Snapshot with Minor Hotels’ Chief People Officer Caroline Stevens

To overcome the challenge of being irrelevant at the workplace, we need to structure talent management around skills, not roles, she says. This would result in a more adaptable and agile workforce.

Caroline Stevens has been spearheading the HR function across several hospitality brands through her career. For seven years, Stevens showcased her talent and passion in the HR realm at HYATT Hotels, more than three years at Hilton, and four years at Jumeirah Group. Today, her fire is going strong – 11 years and counting – at Bangkok-based Minor Hotels, which has a portfolio of over 530 hotels, resorts and serviced suites under its brands such as Anantara, Avani, Elewana, Oaks, NH Hotels, NH Collection, nhow, and Tivoli.

“I have always loved the buzz of our industry where no two days are the same,” Caroline Stevens, Chief People Officer, Minor Hotels shares with Human Resources Online.

Her experience at Minor, she says, has been ever so humbling and rewarding. “Spending time in our hotels and resorts, meeting our team members and leaders who have made the company the success it is today whilst at the same time grown their careers and experienced new geographies is by far the most rewarding aspect.”

As with many HR professionals, it is clear that, Stevens’ dedication and commitment to her craft is unparalleled. What’s clearer though is that Stevens brings her own motivation - one that is sustainable in the modern working world. Stevens not only has a purpose that motivates her, but she also enjoys getting better at what matters – and that is, working with various leaders, serving the people at Minor Hotels.

Continue the conversation below as Stevens shares more about her work at Minor Hotels with Lester Tan. She dives into her most innovative HR campaign, her support in upskilling & reskilling, her role in environmental, social, & governance (ESG) goals, and more.

Q What was the most innovative HR campaign that you've worked on, and what was your biggest learning from that?

It’s hard to stand out and compete for talent against larger and more established players – not only in the same industry. It was critical for us to differentiate our offering from others. We needed to share how our team members felt about working for us and match this with what the job market was/is looking for – or even doesn’t know exists.

To lead this transformation, support the rapid growth of the company, and deliver value to the business, we developed a memorable HR campaign rooted in Minor’s history and culture: ‘Minor is More’. And “More” means so many things – “more growth”, “more opportunities”, and “more belonging”.

Our history demonstrates that you can make great things happen starting from a very young age, and by making the most of what you have.

Just like William E. Heinecke founded the company when he was only 17 and transformed Minor into so much more than anyone expected, likewise professionals in Minor can find the ideal environment to transform their career path into so much more than they would have ever dreamed of.

We tempt applicants to “begin their careers with a Minor change”.

Q On the other hand, what is the hardest decision you’ve had to make as a HR leader?

Headcount reductions during the pandemic by a long way. Despite all our best efforts, we still ended up eliminating roles because we did not know when travel would return and how long we would need to face this crisis.

In my professional experience I have never seen or ever thought I would see something of this scale and the toll it took on me, particularly when it came to those in my own team that were such a strong fabric of our team. Yet given the bleak and uncertain outlook for the business we had to reach that decision and did our best to support people leaving the company.

Q How closely do you work with the Founder and the CEO, and what are the specific projects that all of you work closely on?

Very closely indeed. As we often say at Minor, we are big enough to deliver, but small enough to care. In fact, everyone at Minor has direct and easy access to both William Heinecke and Dilip Rajakarier.

Mr Heinecke - our Founder - is our Chief Talent Scout. He is always on the look-out for gems and willingly joins the interview process. He is an excellent mentor for our young generation and hosts and participates in any programmes and events we have. It is always such an honour and pleasure to watch him, his aura as he interacts with our team members. He has a wealth of experience, plenty of ideas, and is always curious about new trends. He challenges us to not sit back and rest on our laurels, but to look at what’s not working for our guests, team members and other stakeholders and do something about it. At Minor, we are a team who thrives on being comfortable to be uncomfortable – that’s how we learn and that’s how we get better.

Mr Rajakarier, our CEO, is a mastermind of M&As and has an amazing brain. He demands that every activity must impact the business. His forte is in the financial space so we work a lot together on projects that will enhance productivity for the business without jeopardising the quality of experience we offer our guests and team members.

Despite their fierce reputations, they are both very kind-hearted. We do a lot within the communities we operate in and for our team members (especially during COVID). Perhaps we should communicate our efforts more, but it’s not our style to do things and widely promote ourselves to look good. We just get on and do things because it’s the right thing to do.

Q What kind of support do you and your team provide to all employees in upskilling and reskilling to remain relevant in and outside of the hospitality sector? Why is such ever-more important in today's modern workplace?

One of our five core values is ‘people development’ and as such our people are given the opportunity to unlock and maximise their potential, rise to the challenge and go beyond – even before COVID. The crisis forced us to be more creative and resourceful in our offerings.

Here are some examples of the opportunities we provide for upskilling & reskilling:

  • Internal online learning platform which houses both internal programmes and skills programmes from HSMAI and eHotelier.
  • Partnership with content experts and providers including Skillsoft and LobsterInk to offer the most current and relevant skills content.
  • OnDemand Leadership and soft skills development through MIT-Sloan, Percipio, and eCornell.
  • Leadership development programmes and journeys to provide leaders with skills for their current role as well as their future role.
  • We also skill and upskill our next generation of leaders and ensure they apply the learnings through the companywide ‘NewGen’ programme.
  • We’re also very keen on involving our top talent in our new hotel openings or sending them on taskforce to one of our 500+ hotels and resorts.
  • And last but not least, we believe so much in education that we established our own hotel school - the Asian Institute of Hospitality management (AIHM) - last year in academic association with Les Roches.

