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How to embed a Learning Culture

10 Top Things you can do right now!

by Sarah Brickwood

The ongoing staffing crisis remains one of the central challenges facing hospitality businesses. In a survey by Lightspeed’s ‘State of the Global Hospitality Industry’ (Jan, 2023) it was reported that 43% of hospitality businesses in the UK are running on lower staffing levels than required. Teams are working even longer hours, being spread thinly across shifts, and learning in these situations often becomes less of a priority due to time and resource constraints of management and teams.

But, it is these times when learning should be more important than ever – for new team members it is so desperately needed to ensure they know what they are doing and feel confident doing it! For upskilling and retention of teams, learning is absolutely key and needs to be embedded within the business culture – embedded in the way things are done, so that teams see the ongoing investment being made in their success and the success of the business.

So, how can you embed a Learning Culture in your business? Here are our 10 top tips:

Every task, every guest, every moment of each day offers a coaching opportunity.

In our industry, coaching is something that has been spoken about for a long time and most companies know that it needs to happen to ensure learning transfer throughout the team. However in reality, when the operation is busy, it doesn’t always happen. It can be tempting for managers and supervisors to lay a table themselves or to check a guest in, as they know they will be able to do it much more quickly than if a new team member does it. However, by taking the extra moment to show them how to do it, then next time there will be two people who can do that task.

Ask your supervisors and managers to think about the last shift they worked and how much coaching happened. Right now, coaching should not be one of the many jobs they do, it should be their Number 1 focus.

Effective coaching can improve retention and build the knowledge, skills, and abilities of individuals and teams. We have developed a dedicated two-part blog to support effective coaching: the first looks at Getting started and planning the coaching journey for management and teams; the second focuses on aspects of Delivering coaching sessions, gathering feedback from teams and evaluating impact and outcomes.

Taking a moment at the start of a shift to focus the team on the day can be so powerful.

Briefings help you to share your vision for the shift; this could be as simple as:

  • A reminder about what the team have been doing well lately such as acknowledging all guests when passing them around the hotel as this makes them feel valued
  • Sharing reviews and feedback (both positive and those that highlight areas that could be improved) – this is a great way to motivate teams and set goals for learning how teams can build on and improve the brilliant work they do
  • Communicating what the soup and the pie of the day is, so that everyone will know this information before the first guest is handed a menu
  • Setting goals for the day, perhaps some light competition that gets the team motivated and excited for the day ahead e.g., sales targets for a special or dish of the day from the main menu

Pre-shift briefings are a fantastic opportunity to begin embedding a Learning Culture. An addition to the pre-shift briefing could be a daily menu item tasting, particularly with new menu items, where the team can get involved. For example, a team member from the kitchen and bar can prepare a dish/drink and speak to the teams about the different ingredients involved so that teams have more knowledge to engage their guests and make recommendations!

Taking a moment at the end of a shift to “check in” with the team before they leave can reap huge rewards.

There are 2 great opportunities here:

  • A genuine thank you and well done at the end of a shift always goes a long way
  • Every shift in hospitality will have unique highs and lows and offer real-time examples of doing things well and not so well. Taking a moment to talk these through offers a learning experience

Ask the team to identify these simply by asking,

  • “What did we do well?”
  • “What problems occurred and what could we do differently next time?”
  • “What feedback did we receive from our guests?”
  • “Did all customers leave happy?”
  • “What would have helped us do even better?”

The answers the team give and the discussion that follows will be one of the best learning tools available to your business.

Share the knowledge that you want your team to have in a clear, visual way; the simplest tools are often the best!

The tasks that the team need to carry out each day may be familiar to us in an official Standard Operating Procedure (SOP)- type document. However, in their absence, a simple checklist is something that you can you do today that will take a few moments and help the team immediately!

For example, create checklists for the tasks that the team need to do on a regular basis be it daily/weekly or monthly, such as the pre-service tasks in the bar, or the mise en place in the restaurant, or the pre-arrival jobs for the events team, and present them in a simple visual checklist on the wall.

