Soft Skill Development for Activities Staff

To create an exceptional leisure experience for guests, staff must not only have the vital hard skills to perform their jobs, but they must also be highly trained customer satisfaction experts.  In other words, to be successful they need to possess the necessary soft skills to meet the emotional needs of the guests.  Ruby Newell-Legner articulates is well when she notes that staff should learn how to:

  • Create positive memories and family traditions … in each of the programs;
  • Proactively anticipate the needs of each guest;
  • Increase repeat visits;
  • Handle concerns with diplomacy and tact;
  • Politely answer frequently asked questions, even if it is the tenth time that day;
  • Sensitively handle any difficult situation from dealing with an upset parent to assisting a guest with a disability. (Ruby Newell-Legner, 2015)

These are admirable goals, but are they realistic within the context of training for seasonal staff?  When planning skill development for staff, it is helpful to first consider what skills they are expected to have prior to employment, what will they be taught in a formal staff training, and what are they expected to learn on the job (Powell, Staff Training: Planning for Next Summer Can Start with Recruitment and Retention Now, 2002).  This paper explores the value of soft skills and how they may be developed for seasonal activities staff at a luxury resort.

Previously Established Skills

Seasonal staff training is typically characterized by a limited amount of time and resources for formal training.  Therefore, it is critical to hire staff with previously established skills and abilities whenever possible.  The evaluation of these skills is relatively easy for hard skills, examples of hard skills that are screened for include lifeguard training or experience as a horseback riding instructor.  When it comes to screening for soft skills, it may be more challenging, but it is equally as important.  Possibly the most critical soft skill to screen for is emotional intelligence.

Staff TrainingEmotional Intelligence can be defined as a type of social intelligence, it consists of multiple components: knowledge and control over one’s emotions; self-motivation, the acknowledgement of others’ emotions and consequent management of the interpersonal relations (Cherniss & Goleman, 2001). Its knowledge and use can produce personal and interpersonal benefits and can be particularly beneficial in a hospitality setting.

Significant research has been conducted on each component of emotional intelligence, but perhaps the most significant aspect of emotional intelligence is empathy.  Empathy is the ability of detecting others’ emotions and through verbal and nonverbal communication (facial expression, voice, pauses, body movements, etc.).  Furthermore, it is the capacity of giving emotional support to another person when it is needed or requested.  Clearly empathy plays a critical role in the hospitality industry, both among staff, and, in particular, with the relationship to the guest.  Between staff, it is important to recognize each other’s emotions in order to create trust and to successfully cooperate as an effective team.  The ability to detect why a coworker is in a bad mood or is frustrated establishes the foundation for meaningful cooperation.  When it comes to interacting with guests, staff who are able to empathize can more easily determine a client’s expectations, needs, and desires.

The significant time and energy required to teach emotional intelligence coupled with the substantial value those that possess it bring to an organization, suggests that it is wise to seek individuals who already have this skill.  By hiring staff who have a good level of self-awareness, self-control of their emotions, social skills to recognize the guest’s emotions, and particularly empathy, a strong foundation is in place before formal and informal training has begun.

Formal Training

Formal training for seasonal activities staff at a luxury resort typically lasts between three and seven days.  The majority of training is in relation to hard skills, however, there is usually a soft skill component as well.  At a minimum, soft skill training should include teambuilding exercises and roll playing scenarios.

Teambuilding activities are important because they make a significant difference in the unity, community, connection, and culture of an organization (Cain, 2009).  Team building is important in a seasonal resort setting for a variety of reasons, including:

  1. Facilitates better communication – Activities that create discussion enable open communication among staff, and between staff and management. This can improve work relationships and in turn, the quality of work done.
  2. Motivates employees – Team leadership and team building go hand in hand. The more comfortable staff members are to express their ideas and opinions, the more confident they will become. This will motivate them to take on new challenges.
  3. Promotes creativity – Exposing staff to new experiences in a new setting will force them to think outside of their normal routine. Working together with other team members can ignite creativity and fresh ideas, which are great qualities to bring to any job.
  4. Develops problem-solving skills – In guest services a crisis can happen at any time. Team building activities that require coworkers to work together to solve problems can improve the ability to think rationally and strategically. Teams that are able to determine when a problem arises and know what they can do about it, can then effectively take charge when a real crisis occurs.
  5. Breaks the barrier – Perhaps most importantly, team building increases the trust factor among staff. Often in there is a disconnect between the leadership team and staff. Team building exercises give leadership the opportunity to be seen as a colleague rather than a boss, which can do wonders for employee morale.

Soft Skills GraficIn addition to team building, roll playing is indispensable in soft skill training for seasonal activities staff at a luxury resort.  Many employees scoff at the idea of roll playing, but in a hospitality environment it is critical for new staff to understand and react to likely scenarios before they occur with an actual guest.  Role playing builds confidence, develops listening skills, and fosters creative problem solving (Powell, Bixler, & Switzer, The Most Important Influences on Learning: Seasonal Staff Member Perceptions, 2002).  When a team role-plays, any number of situations can be thrown at them.  It provides a safe environment to encounter these scenarios for the first time, which builds confidence in team members that can help them in their day-to-day roles.  Good role-playing requires good listening skills. In addition to understanding the words the other person is saying, it’s important to pay attention to body language and non-verbal clues (which further develops emotional intelligence).  It is better to have a team develop these skills while role-playing than when they are trying to perform on the job.  No matter how outlandish the imaginary situation is, generally, something even more bizarre is bound to happen on the job. Role-playing will give teams the chance to get experience in handling difficult situations and in developing creative problem-solving skills.

