The JW Marriott Pune Team on hiring, training, and building winning teams

I stayed at the JW Marriott Pune for 3 months this year and found the hotel to be a very special place. The service quality was simply outstanding and the consistency of this outstanding service meant this experience was very special. Aside from the quality of service, it also felt like the staff were genuinely having a great time at work. So, I thought it would be very interesting to pull aside the General Manager, Jatin, for an interview. Jatin insisted that I also interview his 2 top lieutenants with him and I think that already says something about the sort of example he sets. I hope you enjoyed the interview

About Jatin, Subhash and Abhimanyu

featuredJatin, Subhash and Abhimanyu lead up the operations of JW Marriott Pune. Even by the JW Marriott’s very high standards, the Pune hotel has been winning awards for it’s customer satisfaction scores since its inception 3 years ago.

Jatin is the General Manager of the hotel, Subhash is the Director of Operations and Abhimanyu is the Director of rooms.

Rohan:  This question is for all three of you.  What is the background as to how you got started and how you ended up here?  How did you choose to do what you do?

Abhimanyu:  My name is Abhimanyu.  I’m the director of rooms for this hotel.  I’ve been with Marriott for ten years now.  I started my career in June of 2004 with JW Marriott in Mumbai.  After that I was at the Courtyard Marriott where I did an opening and I’ve been in this hotel since August of 2010.  I was part of the opening team of this hotel and it’s been four great years working here.

I think hotels are something I’ve always wanted to work in since I was in 11th grade.  I love the feel of hotels, and I saw myself working in hotels and meeting new people.  Also, what interested me was traveling and I think that comes along with being in the industry.   These are two things because of which I chose the hotel industry.


Subhash:  I’m Subhash.  Last year, I was working as a chef. I was the opening chef of this hotel.  It’s been seventeen years as a Chef – since 1997 when I started up from Bangalore.  I moved around to different cities in India, and then I moved forward to take up this job of Director of Operations to understand and have a holistic view of hotel operations.

As a chef, I enjoyed every bit of it.  As you know in every career or profession you have a goal you want to achieve.  The goal for me was getting recognized on an international platform, which I did in 2012 as Marriott’s global chef of the year.  Then I shifted jobs and decided to train myself to get a good overall prospective.


Jatin:  I’m Jatin.  I’ve been in this industry for a good 17 years now.  Why did I join?  Honestly it was not a profession of my choice.  I was like any other young kid coming out of school.  I didn’t know what to do.  I ended up doing hotel management and it was after the first initial three or four years that I really thought about it and thought, yes, this is what my career is.  From there I went in a different way altogether.  I started as a receptionist, which we call a front office assistant now, at the Imperial Hotel.  In Marriott, I started my journey in Mumbai as a front office manager.  From there I moved on to different projects.  I’ve even done a couple of pre-openings.  I landed in Pune in April of 2012.


Rohan:  There is something special about this hotel that I can see from a guest’s perspective.  It’s consistency of service across levels.  In each of your opinions, how did this happen, why is it happening, and how do you try to make sure it continues to happen?

Subhash:  It’s the three P’s – people, process, product.  In terms of people you live your core values of the hotel or of the business and trickle down.  Service is a culture.  It has to start at the top and then gradually it filters down.  That makes things happen.

Secondly, you take care of your associates.  Take care of your associates and your associates will take care of the business.  We really live that and show that.  Our cafeterias, lockers, and other facilities for our associates are well taken care of.  They really have a great time.  It is fun.  There is quite a bit that goes into that.  There is an HR department that ensures that there are activities planned for the teams to mingle together and have fun while they are working.  I think that helps us in a big way.

“Greet, smile, and serve” is the first thing that any associate entering this hotel is taught when you open up.  Greet, smile, serve; it’s very simple.  If you have a problem, speak about it.  I think that 80% of all the problems are just a manifestation of the human brain.  Focus on the other 20% and then life is easy.  We find a solution from there.


Abhimanyu:  I think our team is extremely passionate and driven.  When we opened in 2010, we didn’t know what we were getting into.  It was a new market for a hotel of this nature.  From day one, the kind of guest satisfaction scores that we got and the appreciation that we received in our internal Marriott system is something that we never thought we would achieve.  One of the best hotels in terms of our guest satisfaction and scores in the Marriott system is in the Asia Pacific.  Once that happened, I think that really drove people to maintain that number one spot.  That really motivated even individual associates and receptionists to ensure that we stay on top and that need to stay on top has helped us.  We’ve obviously continued to raise the bar and improve our service and product standards to be there.  That feeling that is there in an employee of the hotel that we have to be the number one hotel in guest satisfaction is something that has brought us to where we are.

