The Leela Palaces, Hotels and Resorts kickstarts leadership development programme

After a rigorous three-month evaluation and assessment programme, The Leela has selected 25 people who will be future leaders for the Company

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The pandemic was a boon for some sectors and quite the bane for others. For some businesses, such as IT and tech, it brought the most glorious opportunities due to the rapid digitisation across organisations. However, for businesses in the hospitality space, for instance, it triggered off a string of layoffs, pay cuts and even closure of certain big brands, such as Hyatt in some regions.

The rising uncertainty in the sector caused even students of hotel management to begin considering alternative professions or rework on their career preferences. This has led to a talent crunch in the hospitality industry as a whole.

This is not the only reason that has contributed to the scarcity of good talent in the industry. “We are also seeing a lot of talent migrating to offshore locations such as the Middle East, where the market has opened up, attracting a lot of talent from India at great packages,” says Gautam Srivastava, VP-HR, The Leela Palaces Hotels & Resorts, speaking exclusively to HRKatha.

To attract the best talent in the industry, The Leela launched ‘Leela Leadership Development Programme’ (LLDP), in collaboration with the Indian School of Hospitality (ISH).

The objective is to create a leadership talent pipeline for The Leela chain of hotels, while also giving an opportunity to young and budding hotel-management professionals to find a new purpose in their careers.

“When we thought of conceptualising LLDP, we wanted to come up with something which is relevant for today’s time and far different from all other development programmes which we have seen in the past”

Anuraag Bhatnagar, COO, The Leela Palaces, Hotels and Resorts

“When every other company in the industry was laying off people and cutting their pays, we have seen growth. In fact, we have recently added three new properties in India and created more than 1000 jobs,” shares Srivastava proudly.

The LLDP programme was announced in the month of February 2022, and now, after three months of rigorous assessment and interviews, The Leela has shortlisted 25 candidates to be part of this 15-month long programme. These candidates / trainees are being given hands-on practical training in three levels — general management, housekeeping management and sales management.

“When we thought of conceptualising LLDP, we wanted to come up with something which is relevant for today’s time and far different from all other development programmes which we have seen in the past. In the last three decades, the hospitality industry has changed so we wanted to come up with something which is future oriented,” says Anuraag Bhatnagar, COO, The Leela Palaces, Hotels & Resorts at the launch event of the LLDP programme at The Leela.

Recruitment process

The recruitment process was spread over three months, with the LLDP programme receiving more than 450 applications. The applicants were put through six rounds of interviews and assessments.

At first, they were asked to send a small video clip basis which their personality and communication skills could be assessed.

Interestingly, this batch of LLDP participants does not comprise freshers. The Company chose to recruit people who had at least one year’s experience coupled with a degree in hotel management.

“We wanted people who really had the passion to make a career in the hospitality industry,” shares Srivastava. The programme was open for internal employees and external talent in the industry as well.

After few rounds of virtual interviews, the recruiters met the applicants face-to- face. The candidates also went through a psychological assessment, which gave additional data points to the recruiters on the applicants’ soft skills.

“We had defined some leadership competencies for the people such as high levels of confidence, emotional intelligence, resilience, perseverance and integrity, along with great communication and languages skills,” mentions Srivastava.

Unique approach

After thorough assessment and tests, The Leela identified 25 participants to be trained under the LLDP programme, with an unusual approach.

“Rather than rejecting people, we looked for reasons to hire them as part of LLDP,” points out Srivastava. This very intent of The Leela brand is reflective of the fact that this programme was not all about the selected people alone.

Each candidate gained something out of this recruitment drive. The Leela made 70 offers to people who were rejected in the process. “We had vacancies at the three newly-added properties. Therefore, we offered jobs to the ones who were rejected in the process but were fit for the given roles,” mentions Srivastava.

“This is not just a programme for development. It is a career path-building exercise for all participants. We guarantee that in the next 10 years, they will be senior hospitality leaders”

Gautam Srivastava, VP-HR, The Leela Palaces, Hotels and Resorts

Moreover, The Leela also took various workshops to train its recruiters for the hiring process on removing certain unconscious biases through workshops.

What is going to happen next to the selected participants? As per Srivastava, the LLDP is designed with much focus on practical and hands-on training.

For the first seven months, participants will work at one of the properties of The Leela in India and for the next seven months, they will be trained at a different location. “These new recruits will be trained in all functions such as sales, finance, HR and many more,” shares Srivastava.

On Mondays and Saturdays, the participants will also attend theory classes.

Focus on diversity

The Leela consciously wanted to create a diverse batch for this programme, and therefore, 50 per cent of the participants are women and the rest are men. Also, half of the people part of this programme were selected internally, while the rest were selected from outside.

Future hospitality leaders at The Leela

As mentioned earlier, these participants are going to be the future leaders of The Leela brand. After graduating, they will be deployed as assistant managers, and the Company proudly claims that this first batch of the LLDP programme will go on to be the future CEOs of their respective hotels. “This is not just a programme for development. It is a career path-building exercise for all participants. We guarantee that in the next 10 years, they will be senior hospitality leaders,” asserts Srivastava.

Srivastava further reveals that the recent turmoil caused by the pandemic, has caused the attrition levels in the hospitality industry to stand anywhere between 40 to 50 per cent.

The LLDP will not only act as a great pipeline for building future leaders but also be an exclusive opportunity to attract great talent. It can bring the industry to life and draw more youngsters.

“Talent development coupled with competitive salaries will attract the best talent in the industry,’ says a confident Srivastava.

This will be the first LLDP batch at The Leela, and the Company will keep tweaking and making changes to this programme as and when required.

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