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With the launch of The Set Leadership Academy, the Set Collection aims to raise the bar in people's development and training within the group.


With the launch of The Set Leadership Academy, the Set Collection aims to raise the bar in people's development and training within the group.

Category: Worldwide - Careers - Recruitment / Job / Training - Interviews
Interview made by Sonia Taourghi on 2024-03-20

Clare Sheridan Director of L&D The Set Collection Hotel Café Royal London

Clare Sheridan, Director of L&D for The Set Collection, at Hotel Café Royal, London
Photo credit © Sonia Taourghi / The Set Collection

On a rainy morning in London, Clare Sheridan, Director of Learning & Development for the group, welcomes me at Hotel Café Royal, the UK flagship property of the Set Collection. The soft-spoken Learning & Development veteran agreed to talk me through the group's latest L&D initiative.

Launched earlier in February 2024, The Set Leadership Academy, designed to cultivate the next generation of senior leaders, is bringing together 11 senior leaders from three European hotels and the corporate office. Over 18 months, they'll be working towards an ILM certification (formally The Institute of Leadership and Management). The level 7 accredited certification is the highest achievable from the leadership management body.

With a career starting almost 25 years ago at the Ritz London as a Training Manager, followed by Learning and Development roles at the Claridge's and Intercontinental, Clare Sheridan has extensive experience both within the luxury hospitality and as an L&D consultant.

When she joined the pre-opening team for the newly renovated Café Royal, back in 2012, little did she know that 12 years later she would still be part of the team, now leading all the Learning and Development initiatives at a group level. "It's nice to have the camaraderie, being part of a brand and feeling the sense of loyalty and pride". Along with Maud Benamou, VP People and Culture, and Caroline Lagon, Director of Employee Engagement, Clare Sheridan is part of the leadership team in charge of setting the culture and development standards for the Set Collection hotels. A fierce advocate for Learning & Development, she gave the Journal des Palaces an overview of what her craft is all about, as well as a deep dive into the Set Leadership Academy initiative.

Journal des Palaces: How was the Set Leadership Academy born?

Clare Sheridan: We have core programs like the Management First program, which is a modular training we designed for people stepping into a management role for the first time or those who've been managing but never had any formal management training. This happens a lot in hospitality, as we promote people for their experience and how great they are at what they do, but then gaps can start to appear, and we really want to help them succeed. We were already collaborating with Simon Thorpe, who created Expressions Partnership, on our Leadership Days. As I was closely working with him, I came to mention that I wanted to help people step up; we're helping them get to that management level, and now we need something to get to that leadership level. We do things within the hotels, like leadership forums, activity days, etc. but what can we do globally, at a group level? That's how we came up with the idea of "The Set Academy", and then to be more specific, we ended up with "The Set Leadership Academy".

There were a lot of discussions about what it would entitle and how to make it a very comprehensive program. We were not only looking at a training delivery with people attending workshops but really wanted to take a holistic approach. And then the pandemic hit!

Obviously, we couldn't jump into where we left off, but we finally got to a point where we could consider it again. After reviewing the Management programs, we agreed it was a good time to resume the Leadership conversation.

How is designed the Set Leadership Academy program?

The biggest question was how we design a program that is fit for people at that senior level. We've got this opportunity of having all these managers in the same building, so how do we make this beneficial for them? We have six meeting points within the 18 months between participants from our three European properties and the corporate office.

One of the activities is that they have to spend time with the corresponding role in another hotel, sharing best practices as well as working on a business success initiative that they work on as a group in parallel with the program. That business success initiative, to be presented at the end of their program, has to be beneficial for the business and should be realistically implementable.

To assist them, the participants also benefit from mentoring and coaching, which are key parts of the program. We provide a framework for the mentoring, while Simon Thorpe provides the coaching, along with an external boot camp, to really take them outside the business.

At the end of it, they'll have an ILM level 7 qualification since Expressions Partnership is licensed, and we had to map the different criteria to fit. We have an internal assessor to make sure we tick all the boxes, and there will be an external verification at the end. That's really challenging, but also increases the sense of satisfaction from the participants.

When we discussed the program again, we also had to take into account the change of times, and that's how we decided to integrate "What about me", the platform created by Simon, focusing on well-being and mental health. I think that's a differentiating element to our program. If you can't understand yourself, how can you expect to understand and lead others, navigate your internal compass, through business, your tactics, and communication, which is a broad subject.

What has been the response to the programso far?

Between the feedback, the delivery and how involved the participants are, so far, the program has gone even better than what we expected. Some of the modules are a real surprise, and the participants can't believe how focused on them the program is.

The current group is our pioneer group and includes team members from marketing, revenue and others. It includes 11 participants, from three hotels, and one person from the Set group. It's a nice blend between the corporate and the operations side, and we expect even more variety in the future. Logistically, we provide them with a way to understand what goes on in all areas of a hotel, along with internal mentorship. Mentors are hotel managers and members of the Executive committee. We did mentor briefings to make sure it was suitable logistically, and that the mentors had mentoring skills and were fully aware of what the program entitled. It's about building relationships, and also create grounds for networking.

