In the Field
Ref: ITF003-20

Article



In the Field with Scandic Hotels

How can a service-oriented company keep its learnings current?

Anand Narasimhan

By Professor Anand NarasimhanAnand Narasimhan and Shih-Han Huang

At a Glance

  • In the services industry, employees are often the customers’ first point of contact with a brand. Having well-trained, knowledgeable and proactive staff is critical to good customer service.
  • As part of its employee empowerment journey, Scandic Hotels, the largest hotel chain in the Nordics, is looking to cultivate an employee-led learning culture.
  • Scandic needs to redefine learning so that it is relevant to the times and the new culture it is trying to achieve.

You have just been promoted to the ranks of breakfast and lunch manager at one of the Scandic Hotels in Stockholm. It is high season and the usually busy restaurant is even busier than usual. To cope, you have added new staff, including a few seasonal hires, to your team. As you walk the floor, you keep an eye out – after all, from your personal experience you know a lot is expected of your team members in a very short time. They have to juggle guests, tasks and newly learned procedures all while keeping a friendly, professional demeanor.

A line is building up at the cash register. Lucas, a newly hired team member is manning it. He is flipping manically through a big manual and the guests are getting impatient. You go to see what is wrong. One of the guests has asked to split a check. You quickly show him – he sighs with relief; one problem averted.

This episode is not isolated and shows a challenge the hotel chain has experienced. Scandic needs to regularly onboard diverse front-facing staff and enable them to hit the ground running. However, its onboarding training is cumbersome, and its learning management system outdated. In addition, important information is mostly desktop based and not readily available to floor staff who need it the most. As Scandic tries to reach its mission of “world class Nordic hotel company,” engaging well-trained staff is crucial. How can Scandic empower its employees and build a learning culture within the company?

The broader issue

In the service industry, especially in the hospitality business, the staff is the face of the company and is crucial in helping to build its brand. Customers are becoming more informed, demanding and outspoken – they expect efficient and seamless service and are not afraid to voice their opinions and leave reviews, both good and bad. Also, as the business environment becomes increasingly complex, uncertain and interlinked, companies can no longer rely on decisions being made solely at the top. Employees need to be knowledgeable, proactive and empowered to make decisions. To do so, they need access to the right information and training, and be in a supportive environment where they feel they can make these decisions.

For Scandic, employee empowerment came to the forefront in 2015 when the company set itself a vision to become a “world class Nordic hotel company” with the mission to “create a great hotel experience” for many people. It also articulated a set of values – “be caring,” “be you,” “be a pro” and “be bold.” In other words, employees should be warm and open-minded, deliver high and consistent quality work, be authentic and appreciate others’ differences, and not be afraid to step out of their comfort zones. The company needed to empower its employees and provide them with the authority and support to do their job and take decisions. And, to support this empowerment journey, Scandic needed to create an employee-driven learning culture within the company.

This would not be an easy endeavor. In 2015, Scandic had 14,400 employees across 221 hotels in seven countries, and every year, close to 6,500 new members were hired on a seasonal basis. The chain was also expanding rapidly,[1] and new team members were constantly being onboarded. Scandic’s old company culture, which was efficiency focused and relied on a checklist mentality, needed to be changed; its annual employee survey showed that not even 50% of its employees felt they could take decisions within their work.

Scandic knew its existing ways of training employees was not optimal. Its old way of learning was top down, focused on classroom training and consisted of long eLearning modules. Less than 20% of employees logged in each year and even fewer completed the whole program. Meanwhile, the way people learn has changed. It has become social and on demand.

In our private lives, we are learning in a completely new way. We Google when we need to learn something. We look at tutorials on YouTube, and we go on our social networks to share our tips and tricks and learn from others.

 - Siri Wikander, Director of People Growth

A new approach

Scandic needed to approach learning differently. Central to this was revamping the existing Learning Management System (LMS). To kick off the process, Scandic’s Learning & Development (L&D) team started by exploring the mega trends affecting society, organizations and learning. Then it constructed a vision of where Scandic wanted to be.

We wanted to make sure that everyone could share their best ideas and learn from each other and get a learning culture that was driven by the employee. So that was our vision that was very linked to the empowerment journey.

Lena Bjurner, SVP Human Resources & Sustainability

Scandic found what it was looking for in Fuse Universal, a London-based startup, which provided an integrated learning platform that leveraged social learning and was developed with mobile in mind. In December 2016, Scandic signed the contract with Fuse. By March 2017, the system integration was completed. Scandic’s leadership team were onboarded in June, 30 plus functional communities were created by the fall, and all employees were added to the platform in November.

In the meantime, the Communications team at Scandic, which had been on the lookout for a new intranet platform, thought Fuse to be a good solution that supported multimedia formats and social messaging.

A mindset shift

With the new platform and shift to an employee-driven learning culture, the L&D and Communications teams needed to rethink their roles and figure out how they could enable employees to create useful content. For the L&D team, this meant learning about driving engagement – how could the team create short content bits and make them interesting? How could they train employees so that they could create interesting content bits to share? For the Communications team, it was a shift from being a producing unit to becoming coaches to support employees in communicating better and creating more targeted messages.

The content below is available on Scandic’s Fuse platform. It is also accessible via mobile. Although employees are not obligated to use the platform, they are encouraged to visit it for at least five minutes every day.

  • Daily feed with content and news from Scandic and the employees’ communities
  • Various experts within different communities that the employees can reach out to for advice
  • Learning clips and documents (official or peer generated) with social media functionality of commenting, searching and sharing
  • Competitions for employees to take part in, follow progress, and see winners and their winning ideas
  • Open forums to engage with executive suite members.

Did it work?

With the shift to the new Fuse platform, Scandic’s L&D team is able to get closer to its vision of an employee-led learning culture. As the platform is also available on mobile, Scandic can now reach all 18,000 members of its work force. The materials available to the employees are much more relevant, and learning has become more pull-, rather than push-based. Competitions and idea exchanges have led to more employee engagement, idea generation and idea capture. Gone are the days of employees manically flipping through thick manuals. Instead they can quickly go on Fuse to watch short instructional clips of how to do something, such as splitting a check, as the need arises. 

Initial readings show that penetration, logging-in frequency and engagement with the platform is on the rise. Results from an external employee engagement survey show that Fuse users are more collaborative, engaged with their work, and their belief in Scandic’s vision is much stronger. They are also more likely to recommend Scandic as an employer.

Next priorities for the company include making the platform even more user-friendly and intuitive. For the Communications team, there is still further work to be done in coaching employees on how to better communicate and target user groups. Finally, there can always be improvements in making the feed more transparent, value-driven and engaging.

Takeaways

To keep learning current and relevant for its employees, Scandic has a vision to create an employee-led learning culture that will enable employees to be more engaged, motivated and empowered to make better decisions. To facilitate this new culture, Scandic has migrated from an outdated desktop-based LMS to a dynamic mobile-accessible platform that leverages social learning. Here are some takeaways from the experience:

  1. The way people learn and engage at work is changing. Companies need to adapt the way they approach employee learning in order to create an engaging learning culture.
  2. Scandic’s journey shows how changing the culture of a company can have a ripple effect on learning and motivating employees, and vice versa – how learning methods can also reinforce the desired outcome of an organization’s cultural change.
  3. Start with a vision when recreating/revamping business systems and practices.

 

 

[1] By 2018, Scandic had 283 hotels and 18,000 employees.

 

 

THIS ARTICLE IS BASED ON IMD VIDEO CASE IMD-7-2092, AVAILABLE FROM THE CASE CENTRE.

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