Also I think there is a great culture within the hotel that is a great bond between managers and associates.  Managers actually lead by example.  They won’t just give trainings and philosophies in meeting rooms, but they actually walk the talk.  They do it themselves.  Whenever it’s busy, you’ll see them running around.  Associates really look up to them and respect them because of that.  

Our service culture has been created because of our core value in Marriott which is to take care of the associates that take care of the company and the guests.  I think it’s a total hotel approach as far as this value goes.  From housekeeping to the front office, everyone is focused towards the guest.  It’s not just one area.  Some hotels leave it to the front desk to be responsible for guest complaints and ensuring that all guests leave satisfied, but here even a steward in a restaurant or a chef would come up to the front office team and say that they think a guest is upset, maybe we should have chat with him.  Otherwise all of these areas are too busy doing their own thing.  That’s what makes it a total hotel approach.  It’s a housekeeping boy realizing that a guest doesn’t have enough toothpaste and replenishing it automatically.  These are things that put us apart from other hotels.


Jatin:  I think I will echo the same sentiments as Subhash and Abhimanyu.  It’s about our people.  We’re in an industry where people are serving people as opposed to a manufacturing unit or some other place where you do your job in rigid processes.  Our people make the difference in my opinion.  We have some great training which happens on a day to day basis.  One of the best parts which has happened with us is that after we’ve been opened for a good three and a half years, 35% of our workforce is still from the pre-opening stage.  What that means is we’ve been able to grow them.  We’ve been able to build their courage; we’ve been able to build their confidence, and this is what the associates see when they join.


Rohan:  And that’s not the norm across the industry.

Jatin:  No, that’s not a norm across the industry.  Our entire team is pretty much passionate.  We always say that we are not a hotel where we have a talk down approach.  To say the least, you will rarely go to hotels where a housekeeping boy leaves a note for you with his own name to say that he hopes everything is fine, or goes and picks up a box of chocolate and leaves for you as an amenity.  A lot of times these things are left for managers to do – to write a nice flowery note for a guest.  However, we don’t believe in that.


Rohan:  How do you manage to do that?  Because I have received a note from their housekeeping boy and I was blown away.  How do you manage to inculcate that across levels?  

Jatin:  The only thing we try to do with that is working with empowerment to our associates who do that.  The only thing we request is that before they place a note, that they show it to their supervisor.  In terms of what they’re writing, it should be professional enough.  Otherwise, they’re empowered.  Let’s assume I’m a houseboy and Subhash is staying in the hotel, and I know that he was not feeling well yesterday, which is written in a logbook.  I will leave a note saying that I hope he is feeling well and to let me know if he needs anything.  That’s about it; nothing more, nothing less. It’s just a simple message.

This is all empowerment.  This is what gives them their passion.  I personally believe when we opened the hotel after 2011 that we as a team have made that into a habit – our customers, their loyalty and remaining within our system, and how many awards we’ve won as the best hotel.  I think we’ve made these things a habit and we are all passionate about it.


Rohan:  I just want to pick up one of the things you said.  It sounds simple that you have an HR department that does this and that.  I have noticed that quite a few of the managers at the front desk all work very hard, but they are still seemingly engaged as a team.  They attend the holy celebration.  There’s still something I’m missing because a lot of places have HR departments but that doesn’t mean that it functions as well.  What do you think you do differently?

Subhash:  It’s more about passion that should be reflected in each aspect of the delivery.  It’s not that I will not be passionate about you and then I expect you to deliver passionate food.  That’s now working.  When I say that I am very passionate about what I do and I am genuinely interested in the menu, I will know everything about every menu and I will see to it that I have exhibited passion. I will make sure that whether it is a birthday celebration or a holy celebration, I will go full on to make sure that it is a celebration for people to remember.


Rohan:  What do you do differently to hire such folk?  

Subhash:  We have certain philosophies, very basic things.  The simple things of life make a big difference.  Suppose we are hiring a chef.  We ensure that a happy chef makes happy food.  We hire people for attitude and a specialized skill. If they have the skill, and they have the attitude also, then we develop them into our business.  

