In the early years of my career, I was fortunate enough to have four mentors guide me through the ups and downs of the industry, educating me every step of the way. These are people who, to this day, I still look up to and seek advice when I need it.
The original idea of mentoring was to attach yourself to a chef or F&B director, and that person brought you up personally through the ranks and was able to get you acclimated and exposed to different areas and positions. You would always communicate with that one person and receive valuable feedback, often for a three- or five-year period.
Today, many mentoring programs have been eliminated due to budget and staffing cuts, consolidation of titles, and the mindset that technology can replace hands-on training programs and career development over the long haul. It’s a short-term strategy that will have long-term consequences for our industry.
At Columbia Sussex, we’re bringing back mentoring as a career development tool for our associates and also as a way to populate our F&B operations with seasoned leaders. Like much of the industry today, we’re in a growth mode, and there’s a need for us to develop leaders, so as opportunities arise, we can promote from within and allow our associates to advance throughout the company.
We’ve had recent success, with one of our VPs taking a couple mid-level managers and mentoring them to become department heads. I always tell our staff we don’t need more supervisors or assistants; we need people that can lead and run departments. When I talk to my sous chefs, I say their job is important, but from a big-picture standpoint, we need to develop them into executive chefs, because we have a shortage of leaders.
The benefits of our mentoring program are threefold: (1) It establishes a comfort zone with the associate so they know they’re getting the regular attention and training they need and deserve for a career in hospitality. (2) Our mentoring program is associate-specific—not one-size-fits-all—so if someone is stronger in one particular area they wouldn’t have to spend as much time there, and they could move on to another position. (3) Having a mentoring program gives associates a deeper career development and opens them to future opportunities within our company where their leader- ship skills are needed, and their financial and geographic preferences are met. It’s win-win for both sides.
Our industry runs on a cyclical wheel of management, so perhaps the most important reason to establish a mentoring program is that without one, the associates of today won’t know how to develop the leaders of tomorrow, and our industry will be less prepared for the high-level challenges we’ll face in the future.
Henry D. Michaud
Member, Hotel F&B Corporate
Editorial Advisory Board
VP, F&B, Columbia Sussex