Managing the disconnect between operations & HR

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I see it all the time. Undertrained employees, understaffed hotels, and the cost of employee turnover eating away at revenues. I've worn many hats over the years in hotels, and at the end of the day, I believe many service shortfalls in existing hotels can be attributed to the disconnect between operations managers and the HR department.

What are the issues?

I was at both ends of the table at Soho House, and while long chats and after work drinks with fellow operations managers were the norm, the tables were turned once I became their HR director.  Suddenly, asking managers for simple paperwork for an employee who sliced off part of their finger was like pulling teeth!  Instead, they pressured me to hire faster, fix their payroll errors and chase employees who had gone MIA. The support was lacking, communication was non-existent, expectations were out the roof, and for the first time in 3 years as a manager I felt I needed to make a decision between having friends and having a job!

What's the reason for the disconnect?

While managers all work for the same hotel, their skills, expertise, and day-to-day responsibilities are so varied that priorities are often unaligned. Operations managers work obscene hours and shifts, deal with customers, employees, suppliers, complaints and criticisms, and have to worry constantly about meeting budget goals. Simply put, they don't have the time, nor the care, to give HR the support needed to execute all the vital, though admittedly tedious, tasks required to keep a hotel running, and in compliance.

What are the possible risks?

Without a strong alliance between operations and HR managers, you risk the following:

  • Recruitment won't meet operating needs
  • Employees will lack important training
  • You risk making mistakes with payroll and benefits
  • Employee appraisals will be overlooked
  • Employee grievances will go unanswered
  • Employee satisfaction will decline
  • You expose yourself to compliance issues
  • Turnover will increase
  • Payroll costs will go up
  • You'll be understaffed
  • The guest experience will be affected
  • Etc.

HR training for non-HR managers as a solution

Providing my operations managers with training in HR principles was time consuming, and near impossible to schedule, but the results were monumental.  In my one year as HR director, managers gained a much needed understanding of HR's role and collectively we achieved the following:

  • Hiring became an art
  • Training became normal practice
  • Everyone received effective and timely performance appraisals
  • Payroll lacked errors
  • Grievances were less common
  • Employee and manager satisfaction went up
  • Turnover decreased
  • The guest experience was enhanced.

But above all, we went from a hotel at risk of becoming unionized by employee choice in July 2005 before I became HR director, to being the only hotel in history to ever defeat NY's largest hotel union in an employee vote one year later in September 2006.  This historical defeat against Local 6 didn't only save our hotel from operational nightmares under a union setting, it paved the way for independent boutique hotels in New York to maintain the autonomy needed to operate under their own management guidelines.  I can only hope they've heeded my advice and made efforts to train their managers in HR principles too, because the benefits are priceless.