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SIGA, SIGA.....One Step At A Time
The Training & Development strategy I used to solve
a Hotel's performance problems
Easynews Newsletter Issue #102 May 11, 2010

 All content copyright of Claire Belilos
CHIC Hospitality Consulting Services,

CHIC Hospitality Consulting Services in Vancouver, B.C. Canada and
are not related to companies and web sites of similar names
in other parts of the world in any shape or form

ISSN 1499-8076 News Vol.1, No. 102
Siga, Siga.... One Step At A Time
May 11, 2010 - Copyright  Claire Belilos
CHIC Hospitality Consulting Services -
contact Claire at: easynews (at) easytraining.  com
subscribe at 

I.    Welcome to new Subscribers




A warm welcome to our new subscribers, and a thank you to all for doing me the honour of subscribing to this newsletter.

This newsletter is semi-technical and long, due to the subject-matter, which may prove to be of benefit to people on this list.   Most other newsletters are shorter, stressing one point or two.

There is a wide variety of group here: from students to instructors, from rank-and-file to supervisors, department heads, directors, and even presidents of (again!) a variety of companies and organizations in different fields.

When I think of it, it sort of scares me because how can one respond to the needs of each?  I try not to think of you as “a group”, “a bland, faceless, unit”, but as individuals who came to visit me and whom I visit in return.   I let the true spirit of “Hospitality” reign.  You are my guests and I try to prepare and serve a cocktail which, hopefully, will prove enjoyable to all. 

Please note that if ever you wish to advise of a change in your email address, you must provide me with the email under which you originally subscribed.  Thank you.

NOTE:  The last paragraph of this newsletter contains our usual  “permissions” regarding this content.

You can follow me twitter at


It is quite inspiring to learn of the varied responsibilities and challenges our subscribers have, such as the new subscriber who joined us.  She is in charge of the human resources development of   3,500 people.  Quite impressive.  How can one deal with all what this entails, from leadership training to supervisory development, the development and control of trainers, technical training, creating a motivated team of workers, keeping work performance up to par, ensuring excellence in customer service delivery, winning employee loyalty, skills training, and all what an organization needs and its people need? 

I tried to think of it.  I tried to see myself in that role.  Where would I begin?  I felt the need for “Nikoui Rosh” which, in Hebrew, means “cleaning of the head”, i.e. I felt the need to clear my mind first and not adopt a bewildered approach.  

I ran through my mind the steps I initiated when I took over as Training & Development Manager of the one-year old Jerusalem Hilton (which changed hands and is now the Crowns Plaza Hotel Jerusalem), which steps turned into a winning strategy.  We had anywhere from 450 to 600 employees, depending on the seasons and circumstances.   Besides the hotel, we also managed the Food & Beverage Services and Catering for the adjoining Jerusalem Convention Center, the Israeli Parliament, and the President’s Mansion.

Please note that I was not new to Hilton Hotels but was already with the company for more than 13 years in various positions, which means that I knew Hilton operations inside-out, though I had never dealt with Training & Development and this field was totally new to me .  A newcomer would have had to work much harder to spot shortcomings and decide what had to be done. 

At the time, Hilton called the position Training Officer, and though, in principle, it came under Human Resources, it was independent and I had to report only to the General Manager, which gave me a free hand.  My relationship with the HR department was only one of coordination and I myself was supposed to be the automatic replacement for the Human Resources Manager (at the time called Personnel Manager) in case of his absence.

I discovered that I had inherited a big mess and a myriad of problems.  I explained to the General Manager that at first glance, my activities would have to encompass much more than skills training since I detected overall lack of information, communication, motivation, and non-professionalism at all levels. 

I viewed myself as Training & Development Manager, and this is what my position turned into, even leading to the formal title of Manager instead of Officer.
So, how does one go about organizing training and correcting all the shortcomings which lead to unsatisfactory performance?  

The wise Greek expression: “Siga, Siga”, meaning little by little, or one step at a time, came to mind.  

