Taking on Talent Management
Workforce Experts on Strategies that Work
By Josh Corman

Throughout the 2021 ISPA Stronger Together Summit, it was clear that the topic of talent was rarely far from the minds of attendees or speakers. That fact was illustrated by the countless number of times that the spa industry’s workforce and talent challenges came up during sessions on different subjects and the high volume of questions attendees had regarding effective approaches to recruitment and retention throughout the event.

Those questions were addressed directly by one Knowledge Builder Session, “Talent Management Strategies That Help Your Business Out,” which featured expert panelists from some of the most well-established companies working in the spa and hospitality industries today.

Covering subjects from the use of social media in recruitment to pressing talent trends, those panelists left spa leaders with plenty of key takeaways to consider as they develop, augment or even fully reconstruct their talent strategies.

Building Relationships

Panelist Andrea Zemel, people & culture at Trilogy Spa Holdings, began the session by encouraging attendees to think of the hiring process as something more than an attempt to simply fill a vacant position. “Your candidate experience, for me… is by far the most important, because when you’re having your candidates apply, is it easy? Is it hard? Is it welcoming? I look at it kind of like a honeymoon period and look at it like a relationship,” said Zemel. “So when you’re just meeting someone, you want all the bells and whistles, and you want to introduce all the good things.”

That sentiment was shared by fellow panelist—and Head of Talent Acquisition for WTS International—Angela Biehl, who noted that this relationship begins before a candidate ever makes contact with a hiring spa. “There has to be a real ‘why’ for the brand that draws in not only customers, but employees,” Biehl explained. “People can see what you do online and who you are as a company— that includes great reviews from your employees. That’s actually a fairly easy one to manage. Simply requesting reviews from current employees so that you have people that are giving reviews who are actively there, instead of people that have left, can have a significant impact on your scores online. When you know you have great team members who are engaged or just had a promotion, being able to reach out to them and say, ‘Hey, congratulations! Why don’t you share your story?’ can go a long way to improving your brand online.”

Because workplace culture is one of the biggest factors driving the engagement of potential hires, and because a spa’s culture is on display in everything from their social media posts to their Glassdoor reviews to the application and interview processes themselves, leaders must do everything in their power to get the relationship with a potential hire off to a good start. By shining a light on all the things that reflect positively on your spa’s culture, you are setting up your relationships with potential hires up for success by clearly establishing your business’s values and enticing applicants who share those values to reach out. On the other hand, if your culture isn’t clearly established or feels inauthentic, applicants for whom culture is important (which is a lot of them) may simply move on without ever making contact.

Evolving Approaches
Though the spa industry faced workforce challenges well before the COVID-19 pandemic, there’s no doubt that those challenges have only been made more complex by the events of the last 15 months. As each panelist pointed out, these unprecedented times may require new approaches to employee recruitment.

Tracey Kalimeris, vice president, talent & culture at Accor, explained that offering signing, retention or referral bonuses—even if such bonuses have never been a part of your hiring strategy—is one such approach to consider. She added, however, that spas will likely need to extend their creativity even further as they define (or redefine) their talent strategy: “We’re even looking at getting into classrooms in a different way. Let’s just recruit every grade 12 student and teach them everything they need to know about the hotel industry. We’re experts in it, so you don’t need to go college. We’ll be your university. I think that’s what it’s coming down to. It’s thinking about things differently.”

Outreach to schools is a key part of establishing a larger talent pool for spas to draw from, agreed Angela Biehl. “You really have to find a way to reach that new talent pool. Look at your local schools, your massage schools, colleges. It’s a little bit more work on our end, but you have to do it; you can’t expect it to be there anymore,” said Biehl.

If the channels your spa typically relies on for sourcing talent have dried up, investigating new ones may be necessary. Spas that operate as part of a resort or hotel, for example, can leverage that connection by asking the hotel GM if open positions can be listed on their website, or if they can pass on any promising candidates who happen not to place at positions in the hotel. Seeking creative ways to draw the eyes of prospective employees will only become more critical as recovery from the pandemic continues, as competition for qualified therapists and service providers will only increase for the foreseeable future.