Secondly, if you see a problem, you own a problem, and you resolve a problem.  We expect that if a customer approaches a chef and says that they have a strained neck because their pillow is not nice, and the chef doesn’t understand anything about pillows, then he will approach a guy who will know about pillows and he will ask if there are any other kinds of pillows. He will see to it that is done.  The first guy who the problem was mentioned to is going to follow up at the back end.  Is the problem closed?

We have a very open system called a DIR which is a daily incident report.  We encourage people that if there is a problem, report the problem.  When you report a problem, we can then solve the problem.  There is nothing to hide, there is no reprimand.  If you make a mistake, you are not reprimanded tomorrow morning.  You made a mistake, you owned up to the mistake, and you reported your mistake.  Then there are senior managers who are in their job to do their job and resolve your mistake and to see to it that the guests come back.

There is a whole culture that nobody works on threats, because you cannot deliver exceptional service with threats.  Either you do this, or you are fired.  No.  That doesn’t work.  It is more about communicating that if you do your job, I am there to take care of you.  If there is anything that is happening wrong, don’t be afraid.  Just mention it to me and I will handle it.  That’s the kind of confidence that the managers give to them.  

Yelling and shouting, etc. is not a virtue that we exercise.  We believe that when you make people understand, that’s a better way.  It’s also the moment of truth.  If something happens in the front office back area and the associate is yelled at or shout out afterwards, he or she is going to give it back to the guest.  These are simple things.

Of course the process as it appears has been broken down so much that it looks very simple, but it may mean a different place to do this kind of set up.  It will take a while because of what you speak and how do other people trust you and so on.  That’s the big difference.  Like the example that Jatin gave about housekeeping leaving a note – they will also put a note asking if there is anything special that you want.  So if the guest asks for something from the kitchen, the housekeeping guy will contact a chef.  The chef will say, “No problem, I will get it.”  Everybody is then involved in the process, so there is more genuineness in service.  I think that makes us a leader in terms of delivering exceptional services.


Jatin:  To the point of DIR’s, that is where it would be recorded that someone is not feeling well.  So the next day when that person is in the lobby, they have two or three people asking if they are well.  It’s about communication throughout.  

When it comes to hiring, we don’t hire just for skills.  We hire for your attitude, your drive, and what you want to do.  And then obviously there are certain other things that happen.  Right from joining, you are not left alone for the first month.  A buddy system is there so you are inducted properly into the system and not thrown to fend on your own.  Those kinds of things give confidence to people which they enjoy in their first or second job.  Then they can make comparisons or they can fall in love with their first job and stay on.  That really works well for us.


Rohan:  I’m sure each of you has multiple reports given how large the staff is.  What is your philosophy for managing these people and leading these people?  What do you go back to when there’s difficulty, and what do you go back to in good times?  How do think about leadership/management?

Abhimanyu:  I think for the people who report to me, the number one thing that stands out for me is commitment.  I need everyone to be 100% committed to the job that they are doing in this hotel, at least when they are reporting to me.  If you’re not 100% committed, your mind is wayward, you’re thinking of something else.  It’s best that you talk about it, discuss it, and we’ll probably do something for you.  If you’re working in our hotel, we want you to be 100% committed.

One way that we do that is we have certain key initiatives that we roll out every year to ensure that our standards remain number one.  We get a buy-in right from the associate level on what we need to do.  Everybody gives their input.  We put it all together, and roll it out as one strategy.  Obviously everyone’s driven because they’ve thought of those processes and they will deliver all of that every day on the shop floor, and they obviously get rewarded for the results.  That is one way that we get the commitment out, but for me the number one thing that I need from my 3-4 people who report to me is that they’re motivated, passionate, and committed to their job.  That’s the most important thing for me.

Of course there are ups and downs.  Sometimes there are roadblocks to that motivation and we always share it, discuss it, and see what we can do.  There are aspirations within the team.  People want to grow in a year and a half and move on to the next position.  Marriott is a growing company, so we also have positive moves.  I can give you 4-5 examples from my team of guys who move to other Marriott hotels in India at higher levels.  That not  only motivates them, but even people across the board such as managers and associates, because they all see that growth and that has been a big motivation.  Sometimes we lose our best people from the hotel to get better positions in other Marriott hotels.  That is a great win because that motivates so many more to come and replace that person.  To give you an example, in my front office we hired just one manager in the past four years.  We have about 6-7 managers on the team, and all of them were promoted internally.  That is a huge motivation again.


