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Q&A with Regan Taikitsadaporn of Marriott International

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The value of people serving people

Regan Taikitsadaporn, chief human resources officer for Asia Pacific, at Marriott International reveals why the hotel believes in developing and promoting employees from within, and the significance of having a solid, yet flexible, working culture

VITAL STATS: In his position as chief human resources officer for Asia Pacific, Regan Taikitsadaporn leads the human resources function for one of Marriott International’s fastest growing regions. His responsibilities include developing, formulating and implementing human resources strategies to support Asia Pacific’s current priorities and future growth. He has more than 20 years of experience in HR, with the past 15 at Marriott International.

How has the experience of being Marriott’s CHRO since 2013 been?

It’s been great. I love my job, I love my company, I love the people I work for. That makes it a lot more easier to wake up every morning and go to work. The beauty of the hospitality industry is that people are the key drivers. So talent strategies are critical to business success. That makes working in HR in this industry even more exciting and rewarding.

Why is there such a shortage of talent in this industry at the moment?

The industry is growing very fast, and there are a lot of developments. All of us are attracting candidates from a similar talent pool. Not only that, the Asian economy has probably been one of the fastest growing in the world. Hence, we find ourselves competing not only with the other hotel companies, but also other multinationals and local companies. A combination of such factors is creating the talent shortage.

Marriott is planning to more than double the number of its hotels in APAC. What’s your talent strategy here?

It all boils down to how we attract, retain and develop talent, primarily how to attract the next generation, Millennials specifically. The other focus is developing talent from within. We want our leaders to understand our culture, policies, practices and brands and that is going to help us be more successful, especially when we move into markets where we don’t have presence. We have programmes from graduates to leaders to help develop this trait. A big part of our culture is people first, so we want to keep them engaged and take care of them.

We want our leaders to understand our culture, policies, practices and brands and that is going to help us be more successful, especially when we move into markets where we don’t have presence.

How do you alter your recruitment strategies to reach out to Millennials?

Technology. Having a good attractive recruitment website is one thing, but we also let candidates apply for jobs using their mobile phones – and launched the mobile-plus two years ago.

In your experience, what do Millennials look for in their careers?

They look for opportunities and choices. We have a graduate programme called Voyage which puts college students through 18 months in a discipline of their choice and prepares them to take on supervisor or entry management roles. Participants get to work on projects and attend webinars with senior leaders. In Asia Pacific, we get around 70-80 participants for this every year.

How would you define the workplace culture at Marriott?

It’s about people taking care of people and that’s what we want in the hospitality industry. We want people to take care of our guests, but we also want them to have a desire to take care of each other, help out their colleagues.

There are five parts to our company culture – people first, pursue excellence, embrace change, act with integrity and serve the world.

I’ve read the average tenure for a GM at Marriott is about 25 years while elsewhere it’s much lower, and some 10,600 people have been with Marriott for more than 20 years. What makes employees stay on for so long?

We are company that is constantly growing. There are peaks and valleys, but overall, we have always been growth-oriented and focused on growing talent from within. It’s a great culture that makes you want to stay, while giving opportunity to grow.

I’m in my 16th year here, through which time I have been in eight roles, and worked in four cities across two continents. It feels like I get to change jobs every few years while staying with a company I love – akin to getting the best of both worlds.

We are company that is constantly growing. There are peaks and valleys, but overall, we have always been growth-oriented and focused on growing talent from within. It’s a great culture that makes you want to stay, while giving opportunity to grow.

Having worked across geographies, do you see any differences in HR practices in Asia versus the West?

Marriott has a lot of HR programmes that transcend the company. For example, we use similar assessment tools and the same performance review tools. Our recruitment website is the same. We have these common platforms around the world, but the priorities are going to be very different around the world, even within Asia Pacific.

Within Marriott, we have this great toolbox filled with tools. It is just a matter of what your priorities are and which tools you will be using to address these priorities in the different markets.

You mentioned in a previous interview that in 2014 two thirds of management positions were internal hires across Asia. Why is Marriott such a big fan of internal recruitment?

If you have talent who understands your culture and lives and breathes it, they can empower that philosophy to the next generation of associates.

We believe our culture is one of our competitive advantages – we talk, live and breathe our culture. So that is one of the reasons for focusing on that.

Another one is around retention. If you look at research on the top three drivers of retention, career opportunities is going to be one of those.

We believe by helping people grow their careers, we’re helping them make more money, hence, allowing them to take care of themselves.

For example, we have a programme called Essential Skills to help rank and file staff to become a supervisor or first-time manager. This is a 15-module programme – allowing participants to learn a range of skills such as basic communication, interview and time management skills.

You’ve also talked about how  associates in Marriott took an average of 36 hours of training and 78 hours of professional development to become managers in 2014. How do you measure the ROI of all this?

Measuring ROI for the programmes is hard because there are a lot of factors involved. But our metrics, for example, our guest engagement or satisfaction scores, have been rising over the years. Our stock performance has been very well, and our retention rates have also gone up since 2011.

Another factor is our ability to grow talent from within. Occasionally, we have to go outside to bring in talent for some of our leadership positions. We do bring in GMs from outside at times, but that’s only when we really have to.

