Sarah Smart – Global Recruitment Leader for Hilton, U.S. by Fortune as #1 Great Place to Work

Johann

My name is Johann Berlin host of the Discerning What Matters podcast and CEO of TLEX Institute. Throughout this series, I’ll be interviewing experts and leaders who are driving with the future of work will look like within their companies and across their industries. During the podcast, we’ll be exploiting a central question. As technology speeds us into an uncertain future. How can we design a future of work that meets our human needs and values? How can we create environments that will help us flourish and thrive in the way we live and work? We’d love to hear from you what matters most to you in the future of work. Please share your thoughts with us on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook at TLEX Institute. And you can check out our work and symposiums on tlexinstitute.com. It’s my great pleasure to welcome Sarah Smart VP of global recruitment for Hilton, which was recently nominated as the top place to work by Fortune Magazine. And she brings extensive experience around global recruitment, executive search and really has a deep understanding of sourcing and attracting talent at scale and helping them advance in their careers. Great well, Sarah so glad that that you could join and be part of this series to study what matters, future of humans at work today. And I wanted to learn from your point of view from where you sit in your industry and looking at you know, global recruitment and a really large brand like Hilton. What do you think that matters most? What would you discern matters most in the future of work?

Sarah

Well, first of all Johann thanks so much for inviting me I really appreciate it. This is a topic that is near and dear to my heart and also to Hilton’s heart. And you know, I personally and I think that this very much aligns with Hilton’s values, as I think keeping the human in work is really critical. Finding ways to automate processes or enhance decision making through data. You know is, no doubt where the entire industry is headed from a recruitment perspective. But I also believe that leaning too far into automation, especially in hospitality, is sort of antithetical to really what we try to deliver for our guests or for our team members. So you know, in my mind, you know, when you when I think about what matters the most for the future of work. The basics really don’t change how we source attract, hire, enable and train and really inspire the best talent still needs that human touch and that human interaction.

Johann

Another I would be curious, are there any particular skills for people looking to be leaders either aspiring earlier in the pipeline? Are there any things that you would like say to a student at Cornell you know, hospitality degree of skills or things that you think would be most relevant within that.

Sarah

When I think about the type of talent that we are always seeking there are you know. Some tenants that underpin every single type of you know, piece of talent that we’re seeking inside of inside of Hilton, big picture thinking, strategic thinking, the ability to lean in to innovation, agility and the ability to be agile. So it’s some of what I’m describing. You don’t necessarily learn in college, you learn because you’ve applied them inside of your day to day operations. But also, I would say the empathy and the intention to interact with individuals from a positive intent. Relationship building skills are all critical to success inside of Hilton and are things that we typically try to assess for above and beyond. Are you a subject matter expert in a particular role that we’re hiring you for?

Johann

That’s great I really love the emphasis on the kind of big picture flexibility. And then also really those soft human skills. And so much of the conversation about the future work is usually a bit of a fear based one, right, like, technology might replace jobs. And that sort of thing. But I also know there’s tremendous opportunity, right. To create new experiences even enhance meaning and purpose of work. And I would be curious, from your point of view, what are the areas where you feel the most optimism going forward and into the future?

Sarah

Well you know, I mean, I feel so much optimism around, you know, our business, which is ultimately a business of people serving people. Yes, we’re always looking for tools to help our team members make better decisions, or provide consistent experiences to our guests. But really, I truly believe that nothing replaces a smile In a personal greeting in that personal interaction from a team member who cares about a guest experience, we’re looking for those enhancements enabled by technology to create an even better guest experience than we already provide.

Johann

So it’s more authentic and just enhancement. I love that and I know that you guys are doing a lot of very innovative stuff very, very human centered. And I had the chance to hear you speak at a conference recently. And I’m curious, from your point of view, what are some of the things that you’re using that you can share with us around how you’re maybe designing, thinking about this industry going forward?

Sarah

We you know, it’s sort of let me sort of take that into different areas. So talking about hospitality writ large, we are very focused on again, delivering on that customer promise of a consistent experience. Every time you’re at a Hilton, we want you to have a quality, consistent experience. No matter the brand that you’re with, no matter where you are in the world, you can feel safe, respected, acknowledged. And then we want to be able to build on that consistent experience with personalized experiences and enhancements. And that’s sort of where the technology comes in to a certain extent, which is, how do we make sure that we understand your personal preferences? And you can see that today and little things that most hotels do, including Hilton, we know your preference for where you want your room to be right everyone knows that the best room by the way is away from the elevators on a high floor. Right but you know, you can actually select that preference and most hotels will honor that including, you know, the Hilton organization. But I think when you think about hospitality writ large, there is a desire to say okay, great the experience that you have in your home in terms of your Smart Home perhaps knowing your preferred temperature, your Smart Home knowing your preferred radio channels or even knowing your TV channels. Or your Netflix preferences that those appear for you. So the frictions that you may have experienced traveling away from your smartphone are reduced when you go to a hotel that knows you and understands your preferences. Again, that goes back to that quality of experience. And then it allows our team members to innovate once they’re in the hotels decreed that personalized, exceptional experience the thing that makes you go home and say I just had the best vacation and it opened hotel and it’s because of, you know my experience with the bellman or my experience with a housekeeper or my experience with, you know, the shaft in the kitchen. We want our team members to feel like they can innovate and deliver the best experience for our guest based on our guests preferences and what they’re observing.