Subhash:  I manage people by trust.  I trust them to join a team, and to deliver exceptional services.  He has joined a team, and his growth should be exceptional.  He or she values performing.  I trust that he is doing what he is best at and if there is something which is missing, of course it happens, there is a learning curve.  I make sure that he is empowered at something.  I think being genuine in whatever I approach so there is nothing else in between is important.  There is open communication.  I may be wrong sometimes.  Understanding that I may be wrong sometimes is very important.  How you take it is also very important.  It’s the simple things in life.


Jatin:  In terms of my hotel, I think I’m pretty much into a participative management style right from the start with capturing goals.  Sometimes democracy can be a little problematic, but that’s okay.  What happens in the hotel and what we have seen is that when you give people freedom to air their viewpoints, they start participating and binding to your viewpoints or your vision.  Once that happens, I think that really pulls the team together, and I think that we as a team do that wonderfully.  When I say we do that wonderfully, I don’t mean only at a management level.  If you walk around the hotel, if you go to any of the operations areas all the way to the back with the housekeepers, everybody will know their balance, everybody will know their goals, and everybody will know the accomplishments of their department.  That really pulls everything together.  I think that’s how we all try to work.


Rohan:  When you go visit other hotels, I’m sure you see it from a different point of view.  What do you think when you look at other hotels and look at what you are doing here?  Are there some things that are fundamentally different, or do you just feel that it comes down to little nuances like training people to use the right tone of voice, etc.?  Or are there things that you see that you feel like if they did this, or got some fundamental things right, then it would change the texture?  What are some of these building blocks when you think of service and doing really well in this industry?

Subhash:  It starts with hiring.  When you’re hiring, if you are concentrating on the attitude part of it – that’s positive.  You cannot teach anybody to be humble.  I have not come across any training where somebody can teach you humility – how to be humble, how to be genuinely taking care of the customers.  I think as soon as you fix this issue, the retrospective effect will be visible.  For example, if I’m unable to communicate to you in some great accent or in a great English language, usually as long as you see genuineness in my eyes it’s a winning moment because you will understand.  Okay, the guy is trying.  That’s okay and then you understand that he is genuine.  I think that is what sets us apart.


Rohan:  So you think hiring is a fundamental?

Suhash:  Absolutely.  I think that is the most key factor.  Also, you must live what you speak especially with the transition and the generation changing so fast.  Everybody’s observing you.  Is he a trainer?  When he’s a trainer is he just blabbering from his mouth, or is he speaking only from some books?  Does he know what he is talking about?  Is he living that or not?  Once you are living it, it’s easy.


Abhimanyu:  One thing that I notice in hotels in India is that a lot of times people are saying things just because they’ve been told to say that.  They’re not really using their head and seeing the best thing they can do for the customer.  I think many times you feel that associates in hotels are inflexible and very rigid in the way they come across to a customer.  If the guest says, “Can I get a late check-out time of 2:00?”  The response is, “No, I’m sorry sir the check-out time is noon.”

The guest is coming to have breakfast in the morning and he’s coming at 11:05.  All he wants is a muffin and a coffee and he’s out but they say, “Oh sorry the breakfast is cleared, you have to order a la carte.”  He has to wait 45 minutes for the order.  Maybe the customer will never come back.  In the long run it’s going to be a bigger revenue loss than those 200 rupees that we earn that day.

It’s these small things where I think it goes back to what Subhash said.  The important things are attitude, hiring the right people, and then genuinely wanting to do it.  It’s not just in front of my manger that I’m going to be really good to these guests.  I’m going to smile, I’m going to walk with him, I’m going to escort him, and I’m going to do all the right things.  It’s about me wanting to genuinely ensure that Mr. Smith is happy and me doing whatever I can.  And I’m empowered to ensure that happens.  I don’t just smile because my manager says to smile at the guests, so I’m standing in the lobby and smiling at them.  That happens in so many places.  They’re like robots.  People are standing, smiling, and saying good morning and good evening, but sometimes they don’t even know why they are doing that.  Why am I saying this?  What is the ultimate theme of our hotel?  It’s to ensure that every guest leaves satisfied.   We train them in such a way to show them the forest rather than just the tree.  These are the things that I feel are very different in some of the hotels which I have visited.