We have mid-year and year-end discussions, but we encourage leaders to have regular meetings with their folks.

We do find it takes a length of time to acclimatise and run the hotel and learn about the company. If you were to put a value on productivity there, the fact we generally promote people from within really helps increase productivity and leadership effectiveness.

How does Marriott conduct its performance review process?

We have mid-year and year-end discussions, but we encourage leaders to have regular meetings with their folks. So, for example, I have regular meetings with my direct reports once a month.

In those, we talk about their development plans, and the day-to-day operational processes that they need help on, so when I do the mid-year and year-end review, nothing is going to be a surprise for me or for them.

Marriott has many brands and the HR team works closely with the different brand strategy teams to come up with the employer brand. How do you ensure the message is consistent?

We work very closely with our brand team and our operations team. Our global employer branding is “find your world”, and it aligns with our company’s purpose which is “world of opportunities”.

The “find your world” tag line is about finding your passion and being able to live it with us. It’s interesting how many people have started in other roles and ended up as general managers.

From a brand perspective, the tag line is around attracting the right talent to deliver that brand’s experience. The talent we need for the Ritz-Carlton hotel is very different from that of our lifestyle brand, Renaissance. Because the customers are different, and so are our expectations. Even the orientation and training programmes will vary.

Do you have employees moving across the different brands?

We do encourage it, but they would have to have a brand fit, especially for certain brands that identify key leadership positions as being critical to their success.

Marriott is also a big fan of women empowerment and leadership. How do you foster an environment that encourages gender diversity?

A big part of our culture is inclusion – making sure we create an environment where everybody is treated well, regardless of race, gender and sexual orientation, etc, and we give everybody equal opportunity to grow. Each year, we have a women in leadership conference, giving women leaders the opportunities to network.

Male executives also attend as they need to understand perspectives on aspirations, things they struggle with, and their fears. We’re a company that provides opportunities, so we’ll help them when it comes to the barriers, but we also like to encourage our staff to have a dream.

We’re a company that provides opportunities, so we’ll help them when it comes to the barriers, but we also like to encourage our staff to have a dream.

Is that what you do to encourage diverse teams to work together?

It’s just the whole culture of putting people first. It’s all about teamwork and respecting people’s differences. And the legal requirements, such as harassment policies and fair treatment of staff.

But the more important thing is to create the culture of valuing diversity and making everybody feel included. In Australia, our housekeeping departments have people from 20 nationalities.

They probably have the best teamwork – when everybody recognises and respects their differences and celebrates that. I remember one of our executive housekeepers would have her housekeepers share about their culture. They would bring little snacks or talk about holidays important to their culture or country, so that really nurtured their appreciation and respect of different cultures and backgrounds.

The other big part is senior leaders being role models. We have leaders with culturally diverse backgrounds who are role models in teamwork, and that really helps as well.

I work with a fantastic team, both my peers and the people who report to me, I couldn’t ask for a better team. Their diverse abilities and skills and knowledge, and backgrounds. We don’t always agree, but we get the work done and we work together well.

I get asked a lot, when I attend meetings with my peers, and they talk about some of the challenges of trying to get the HR agenda across their peers in other disciplines. I’m very fortunate in that talent is such a high priority for my peers that they’re always looking for advice on what more they can do and how they can help to roll out the voyage programme.

I’d normally ask what HR can do to be at the executive table, but it looks like Marriott is already there.

We’re there, but it doesn’t mean we can stop thinking. From my perspective, we have to always think from a business lens and from a consumer lens, and make sure we help address those issues, trends and priorities that the business has.

It may be the same programmes that we use to address those (issues), and maybe we just have to do a better job telling our story as to why we’re doing certain things.

I think HR should ask the right questions, because you’re not going to know everything when you become a senior leader, so asking the right questions is a skill that good HR leaders generally have.

If I just go, “we need to roll out assessments”, people will go “why do we have to waste our time on assessments?” as opposed to telling them “our focus is to improve customer preferences and guest engagements in our lifestyle brands, so from a HR perspective, these are the few things that we can do to help you achieve those results”. I think that approach will definitely help you get to the table.

Do you think HR leaders today have what it takes to become CEOs?

I think to a certain extent, yes. Because HR is one function where we can dabble in every discipline. We have the presence, especially since every discipline has a talent strategy or need, so we’re at the table for every different function.

You really learn about the business, the priorities, the functions and areas that you work at. I think HR should ask the right questions, because you’re not going to know everything when you become a senior leader, so asking the right questions is a skill that good HR leaders generally have. Those big questions, thought provoking questions, and leadership might help.

In the next five to 10 years, where do you see the function heading?

The function’s prevalence will become even more important and I think it’s a great opportunity for HR professionals. This is the time where you’re either going to make it or break it.

If you look at the challenges many businesses face, it’s really around having the right talent to match growth or talent shortage – how to hire better talent than the competitors, and then you have the Millennials who want to change jobs every year and want to grow faster, so how do you make them grow faster?

I think the next five to 10 years will be an exciting time for HR professionals and for those who are able to be good partners, be think strategically and tell the story. From the business perspective, those leaders who will find an important seat at the table.

I think every CEO or president deserves to have a good HR business partner – a need perhaps as crucial as to having a strong financial partner.

Image: Elliot Photography

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