Why Castle Green Hotel believes empowering its staff has been the catalyst for growth.
Perched on a hillside overlooking Kendal, the Castle Green Hotel is one of the town’s most recognisable landmarks. The sprawling building, complete with function room, conference centre, leisure club and beauty spa, also has 99 bedrooms capable of sleeping up to 200 guests – and only those with a long memory will remember that it used to be the regional office of energy provider Norweb.
This year marks the 20th anniversary of its conversion into a Best Western hotel. Over the last 18 months, however, the venue has seen concerted efforts behind the scenes to upskill the 120 staff responsible for its smooth running.
“The team here is the key to everything we do at Castle Green,” says general manager Ben Mayou. “The people who work here make it what it is, which is why we take training development really seriously.”
The hotel has been working closely with Kendal College, who last year carried out a full skills audit on the staff. With resources from The Edge , the college then developed a range of tailored courses to match the requirements of Ben and his management team.
“We aim to get beyond specific essential courses and give the staff real people skills,” Ben says. “It’s about the impact of their actions in their day-to-day role, not necessarily teaching them new skills.”
Having selected the courses, Ben’s next problem was deciding how to implement them. “My personal preference is always for the team to study externally, preferably with delegates from other businesses,” he says. “But the reality is that this is a busy hotel, we run a 24/7 operation and it is not always practical for staff to be away attending courses. Fortunately we have the facilities already in place here at Castle Green, so we often end up running seminars on site.”
Ben has been at Castle Green for the last six years. He previously worked at the 4-star Lakeside Hotel, and it was his experience there which convinced him that the Castle Green had similar potential. “When I came on board we were operating as a really good 3-star hotel, but in order to take that extra step to 4-star status we needed to differentiate – and that begins and ends with the staff. We needed to refocus on the team, making them feel a big part of what we do. That has been the real change. We know we do all right, but how can we get better?”
The hotel has been working closely with Kendal College, who last year carried out a full skills audit on the staff. With resources from The Edge fund, the college then developed a range of tailored courses to match the requirements of Ben and his management team.
The first step was a rebrand. In April 2016, following a year of refurbishment that included a fresh, contemporary design for the 2 AA Rosette awarded Greenhouse Restaurant, and a £450,000 refit of 33 en-suite guestrooms, the Castle Green became a member of the Best Western Premier Collection, the only one of its kind in the Lake District. To become a BW Premier Collection member, hotels must have at least four stars and score highly on Trip Advisor as well as passing a strict quality assurance assessment.
“Prior to the rebrand, managing director Tim Rumney got the team together and delivered rebrand sessions to small groups,” Ben says.
“This was an opportunity to give them the background to the story and explain the reason we were making the changes. It was also a chance to get everyone together from across the whole spectrum of employees. We were able to agree goals and targets moving forward.” The results were rapid and spectacular. Within a few weeks the hotel’s guest feedback score – an internal measurement of customer satisfaction – had increased from 76 to 80. It is currently at 85.6, meaning Castle Green is now ranked fourth out of all Best Western hotels in the UK.
“The benefits have been tangible, from guest feedback to sales performance,” Ben says. “In challenging times we have growth around three per cent. That means we can continue to spend £500,000 on capital expenditure improvement to the product – and you can’t spend that money if you’re not making it.”
According to Ben the training will be ongoing. Indeed, there is genuine enthusiasm among the staff to play their part in the hotel’s success story.
“The key is getting the team together on a regular basis. Obviously the planning, preparing content and coordinating events can be time consuming, but the impact has been massive.
“And it has not been difficult to encourage people. Indeed, quite the opposite. Early this year we did an exercise in which we asked how they could contribute and influence the sales. At first there were blank faces – ‘I’m a porter, how can I drive sales?’ – but we told them ‘You’re on social media and read newspapers: if you see anything let us know. As a result, the notice board in the office is full of sales leads.”
Engagement encourages loyalty, of course – which is repaid by the management at the hotel. Castle Green Hotel has a ‘Five Year Club’ to reward long-serving staff.
…there is genuine enthusiasm among the staff to play their part in the hotel’s success story.
“If you’ve been with us for five years, you get wined and dined at an annual dinner which is a chance for the company to say thank you,” says Ben. “There are currently 45 members in the club. It has great kudos, and we’ve even put it on our staff badges. It encourages consistency of staff and service and our guests love seeing familiar faces. There’s great camaraderie with the team.”
Staff who haven’t yet made the ‘Five Year Club’ are still rewarded for their service. Once a staff member has worked at the hotel for three months, they get a meal and a bottle of wine on their birthday every year.
“It’s a thank you to them. Without their hard work and dedication we would not have achieved our success.”
When I came on board we were operating as a really good 3-star hotel, but in order to take that extra step to 4-star status we needed to differentiate – and that begins and ends with the staff.