Johann

I love that as we move into more technology enhanced and really, that that value add aspect of excellence consistency and in sort of high touch personalization. What do you think for recruiters will be the biggest adaptive challenges and maybe you can also just talk answer that writ large if you want to. What do you think some of the bigger adaptive challenges are for recruiters given that given the global talent market? And different things that are converging at this point in time?

Sarah

Oh,my word okay, so that’s like, that’s like the hardest question because I think that, you know, what I’ve always loved about recruitment is how fast this particular function needs to move inside the organization. But even I will say that pace is probably one of the biggest adaptive challenges that that we’re facing as recruiters. And it’s not just in Hilton. It is everywhere around the globe. We are fighting for talent. We’re looking to secure top talent, you know, here at Hilton run the business of people serving people and so we have the sort of relentless aim to recruit and retain the best and the brightest and hospitality when you are recruiting in I affectionately refer to this as a negative unemployment market at the moment. it you know, we have to be able to move very quickly, we have to have our hiring managers armed with the right information to make great decisions and to be decisive quickly on candidates that are presented so that we if we meet a great candidate, that we’re in a position to move swiftly in order to attract and retain them. Also, we’re scaling quickly. I mean, as a company last year, we opened more than one hotel a day, we’re on pace to open a hotel and a half, if you can imagine that a day going into 2020. So we also faced the challenges that come with hiring in volume not just at speed, right. So we received more than a million applications per year and we hire you know, we’re tracking less than 10% of those individuals, but we also use every single one of those applicants as a potential Hilton guest. When you think about that volume, the complexity of interacting with 1 million applicants requires technology enablement, it requires empathy. From our recruiters and it requires the ability to almost digest that sheer amount of volume and be able to react to it effectively. The final piece for me when I think about adaptive challenges is diverse hiring. We’re looking for diversity of the attributes you can see as well as those that you cannot we seek and hire people representing all cultures and backgrounds and perspectives as a global company. That is a very complex proposition. But we believe that this diversity is the only way that we can remain a globally competitive business and serve our guests who come from all over the globe. So when you start to think about, you know, securing top talent so pace, scale and then the added complexity of diversity at our recruiters are facing a myriad of challenges in order to get all of those areas addressed and adapt to the changes that are required to deliver effectively.

Johann

I just want to double click if you don’t mind on this. Firstly, point because you mentioned the sort of negative talent pool right like you to very little slack in that. And then and then also adding to that. And I think this is so important that even with that, that adaptive challenges of selection, adding this aspect of adding diversity of experiences, lived experience and background. And I’d be just curious to hear me if there’s anything else you could share with us on that, like how Hilton is thinking about that. And I know I saw some of the great initiatives that you’re doing there. So I just wanted to zero in on that.

Sarah

So for us, when you think about diversity, you know, obviously, there are the traditional pools that you think about from diversity, but what we’re also looking to do is to create an environment that attracts diverse team members and diversity could mean where you are in your life. So we think about it from sort of the total parental leave package that we try to provide to our team members. And that you know, being a parent could be parent that, you know, it’s your child, it could also be adoption. And, you know, we’ve really implemented some industry leading programs in that particular area. But we’re also thinking about potential team members that maybe this is the first job that they’ve had out of high school and giving them opportunities to learn about financial well-being and financial fitness. And then finally thinking about, you know, some of the bigger challenges that we see maybe a working mother facing around breastfeeding in the office. And if you’re a working mother in our corporate office, there is no doubt that you’re going to be traveling and we know just launched milk store here. So we have a couple of things that we’re excited about that are supporting the diverse team members that we’re bringing in. And that would be you know, age, where they are in their life or you know, for hiring someone who’s an MVP or hiring someone who’s a bellman, really creating an environment that works for them and an individual experience. So you know, the complexity of recruiting is supported by a complex but well network matrix of options that we provide to our team members when they come in the door. From a diverse hiring perspective. We have to make sure that we’re watching walking the walk and representing Hilton as a diverse organization. And we spend quite a bit of time and thought around recruitment, marketing and being able to showcase what we believe our wins around diversity inside the organization as well.

Johann

I love that and I love that you’re thinking about it across the full spectrum from recruitement. All the way in until after we think about how do we change these things in the cultures that we have, but it really starts with the hiring. And I also love this point you were alluding to around Association and assimilation. Whereas when you get the right cultures, then people associated and assimilate into that. And it can sort of expand I also just want to focus on the scale and pace because I think that that’s really interesting. What are some of the ways I mean, a lot of what technology is doing obviously is taking away repeatable tasks which aren’t necessarily very enjoyable for people. What are some of the ways in which with so many applications that that you see technology actually freeing people up in future work or some of the ways that you guys are thinking about that?

