One of the biggest challenges in the service industry is that many employees are promoted to management and supervisory positions without the proper training. Hotels, restaurants and retail are industries where people can advance quickly from high school to customer service to management without a college education. The combination of a fast-paced operation and thin labor forces creates situations where employees are often thrown into new roles because they have the skills and, in theory, can train others on what they’ve learned. What they have not learned is how to resolve conflicts, negotiate with others, and lead and manage people, in addition to interviewing, hiring and onboarding new employees.

The adage hire for personality and train for skill” is too vague in the skill description. Skills go beyond the ability to check in a hotel guest, serve a meal or sell a sweater. Skills include the emotional intelligence traits of smiling, making eye contact, empathizing, and creating experiences for customers and fellow employees. Creating positive experiences for employees is just as important as it is for customers.

Shockingly, many employees are not learning these basic skills in school or from their parents. When it comes to solving problems, many employees seem incapable of going beyond following rules and policies. Possibly, they are working in cultures where leaders haven’t communicated that it’s OK to do whatever it takes to make customers happy and retain employees. The appearance of being “incapable” typically comes from a fear of making mistakes. Employees will also make excuses to customers such as “we’re short-handed today” to justify poor service, because they haven’t been equipped with the skills to handle service issues.

Many of these bad habits are passed on to new employees, who then continue the cycle. Eventually, this cycle leads to disgruntled attitudes, turnover and attrition, in addition to unfavorable word of mouth about the company as an employer and as a service provider. Disgruntled employees won’t hesitate to complain to customers about negative work conditions. This environment will ultimately impact your bottom line.

The solution goes beyond training. It requires strategy and systems to overcome the we don’t have time for training” syndrome that is too common in the service industry. Here’s a process to consider:


The process starts with leaders who see the problem and are willing to address it. If there is a training person on staff, it might be easier to convince management to flip the script and put new standard operating procedures in place for onboarding.

General Onboarding and Orientation

Mandate orientation and customer service training before employees are processed as a needed “warm body.” Too many times, a new employee is placed at the front desk just so the customer sees a face attached to a body, but he or she hasn’t been set up for success. requires four weeks of training for employees at all levels to ensure retention and avoid that problem.

Departmental Onboarding

Once new employees feel comfortable with their knowledge about the company, where to eat lunch and the culture they’ll be working in, they need the proper skills training for their department. Outline a basic training program for each department, and teach managers how to schedule it in their individual departments. This training needs to be structured beyond just shadowing another employee. It should be planned, consistent for all employees and scheduled accordingly, and it should include follow-up mechanisms for their success.

In the hotel industry specifically, this type of training program often does not exist. In some hotels, upper management or outside consultants create tools for virtual training but often do not recognize that in many service positions, there are not enough resources for the newest technologies. There are some companies that make online training mandatory without realizing the burden it places on the unit, location or property. Imagine 30 housekeepers in the height of travel season trying to learn on one computer. It’s just not feasible.

This is where returning to the basics in training becomes important. In certain situations, it’s important to understand the operational limitations for training and find the best solutions to meet these goals. In a hotel, for example, it may make more sense to put as many employees as possible in one room at the same time for instructor-led training.

Manager Training

As employees master their skills in their specific roles, managers are often too quick to promote an employee to the next level (especially in the case of “warm body” syndrome) without considering his or her lack of experience in managing, interviewing, onboarding and coaching other employees. Again, there should be a structured plan for how to give employees these skills or, at a minimum, determine if they have the skills to begin with before putting them in charge of other employees. Managers can be become blinded by an employee’s ability to show up on time and exceed customer expectations and be completely oblivious to his or her lack of leadership abilities.

Onboarding is critical for improving retention in the service industries. It really starts at hiring, but if you’ve already made the decision to hire someone, it’s now your job to give each new employee all the tools he or she needs to succeed.