What gets one hired, attitude or degree? Kigali Marriott’s experience

Employees of Marriott Hotel get free medical insurance cover, including their families, they also get associate discounts-they can dine or use any other of the hotel’s facilities at a significant discount.
The Kigali Marriot has about 320 employees. File.

As Director of Human Resources at the Kigali Marriott Hotel, Yulia Bogdanova is in charge of about 320 employees (otherwise known as associates in Marriott speak), and is at the helm of the hotel’s eight-strong Human Resource function.

A Russian by nationality, Bogdanova worked in a couple of countries under Marriott International, before coming to Rwanda in 2015 as part of Marriott Kigali’s pre-opening team.

Her brief includes recruitment, benefits, development, corporate social responsibility, and the people-service aspect. Some of the hotel’s buy out contractors also fall under her docket.

Bogdanova believes that Marriott’s strength as a hotel brand derives from its core values that are the foundation of the entire Human Resource and overall hotel operations.

“One of our core values is put people first,” she quips.

Yulia Bogdanova, the director of Human Resource at Marriott Hotel. Courtesy.

To that end, Marriott International runs the Take Care Initiative that is geared towards the overall wellbeing of the hotel’s associates.

The initiative champions the importance of employees taking care of themselves holistically –body, soul, financial wellbeing, education, career, relations with team members, and ultimately relations with the company.

An attitude-led approach:

With more than 7,000 Marriott Hotel properties spread across the globe, just how does the company go about finding the right human resources for its vast operations?

According to Bogdanova, it’s the same script across the board:

“We have a saying, that Marriott hires attitude. We are willing to get on board people who are ready to learn, who really enjoy serving others. The rest we’re doing pretty much while on duty.”

Marriott boasts an enormous array of training programs, several online platforms with interactive training videos, and international trainers visiting the hotel to train its teams.

“We’re always happy to train and to teach. We have almost 7,000 Marriott Hotels across the globe. We have the tools and resources, but we need that foundation in the personality to be able to embrace what we’re trying to deliver.”

Experience vs academic qualifications:

Attitude, Bogdanova explains, takes precedence over experience or academic qualifications when hiring regular associates.

“We need people who are able to learn, who are capable to take ownership and responsibility for their success and for the performance of the entire team goal.”

The exception comes when hiring for leadership and managerial positions.

For this, Marriott runs a 12 month career development program to nurture employees that have demonstrated interest and ability to take over the next role to get ready for the job.

“We have a range of leadership training which help associates interested in going on an upper level and progressing in their careers to learn the right beneficial models of leadership. Of course for higher management positions there is no way we can hire fresh graduates. The recruitment is more experience-oriented, but the key is the way the interviews progress, and if the person is really showing the attitude, and the attitude we are looking for is a proactive approach, responsibility, and sense of ownership.”

The quality of training and consistency of standards pursued at the Kigali Marriott is equal to any other Marriott property in the world, according to Bogdanova.

“So our associates are very much welcome in other Marriott International hotels, and since opening, we got over 45 transfers abroad, including ten transfers to the US, meaning that we have an opportunity to 45 people to be able to explore international careers.”

Marriott Kigali opened in 2016, and throughout the first year of operation, hired over 250 associates. This core group has been with the hotel since then, with a few exceptions due to transfers abroad.

“Of course it does not make our work any easier when we are replacing the top performers with new associates for whom it requires a year or a year and half for them to become top performers,” she laments.

The hotel has official guidelines called Transfer Eligibility –the minimum terms allowed associates before they can transfer to another Marriott property.

Transfer Eligibility terms for junior management associates is six months, and for middle management 12 months. Senior leadership is 18 months, while the General Manager position is two years.

“Of course we respect labor laws, and associates can resign any time. But overall, our negative turnover is very low because of the stable working environment here in Rwanda.”

But losing associates to other Marriott properties is not always the end of the road. Often, it has turned out to be a new beginning.

In 2012 and 2013, Kigali Marriott in partnership with Akilah Institute for Women took 40 Akilah graduates to join different Marriott properties in the Gulf Region. The training was to last one year, but the opening of the hotels was postponed, and they ended up staying for up to three years.

Eventually, sixteen of them returned to Rwanda and rejoined the Kigali Marriott. “Some of them became supervisors, and three of them became managers,” revealed Bogdanova.

“Strategically for the hotel industry as a whole it’s very important to get back people who get international experience. There are countries with hundreds of years of experience, there are countries with thousands of hotels in one city, so it’s very beneficial for associates to see that. In case they return and are willing to rejoin us, we are more than happy to take them back.”

Open door policy:

“I think what helps us to stick out from the market is in the overall people culture –the way we treat people and have discussions and open door policy and open forums for communication,” says Bogdanova. 

The hotel’s General Manager has monthly sessions with junior associates, who table their concerns directly. There is a toll-free line, advertised internally, where local associates can call Employee Relations in Washington and air their concerns if they can’t be resolved internally.

“We have all emails of our area leaders in Dubai available for the associates to address complaints. All in all this creates a friendly and trustful environment within the organization.”

Marriott employee rewards:

Employees of the hotel get free medical insurance cover, including their families, they also get Associate discounts-they can dine or use any other of the hotel’s facilities at a significant discount. They can offer friends and family rates to their friends and families, and they are entitled to special discounts while at other Marriott properties.

They also get service charge as a share of revenue in a given month.

“Whatever we make moneywise, at the end of the month a percentage goes into the associates’ pockets. That is aimed at investing effort into the overall success of the enterprise. It’s always a fixed percentage, but the amount is different every month according to how the hotel is doing.

We do believe that it’s important to take care of associates’ wellbeing and to ease at least a little bit their stress taking care of their families. The hotel offers them free educational sessions on overall wellbeing, medical checkups, sometimes vaccinations and dental checkups, eye checkups, and gym access. There is also associates’ appreciation which runs for a week, in May, where employees get pampered.