Creative recruitment at Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park

A multi-million-pound landmark refurbishment of a luxury hotel requires a creative approach to international talent management ahead of potential Brexit related recruitment constraints.

Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park HR team
Overlooking Hyde Park and a neighbour of Buckingham Palace, the Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park is one of Knightsbridge’s most iconic buildings. The luxury hotel’s 115-year heritage has seen its magnificent Edwardian marble ballroom host a young Queen Elizabeth’s dance lessons.Today, it aspires to be London’s premier hotel in line with the wider Mandarin Oriental group’s ambition of being recognised as the world’s leading luxury hotel company.Over the last 12 months, the HR team has had to plan and manage the hotel’s 500-strong-and-rising headcount carefully as the hotel undergoes a transformational refurbishment. Half of the hotel’s inventory is out of action while the renovation is underway. Further investment is planned for a major new spa scheduled to open in spring 2018.Now, mid-way through the project, the focus of their HR business plan is very much on ramping up recruitment, attracting, engaging and retaining the team of people who will lead and deliver superlative service, and exceed guests’ evolving expectations with sensitivity and confidence. This means developing an international talent pipeline and engaging directly with the retention issue in the hospitality sector ahead of Brexit by working towards the launch of a brand-new employer value proposition, engagement strategy, development and rewards package.

HR and design inspired by the hotel’s history 

Relocate Global met with Jon Dawson, Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park's Director of Human Resources, in the middle of the hotel’s two-year discretely managed refurbishment. The atmosphere is very much business as usual, with the first fruits of the two-stage renovation programme, styled by designer, Joyce Wang, now in evidence.With at least three major hotel relaunches and refurbishments in his career portfolio – including the Grade 1-listed St Pancras Renaissance and Marriot International’s EDITION lifestyle-brand boutique hotels – Mr Dawson was approached by Gérard Sintès, General Manager of the Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park, a number of years before the project began.“When the scaffolding goes up please feel free to give me a call should an opportunity arise I said, so he did!” remarked Mr Dawson, over tea in the hotel’s Rosebery Lounge, as he explained his journey to Knightsbridge via the Midlands, Miami Beach and New York.“What we want to do here is build something very special. This is an opportunity to take a well-established and reputable brand and take it to a different level. From an HR perspective, part of this strategy is about how we engage our colleagues in a luxury setting.”

Creative approaches to HR

Tying in to the CIPD annual conference theme this year of embracing the new world of work, Mr Dawson recalled his time at Marriott International’s EDITION brand and explained the ideas the team are bringing to HR at the Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park.“At EDITION, we took everything about how you think of a traditional hotel and turned it on its head. We really challenged each other and designed teams and ways of working that had never been seen before. It sounds simple, but the reason why Marriott wanted to create this new hotel brand was to tap into a new market sector and the luxury lifestyle space.“Marriott realised there was a new type of modern luxury in the hotel market for people to attract people from the fashion, music, art and entertainment sectors because there was no real hotel brand out there for them on a global scale.“So, we said, ok, if that is who our guests are, we don’t necessarily want to employ traditional hotel employees because they may not understand that space. Why don’t we go and target employees from the creative class because they may want to come and work in hospitality?For the Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park, its location and guest profile means a slightly different approach to engaging talent in this luxury hotel. Mr Dawson is again calling on the skills of partners in the creative sector to deliver the hotel’s people strategy and to complement the refurbishment’s elegance and attention to detail. This time, and reaffirming the Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park’s historic links to the arts and putting the hotel’s opulent ballroom centre stage, Jon Dawson and the team at Mandarin Oriental are working closely and creatively behind the scenes on a collaboration the Royal Academy of Dance (RAD).“We are working with the RAD to help us develop the poise, posture and level of sophistication we need to have to move around. The whole strategy of the refurbishment is to be relevant and different. Those are words we use quite a lot. For example, the little touches like pre-empting guests’ needs and being emotionally engaged in conversations, looking for these clues as to how we can take guest services to the next level.”
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Global search for talent and Brexit

