Computers key to HR success in hospitality

26 February 2004 by
Computers key to HR success in hospitality

Your employees can be either your greatest asset or your most serious liability, depending on how they interact with customers and how they conduct themselves. Finding, training, managing and keeping the right people can help you stay ahead of your competition but, with unsociable hours, high staff turnover and burgeoning legislation, doing so is an increasingly challenging task. For this reason, many companies are using computerised HR systems to help.

Food services giant Compass has a total of 250,000 employees in more than 80 countries. Maintaining such a huge employee base across such a disparate range of outlets, and in so many countries, makes achieving consistent HR management a tough challenge.

The company has grown by acquisition, and at one point was managing staff using eight different HR and payroll packages. HR director Sally Mason, reward project programme manager, says: "To make employment changes and get management information reports across the whole employee population, we had to go to each provider, which meant there was extra expense and time involved."

One system
To overcome these difficulties, Compass opted to consolidate the eight different HR and payroll systems it was using and opted for one system running software from supplier SAP. The system is helping to deal with a key problem in the world of contract catering - staying on top of terms of employment when new contracts are won.

The UK's Transfer of Undertakings and Protection of Employment (TUPE) legislation means that when the company takes over a catering contract from an in-house service or from another supplier it must honour existing terms and conditions for each employee. With the vast number of contracts Compass runs, this can be very complex.

"Having all the information in one place is key," Mason says. "We have core product that allows high consistency but flexibility to all the different requirements at contract sites. The power of SAP can manage that for us."

The software allows different contract types to be operated, each with its own rules for holiday or sickness pay, for example. This avoids the lengthy process of inputting data for each new contract win.

Like many hospitality firms, Compass employs staff on a variety of bases - relief, casual and permanent - operating four different pay systems to accommodate varying payment frequencies (weekly, monthly, and so on). As well as managing payment for these disparate groups of employees, the SAP system helps in motivating staff.

"We have many casual employees and even run our own temp agency," Mason says. "One database allows succession planning (tracking leave and absence among permanent staff and scheduling temps to fill in), but the software can also note which temporary staff member would like to be permanent, so we can point them towards appropriate jobs. It helps motivate temps."

The next step, Mason says, is to use the SAP package to keep track of statutory training, for such requirements as complying with food hygiene regulations.

Some businesses have gone a step further and have started using computers to train and test staff while they are on shift - staff learn alone using tablet PCs, though human help is available (see the Whitbread case study, below).

### Starbucks Portal International hospitality chains are faced with the challenge of maintaining consistency in branding and promotions across the globe. Communication between the right people is essential if they are to deliver the same quality of product and service in every outlet. Global coffee and food chain Starbucks is harnessing Internet portal technology to ensure that its managers stay in touch. Such portals bring together data from a variety of sources and display them on a website. To do this, Starbucks has deployed the Collaboration Server produced by software supplier Plumtree. Starbucks has also integrated the functions of various corporate back-end systems. Using Internet search engines such as Google, Plumtree Search Server indexes and queries more than 55,000 documents in the portal's document directory. And Starbucks has created more than 200 Crawler Web Services to find and import new content from various repositories and websites. Plumtree software has helped Starbucks to create more than 330 communities within its workforce. These can be organised by business units or regions, functional roles, or project teams, or be based on products or promotions, and even on a social activity - for example, there are skiing and cycling clubs. Created for employees (who it refers to as "partners"), the Starbucks Partner Portal has changed the way its employees around the world do their jobs, the company says. Public relations and marketing managers track media requests for press releases and executive appearances, and assign those tasks to staff through a Media Request Portlet which provides access to the Worldwide Public Affairs Community. Store managers review the latest promotions, updates and resources through in-house publication The Scoop, which helps them find the best way to provide top customer support or train employees.
### E-learning at Whitbread Although many staff in restaurants, hotels and bars will come and go with the seasons, or will work unsociable hours or only on a part-time basis, this does not absolve businesses from their statutory training requirements. Whitbread is overcoming the problem of training such a fast-moving and flexible workforce by doing it in the workplace rather than the classroom. Although computer-based training has been around for some time, the pub chain has taken advantage of the arrival of tablet PCs. These are similar to laptops, but have removable keyboards and can be operated using a special pen and handwriting recognition software, and come with on-board sound and video capabilities. Using the system, employees have passed food safety, health and safety, and cellar management courses. Richard Taylor, managing director of Creative Learning Media, which helped implement the new system, says the teaching techniques used previously involved employees having to attend classroom-based courses off-site, or learning using a fixed PC on the premises. With off-site courses, staff would have to take paid time away from their normal jobs, and would often need travel expenses. Weekend-only staff would find it difficult to take courses because of midweek commitments. But using existing PCs is difficult because they are often sited in managers' offices, even in managers' accommodation, and could hold sensitive data such as pay and HR records. With the tablet system, Taylor says, staff can break up the course into segments, and study these one at a time during quiet times at work. "Having run a pub myself, I know that staffing is not an exact science," he says. "There is inevitably some quiet time. The huge advantage of this system is that, when staff are not busy, they can go and do some learning. We use integral quiet time, so learning is not an additional cost." Whitbread businesses Brewers Fayre and Broosters are using 72 tablet PCs that cost £800 each. The company plans to invest more to provide one PC for each of its 400 sites, and to include other corporate training. Julia Hill, head of learning and development at Brewers Fayre, says: "We have 80% staff turnover in our pubs, so effective on-the-job training is essential. The youngsters like \[the tablet PC\] and find it very exciting. They call it the ‘Etch-A-Sketch'. In a training course, it could be an eight-hour session, and most don't have a huge attention span."
### Summary - Managing high staff turnover would be nearly impossible without a computerised system that can help you find out where that turnover is highest, and why. Big businesses will look to software suppliers such as SAP and Peoplesoft. - Statutory training of staff can be difficult with many employees on flexible and weekend working. Classroom training is expensive and takes them away from their jobs. Computer-based trained, often dubbed e-learning, using laptops or tablet PCs allows staff to train in quiet moments while on shift in hotels, restaurants or pubs. - Internet-based staff information systems allow employees to work on the same project even if they are in different parts of the country, which can help in achieving more effective promotions and customer service.
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