Elevating learning to new heights

Wani Azahar in conversation with Denise Ang, regional HR director; and Lisa Daly, corporate training manager, CÉ LA VI.

Vital stats: Part of a global headcount of nearly 500 at CÉ LA VI, Denise Ang, regional HR director, and Lisa Daly, corporate training manager, work hand-in-hand to elevate the employee experience as the high-end lifestyle brand prepares for a global expansion.

Q As a brand synonymous with sophistication, how would you describe the culture at CÉ LA VI?

The team is vibrant, energetic, fabulous and hungry. They always want to learn more, regardless of position. They want to progress and are hungry for success.

Q On that note, what do you think staff appreciate most about working at CÉ LA VI?

We are very big on personal engagement and the employee experience. A lot of times, companies may take their F&B team members very lightly. We want to turn that notion around and show that we really value our employees – at all levels.

Q Having such a hungry team tends to push HR when it comes to training and development. Could you share more on your training programmes?

The CÉ LA VI Training Academy was launched last year and it aims to organise and facilitate learning and development. It expedites acquisition of knowledge, skills and abilities required for effective job performance.

The training and HR department work closely to ensure we have the right people to do the job. We offer training needs with an array of innovative and diverse programmes that support the company’s commitment to employee development and recognition.

Some of the typical training topics include product knowledge, culture awareness and diversity, allergy awareness, a P&L course, safety, spirits and wines, communication, customer service and standards, as well as cross-training.

In essence, the academy provides quality cost-effective training designed to increase individual and organisational productivity. We want to work on their skills, knowledge and abilities for effective job performance. Team members don’t apply for a job thinking: “I don’t want to succeed.” They want to be good, so how do we give them these tools to build their confidence and to be good?

Q Could you take us through a typical training session?

Leveraging on technology resources, we work with different tools such as e-learning or a manual which they can digest in their own time and language.

For instance, we start off with the “welcome on board” programme that is mandatory for all team members. It could be HR, chefs, finance, marketing – everybody – and we get all team members to go through the introduction of who they’ll be working for. We talk about key values, philosophies, visions and missions.

We work closely with Marina Bay Sands and this year we are placing a focus on terror and fire evacuation. We’ll be working with the emergency services.

We also bring them to the restaurant to enjoy a three-course meal.

We will play games such as relay races or scavenger hunts where they will need to go around the premise to find the coffee machine, the washroom, the pharmacy, or even take a photo with a chef.

These are the things you’re scared to ask on your first day, and yet they are also questions customers may ask you on the first day. This way, we get it right from the start. We give them all the tools on that day.

Q What drove CÉ LA VI to do a learning overhaul?

We actually had a complete makeover of the restaurant, and thought this was an amazing time for the team to get together. Sometimes when you’ve worked for a company for a couple of years, it gets to the point where you’re too afraid to ask (basic) questions. Through this, it allowed everyone to get back to basics, completely re-energised.

The biggest challenge in hospitality is time. It’s never people. It’s trying to find time. Some of us start at 9am while others may finish at 4am.

Q How has the progress been?

It’s important for the people to work with us, and as part of their development, to share what they’ve gotten from external workshops. The trainers might seem nervous at first, but you see them getting more confident as it goes by.

Q What were some of the challenges you faced?

It’s the resistance to change, as most of them are our service team members (not from the corporate office). While they’re very good at using their mobiles for games, it might have been a little troubling for them to learn to actually get online to learn.

The biggest challenge in hospitality is time. It’s never people. It’s trying to find time. Some of us start at 9am while others may finish at 4am.

We try to do multiple workshops to accommodate the different work schedules. But truly, it’s all about educating and encouraging staff to stick it out and see the results.

Q Following this, what will CÉ LA VI be focusing on this year?

We are strongly focusing on recognition this year. We have introduced new initiatives and incentives where staff get various perks such as a meal on the house, a day off, and more, just for being a shining example. Positive reinforcement is essential. If you see someone doing right, tell them that – rather than just focusing on the negative.

Yes, we are in hospitality, but it’s hospitality on stilts – outdoor conditions, long hours, and having different types of people from different nationalities pushes you to wear different hats at work. I’m proud to say our team works very hard.

Not only that, we will be identifying team talent, and on the lookout for people who are able to share our values and brand knowledge for the global expansion.

Q With CÉ LA VI being a key player in hospitality, how do you attract and retain talent in an industry known for high turnover rates?

First things first, natural attrition is healthy. Some people are trying out just to see if it fits them. Just as how we are assessing them, employees are also assessing us. We’re at least 30% to 40% below industry attrition rate, and hope to maintain or even go slightly lower than this.

Training is one, and the level of engagement is the other. Everyone’s busy, but for us we really practise face time with the team members. They have a voice and want to be heard. Yes, we might not agree to it all the time, but we need them to know there’s a channel for them where someone is listening. The personal touch is important, especially in this industry.

Second, HR and training works closely together. For example, Lisa is always on the ground and team members will come and share things with her that they might have held in. At least now, when we’re on the floor, it gives them the chance to share their feedback.

With that said, the key to retention is getting the right team. In hospitality, there are so many diverse roles. For example, on the floor itself, we have service staff and bartenders – both requiring very different skills. You don’t want to scare talent off thinking, “hospitality is not for me”, when maybe it was that the specific role was not the right fit. It begins first by assessing people, and seeing what they’re good at, where you should put them (in roles) and develop from there.

Q Talking about attracting talent, do you think employer branding has helped CÉ LA VI?

To a certain extent, yes. CÉ LA VI positions itself as a high-end brand, and with it comes a certain connotation that you’re associated with a sophisticated brand.

However, we wanted to close the gap between the intimidation of our spending power here. We’ve worked with hospitality schools to familiarise students with the brand and how team members can rise up the career ladder. We hope the younger talent pipeline will see how it could be for them.

For senior-level, it’s about the global expansion that we offer. As we touch on global, it’s a really big incentive. They’re always interested in going overseas and gaining that regional exposure, and as a flagship, we give them the tools to teach their job globally. It is our culture.


Q Reports have shown the F&B sector is pioneering in automation. What is CÉ LA VI doing when it comes to tech in HR?

We are working on a LMS system which offers our team members personalised training programmes. It will focus on training core competencies through certificated modules and tuition videos (from brand ambassadors) around the globe.

Open to all team members, it offers them a platform to ask questions, and even get certificates when they have built up a series of achievements. They can also easily track their progress through this system.

In fact, the new system will allow managers to also track the progression of each member and identify areas where extra support is needed.

Additionally, managers will have access to a full library of learning exercises, TM quizzes and currents SOPs. Managers are so busy on the floor that sometimes they don’t have the bandwidth to think of new and interesting modules. This way, they just need to choose one, click on it and done – with the ease of logging in from anywhere.

We’re also looking to develop it in multiple languages – with some of the key modules in Mandarin soon. Of course, with the global expansion that is happening, we need to make sure that even the learning is on global standards. After all, HR is about creating an impact in someone’s life. And here, it is about being one team, one family.

Art Direction: Mohd Ashraf; Photography: Elliot (Studio Three Sixteen Pte Ltd) – www.studiothreesixteen.com Makeup & Hair: Michelle Chin (www.michmakeover.com) Using YSL beauty Singapore