“Siga, siga” does not mean not doing what has to be done or delaying it.  It is not equivalent to the Spanish “maņana”, meaning tomorrow (which people use instead of saying that something will  “never” be done).  It means: “Start your journey step by step, and you will surely get there.”

I asked to be allowed two weeks to study the organization, but management said “No time for this, we want urgent handling.  Jump in, swim or sink”.

I was given a room in the hotel so I could sleep there since I had come from Tel Aviv.   For two days I worked very hard, speaking with many department heads, supervisors, and some employees over coffee and  lunch.  I observed and took many notes.

I asked employees about the hotel’s facilities, opening hours of restaurants, type of food served, price range, which entertainer performed at the night club, etc..  I discovered that most employees and supervisors knew only their own work and department.  Many of them did not even know their department that well. 

I also discovered that most did not grasp the complexity of our hotel operation and our need to work continuously to maintain the quality of service our guests (and all the outside world) expected.  Most of them considered their work as a “job”  in beautiful surroundings, which they were lucky to find.

Those who were in the Front Desk did not know how Food & Beverage operations ran.  And they did not know the onerous responsibilities of the Housekeeping department, the Engineering and Maintenance Department, all back-of-the-house operations (such as Accounting, Auditing and Control, the Security department, the Laundry and Dry-Cleaning department, and Storeroom management and operations).  And, although their dream was to one day work in the Sales and Marketing Department, or get a position in Public Relations, they had no idea how these were managed. 

The picture was the same with employees in all other departments.  They were all isolated isles, not part of the larger whole.

I discovered that though department heads (division managers) more or less knew what the others did, they did not “really” know.

So, I decided that my first priorities had to be:

a) To discard the new employee video presentation the Hotel used as orientation training for new employees, and create instead a full-day professional Orientation Program, which would represent a concentrated course on the hotel’s operation, a guided tour of ALL the different departments, meeting with the General Manager and all department heads, and a sharing of information among those present (self-intros, what they did in the past, what they wished to do in the future, why they applied to the hotel, what they were studying or had studied, chatting and eating together), as well as explaining to them the challenges they would face as new employees, giving them turnover figures (e.g. highest turnover for new employees within the first three months of employment were reached, then before six months were completed, and  a much lower "drop out" rate after the new employee completed one year).   I prepared them mentally and urged them not to take difficulties personally or give up easily.

b) Arrange for “all” employees guided tours of the entire hotel, taking them, in small groups, to specific departments each time, with the department head concerned acting as host and instructor.

c) Arrange for all supervisors to spend one day for observation-and-explanation training at other departments (cross-training).  This was followed by organizing the same for all department heads.

d) Arrange for hands-on cross-training for all hotel employees in other departments (e.g. Front Office in Sales and Marketing, in Housekeeping, in Food & Beverage, etc.)

The rest, such as specific skills training, and customer service concepts, would come later. 

The above steps immediately generated great motivation and personal involvement among all, from the highest ranks to the lowest. 

And it gave rise to a genuine interest and eagerness to learn more about hotel management and the management of the different departments.

My message was: “You have here an opportunity to learn about hotel management and the management of the various departments.  Your learning here is of much value, if not greater, than attending classes at a college or trade school.  It will boost your career.  Learn, contribute, help to train others, work in a team spirit.  When the right opportunity knocks, you will be ready.”

When department heads received groups of workers for an explanation and tour of their department they felt quite flattered by the interest shown in their department and they viewed the visiting employees as fellow human beings, worthy of attention.  They loved it when employees asked them questions.  And we all saw how, following these guided departmental tours, employees began showing more respect and consideration for the department heads and departments concerned.

The cross-training and observation programs created a unified team.  It was no longer “us and them” in everyone’s line of thought and action, but became a “we, who work together to make this happen.”   They identified with the hotel and felt proud of their job(s).

When department heads were sent to spend one day each with other department heads, this engendered an unexpected camaraderie even though my intention was for them to understand each other and cooperate more, professionally.

