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Beau Rivage Scours the World for New Training Concepts

Beau Rivage management made a considerable investment in a training program for its 4,500 employees.

November 1, 1999
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Prior to the March 16th opening of the $650 million, 1,780-room Beau Rivagespa resort on Mississippi’s Gulf Coast, management made a considerableinvestment in a training program for its 4,500 employees. It combined the bestof the company’s experiences with employees at its other properties -- namelyThe Mirage, Treasure Island and Bellagio in Las Vegas. The result is reflectedin such Beau Rivage training concepts as its "Growth" and "PlayDay" programs.

Supervisors were first trained in the day-to-day operations of the resort,then participated in a series of sessions on public speaking, team building andconflict resolution. Corporate trainers spent an additional three days in anintensive program, during which they refined presentation and teaching skills.Depending on their position and department, employees spent an average of two tofour weeks in training.

To learn more about the operations and training programs of Beau Rivage,Workforce interviewed Barry Shier, chief executive officer.

How much time prior to the opening of Beau Rivage did you start hiring andtraining?
We started interviewing for most positions about 18 months prior to ouropening. Of course, the majority of executives and directors had already beenhired. The actual training program began anywhere from two to six weeks prior toour opening, depending on the department.

What traits did you look for in your employees?
We looked at the individual’s ability, aptitude and attitude. We wanted ablend of experiences. We spend a significant amount of time expressing toeveryone that our reputation is the byproduct of all the people who have cometogether in our company. Their personalities as a whole are closely associatedwith the experience of visiting our resort.

A group from your company traveled the world to assess destinations thatmaintain a distinctive level of service. What common themes were found thatcontributed to your own training program?
We’re always traveling around, looking for new places and trainingconcepts. We’re always trying to forge ahead in new areas, but it always comesback to the basics: great quality of service to provide a wonderful experience.

When we travel, we learn about what people might be more inclined toappreciate. We look at what people are more interested in today, that they weren’tinterested in last month. Finally, we examine these concepts and enhance theoverall experience for our own customers. As for common themes, we’re alwaystrying to create a sense of intimacy, a sense of excitement, a level of servicethat is appropriate to the audience that we’re catering to -- in thisparticular market we’re attempting to be casually elegant, and play off of thewonderful level of hospitality known in the South.

What training techniques do you use to get employees to think like topmanagement?
We use a lot of role playing and a buddy/mentor system in which individualsare assigned two experienced managers and/or executives to bounce questions backand forth. We also conduct seminars that expose our employees to opportunitieswithin the company. Our training guides help prepare individuals for theirrespective departments. It allows them the opportunity to quickly learn andunderstand the rules, procedures and policies of our company. This helps provideconsistency in our training methods.

The training program starts at the highest levels with supervisors beingpersonally trained by you in day-to-day operations. How exactly is this handled?
Everyone’s involved in the day-to-day operations of this company. Forexample, I just came from a meeting on desserts for one of our restaurants, andI’ll discuss all different levels of business, whether it’s desserts or howwe corner a bed. We’ve always been a hands-on organization. It not only gainsthe respect of our employees, but it provides us with the opportunity toappreciate employees’ challenges. And when one understands another person’schallenges, one becomes more appreciative of his or her needs. The mostimportant things we can provide our employees are training and the tools to gettheir jobs done. Unless we understand the entire process, we can’t appreciatethe perspective and challenges of the other person.

What’s this concept of "Play Day," and how does it fit into yourtraining program?
Play Days take place during the last week of preparation. We have half of ouremployees experience the facilities firsthand -- whether it’s the restaurants,the casino, the spa or the guest-room amenities. The next day, we change roles,and the other half of the organization gets a Play Day. Then they share theirimpressions and experiences. It gives everyone an appreciation for what everyonedoes, and it gives them a chance to link all of the different departments.

What is the "Growth" program, and how does it work?
Growth is a program that recognizes employees in the company who areambitious. These employees commit their time with 10 classes that range frommotivation and team building to entrepreneurial perspective and conflictresolutions. They’re required to attend all of them. Upon successfulcompletion of these classes, we interview them and evaluate their interpersonalskills, and their interest within the company. We attempt to recognize futuresupervisors and managers.

We then rank them in their respective areas of discipline, and forpromotional opportunities. Those who are selected go on to the second level ofgrowth, which is a mentor program. We assign each line of employees a vicepresident or director of the company. It helps them develop a relationshipoutside the department. They begin to gain an appreciation for other people’sinsights based on their knowledge and perspective of the business.

The best of that group is then promoted to a series of three managementtraining programs. And those individuals go into areas of higher leveldevelopment skills such as public speaking, writing skills and damage control.The whole program takes about two years. In the end, it creates a tremendoussense of cohesiveness because people get to know each other in a differentsetting. People spend more of their adult life with the people at work than withany other group. It’s enjoyable to recognize there’s a side to each of usthat goes outside the professional relationship. It enhances team buildingbecause the whole premise is built around teamwork.

How often are employees monitored once they begin to interact with guests?
We constantly monitor employees in the beginning, just to make sure they’resucceeding. If they run into problems, we attempt to reach out and provide themwith the necessary support to solve those problems. After that, employees aremonitored on a day-by-day basis through their supervisors and managers, and that’sbecause someone’s always present on the floor. We don’t believe the successof a business is found in the boardroom. Rather, it’s on the floor with thecustomers. Those are the greatest lessons to be learned because, in many ways,it’s the best way to learn.

How often do employees participate in refresher courses?
Management development takes place annually. Growth classes are held twice ayear. We also offer GED and English-as-a-second-language programs. And for thefirst time, we’re introducing a computer program to help employees becomecompetent in computer applications. Watching generations of families comethrough our company, and watching them start at one level and progress toanother, that’s what makes this so worthwhile.

How do you know the training yields results?
You see it in employee retention, the number of successful training programs,customer feedback. You can tell when you have communication on aninterdepartmental basis because you can see the cooperation between variousdepartments. We have enormous need to have an efficient and effectivecommunication system, so everyone’s on the same page at the same time.

How strategically involved is the human resources department in settingagenda?
Our HR department enables us to communicate to our employees on a regularbasis the information necessary for them to (1) be successful in theirrespective jobs, and (2) make decisions with regards to their work or personallife -- things like benefits and education. We look at HR as the part of thecompany that helps us define our personality. It’s important that employeesalways feel that no matter where they are, there’s someone to reach out to. Inour organization, that falls under the human resources umbrella.

Workforce, October 1999, Vol. 78, No. 10, pp.123-125 -- Subscribenow!

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