Roll playing is also an ideal opportunity to educate staff on the level of empowerment granted to them to satisfy the needs of guests.  In his study, Kennish (Kennish, 1994) concluded that, empowerment is the best way to motivate employees to increase performance, provided that the employees feel that their jobs are meaningful, and their contributions are valued.  An excellent example is provided by the Ritz-Carlton where every staff member, without approval from their general manager, is empowered to spend up to $2,000 on a guest (Reiss, 2009).  That level of autonomy may be unusual, but every organization empowers staff to some degree, and it is critical for employees to understand what they can, and cannot do without authorization.  Roll playing is the perfect opportunity to illustrate how and when to exercise this authority.

Formal training at the beginning of employment should also be supplemented with ongoing training sessions as needed (Coooper & Whittington, 2010), however, it must also be acknowledged that in addition for formal training, informal learning plays a critical role in educating staff.

Informal Learning

Informal training and development is often overlooked in the new staff training process.  This is easy to understand considering it occurs in a rather casual and incidental manner.  Typically, there are no specified training goals as such, nor are their ways to evaluate if the training actually accomplished these goals or not.  This type of training and development occurs so naturally that many people probably are not aware that they are in a training experience at all.  Probably the most prominent form of informal training is learning from experience on the job.  Examples are informal discussions among employees about a certain topic, book discussion groups, and reading industry news and corporate literature about a topic.  Informal training is less effective than formal training if one should intentionally be learning a specific area of knowledge or skill in a timely fashion. Hardly any thought is put into what learning is to occur and whether that learning occurred or not.  However, this form of training often provides the deepest and richest learning because this form is what occurs naturally in life.

It has been found that four main types of work activity regularly give rise to learning (Eraut, 2004):

  • StaffShirtParticipation in group activities included teamworking towards a common outcome, and groups set up for a special purpose such as audit, development or review of policy and/or practice, and responding to external changes.
  • Working alongside others allows people to observe and listen to others at work and to participate in activities, and hence to learn some new practices and new perspectives, to become aware of different kinds of knowledge and expertise, and to gain some sense of other people’s tacit knowledge.
  • Tackling challenging tasks requires on-the-job learning and, if well-supported and successful, leads to increased motivation and confidence.
  • Working with clients also entails learning (1) about the client, (2) from any novel aspects of each client’s problem or request and, (3) from any new ideas that arose from their joint consultation.

Luxury resorts operators should recognize the importance of informal learning (see figure 1) and identify ways to facilitate its occurrence.

Conclusion

The most successful luxury resorts hire and train seasonal activities staff who not only possess the necessary hard skills required create exceptional leisure experiences for guests, but also employ soft skills that allow them to truly excel.  By screening for emotional intelligence as a previously established skill, organizations can increase the likelihood of success for employees.  Through formal teambuilding and roll playing exercises, new staff learn unity, community, connection, and culture of an organization.  Finally, recognizing the extent and value of informal learning will empower organizations to seek opportunities to promote this valuable type of training.


Bibliography

Cain, J. (2009, March/April). Essential Staff Training Activities. Camping Magazine.

Cherniss, C., & Goleman, D. (2001). The emotionally intelligent workplace: How to select for,measure, and improve emotional intelligence in individuals, groups, and organizations. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Coooper, C., & Whittington, L. (2010). Hotel Success Handbook – Practical Sales and Marketing Ideas, Actions, and Tips to Get Results for Your Small Hotel, B&b, or Guest Accommodation. London: MX Publishing.

Eraut, M. (2004). Informal learning in the workplace. Studies in Continuing Education, 247-273.

Kennish, J. W. (1994). Motivating with a Positive, Participatory Policy. Security Management.

Powell, G. M. (2002, November/December). Staff Training: Planning for Next Summer Can Start with Recruitment and Retention Now. Camping Magazine.

Powell, G. M., Bixler, R. D., & Switzer, D. M. (2002). The Most Important Influences on Learning: Seasonal Staff Member Perceptions. Canadian Association for Leisure Studies.

Powell, G. M., Bixler, R. D., Switzer, D. M., & Hurtes, K. P. (2002). Difficulty and Ability: Staff Member Perceptions of Seasonal Staff Training. Research in Outdoor Education.

Reiss, R. (2009, October 30). How Ritz-Carlton Stays At The Top. Forbes.

Ruby Newell-Legner, C. (2015, 03 22). How to Create a Legendary Leisure Experience! Retrieved from Ruby Speaks: http://www.rubyspeaks.com/seasonaltraining.asp#legendary[/wm_text_block][/vc_column][/vc_row]