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How Red Carnation hires and retains great staff.

by Saloni on November 20, 2012

When it comes to creating a truly memorable luxury hotel experience, it takes more than just good design, exquisitely comfy beds and sumptuous dining to win over today’s demanding traveller.

The true heart of any luxury hotel is its staff and the service they give to guests.   And since they recently won the award for Excellence in Recruitment and Retention at the HR in Hospitality awards, we thought it would be interesting to look at Red Carnation Hotels as a case study.

Accepting the award, Liz McGivern, Vice President of HR at Red Carnation, said: “Finding great people and holding onto them isn’t easy, so how brilliant to have this endorsement.”

So just how exactly do they do it and what can other businesses (as well as individuals who may wish to apply for a career at Red Carnation) learn from the firm’s recruitment and retention philosophies?

Finding the right people

As Ms. McGivern mentions, finding the right people for the job is perhaps the hardest part.  According to the recruitment section of the company’s website, the firm seeks to “employ people who have extraordinary dedication, expertise and above all else enthusiasm for taking care of our guests.”  Nothing unusual there, but perhaps their knack for spotting and nurturing potential goes closer to explaining how they do this consistently.

In a video on Red Carnation’s YouTube channel, Ms. McGivern explains the qualities they look for – “A typical Red Carnation person is someone that has an inborn, inherent idea of what great service is.”

It’s equally important to find a close match between the ideals and expectations of the firm and those of the potential new employee.   Malcolm Hendry, General Manager of Rubens at the Palace and Hotel 41 (currently number 1 on TripAdvisor) seems to embody how well this principle is working at Red Carnation.  “Fundamentally,” he says, “the company and its ideals and its culture of service and customer priority match my service expectations – it’s the environment that I want to be involved in.”

The group’s management programmes and internships, coupled with its good reputation as an employer, also enable it to attract some of the most promising talent from universities and hotel schools.

Executing the right training

Of course, finding the right people is just the start and it seems that Red Carnation is just as meticulous when training and developing people.  At the heart of this are the group’s 12 ‘service standards’.  These are a formalised list of customer service mantras that staff are asked to put into practice at all times.  A few examples include: ‘Practise a “yes I can” attitude at all times'; ‘No request too large, no detail too small’ and ‘you spot it, you own it, you fix it, you follow it’.

Beyond these standards, the group of luxury boutique hotels also has well-orchestrated systems of HR development designed to help people excel. These include over 60 internal training courses, many aimed at helping team members take their career to the next level.  And by understanding the importance of job satisfaction and promoting from within, they are able to retain the people they’ve invested so much time and money in.

Retaining talent

The mark of a successful ‘people’ organisation is one that retains its staff and develops them, year in year out.  One of the key ways in which Red Carnation does this is by ensuring its staff are as happy as its guests.  In the previously-mentioned recruitment video, Chris Campbell, Assistant Concierge of the Chesterfield Hotel, warmly states: “It could be called the family Red Carnation – I would love to call it that because it’s like a family.”

Peter Bradley, Food and Beverage Manager at the Montague on the Gardens (and the brains behind its unique Ski Lodge bar), mentions the ‘hands-on’ managers and owners.   He says that “it creates a culture of teamwork that I’ve never experienced in any other hotel business.”

For example, even the group’s Managing Director Jonathan Raggett has been known to don an apron and work in the kitchen as part of the company’s job swap scheme designed to build empathy and teamwork.

Perhaps what really helps Red Carnation though is that its staff really seem to care about and embody the service-driven culture that is at the heart of the business and this enables their talents to really shine through.

A good example is Lia Poveda (pictured above) – the Head Sommelier at The Milestone and previously interviewed on this blog.  Another is charismatic Antonio Pizzuto (pictured top), the martini magician at Egerton House Hotel who welcomes guests as if they were inside his own home.

Any lessons for hotels and other businesses to draw from Red Carnation’s award-winning recruitment & retention strategies?  Here are a few:

  • Have a recruitment plan to attract the right people and learn to spot them by listing the prized traits in your current high performers
  • Create opportunities both for new talent and for current stars to grow
  • Have a framework to encourage staff to excel and to care deeply
  • Care for staff at least as much as customers and nurture a team ethos
  • Great staff are not just hired – they are grown and developed
  • Lead from the top – top executives should also embody the values

Further proof of this culture can be found in the fact that Mrs Beatrice Tollman (Founder of Red Carnation Hotels), after winning the prestigious European Hotelier of the Year award recently, was quick to share the credit with the entire Red Carnation team.

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Photo credits: London Hotels Insight, Red Carnation Hotel Collection.

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