Only the Best At Your Service
The following is an excerpt from The 50: HR Leaders Reimagining the Filipino Organization. Authored by Pancho Dizon this chapter is titled, “Only the Best At Your Service” In it, Romula Alarcio III, the Corporate Director of Astoria Hotels and Resorts, is interviewed about how the organization executes its strategy in improving HR as the backbone of their service.
In any self-respecting organization, the need for strong, decisive leadership is immediately recognized. Thus, leadership development becomes an important aspect of HR’s responsibilities.
At The Astoria Group, one of the Philippines’ premier hotel chains, a constant emphasis on leadership development is what makes their HR strategy stand out from the rest. This heavy responsibility falls on the shoulders of Romulo Alarcio III, the company’s Corporate Director of Human Resources for almost half a decade now.
Alarcio is upfront about Astoria’s unique strategy in developing future leaders at the company. “We encourage people to be decisive and develop an entrepreneurial spirit,” Alarcio explained, “We back them up to help the company expand, on top of their regular responsibilities.”
What this means is that Astoria employees regularly attend management meetings especially designed to deep dive into company issues. For example, if a guest leaves bad reviews after his/her stay with Astoria, it’s at these meetings that managers will deliberate over the best ways to efficiently solve these problems. These solutions are then cascaded to the operations team, which sees to it that the solutions are executed at the ground level.
To encourage employees to develop an entrepreneurial spirit, they are told to always be on the lookout for opportunities in the communities around them. “We want our employees, particularly our resource management team, to always be on the ball and not let opportunities slip by them,” Alarcio said, “This means scanning the market, engaging with the locals, anything really.”
This initiative led to Astoria working with marginalized members of the community such as farmers, fisherfolk, and indigenous peoples. Alarcio shared that partnerships like these are why Astoria is able to proudly display indigenous art, dance, and music at their hotel lobbies and facilities, adding a special touch of culture to the brand and allowing them to also contribute to nation-building. Additionally, it’s thanks to the resourcefulness of Astoria employees that the company was able to partner with tour operators in several locations as a value-added service to its guests.
“We’re given a relatively good amount of freedom in looking for prospective partnerships,” Alarcio said, “As long as it works for all stakeholders, then it’s good.”
Not even the COVID-19 pandemic could stop the leadership development program Alarcio and his team have put together.
“COVID-19 obviously hit tourism and the hotel and restaurant industries very badly,” Alarcio said, “We had to scale down our operations and this meant not every employee could be on duty, the way they were prior to the pandemic.”
To help employees cope with the consequences of the pandemic, he and the Astoria team actively encouraged them to pursue alternative incomes when they are off-duty.
For their food and beverage team and other interested employees, this meant they would start reselling kitchen and pastry products. For graphic designers and other employees from the creatives team, they were allowed to pursue freelance work as long as they informed Astoria and did not work for any competitors. In some cases, the company even went as far as giving employees advances or seed money for their own side business.
There were even instances where these side businesses became so successful that they greatly exceeded the employee’s regular income. “There was a married couple working under us who decided to open up a Korean grocery store during the pandemic,” Alarcio recalled, “They happened to be in a really great location for it and in no time, their family income actually doubled.”
Alarcio emphasized that although the primary goal here was to help employees generate an alternative source of income, they also knew it would teach them entrepreneurial skills in a whole new way. “On top of the practical experience they’d get, our training team also held online workshops to nudge them in the right direction,” Alarciosaid, “We saw it as a real investment in their personal growth.”
There are other instances when Astoria takes on a more hands-on approach to leadership development. In the training to become a duty manager, a trainee must undergo a rigorous program that entails touring the hotel facilities, inspecting each individual room and manning the front desk during peak check-in/check-out hours. At the end of it, he/she must present fresh ideas on how processes can be streamlined and improved.
Duty managers then hold the responsibility of answering the calls whenever emergencies arise. “It could be at 1:00 am and they’d have to get up and go to the front desk to handle the situation,” Alarcio explained, “It’s a good learning opportunity that teaches them how to be graceful under pressure.”
Alarcio and his team play a big part in ensuring that every employee who steps through Astoria’s doors comes out all the better for it. It’s a practice that serves both sides: the employees upskill in a way that may be unavailable in other places and Astoria gets more efficient, decisive employees ready to provide top-notch service to their guests.
“In all my years in the HR field, the thing that stands out about doing HR in the hospitality industry is that the real priority is the guest,” Alarcio said, “So what better way to serve guests than guaranteeing it will be the best employees serving them?”
To get more insights from other HR leaders like Romula Alarcio III, please check out the full book, available for purchase here.
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