The whole atmosphere of the hotel became one of learning.  Departmental and personal performance improved by leaps and bounds, and everyone looked happy.  The hotel benefitted, and the guests enjoyed the fruits of this environment and attitude.

Then they came to me, big and small, asking for “training in this” and “training in that.”

I began selecting Trainers for different job positions, subjects, and per department.  I worked with them and helped prepare them to conduct training.  The new Trainers were happy at their new role, boomed (walked around smiling), and bloomed.  Suddenly, everyone wanted to be a trainer.  It was the “in” subject (role).  Training became acknowledged as the best step towards self-development and for the furtherance of a career.

I formed and chaired a Training & Development Committee, consisting the General Manager, the Executive Assistant Manager, and all Division Heads and main Department Heads.  For every monthly meeting, I invited two line Superivosrs (to get their input and involvement) and one or two of my “internal, in-house” Management Trainees.   We not only discussed the existing situation in operations, customer service delivery, guest feedback, what was taking place in training, but also future needs.

I also formed a Safety and Security Committee, co-chaired by the Chief Engineer, and the Safety and Security Manager, with participation and attendance of a representative of the Local Safety Authority (government), and two Supervisors from each of the above departments.  At these meetings we discussed any perceived safety and security hazards and decided on what corrective measures had to be taken, when (to be completed by which date at the latest), and by whom, with firm commitments from those involved.

When almost everyone took responsibility for their own training and so many took charge of  others, I found myself with more time and a freer mind to plan further.  These are the next strategies I tackled:

a) Leadership training to be conducted by outside Industrial Sociologists

b) Selecting bright and promising employees as Management Trainees (3, or 6, or 12-month programs with specific supervisory positions in mind (such as Assistant Department Head)

c) Importing Management Trainees from local and international Colleges and Universities.  Their  scheduling and training direction were coordinated in advance with the colleges concerned. 

d) Training and coaching all management trainees for my position since I did not think that all what I had created should depend only on myself and that I should have possible replacements in case I had to be away, besides which I knew that when they filled my shoes they would have a real understanding of all the ups and downs of the various hotel staff, including department heads, and the various departments. 

Each department head and supervisor held a daily briefing for each shift to inform them of expected business, unusual occurrences in the previous shift, what was expected for the day (or evening, or night) etc. and answered questions.

Department head and supervisors held a weekly Communications Meeting for their department which included a lesson on a specific subject related to their work (we sometimes accompanied this with a training video, e.g. on food safety, or customer service), followed by a questions-and-answers session.

Employees were eager to attend and they came earlier or later, depending on their shift hours, in order to participate, without ever asking to be paid for the time spent on training (if they had to come earlier or stay later).

I had made it very clear that this is an investment on our part, in time and effort, and that this was a learning opportunity for them, which would turn them into true hotel professionals.  The Union never interfered but considered us as one of the best employers around.

In less than three months, turnover fell down from over 60% to almost zero.  Zero turnover is unhealthy.  This was the opportunity to pluck out our brightest for the internal management trainee programs, which enabled forward motion within the departments they left.

When we had reached the ideal situation, I approached the General Manager asking him to approve financing external courses for a number of  people and supervisors of my choosing since I knew best what each one was capable of and could become, e.g. one of our brightest gentlemen was wasted at the Front Desk.  Though he was shy and withdrawn, I saw him as our future Sales and Marketing Director.  I discussed this with him and he was genuinely interested, but he had one fault, which I also discussed with him: Shyness.  So I got the GM’s approval to send him to the Sales course of Dale Carnegie.  Going through that course, with a roomful of strangers from other companies, brought him out of his shell.  He still went through a more concentrated version of a management trainee program (working in all the different departments) but we soon appointed him as Assistant Sales and Marketing Manager, in which position he excelled.

We all dealt with task skills training as a separate, technical subject, with a different time-schedule and as part and parcel of a daily work life.

