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Developing Talent From Within

As part of an industry where employee turnover rates are high and switching between companies is commonplace, Denihan Hospitality Group recognizes how important it is to keep talent within its organization. The hotel management group launched the Talent Development Academy (TDA) in 2008 as a way to foster learning and give employees the skills and knowledge needed to grow in future job positions under the Denihan umbrella.

“As we look to grow, we want to have a program to foster the talent within the organization,” says Thomas Martin, vice president of learning, culture, and development at Denihan. “When we were developing the TDA, we were looking for a way to make people not just savvy in the industry, but savvy about our company as well.”

Each year, 12-15 students, out of a pool of about 35 applicants, are accepted into the TDA and partnered with senior level mentors that work in fields or departments the students wish to enter. Any employee, regardless of age or position within the company, is encouraged to apply. The only requirement needed to join the program is the completion of Denihan’s 90-day probationary period for new employees.

“You can be a room attendant, you can be a front desk supervisor, or you can be a department head,” says Martin. “I sometimes get people who apply who have been with us for three months, and I get people who have been with us for 15 years.”

Applicants are required to write an essay addressing why they wish to join the TDA and how the program will potentially benefit them and Denihan in the future. Interested parties must also provide references as part of the application process.

“One of the things that is very telling is that we ask the applicants for internal and external references,” says Martin. “The idea is to really see how well-rounded these individuals are in their professional and personal lives.”

Once selected, members of the TDA are expected to attend classes two times each month over the course of a year. Members are also expected to take on projects relating to specific topics (such as marketing, development, finance, or food and beverage) and present a real-world system or process or product that will help Denihan achieve its strategic goals in those areas. The projects always reflect current hotel trends or company situations to give members of the program a hands-on approach.

Most students in the TDA are looking to enter entirely new fields within the company. For instance, some members start off in operations and hope to transition to marketing. Others may be involved in food and beverage, but want to be a part of the financial side of the business.

“TDA team members have a lot of access to information and meetings that are usually reserved for people at a senior level,” says Martin. “It gives them a leg up because they get to understand how things work in the organization.”

And although the TDA students benefit exponentially from their mentors, Martin says that the senior level employees often pick up new ideas and learn new things by interacting with their younger counterparts.

“I do a survey quarterly of the mentors and students to see how the program is going, and it just thrills me when the mentors say, ‘I’ve learned something,’” says Martin. “I think that you can never stereotype a generation.”

Martin says that 60 percent of TDA graduates have received promotions within the company, often times while they are still active members of the program. Graduates are also encouraged to attend yearly TDA networking events as a way to stay involved with the program. Some graduates are even asked to participate as mentors in the program as they climb to higher positions.

“Our largest source of hire is from within our own company,” says Martin. “As we fill positions, we often go to these high-potentials from the TDA because they are individuals who have said, ‘I want more—I want to learn more, I want to do more, and I’m committed to this company.’”

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