In the future, we hope for the current promotion to become mentors for the next.

How do you see the Academy evolving?

For this first round, we identified people that were in a position to be considered. Interestingly, seven of them had already done the management program, so it was a great next step for them. If we want these really professional people in our industry and want to create a standard for The Set leadership, then we need to invest in the program, the travels, the time of the business and all the peripheries that go with it. We would like to offer it to a larger audience, but we want it to be aspirational for people to want to take it on. It's really about having this Senior Director certification; what do you know, how do you do it and can you be critical about it.

At the moment, we have virtual modules that are very specific, delivered by our internal expert, like revenue modules for example. Not everyone has an understanding of revenue, but if you think at that level, it's important to have that knowledge, and being able to leverage our internal resources is key. We plan on having more in the future.

What makes a career inLearning & Development so special?

It's amazing to have such an impact on people's lives, at work and at home, and have such an impact on their future. Learning & Development is such a rewarding career. L&D is great for creating a motivation to learn and show the benefits, and also showing options. It's about sharing your passion, and being able to light a spark and look at things from a different perspective. It's such a rewarding role.

I think hospitality needs a bit of a rebranding. There might be people interested in hospitality, but they're not sure what they want to do. Whether you're interested in PR, engineering, digital marketing, human resources... And that's before even touching on traditional hotels and hospitality roles. There's something for everyone in the industry, and that's something we need to shout more about.

Do you want to be a chef, concierge, receptionist, work in housekeeping? These are some amazing career paths, but we need to look outside that box, and tell people more about the opportunities there are. I'm very passionate about promoting all career development. At the Set Collection, we do a lot of partnerships with schools, not only with students interested in the hospitality industry, but young people who are still undecided on their career choice. In each city, we try to focus on at least three or four schools to partner with, traditional hospitality schools and universities offering hospitality courses, and we regularly participate in their career fairs. Those are attended by parents taking their children, so it's important to represent the industry and showcase the wide range of roles available to them.

When we create L&D programs, we build greater alignment, and help people work together and therefore know each other. It's easier to collaborate, exchange, and nurture solidarity between each other. We hire natural talents and then develop their skills. I'd love it if anything I do motivates someone to start a career in L&D!

We see more and more internal development programs. What business and people's needs do you think they answer to?

We're developing the next generation of leaders, General Managers, and Directors of departments, and reducing attrition. As we develop further as a company, we're creating a better group synergy, which improves the business. This has a long-term effect on the business and the quality of the service we're providing because we bring together great like-minded people; beyond the core benefits, there are ripple effects.

We also have a Set group where we collect feedback and also have People reviews, where VPs and I look at all the senior leaders and identify the gaps, to paint a picture of what we need to put in place.Looking back, you realise that it's about coaching, and not necessarily sitting through hours of training. It is an important part of leadership development in general, and that's why it's such an important part of the Set Leadership Academy.

There are amazing programs out there, and this program is great for where we are at as a business. It's about having a learning culture. They're learning how to do their job, but also learning how to be part of an organisation.

What are the key challenges when launching Learning and Development initiatives?

When I was freelancing, I was concerned about all the hurdles I would potentially be facing with hotels, but I quickly realised hotels are well advanced and structured in L&D, and here's a very good understanding from the industry of what L&D does for the business. Not only from the colleagues' perspective but also from the business. The fact that we were part of a small group of founding properties enabled us to work very independently. It was a blank canvas. So it was both daunting and very exciting at the same time to build the brand from there. Originally it was about writing very basic material, and collaborating with the HR team. It was four of us, including me on L&D. It was about building an orientation program and getting everybody ready without a hotel yet; that was challenging, but we did a pretty good job at it in the end.

The business is always really keen on supporting L&D initiatives, and challenges come more from external circumstances. When I'm asked if L&D isn't risking training people only to see them take the experience and leave, I refer to the time when Richard Bronson was asked, "What if you train your people, and they leave?", and he replied, "What if you don't train your people, and they stay?". Training your staff is a fabulous development and brings out a great feeling about the company. One of the benefits is retention. The more we do, the more people want, and we hope that these initiatives will motivate people to come and work for us, and want to stay.

What would be your personal advice to any person interested in a career in hospitality?

You've got to love what you do. You need to look at it as a career, and know that you're really developing a skill of service. Not everybody can deliver that level of excellence, and make everyone passing through the door feel special. Having clients feel so good about themselves that they'll remember it. People will always remember how you make them feel. In luxury, you're looking at something you won't see elsewhere, it's a unique experience. And I think that's what L&D provides to the employees. It's about focusing on each member of staff and helping them learn in the way that works best for them. As a manager, it's also a skill to understand people and understand how they'll learn and perform the best: adapting that level of individuality from our guests to our staff. One of our values is "Discerning individuality", and this is very applicable to the Set Leadership program.

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About the author

A lover of human interactions, Sonia started her journalism career in various media outlets before moving to London and shifting to the digital industry. Listening to her calling, she's picking up her pen to share the passion and ambitions of luxury hospitality.

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