After less than a year, the Hilton International corporate office in New York advised us that we won their international prize for Training and Development.  The month after that we were surprised to learn that the Mayor of Jerusalem, the famous Mr. Teddy Kollek, was awarding us that year’s First Prize for Safety and Security Training in the Service Industry.

The Israel Hotel Association informed us that they had chosen our hotel for their yearly sponsorship of one person to be sent (free) to Cornell University’s Hotel Management Summer School Program, and I chose a very intelligent and diligent young lady from the Food & Beverage Department.

My boss, the GM, offered me to go too, at the hotel’s expense, but I had already traveled too much that year (sent by the hotel for a seminar run by Hilton International, plus a prize which consisted of a tour of European Hiltons).  I declined, saying we could do this at a future date.

Coming to think of it, I believe that the above described strategy would indeed succeed for an operation consisting of 3,500 employees.

You may ask “Is the above Training and Development” or is it “Organizational Development (OD)” ?   I myself could never see the subject of Training as a separate or stand-alone entity, but as part and parcel of supervisory, employee, and organizational development.

To complete the picture, I must add that since all department heads and supervisors dealt with training and development so effectively, as a result of all the base work and cross-training described above, we soon tackled another problem: At the time, Jerusalem consisted mostly of academics and there was a shortage of good potentials for the position of Server (waiter, waitress) so we opened our own Demi Chef school “in house”. 

The students were provided by the Ministry of Social Affairs and the Ministry of Labor, i.e. unfortunate youths from broken homes who had the potential to turn to a life of crime.  We hired a retired Maitre d’Hotel to train them in a banquet room.  I planned the curriculum with him to include all subjects they needed to learn such as Hospitality, hotel operations, service to customers, knowledge of other departments, spoken English, our Food & Beverage operations, etc.  Subjects not related to technical skills (Server skills) were taught by different members of management and actual Supervisors.  We provided them with uniforms, food, and a trainee salary (this last was shared between us and the Ministries mentioned).  At the end of the course, they received a Certificate for Demi Chef from the hotel.

This course changed the lives of these youth from the moment they got dressed up in our attractive hotel uniform, and it was probably the first time in their lives that they could identify with “the elite”.  We only had to fire two of them after two weeks because they would not accept this good opportunity and tried to drag all the rest back down with them.

These young people became very good waiters and remained with the hotel for many years.

Another crown in our head was the fact that, since we became known for our excellent training and development program, the Israel Hotel Association approached me to help them design a nation-wide program to develop existing Supervisors employed in Israeli hotels.  I was happy to draw the plan for this.  This was the very first such program of the Israel Hotel Association, scheduled for winter (off-season).   On my last visit to Israel, I was happy to discover that the program still exists and is highly valued by Hotel General Managers and Supervisors, who eagerly await these yearly refresher courses. 

Please send any questions or comments you may have to easynews (at)

Important Notice:   It has come to my attention that some other companies in different parts of the world, also called themselves CHIC Hospitality Consulting Services.  They are in no way related to me in any shape or form.

Thank you for your attention.

With best regards,

Copyright Claire Belilos, May 11, 2010

Commercial use of this newsletter is not allowed.  If you wish to be able to make commercial use of it, please contact me for licensing rights.  You may forward this newsletter by e-mail to others “as is” as a communication unto itself, with all headers, footnotes, and copyright notices  intact, including my name and all details (top and bottom; just use the “forward” button in your email box).  However, the distribution can only be free of charge and not against payment and not in a newsletter or service which charges membership and fees for the reading of content.  This newsletter should not be featured on any web site, be it a corporate intranet, membership restricted site, or public site, or translated or distributed in any other form, without specific permission from the undersigned, i.e. myself. 

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Claire Belilos
May 11, 2010 - Copyright  Claire Belilos
ISSN 1499-8076 - This publication is registered with the National Library of Canada and is published by
Claire Belilos, Management Consultant and Training Specialist
CHIC  Hospitality Consulting Company
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management and performance problems
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