As My Place Hotels celebrated its 10th anniversary last year, the company began looking to expand its GM training and leadership development program, My Place University. Up until recently, aspiring leaders had to travel to My Place’s Aberdeen, S.D., headquarters for a week of education.
Today, My Place University is supporting a range of positions with an e-learning platform that lets each property's team members learn more about their roles remotely and prepare for a broader career within hospitality.
From its inception, My Place University has focused on training GMs in “quality, consistency and guest experience,” said Matthew Campbell, the company's COO and chief legal officer. “We've always wanted a venue to create simulated training environments, create personal connections with key members of the brand and give that hands-on experience at an operating hotel. My Place University in Aberdeen covers all those key components.”
General managers of new hotels (or new GMs of existing hotels) typically spend five full days in the Aberdeen facility, working eight to 10 hours per day in a replica of one of the company's properties. In addition to classroom-style learning spaces, the replica includes guestrooms, public areas, back of house areas and a front desk—“so it's as real as a training center can be,” Campbell said. A typical day might involve a classroom session on brand standards and then studying the check-in process or simulated night audits.
Perhaps most importantly, Campbell said, the facility is connected to the My Place Hotel Aberdeen so that GMs can get experience in an operating hotel with actual guests for hands-on experience.
After several years of refining the in-person educational experience, the brand’s leadership learned that franchisees and operators were seeking a continued education platform—not just for GMs, but for all positions within a hotel. “Another request was, ‘how do I better identify those key members of my staff that want to do more [and] want to advance?’” Campbell said.
The company began developing an online platform with specific content for each user role to provide standardized training across the board—as well as to provide recognition to key employees. The platform helps property leaders identify top performers at individual hotels, establishing curricula that can be modified as needed to train the next generation of hoteliers for their careers. “We can really find those motivated employees and showcase their talents in the right way through individualized recognition,” Campbell said. Hotel staff members can get certificates as they complete a maintenance course, housekeeping course or front desk course, he said, and the property’s management team can take these certificates into consideration when looking to promote internally.
A key benefit of the e-learning component is the additional flexibility for both new and recurring training, Campbell said. Online lessons, which can be completed in several hours, work around schedules and fit different learning styles, with lessons presented as games, videos and traditional written instructions. At the same time, the team can be “a little bit more nimble” when it comes to updating the lessons and creating new content. “It's certainly all possible in the traditional learning environment,” Campbell acknowledged, but noted that in-person learning has its disadvantages. “You have to find time to get people to come here [and] sit down and learn. Digital is easier [for] sharing those best practices.”
The online platform also can help hoteliers adapt to working with a reduced staff. “If you're a front-desk worker and you're working through the online curriculum, you're going to learn enough of the basics [about] housekeeping to be able to step into that role and and assist the property on getting through the day to day,” Campbell said. The training is meant to encompass all areas of the hotel, he added, but overlaps so that employees on one team can learn about different tasks. “We try to overlap a little bit to make sure they are cross-trained and are given the opportunity for each employee to see that there's more to hospitality beyond their given user role for their day-to-day employment.”
Significantly, Campbell said the e-learning platform is not meant to replace the in-person training GMs get in Aberdeen, but to supplement and enhance it. “We're in the business of hospitality, so there's always going to need to be that face-to-face engagement,” he said of the training. “The e-learning component, specifically, is just trying to provide a number of paths for the operators to better improve and evaluate staff on the best practices.”
As the company looks to expand My Place University’s e-learning platform, Campbell said the training will always focus on the core hospitality values of quality, consistency and the guest experience: “No matter where you're at on the hotel level staffing side, focusing on those three things is extremely beneficial.”