Why is this important? Verifiable skills are now becoming as important and may very well likely replace the traditional benchmark of just a four years’ degree. Skills will become the currency for employability, performance and mobility.

It is important to retain the best talent, and to retain them we need to provide the best opportunities for personal and professional growth and development.

The world is evolving quickly with many factors including technology, the increasing demand for new skills and competencies, and the need for strengthening the critical humanistic and leadership skills. It is essential to upskill and reskill team members to cope with these changes to keep the business sustainable and successful.

And aside from all of that, it’s great fun to learn and it guarantees growth opportunities for our team members. Internal mobility is another pet passion of mine so what better way to accelerate this than by ensuring the skills of our team members are a top business priority.

Q As borders open up, there'll be huge influx of tourists coming in. How do ensure your employees - front and backend - are able to achieve work-life balance, amid the busy work week?

This is a hard question to pose to anyone in the hospitality industry. I’m honestly not sure that people who want a work-life balance would choose to work in our ‘always on’ industry. We’re always so focused on delivering exceptional service so we’re always ready 24/7 to make it happen!

That being said, after the past two years, we have consciously focused more on the holistic wellbeing of our team members and on supporting their wellbeing and performance so they can succeed in everything they do and be the best version of themselves inside and outside the workplace.

Aside from providing healthy meals and accommodations to our team members globally, we have strengthened and expanded our wellbeing programme called ‘More You’ to provide our people with the tools, services and amenities necessary for a working life that understands and supports their needs.

Providing an enriching and encouraging work environment for team members to grow and connect emotionally with the company, brands, and people is crucial for ongoing success, impacting both business outcomes and individual wellbeing. When people feel content, safe and cared for, they perform better and have better health outcomes. As Erasmus said, “Prevention is better than cure”.

A great perk of working in our industry is access to fabulous holiday destinations, restaurants, and spas across so many countries. Most of our team members enjoy a weekend away or part of their annual leave in one of our hotels or resorts. A stay in one of our own resorts is a great reminder of how wonderful our hotels and our team members are and we all come away with our energies renewed.

Q With that, do you think it is possible for organisations to fully adopt a shorter work week? Why or why not?

Yes, I believe it is possible and have witnessed it in my career. When I started working in Dubai some 20 years ago, the work week was six days, then we compressed the hours to 5.5 days and then again to five without negatively impacting productivity and profitability. That said, we did receive some push-back from certain departments who preferred to be at work rather than losing out on tips.

Ultimately, reducing work weeks will depend on achieving that sweet spot of productivity, affordability, and suitability. Some industries or job roles may be better suited to shorter work weeks.

Q Looking at today’s rapidly evolving environment, what do you believe is HR’s #1 responsibility/the top way that it can add value?

Building critical skills and competencies for the organisation.

It’s tough to predict future skill needs and HR leaders are under pressure to ensure their workforce has the skills it needs when it needs them. Without a crystal ball, however, this predictive approach to skills management often results in organisations investing in the wrong skills.

Research shows that employees need on average 6.3% more skills for a single job compared to 2018 and nearly one in three skills needed for a job in 2018 will not be needed by 2022.

A new imperative to overcome this challenge is to structure talent management around skills, not roles, resulting in a more adaptable and agile workforce.

Q One of Minor Hotels' corporate goals is to be more sustainable by 2024. Could you share with us, where does the organisation stand with regard to sustainable investment like a green workforce, or green skills upskilling, and workforce engagement in ESG? What role do the HR function play - and how will such focus in ESG benefit the workplace and the workforce in the long run?

Minor believes that to endure as a viable and sustainable business, an organisation needs to constantly develop and strengthen the long-term capabilities of both its own and its numerous stakeholders.

As such our L&D team has developed several of these learning examples such as Sustainability 101, Food Waste Reduction Course in partnership with LobsterInk to upskill and engage our workforce.

We are also developing on-demand courses for various subjects such as human rights, DEIB, Women in Leadership, and already have a partnership with the Code for The Protection of Children for both learning course and implementation.

Sustainability has been weaved in all of our leadership development programmes and youth development programmes such as NGT, Explorer, and Ascent.

Q Before we conclude the interview, what's the one thing you wish to see invested in HR’s future to create a perfect harmony between the business function, the talents, and the workplace, to propel the business forward, and why?

That’s a tough one. There are so many things I wish to see invested in to create a positive employee experience, not just by HR but also by everyone in the business.

I think what will make a significant impact to our business as the industry rebounds from the 2 years’ crisis is the use of artificial intelligence to match critical skills during the hiring process of course but also other parts of the employee development journey. For example, we will be enabling SmartAssist (AI function in SmartRecruiters) to match candidates’ skills to the job skills therefore resulting in better outcomes for the candidate, the hiring manager, and ultimately the business.

Although just one wish is not enough – I wish that all future leaders would realise that developing ‘soft skills’ is more important than being seen as the smartest person in the room. My ideal leaders would create diverse teams, work respectfully with others, be clear on goals, create fun workplaces, share successes, encourage the personal growth of their team and voila! Everyone on the journey would be a winner.

Also readSnapshot: A multi-generational workforce is key to drive change both within organisations and across industries, says HP Inc Sowjanya Reddy


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