Show Them the Path
Creativity may be key to a successful talent strategy going forward, but that doesn’t mean it’s necessary to throw out every tried-and-true practice. For example, one concern among spa leaders is that therapists and service providers may not see a clear career path in spa, which may lead them to leave the industry (or neglect to join it in the first place). As Tracey Kalimeris pointed out, a time-tested approach may help: “One of the most powerful ways I’ve found to approach career pathing is really a back-to-basics conversation and talking to your employees. Ask them, ‘Hey, what’s your end goal? What do you want to do? Let’s talk about how you can get there.’” Kalimeris added that, despite the many benefits of talent management systems, those systems can have blind spots and miss non-traditional employees who may be a great fit to move up in your spa. “I think it’s really our role as leaders to tap them on the shoulder and say, ‘Hey, here’s an opportunity. Did you think about this? I know it’s a little bit out of the box and may not be what you’re thinking about in the traditional hierarchy in terms of where you go in the organization, but let’s talk about it. This really helps us move our talent along, but it also drives engagement and commitment.”

Despite the many downsides to the spa industry’s talent shortage, one upside Angela Biehl noted is that the sheer volume of open positions may provide those in the industry with more opportunities for movement than would otherwise be available. At WTS, those opportunities are explored through task forces. “When there are directors [who say], ‘I want to work in a Forbes-rated environment, or I want to work in a lifestyle environment, or I want more experience in fitness, we can utilize them in different capacities and at different sites, and even in different divisions to give them that exposure and expand their knowledge and career path,” said Biehl.

For Andrea Zemel, those conversations also provide an opportunity to make a team member feel seen and valued. Forming those close connections and demonstrating a genuine desire to support your teams is, of course, critical in any case, but it can also have an added benefit. “You want to make sure that within our industry, we’re creating those connections… creating those different avenues for the people who might have had a tough year. And you know what? They’re going to go on Glassdoor and make an amazing comment about where they work. Why? Because you connected with them.”

Setting Up Shop
The recruitment and retention processes are challenging even for spas that fall under a larger corporate umbrella or have more substantial resources, such as a dedicated marketing or human resources team. But spa leaders without access to those resources can have an even more difficult time getting (and keeping) qualified staff in the door. Each panelist shared their thoughts on how smaller or single location spas can face the industry’s workforce issues with confidence.

“I would first tell you to take a step back and assess what your needs are moving forward,” said Andrea Zemel. “What is important? What is your brand? What do you want it to say about you? And then build off of that and be flexible.” On top of establishing a clear set of priorities and a sense of your brand, Zemel asserted that spa leaders should embrace something that they may usually try to avoid at all costs: failure. “It’s okay to fail. I’m very big on that. We want to fail, because then we learn from it,” Zemel said.

Maintaining an extensive professional network (and leveraging it as you seek out candidates) is vital as well, according to Angela Biehl. “There are so many easy ways to do that with LinkedIn. There’s one particular hospitality group that has over 300,000 members in it, [so] just by joining that group, all of those members automatically become your second connection on Linkedin,” said Biehl. “When you think about what joining one group on LinkedIn can do to change your presence, it’s a true snowball effect. So don’t be afraid to reach out, use your network and keep an open mind.”

Finally, Tracey Kalimeris left attendees with this advice: “I think, for me, it would be making sure I hired the very best people. I would just be really, really picky, and I know that’s easier said than done these days, but I think it would be so important for me to build the right team. We’re going to be in it together, and we’re going to be able to create some awesome stories.”

“Easier said than done” is an apt description for nearly everything related to talent in the spa industry at the moment, but by putting into practice some of the strategies outlined by these Stronger Together Summit panelists, spa leaders can set themselves up to recruit (and retain) great additions to their teams.