Sarah

I think that that’s a great question because we really do think about technology as freeing up our team members to have authentic human connections. And that really applies to our recruiters her. because of our volume. There are some processes that we’ve had to automate purely to keep up with the scale you know, that I alluded to. But we’re always prioritizing how we can keep human interactions and to keep sort of that personalized and positive experience so that we can make all of our candidates feel unique and special and hopefully, not only make them feel unique and special and retain them as a guest. But ideally convert them to becoming a Hilton guests if that is not where they are when they begin their applicant journey with us. So we really do think about it from that beginning stage of I’m dreaming about a job, maybe it’s a job in hospitality. And so there’s a big investment that we’re making right now in a career site, that we’re going to be excited to launch in q4 that’s going to showcase sort of a different side of Hilton as well as talking about four Why, you know, here in the US, we are at number one, but we think about it so great, you’re coming to the career site you’re learning, maybe you’re dreaming about what the potential company would be like to apply to work in. So you apply to that job. And we’re trying to really avoid that feeling that your application is falling into a black hole we’ve all have it I’ve had it. I’m sure anyone who has applied to a job online has had this experience. And again, it sort of goes back to the wanting Hilton to have, you know, wanting any applicants have a great positive experience to either convert or retain them as a potential guest, whether they’re placed in a position or not. So some of the ways that we’re doing this really applied process to prevent people from going into that black hole is we’ve got a chat bot on our career site. And we’re actually going to have a really enhanced offering to this in q4 that I’m very excited about that will help candidates the process of either identifying and or applying for a job in Hilton. In some cases, depending on the type of job that our candidates are applying for. They will also even help set up an interview or the online Assessment and depending on the position and we’ve also even experimented with using that bot to provide an offer. Now, that’s not necessarily where we want to take the entire recruitment experience. But for some jobs that actually does work really well, when you think about that thought, along with the technology that we use for online assessments and online video interviewing as a way to meet the candidates where they are, we think a lot about, you know, hey, if I’m a candidate, am I applying when I’m in the office? Or am I applying if I’m on the floor of a competitor hotel and I’m at the front desk probably not right? I’m applying at home at night, maybe on my computer more than likely on my smartphone, how do I interact with all the tools and technology. And really creating a very sort of seamless experience for that applicant and you know, as I mentioned and alluded to. We use AI and machine learning really in our partnership with our video interviewing vendor that allows us to help to really store screen and interview candidates for high volume recruits. So this is for things like our customer care centers, where we bring in large classes of new hires 100 people at a click to help to support our guest experience. And so this recruiting has really enabled and created this sort of incredible success allowing us to hire faster. We actually took our time to hire from 55 days down to seven days using this technology. But again, it also allows candidates to interact with us on their time and on their terms. And we’ve had great response from our candidates there. We don’t cut out the human interaction, the recruiters are still interacting with the candidates, but we are trying to find ways to make that lighter personal and hopefully fun for our candidates. We’re also exploring the intersection of virtual reality and recruiting by seeking to integrate some of our new VR learning tools into the recruitment process, especially on campus. We also are using VR in our training with our hotels. So there’s some amazing training I’ve actually done one my, my husband will say that I did not take, but I did learn how to make a bed using some of our VR technology. And you know, it’s pretty cool to see how this is being deployed not just in recruitment, but across the entire organization. You know, we’re starting to look at things like blockchain and recruiting. We’re not the only company that’s starting to explore this. And I will say that we’re not very far down the road. I know a lot of folks that are right now. But can we get candidates real time feedback on their fit for a role? And can we connect candidates with tools and resources to help them become more qualified positions with Hilton today. And in the future by utilizing some of this great new technology. But we really do think about everything that I’ve just outlined as tools and recruiters toolkit. They’re not to replace the recruiter, they’re there to augment and assist the recruiter as they’re dealing with the complexity that I alluded to around diversity and scale and prioritization and pace.

Johann

Such a pleasure connecting with you today, Sarah wishing you all the best in the work that you’re doing at Hilton and very much looking forward to continuing the conversation.

Johann Berlin

Johann Berlin is a serial entrepreneur, international keynote speaker and leadership consultant specialized in human and organizational development, mental health and well-being, and sustainable business and investing. Johann is CEO of TLEX Institute, providing over 1 million digital users with evidence-based leadership, breathwork and emotional intelligence training. His clients include top business schools like Harvard Business Schools and Fortune 500 companies like Amazon and Microsoft. A leadership writer at Harvard Business Review, Forbes, Real Leaders and Huffington Post, Johann is also Consulting Chief Learning Officer for Cooper Investors, a $13 billion private equity fund where he is integrating values-based investing principles into the firm’s culture fund. He is also Consulting Chief Learning Officer at Total Brain where he develops mental health and well-being content for clinicians, large consumer groups, and organizations. Johann is a leading voice on human-centered leadership, founding the Future of Humans at Work conference and podcast. Previously, he served as CEO and co-founder of Sustainable CitySolutions and was SVP of Sustainability and Strategy for JDI. As a board member, executive advisor and community volunteer, Johann is passionate about social ventures dedicated to resilient schools, local economy, prisoner rehabilitation, and youth leadership. Johann's TEDx talk has been viewed over 100,000 times.

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