A luxury hotel competing at the highest level has to have a people strategy to match. Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park’s talent management strategy has global reach, bringing people in from around the world on graduate trainee programmes and international talent development postings.“We’ve put in place a new graduate programme so we have three new graduates in food and beverage, and three new graduates in rooms operations,” says Mr Dawson, who has just returned from a visit to world-leading hospitality management schools in Ireland to recruit for June 2018.A junior manager also at the hotel on the day of the interview had just received a letter to say his application to join the team at a new Mandarin Oriental opening in the Caribbean had been accepted. “It is the next step up on the career path for him,’ says Mr Dawson. “Yesterday, one of my team was also interviewing a colleague from Mandarin Oriental Bodrum, which slows down after the summer season and who wants some experience here in London. She’s a British National so there’s no problem with visas so the transfer process can be processed promptly to help her grow with the company.”However, the hospitality sector, represented by the British Hospitality Association, has been vocal about the impact of Brexit and the current uncertainty EU nationals face working in the UK.“Every meeting we go to as HR Directors, this subject arises,” says Mr Dawson. “We are working very closely with the BHA on taking action. However, it is difficult for us at the moment to put in any robust measures because of the uncertainty.“One thing that all we can do, and what we are particularly working hard on here, is to focus much more on retaining people. I think in hospitality, in general, it’s been too easy for us just to go recruiting.“What Brexit is going to do is make us focus more on the retention aspects and the question ‘what can we do to really engage our talent so they don’t want to leave us?’ It’s going to mean a different paradigm shift for how we think. A lot of our strategies here at Mandarin Oriental next year are really going to focus on that. “As we’re in Knightsbridge and recognised with the very best in the luxury market we have a strong brand presence, but recruitment is still going to be a challenge. As an industry, we need to go a lot more to UK schools and colleges and the grass roots and not just focus so much on the traditional hotel schools. We need to promote the industry better in the UK as a great place to work.” 

Planning for the future and harnessing technology

Brexit and the retention piece in mind, the ten-strong HR team, which formed under Mr Dawson last year, have created and are now implementing a three-year HR plan to support the business before, during and after refurbishment. This included detailed workforce planning for the first phase, where headcount had to be reduced, to where the hotel is now at the beginning of the build-up recruitment phase, and putting in the foundations for a revitalised engagement strategy to secure retention ahead of the building project’s completion next year. In the next 3-6 months, Jon Dawson and his team, including his HR Manager and a Head of Talent and Capability, will introduce a brand-new payroll, HR, learning and development (L&D), talent acquisition and capabilities strategy.“This year is really about the proposition we want to launch that to the team: here is our promise to you,” he explains. “There’s a lot of work and conversations that go in to that. We have partnered with an outside supplier, that I have worked with in the past, who are coming in this month and the next to do a little bit of a sense check with all our colleagues by face-to-face interviews and questionnaires. This stage is also to check where they feel we are with our vision of being Relevant and Different. “From that, we then build a strategy from January about where we are in our field. One of the areas I’m really passionate about is the whole package, rewards and benefits in the context of Brexit; what we promise and our colleagues' growth.“The new core system is also going to do some really interesting things around career and development. In the old Mandarin Oriental, you had a rota on an outdated system. Now our employees have an app; they can see the rota, they can sign in and they choose their shifts and holidays. In November, with my L&D Manager we are also launching the learning and development phase where people can also see what T&D is relevant and available to them.“Mr Sintès and the team are then launching the Career Question, which is where do you want to see yourself in Mandarin Oriental or in hospitality. From this we will have really effective data so we can actually sit with colleagues and map out a really good plan.”The London hotel’s plan will link in with the company globally strategy, where the company’s Hong Kong-based CEO and senior executive team have a key supporting role in talent development at Mandarin Oriental. Rising stars in the company have the opportunity to shadow executive board members, an arrangement that also facilitates reverse mentoring.

The value of employer brand in recruitment

Ultimately, building an employer value proposition that reflects the hotel’s world-class luxury hotel status makes recruiting the right people relatively straightforward, believes Mr Dawson. “There are some amazing hotel and catering brands out there. When you talk about the value proposition for the employees, you’ve got to be so strong. “I also look at the talent strategy for each of our different employee segments,” explains Mr Dawson, who is currently working with various recruitment channels in the spa industry, including magazines and specialist recruiters, ahead of the relaunch this spring. “A one-size-fits-all approach to recruitment doesn’t work anymore in hospitality. If you want to find people looking to work in the best hotel, spa or restaurant in the world, then you target where those people are now, and market the company’s recruitment that way. "Talking Brexit, we’re focusing so much on the attraction piece, and I see us moving much more to the retention piece in the next few years,” concludes Mr Dawson. “My advice to people in my position is don’t be afraid to take risks and do something different. Ask yourself what is the purpose and why are we doing it?“For us, it all goes back to the guests. When the refurbishment is all complete next year, I hope as well as having an amazing product, it will be the people that will really shine through. I’m confident we are going to achieve that.”Relocate Global will be reporting from the CIPD, the professional body for HR and people development, annual conference and exhibition on November 8-9 2017 in Manchester, where Jon Dawson will be speaking on day two in a case study session "Enhancing your brand and value proposition to attract the right talent.” For more information or to register, please visit the CIPD website.
Relocate Magazine Winter 2017 front cover
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