Lowering turnover, increasing morale: The search for the right attitude

Sofitel’s unique recruitment and retention drive for its new Montreal hotel

What do the right attitude, knapsacks, passports, caps and gowns have to do with staffing? For Sofitel’s newest hotel in Montreal, it was a combination that worked in a unique recruitment and retention drive.

The upscale hotel, opening this fall, needed to fill 150 positions. Turnover has traditionally been an extreme problem in the hotel sector, with turnover rates regularly exceeding 50 per cent, said Genevieve Gravel, the human resources director for Sofitel Montreal. With this in mind, the hotel came up with an innovative program designed to find the best candidates and make them feel right at home as soon as possible.

Step one in the process was to have managers — not HR — conduct the first round of interviews. The managers were looking for one thing: the right attitude.

“That is the single most important element in a candidate’s profile because it is the only thing that cannot be taught,” said Gravel.

By pulling the managers in to do the first round of interviews, more candidates could be screened simultaneously, and it made the process of evaluating the candidates faster than if HR was conducting the interviews on its own. It also gave managers the chance to take ownership of the hiring process, which Gravel said made them more motivated to find the right people. This combined effort will generate a team that fits the corporate culture on both a departmental and hotel level.

“They choose carefully and deliberately,” said Gravel. “In a tight labour market, choice is limited. In this market, we had the luxury of choosing only the top candidates.”

The presentation of the resume was the first phase in the screening process. Since Sofitel is an upscale hotel, it wanted staff who pay attention to detail.

“We will disqualify an application that is not neat and clearly formatted, that is missing information such as hire dates and telephone numbers,” said Gravel.

Once a short list was made from the 1,500 resumes received, they were handed over to the managers who then decided which applicants they want to meet. If they passed this initial interview with the manager, the applicant received a second interview with the director of operations or the director of human resources. Consensus was reached for each applicant. Those who made the short list were interviewed, via telephone, by a third party outside of the hotel.

“They are professional interviewers who do a behaviour-based interview that focuses on the values of Sofitel,” said Gravel. “They do in-depth reference checking and call us with the results.”

Candidates who has passing through these hoops successfully are called and an offer of employment is made. Even though the staff member is now hired, the recruitment process isn’t over. Gravel said Sofitel extends the process into the first few days of training in an effort to reduce turnover.

“The training process was designed to be unique because we have a product that is unique,” she said. “We want to make an unforgettable impact on every new employee. Our objective is to offer a career, not only a job. Starting with a new company is a journey.”

When they arrive for their first day on the job, the new employees are given “life kits,” which are knapsacks filled with Sofitel goodies. They’re given passports, which they carry with them and have signed by training session leaders as they move through each phase of training. The finale is a graduation ceremony, complete with diplomas and gowns and a reception.

“We rented the traditional black gowns and hats for the graduation ceremony,” she said. “We will serve cocktails, present the diplomas and toss the hats up in celebration of their achievements.”

Gravel said the combined recruiting and training efforts have led to a significantly lower turnover rate for Sofitel North America — about 25 per cent.

“I believe that the turnover rate is lower within our organization because we spend so much time in the recruitment process,” she said. “Our objective is to hire the right person the first time. Once you have the best employees working for you and competent and fair managers running the organization, the employee experience is positive. We believe in developing our star employees and promoting them from within. Perhaps the biggest incentive lies within our promise of personal growth and development. You have to work hard for it, but career development is very accessible to those who are successful.”

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