Motivating and engaging a workforce of 14,000 people spread across 83 locations around the globe is no easy task – but it’s a crucial part of Craig Cochrane’s job. The senior vice president of human resources at Mövenpick Hotels and Resorts spoke to People Management about how the organisation – which has 16 properties across the UAE and Saudi Arabia – wants to think differently about its people, beginning with an Employee of the Year programme with an enviable prize on offer.

How does your Employee of the Year initiative work?

Our hotels have their employee of the month awards and then they choose an employee of the year for a trip to Switzerland. There’s typically anywhere between 50 and 80 employees of the year on the tour. We want our employees to feel appreciated and recognised; they shouldn’t feel like there’s a thick hierarchy in the organisation. And so we organise a trip that ticks all those boxes.

The winners are sent on a five-day guided tour of Switzerland to connect with the birthplace of the company and be recognised for their achievement. I guide the tour, so it’s very personalised, and the CEO is always there as well. We go up a mountain and many of them see snow for the first time, which is always a wonderful experience. We go to a chocolate factory in the French part of Switzerland and clear out their gift shop at the end, as everyone buys gifts for friends and colleagues back home. We go to Gruyere, where Gruyere cheese comes from, and we have a gala dinner at our corporate centre with everyone. It’s just a wonderful five days of connecting with each other.

You have a newly formed shadow executive committee of millennials – is the idea to empower younger workers?

And make them feel like old grey men aren’t making all the decisions? Yes, that’s certainly part of it. Our industry is changing very rapidly and we knew we needed to be prepared for the challenges ahead. We decided we needed to hear the millennial voice and understand what they wanted, both as employees and customers. Millennials now represent about 40 per cent of our workforce of 14,000 worldwide.

So we came up with the idea of this millennial executive committee called ExCom Y, where we invite people from both within and outside the company who fall into that age bracket, and have them working alongside us to ensure that we make good decisions. It started in March this year and has been really interesting so far.

Why bring in people from outside the company?

Even if someone is 25 years old, if they’ve been to a hotel school and worked in a hotel for the last four years they might have a similar way of thinking to the rest of us. So this is a good opportunity to have the input of people who experience hotels only as a guest. What’s been really good is it means there’s no such thing as a daft question or accepted truth any more.

An example of that would be checking out of a hotel. The question came up from one of the non-hoteliers: “Why do you need to check out of a hotel?” Now, I don’t think someone working in the hotel business would ever have asked that question: we’ve always had that process. And so the non-hotelier was saying, “Why can’t we just go - you have my credit card details, why do I need to go back to reception?” And we thought, that’s a really good question, we need to look into this and research it.

What regional initiatives do you have alongside the global ones?

We have a few nationalisation programmes in the Middle East, especially in Saudi Arabia. Programmes aimed at training Saudis in hospitality, which culturally and historically has not been a very prominent career choice for young Saudis. There’s one called the professional hotelier programme, which is like a mini-management traineeship.

And then we have what we call area-learning forums, where we run high-level and basic training programmes for the staff of our 11 hotels in Saudi in one central location where they can all come together, meet each other and develop at the same time.

As time goes on, the economies of these countries can’t sustain a massive public sector with a private sector staffed by foreign labour. Saudi Arabia in particular is going through a shift in that regard and Saudis are now considering jobs that wouldn’t have even been on their horizon a while ago.

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