a member of every team in the hotel. We had three of those a month. There were a variety of different team member celebrations we would do as well.
I think the best way to get people to come forward and share challenges is by providing a comfortable environment where they feel confident and comfortable to pop their head in your office and say, “Hi, Jeff. Do you have a minute?” Because I’ve walked around the hotel all day long talking to everybody. Not only that, I will not walk by somebody without saying hello. I don’t care. If I walked by the front desk 10 times, that person, I’m going to say hello to them 10 times. One way or another, “Hi. How you doing? Are still having a good day?” or whatever it might be, but I’m engaging with them on a regular basis.
They know that I’m genuine, that I have integrity in my word. If someone brings a problem to me, I handle it immediately so they know that I mean business. They know that we promote from within and we care about them. So there’s a lot of different ways just by being a kind, genuine person that you can develop that type of relationship where people want to talk to you.
“It’s a beautiful thing to see someone’s life blossom”
The last two assistant general managers that I’ve worked with here are both general managers now. So the level of pride I feel about that is through the roof. But just to see somebody advance and grow and develop and learn, it’s a very emotional thing. You really talk about work, family, and I know what that feels like. I don’t have any children of my own, but at work I have 200 children in a way because we’re responsible for them while they’re here. We’re responsible for how they’re trained, how they’re cared for, what type of food we serve them, how we recognize and reward them, and how we mentor and develop people. It’s very important. There’s a whole team of people here that want to grow and want to advance and want to have a career that’s beyond their current position. I like that opportunity to help someone find their legs underneath them and help them accomplish that, even if they have to leave the London in order for that to happen. I don’t want to hold anybody back.
Those last two assistant GMs that I mentioned, we both cried as they were saying goodbye. We both did. It was like I was seeing a fledgling leave the nest and they were the little birdie that is flying the coop, but even to promote somebody from within and have them get emotional about that. That front up, that food and beverage supervisor, I mentioned, that’s now the food and beverage director, I’ve seen him go from being single, to married, to having two children, to him and his wife being able to afford to buy a house.
It’s a beautiful thing to see someone’s life blossom. I think that’s what hospitality really is about, even for your guests, to see someone’s time with us bring about a greater sense of happiness because they were here.
Taking the time to lead
If you adopt the philosophy of leadership as I’ve described it, it’s not like doing extra work. It’s just who you become as a leader. While you’re doing that 10 hours a day, six days a week, or whatever it is you’re working, you are still engaging with your team. You are still mentoring them. You are still helping them make decisions. You’re the leader so people are naturally bringing problems, questions, and concerns to you.
So your opportunity might be when they walk into the door to say, “There’s a guest that wants to speak to you at the front desk because X, Y, and Z,” and you could still take that time and say, “Gosh, Eric, you know what, I’ve noticed that you’ve changed your hairstyle and you look so much more professional and I really liked…” It could be some little compliment or like, “I like your new glasses that you bought. Okay. Tell me about the guest.”
It’s just taking a moment and being real or saying whatever it is that you need to say to acknowledge them and it becomes just a part of your everyday behavior. It’s an adopted behavior that you decide, “I’m going to engage everybody. I’m going to acknowledge everybody.”
If someone doesn’t acknowledge me while I’m conducting a site, I stop and acknowledge them. I’ll say, “Oh, hi, Bertha. How are you today?” whoever it might be during the site, it doesn’t matter to me because they’re people and I care about them and I want them to know that they matter.
And then, “Yes, let’s go out and talk with this guest and find out what might be wrong, and then I’ll show you what I do to fix the problem. Learn from my example. Here’s your opportunity to learn something. I’ll teach you how to fix this, so the next time you can just handle it.” So you become a teacher.
We all get incredibly busy and there are days where you don’t have enough time in the day to accomplish all of your goals, but if you can really engage your team and be the very best person that you can be on a daily basis, then you can put your head on your pillow at night and go to sleep knowing that you’ve accomplished your goal for that day.
Even the most financially minded people we work with are people too. They want acknowledgment. They want to know that the general manager has five minutes to come to sit down and say, “Mark, how’s it going? I know you just bought a new house. Was your move successful? Did you get that landscaping done that you wanted done at your home?” or whatever it might be.
I don’t do it just because I’m wasting time. I do it out of genuine curiosity, but also to show that I really care. And then I really do want to know, “How was your experience moving into that new home? Are you happy?”
Yes, you have to show that you can produce the right bottom-line result, but it doesn’t hurt the bottom line to be nice. It doesn’t hurt the bottom line to develop people. It doesn’t hurt the bottom line if I engage people. They will want to transfer the treatment to the guest and to make their stay better and to make them want to come back and create demand and all of that. It doesn’t take any money to be genuine to somebody.
Adele Gutman has been honored as one of the Top 25 Most Extraordinary Minds in Sales & Marketing by the HSMAI for achieving exceptional results, driving revenue through Guest Experience and Reputation Cultivation. During her tenure as Vice President of the Library Hotel Collection, the brand astonished the hotel industry by repeatedly earning the #1 highest guest satisfaction rating of any luxury hotel brand in the world. Now, Adele is available to help hoteliers implement the award-winning Five Star Review System she developed over decades in hospitality. Learn more about Adele and The Five-Star Review System here. Request your free assessment with Adele today.