Jatin:  We always notice things when we go to a hotel.  Not only in a bad way.  Sometimes when we come back as a team we see a lot of good things from other hotels whether it was their welcome experience or in a different way.  It’s about hiring and training – nothing more than that.  We hire with respect to the attitude and passion that people have and we train them well for them to know what they’re doing.


Rohan:  The other thing I have not heard about is processes.  A lot of these little things that you do such as the DIR – how big of role do you think that plays?  It seems like it’s pretty fundamental.

Jatin:  This is something that is very controversial and we as a team are always open about it.  We have a hotel which is great in guest service, has a good product and great associates, but something we have realized as a team is that we are not a very process-oriented hotel.  Do you know why?  Because we leave it for people to do a lot of stuff.  We do have tons of processes to make sure that the guests are leaving happy but we are not binding people into it and saying if you’re not going to do this, your job is at stake.  We don’t do that.

Subhash:  We don’t operate with an SOP style of management because then we are conforming individuals.  When you conform individuals to certain things, that’s going to start robotic behavior.  We don’t tell them, “This is a box, my friend.  Loosen up and fit inside this.”

We don’t have a box.  I am Subhash and my individuality is more important than anything else.  Then what I will not do is I will not try to change you.  As a manager, I will maneuver you.  I will show you alternate ways to do things.  I will not change you because as soon as I say change, there is resistance.  I will maneuver you; I will teach you alternate ways to do things.  Is this better?  That is my question.  Do you think we should do this?  Because then they’re buying in and then it’s a natural process.


Rohan:  So you use processes but only so much.

Jatin:  We have tons of owners.  We have to do that which is required.  Let me just say one thing.  There are a couple of hotel companies without naming them who are trying to make two businesses as one.  Business excellence models like PDM or Six Sigma are nothing but making sure that you are a process-oriented company and not personality-driven.   I still say we as a hotel are more personality-driven, but we are also process-oriented company.  We are somewhere in the middle. We as a team do great stuff together.  We are all coming together to put that passion into what we do.  We have processes as well.  That’s how I would sum it up.


Rohan:  What is an idea that inspires you that you would like to share?

Subhash:  In my career, I think that I am blessed.  My day-to-day job is to meet people.  In this company I will meet and interact with the CEO, the CFO, the middle manager, and a working man on a day-to-day basis.  Inspiration may come from seeing that you are meeting a CEO and you are having interaction with them.  What inspires me is that you have to have knowledge apart from what you are doing to enter into a conversation with them because you are not just going to say, “Hi how are you?  Are you feeling okay?”

Because when you are talking about developing a relationship, then you are also talking about being a  communication bridge.  To be that communication bridge, you need to have information.  To get the information, you have to read.  To me, that is an inspiration.  I meet with socialites, I meet with models, I meet with CEO’s, I meet with politicians.  I have a recipe for each one of them. What happens is you double up as a better individual to communicate to different people.  I also talk with kids.  You see a lot of Gen Y coming up, so I need to know how to interact with them.  I think eventually I will become a better father because of this.  That is a motivation for me.

Abhimanyu:  Every day is a new day in hotels.  Working in hotels is not rocket science.  We have to do everything in a certain way.  It’s not like an assembly line.  Every day we learn so much when we meet with our guests.  We meet with guests from all over the world.  We deal with so many situations every day.  It’s more about self-learning.

There are so many ideas that I get every day looking at my associates, looking at my guest, talking to them, communicating.  That makes us implement new things every day.  That’s the biggest thing for me.  It’s not about doing things.  We do these things we set up in this boardroom, but maybe there is a customer who says something else and it is really great for our guests.  It’s about constantly learning.  It’s about constantly picking up new things that we can do to elevate our service levels and implementing them by our associates.  I get ideas every day and that’s what helps make it an even better place to work for our associates and a better place to stay for our guests like you.


Jatin:  For me a great inspiration is that the self-learning model is so important for us.  We as an industry are way different from an industry that doesn’t involve values.  I think self-learning will keep on inspiring you on a day-to-day business.  The best part about delivering is that every week when we all meet together on a Friday, every now and then somebody will come up with a great idea and we’ll all be really excited.  Once we execute that, we have to jump to the next thing.  That’s the challenging part – that we keep learning something new every day.