Students discussing Talent Management Systems at EHL

March 02, 2023 •

7 min reading

Four Seasons Athens: Lessons from the field on Talent Management Systems

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All BOSC3 students take the course Talent Management Systems (TMS). We have learned that well-designed systems must adapt to the environment and relate to talent retention and company profitability. Is this true in practice? To find out, we interviewed Lilian Labropoulou, Head of Human Resources at the Four Seasons Hotel in Athens, Greece. Here is what we learned.

Hospitality industry is different

You have experience in different types of industries. What is unique about the hospitality industry?

One of the main differences in hospitality is that career progression is more flexible. No matter what your studies or your starting point might be, people have the opportunity to work and experience different areas across the sector to understand what they enjoy and determine their strengths. I also find hospitality more open-minded. People usually have traveled abroad, and they are more agile. They are not afraid of change, and they are willing to test and experience more things. This makes them better professionals throughout their career.


Context matters

In class we discuss differences between a traditional hierarchy (tight TMS) and a participative/agile structure (loose TMS). How does this work at Four Seasons?

Lilian Labopulou Four Seasons

Within the Four Seasons I have to say that the brand, the culture, the philosophy is the same in all the hotels.

Depending on the hotel and resort where you work, however, there are different challenges and a different local culture. So the approach is not the same in all the hotels around the world. The Four Seasons Athens, for example, is a very dynamic and complex environment with seasonal highs and lows. Here in order to be successful you need to be energized and a fast thinker to adjust to unforeseen changes.

Four Seasons has systems for talent management. Every year we evaluate and identify our high performers - key people we need to retain. All the people identified as high potential work closely with the learning and development team to have a development plan in place, preparing a leadership journey for the next few years.

Lilian Labropoulou, Head of HR at Four Seasons Hotel in Athens, Greece. 

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Attracting talent for seasonal work

You identified seasonal workers as an important part of the Four Seasons Athens. How do you attract and motivate them? 

We have approximately 600 seasonal employees and 400 permanent employees, and the motivations are different for these two groups. Our goal is to have at least 80% of seasonal employees as rehires, and we offer opportunities to work in different hotels across the Four Seasons chain. For example, we have international career days where representatives from seasonal hotels recruit staff from other Four Seasons hotels.

We offer the opportunity to stay in the Four Seasons family and work at different hotels around the world. We provide job security, training and the opportunity for international experience. The benefit for us is that we retain ourpeople who know the Four Seasons standards and guests. It is win-win situation for everyone.

In terms of rewarding, the compensation package and benefits are exactly the same for seasonal and permanent employees. The only difference is the type of contract. We have special benefits such as discovery nights, where employees from all levels can experience the Four Seasons hospitality in different parts of the world. We also provide opportunities to visit and work in other properties for one to three months to allow employees to experience a Task Force Assignment and create connections globally, expand their network and enhance their career growth. 


Onboarding and managing Gen Z

Do you see differences in attracting young talent?

Generation Z is great. They want to have a well-balanced lifestyle, and I admire that they are realizing this at a young age. It took me 18 years to understand that I need to have more balance, self-care and time with my family. They are not afraid to travel, to change and to relocate. Young people have academic knowledge, energy and an appreciation for diverse groups so they are contributing to the success of our organization in its new environment.

One way we are adapting to Generation Z is in our on-boarding process. We used to have a program that was three days sitting in the classroom. The young generation love technology so our on-boarding journey starts with an app. You receive a link when you start and get introduced to the company and to the culture. It's more fun and interactive, and it has games, so you don't just watch and read things about things.

Furthermore, being born in a fast-paced era, Gen Z has adapted to the environment they live in, which led us to also rethink and adapt our communication and training styles. For one thing, we are very visual in the way we transmit messages, instead of long texts and descriptions we opt for focused communication, using interactive videos to engage our audience. The same goes for how we redefined our learning strategy. We replaced in class trainings by bite-sized, digestible key information and focused more on interactive application and on-the job training.

Feedback is another area we have been fostering. Younger generations seek for feedback and acknowledgement of their work and that is exactly what we educate our leaders to do. Open, honest and constructive feedback is a must and is one of the main motivations of our younger peers.

As mentioned before, Gen Z are keen on having a balanced life. Beyond this, they place great emphasis on having fun, being authentic and embracing who they really are in order to feel fulfilled. Our yearly Employee Experience Program offers a plethora of events, challenges, celebrations and activities for our people to enjoy themselves at work, be themselves feel celebrated, accomplished and well taken care of.  


Learning & Development for young talent 

Does Four Seasons offer any specific training programs to develop talent?

We constantly need to educate ourselves if we want to remain competitive and if we want to relate to the people in our team and our customers. We are designing monthly learning calendars combined with operational training. These include development of soft skills such as “how to give feedback” or “how to do performance evaluations”. These training sessions can have an immediate impact on all participants.

We also offer training for the well-being of our employees such as bi-monthly stress management or training to fulfil your personal development plan.

We have a Cross Training Program that allows our employees to experience another department and expand their craftsmanship. The ability to do so gives them freedom, experience and perspective, and in most cases, the ability to transfer from one department to another. We view our hotel and brand as a free school where you can explore other opportunities within the realm of your work, which consequently, improves our retention as well.

Learning and development is one of the most important divisions in Four Seasons, and they have a close collaboration with the managers, because it is important to set up the entire planning across the hotel.


Young workers and the industry

Any tips for young people entering hospitality and hotel sector today?

Never stop learning. I believe until you die you need to learn. This is the power - knowledge. Things are moving and changing. You need to be open to the way you see things and learn. And learning doesn't necessarily mean a degree. It could be reading, researching, exchanging and collaborating with other professionals. Learning is number one.

The second thing I always say is that no matter what you do, at the end of the day you need to make sure that you have fun and enjoy what you are doing. The one thing that will lead to success is to do things with passion. If you have passion and a love for what you are doing, there is no way to fail.

So our conclusion after this interview? Absolutely, what we learn in TMS is relevant and happening in the real world of hospitality. It was especially interesting to learn how the Four Seasons is innovating in their seasonal workforce planning and adapting to the needs of Gen Z related to onboarding and learning and development. The advice to never stop learning and enjoy what you are doing is inspirational for EHL students and graduates. 

Written by

Visiting Lecturer at EHL Hospitality Business School

Aikaterini Sapandou
Written by
Aikaterini Sapandou

BOSC4 Student at EHL Hospitality Business School

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