Visual aids make learning interesting and engaging; any information displayed in an infographic suddenly becomes more appealing.

If you are feeling a little creative (or have someone in your team who is) then drawing the information you need the team to know as an infographic can be a brilliant way to communicate information. Editable templates can be found online.

For example, how to greet a guest in the hotel, or the order of service for the restaurant, or the ingredients needed to make a cocktails like the infographic we made of our favourite cocktails below:

We all use technology every day; from watching videos shared on social media, to chatting with our friends via instant messaging- but do we make the most of this technology at work?

There are some very simple things you can do that will help you to ensure learning happens in your business every day using just your phone!

  • Images – Do you have images of the tasks the team need to complete each day? The table setup for afternoon tea or the tray setup for room service breakfast can be shared as an image; as a poster or by WhatsApp to the team’s phones so they always have a reference. These simple tools will only take a few moments to create yet will ensure that each team member has the information they need.
  • Videos – Have you shown several team members how to serve a drink recently? The likelihood is that they will remember most of what u have shown but may forget some of the detail. Recording a short video of you serving the drink and sending out via WhatsApp or sharing on YouTube (set to unlisted so only your team can access via a link) will mean that the team can access this whenever they need to
  • Remember those checklists we mentioned? You can share those here too, so the team have them to refer to with ease from their pocket!

Creating an environment where each team member feels comfortable asking questions will ensure the creation of a more knowledgeable team.

When team members ask questions, this helps us to identify and bridge gaps in their skills and learning. Taking a moment to answer a question will add to their skills and knowledge and needs to be encouraged.

Research has also shown that businesses benefit hugely from their team’s curiosity. It means that we don’t get stuck in the mentality of “we have always done it this way” and instead enable our team to question the status quo and be part of making the business progress.

Make sure that learning never stops.

In hospitality, no two days are the same; the variety that our different guests bring means that new situations and challenges arise all the time. By embracing these, we can learn from them and grow as people. It is easy though to overlook these learning moments. Get into the habit of reviewing with the team- either as part of a one-to-one conversation, or as a group during briefings.

Ask the team, “What have you learned today?” and empower them to share new skills and knowledge regularly.

Our failures are our learning moments, but our successes are the fuel that keeps us going.

We should always celebrate our teams’ achievements, no matter how small they seem. Ken Blanchard said that the best way to empower people is to “catch” them “doing things right”. By praising team members who have learned how to do a task or achieved a goal, we have the power to induce happiness instantly.

For example, congratulating a team member who turned an unhappy guest around into a happy guest, or a chef who has received feedback about their amazing starter, or a new team member who has managed to box a buffet table neatly for the first time.

The more we praise people on what they have achieved, the more they want to achieve and so motivation is increased. It also motivates others to do the same thing which is inspiring and spreads morale and positivity – especially important in the current climate. Where someone has done something out of the ordinary, maybe consider giving a gift or a small bonus?

No business can afford NOT to.

Spending money in a business that is trying to succeed in the current climate can seem unaffordable and even decadent. However, the reality is that your team are the face of your business, and they represent your company on your behalf every moment that they interact with a guest or customer. They need to be trained to do that to the best of their ability and in the way that you want them to do it. So, you can’t afford NOT to train your team.

Training using a company such as The Smart Training Company does not need to be costly. There are many options available that can be tailored to suit you, your business, and your team. At a time when we know you may not be able to free up many of your team all together, there are some great ways that training can be delivered in bite-size chunks, either via technology or onsite during shift. Please get in touch to discuss your needs.

All of the above can be done in a matter of moments, yet the learning may last for the team member’s whole time in their role, or even a lifetime! If you can achieve some of these then you will be well on your way to instilling a Learning Culture in your business. This is not just a “good idea” for “when we have time”; it is essential for us to develop our teams, to equip them with the knowledge skills and confidence to look after our guests and customers and to not only retain our workforce but also crucially, to stay in business.