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Why SH Hotels and Resorts Embraced HR Automation

In this Q&A, SH Hotels and Resorts' VP of People Operations Daniel Waite explains how his brand was able to adopt new business practices built around HR automation to improve the hiring and onboarding process.
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Over the past year and a half, technology has become more relevant in human resources for a variety of reasons. The economy’s gradual recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic has created a labor shortage that is quickly becoming a labor crisis. HR leaders are focusing on finding tools to improve the recruiting process and streamline workforce management. Automation is at the core of this, and it is being applied in ways that free associates and managers from tedious tasks, allowing them to focus on problem solving, improving operations, and elevating the guest experience.

I recently discussed the purpose and value of HR automation in hospitality with Daniel Waite, Vice President of People Operations for SH Hotels and Resorts. An affiliate of global private investment firm Starwood Capital Group, SH Hotels and Resorts operates some of the most innovative hotel brands in the industry, such as 1 HotelsBaccarat Hotels, Treehouse Hotels, and the SH Collection.

During the pandemic, SH Hotels was able to adopt new business practices built around HR automation to improve the hiring and onboarding process at several of its properties. Waite credits his parent company’s willingness to embrace new ideas for the speedy adoption of new technology and strategies, but he was also quick to point out that many of these capabilities were already possible using technology they already had access to—Beekeeper.

Faced with a challenging labor market, SH Hotels chose to take a different approach to the tools they had on hand. By taking a fresh look at digital communications, paperless scheduling, and automated interactions, the company has repositioned itself for successful talent acquisition and retention.

What trends have you seen take place over the last year in HR automation?

Waite: “Automation is improving human resources in every way possible. The key to automation is finding ways to keep it personable. No one likes interacting with automatically generated responses, so we took a different approach. Our interviewees take an assessment, and interview questions are pre-populated based on the responses to those questions. This allows us to approach the interview based on the candidate’s profile.

“The onboarding process is also an ideal place to use automation. There is often an awkward time between when a new associate signs an offer letter up to their first 30 days with the company. During that time, both parties are still learning about each other. We created a self-paced program to help new hires learn about us, providing information on Barry Sternlicht, Chairman and CEO of Starwood Capital Group, as well as SH Hotels and Resorts CEO Arash Azerbarzin. It also delves into all our brands, such as 1 Hotels’ mission around sustainability. We do this so new hires don’t get lost as they acclimate; especially as digital communication becomes more common.”

How did you decide which technology to invest in to best improve communication and automation?

Waite: “While we were in the midst of dealing with COVID, it didn’t seem like the right time to launch new programs. Instead, we investigated ways we could leverage the technology we already had. It was a challenge, but ultimately, we looked into the tech that not only we had but was already in everyone’s hands—mobile devices. Years ago, there were concerns that people lacked access, but 90 percent of our team members have smartphones today. By partnering with Beekeeper, we were able to communicate with our team members all over the globe, instantly and in real time.

“Using Beekeeper’s communication tools, we kept every team member active throughout COVID by informing them about closures and openings. We also used Beekeeper to inform furloughed workers how to access unemployment, tap into their employment benefits, where to find resources in their local area, and how to make use of the Starwood Cares Employee Relief Fund. All of this was automated and accessible to each of our employees.

“In a traditional environment you may not want your employees on their phone, but today we encourage its use to keep in touch with what is going on at their property. Using this technology, we can automatically push out alerts for information beyond emergencies such as COVID. We can alert frontline workers to the arrival of VIP guests and circulate daily rallies to everyone each day as well.”

What excites you the most about the future of HR technology?

Waite: “One of the biggest things we have used technology to improve is the career tracks for employees on a personalized level. We spent about 14 months or so gathering over 700,000 data points from online worker assessments. This gave us insight into what profiles were associated with our best employees. Using that information raises the bar for how we can locate the ideal candidate.

“It’s all about leveraging big data to find the best person for the position. Most organizations provide three or four different career tracks based on the available positions on property. Thanks to our automated system’s ability to apply data to different employee profiles, we have 21 different assessments we can apply to each position. This is great for looking at succession planning and can help us make the right moves for the right people in the right places.

“One area Beekeeper has helped us in is consolidating information channels to make all of this possible. Most companies use four or five different apps to navigate what we do through one channel thanks to Beekeeper. We can use the app to provide links to access the assessment, our internal learning program SH University, or our job board.

"We are also using this technology to predict turnover. Our internal engagement team launched a campaign, 'Share the Love,' where our workers were encouraged to post flashback pics of themselves on the Beekeeper app, as well as other instances designed to drive engagement with Beekeeper and increase communication. We found a correlation between increased engagement with Beekeeper and employees staying on for longer periods."

With companies so focused on ROI, what is the benefit of investing in automated HR technology?

Waite: “When people talk about ROI they automatically go to financial returns, but the ROI of automation and training in HR goes beyond financial. For example, about 18 months ago we launched SH University to better train workers internally, with more than 6,000 courses all accessible from mobile devices. This program offers a path for team members to acquire GEDs or bachelor’s degrees through accelerated programs and it also provides a development program to help prepare our leaders for the next step in their careers. As a result, the last four GMs in our company were promoted internally.

“So, what is the ROI? That program has already paid for itself several times over, simply from those four promotions, and we are just getting started. This is like the ROI of Beekeeper. Investing in technology and new programs is all about understanding your internal culture, your business needs, and your people. If something reinforces those values, I'm all ears.

“The question that every HR professional and CEO should be asking themselves is: ‘What do we want to be known for, and what are the systems we need to put in place to get us there?’ When you can identify what you want to be known for, you can focus on what it takes to get there. We are not a commodity, we really are focused on creating distinct, unique brands, and we want to change the world one guest and team member at a time.”




About the Author

Andrada Paraschiv is the vice president of Hospitality for Beekeeper, a mobile-first communication platform built for frontline employees that reaches every shift, location, and language through real-time messaging, targeted streams, and automated workflows.

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