By Richard Hatter
Note: This blog was first published on 15 January 2019 on www.hotelsmag.com/Industry/Blogs, where Richard has been invited to contribute a monthly blog.
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When I began my career in hospitality, the notion of widely sharing knowledge would have raised more than a few eyebrows. Operations worked in silos, information was generally guarded behind intranets and people were marched off premises with their belongings in a brown box the day they resigned, lest they share any key insights and the whole business fell down.
Thirty years on, and my philosophy towards knowledge sharing is the opposite. Here at Hotel ICON in Hong Kong, where I am the general manager and adjunct professor, the whole operation was built around the sharing of knowledge and educating a whole new generation of hospitality experts.
At the beginning, locally at least, a lot of the same eyebrows were raised. The hotel was developed for the School of Hotel and Tourism Management by the Hong Kong Polytechnic University for the very specific purpose of sharing hands-on knowledge of a hotel operation with the students of the Elite Management Program. From the conception of Hotel ICON, that much was understood. What was harder to translate was how a top-quality hotel experience could be fully integrated with students actually working and learning throughout every operation of the service.
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So we put knowledge sharing at our core and built outwards from there, sharing the brand’s culture with every employee and trainee, actively mentoring, encouraging communication and the exchange of ideas, implementing reward systems and highlighting the perceived benefits of learning this way. Having watched the effects of our programs now for several years and been lucky enough to have witnessed the nascent careers of many new hospitality experts, I believe this is the way to unlock the potential of each staff member and to move them beyond theory to practice, learning to fail, reflect and improve, collaborate for innovation, be openly creative and become more empathetic to their fellow team members and the multi-faceted needs of the customer. All essential for today’s service-first world.
Experiential learning and knowledge sharing at Hotel ICON is meaningful, moving students beyond theory as it simulates the real operational world with its complexity and richness, yet demystifies it at the same time, encouraging curiosity and a reassessment of the things the students had perhaps assumed to be true. Then, the hands-on working across the hotel departments means students have to look at working in new ways and from new angles, be agile and adaptable, overturning theoretical assumptions to reveal new insights. I have seen so many times that this is where the learning really begins and the value of knowledge-sharing is revealed.
Richard Hatter with student interns
Knowledge sharing works both ways of course, and nowadays as hotel businesses we receive daily information from multi-channel sources. This is the age of the millennial and an ever-changing technological landscape means that this is the always-on generation, hungry for knowledge, and knowledge that is available instantly. In turn, we will need to adapt our methods of learning and sharing as the demand will increasingly be for simple and information-agile systems, personal and real-time feedback and more creative freedom in the approach to tasks. Access to knowledge and active mentoring will be vital to attract and retain talent, with live and personalized feedback essential as well as direct measurement of individual successes and failures.
As ICON had developed over the past seven years, so has our approach to training. We have introduced storytelling sessions and reward systems, sharing and discussion forums and reflection exercises so knowledge sharing isn’t one way. From the feedback managers receive, we continually revise training topics and set new course objectives in order to achieve the best results all round.
It is vital to our process and operational culture that each line manager is involved as the knowledge/training topics are set, adding their ideas to make the whole training content more relevant and applicable to the hotel’s daily operation and our service philosophy, which is all around personalization and anticipation.
In the end, knowledge sharing works best when the connection is made between the individual and their role in assisting with the goals of the organization. Knowledge must have meaning, so that the sharing of it has energy and feeling and everyone feels involved. The importance of knowledge can only grow as we have more open access to it. I welcome this.
Richard Hatter Speaking in the Conference