Chris Sheppardson founded hospitality recruitment consultancy Chess Partnership back in 1998 with the desire to focus on representing real people and matching them with the right cultural fit in organizations. In 2005, he set up EP Business in Hospitality as a platform for industry directors to come together and discuss big issues. Today, EP is a thriving network of experts that hosts 70 events a year to bring people in the industry together for the purpose of sharing knowledge, exploring ideas and boosting engagement. Here, we sit down with Chris to discuss how the management of human capital hit its all-time low in the last 20 years and how we must use technology in the right way to combat that going forward.
You have been in the hospitality industry for many years. How have the challenges that the hospitality industry faces changed throughout your career?
The challenges have actually gotten more prominent throughout the years. Talent management and skill shortages have been in constant deflate since the mid ‘90s, and one of the really frustrating things is that you could take some of the talks we gave about employee engagement back in the mid ‘90s and still give them today. If you look at the stats, learning and development budgets have halved in the last 20 years, for instance going from 2% to 1% in the UK, and turnover has gone up.
What do you think is the cause of this?
In the ‘80s there was a real shift towards entrepreneurship, which is good in many ways. It all became about wealth development for the individual, which went on to dominate for 20 years. That’s great on one side because it created the best generation of business ever, but the downside is that it became all about creating wealth and cutting cost. The consequence of that is people opted out of corporate life and worked as independent entrepreneurs, eventually creating the gig economy that we are faced with today–a real problem for staff retention everywhere. Plus, when technology broke through in the early 2000s it mainly served to alienate people further. It caused more problems like reducing efficiency at work. We managed to become more casual in our communications and not manage our data flow: a single letter written to a client in the ‘90s soon converted into 6 unnecessary emails.
Let’s just say, if chief executives were measured by the stats on human capital management, we’d all be fired. We may be hitting great profits, but our management of people is as poor as it’s ever been.
How do you think technology can help here?
It’s about using technology correctly. There’s the counter argument that organizations are investing in learning and development but its not impacting what really matters in terms of engagement, which is why tools like Eko are particularly important right now. It’s about using the right tools for the right purpose. It’s not just about developing skills– actually young people have very good technical skills–it’s about engaging with them and making them feel like part of the company.
It’s also about using the right tools to enable productivity. The average employee receives about 100 emails a week but mentally you can only take 22. This leads to exhaustion and means that the average employee will only achieve 3.5 days of productivity every week. Technology used wrongly can also create a sense of loneliness and a silo effect. New research has come out that 40% of people at work don’t believe they have a single good friend at work. This would’ve been an alien concept back 20 years ago. It leads people to have mental health issues, and some people leave their job purely because they don’t have a friend. Again, another reason why using technology correctly to enable communications and engagement is very important.
What else can companies in hospitality do to boost staff retention?
Create a strong culture that provides a better environment to grow. A positive culture will make people feel like they don’t need to worry about making mistakes and failing, and there’s been a real growth in the fear of failing lately, making them feel more vulnerable at work. Leaders need to set the tone, especially the middle management as that’s usually where the struggle is. This is a problem for businesses of all sizes. Entrepreneurs are often the worst communicators. They’re very self driven—a bit like athletes—and single minded, determined. Often, they don’t see the effect they have on other people as they grow their business.
With regards to Eko, which tools do you find the most useful/transformative for the industry?
There’s a growing problem of employees not trusting their leaders, and it all comes down to the fact that they don’t get access to the leader. Just by using Eko alone to bridge that, you can make a major financial difference from the retention of staff.
Nowadays when you go to a hotel, you’re buying an experience and not just a product. Hotels need to know they can’t deliver good experiences without having engaged employees who willingly want to deliver that positive interaction. You have to have tools that really hit frontline staff and make them feel supported, which Eko can do effectively.