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Jurys Inn - Delivering an Exceptional Experience

By Nigel Hill, TLF Research

Jurys Inn is an international hotel group founded in Ireland with hospitality in its DNA. There are 32 Jurys Inn hotels in city centre locations throughout the UK, Ireland the Czech Republic.  The employees strive to make the exceptional everyday through their commitment to service. Guests rate the group higher than its three star status due to the consistency and quality of service and some of the hotel features which are more typical of a four star hotel. These include large, welcoming lobby and ground floor in all of the hotels, staffed 24 hours a day, as well as a separate bar and restaurant

In the last three years the company has grown significantly, opening 9 new hotels and renovating many existing ones. Over the last couple of years, CEO John Brennan has re-defined the Jurys proposition as “Exceptional Everyday City Hotels”. Exceptional means ‘more than you would expect for the price’, and everyday means that they are accessible and affordable for business and leisure. Though classified as three star hotels, they are designed like a four star venue, with spacious lobbies, a full service food and drink offer, larger, better appointed bedrooms than the typical three star hotel and, most importantly, exceptional levels of customer service.

Investing in people
Two years ago the company placed HR at the heart of its strategic objectives. The HR function was considerably strengthened, both at a corporate and  local level where a HR manager operates in every hotel – not a cost that the industry generally is prepared to incur. But it paid off for Jurys, with the IIP Gold Award achieved in 2011 followed closely by a really good result in the annual employee engagement survey. 

Employee Engagement Survey
In November 2011, The Leadership Factor carried out the second Jurys annual employee survey. The response rate improved to a very high 78% and the overall employee satisfaction index went up by over 2% to 75.9%, placing Jurys in the top 10% of organisations on this very tough measure. Jurys is almost a textbook case for how companies should use employee surveys to drive up employee satisfaction and engagement. This article seeks to examine how Jurys achieved such a good result in 2011.

Feedback to employeesIt is essential that the results of the survey are thoroughly communicated and fully explained to employees. The new role of ‘survey champion’ is to ensure that the views and ideas of the employees at the ‘front line’ form an integral part of how the survey is initially communicated. But more importantly, these employees are also empowered to work with management in ensuring that the PFI’s are implemented by involving employees at every level. As a starting point, Jurys organised five regional briefings, attended by the General Manager, HR Manager and ‘Survey Champion’ from every hotel. A feedback leaflet was designed and printed by The leadership Factor and each hotel collected enough of these at the briefing to give out to all their employees. They also learned how to highlight the key points of the survey, explain the PFIs (priorities for improvement) and answer many commonly asked questions, e.g. how respondents’ anonymity is guaranteed. This enabled the teams to go back to their own hotels and thoroughly present and explain the survey results to all their staff. There was also a feedback website which the teams learned about at the presentation and were able to demonstrate and explain to their own staff.

Action to address the PFIsCommunicating results is great, but the survey becomes credible only when employees see the company taking action on the survey findings. After the survey at the end of 2010, Jurys had three corporate PFIs (which can be summarised as The 3Cs - Culture, Communication and Career) and each hotel had to nominate at least one local PFI. There were actions plans for all PFIs and hotels which were monitored at the monthly Management meetings. Let’s explore how the PFIs were addressed.

This was a rather general PFI focused on everyone being treated fairly but it was the essential foundation on which all other HR improvements would be built. Organisational culture is heavily influenced by management behaviours, so Jurys developed a bespoke Leadership Programme with the Irish Institute of Management, which was rolled out for the Senior Leadership team (i.e all General Managers from each Hotel and all group Heads of Functions from corporate offices) in 2011. The programme emphasised the difference between managing and leading a team and the importance of adaptable leadership behaviours, (e.g. to flexibility to use a more decisive, even authoritarian approach in a crisis but a much more collaborative approach at other times.) The Leadership Programme also covered topics such as emotional intelligence, 360° feedback, managing high performance teams, people development etc. Where necessary, a small number of managers received individual coaching to allow them to explore and understand their impact on their teams and to allow them to discuss some of the challenges or difficulties they met on this new approach. 

An interesting example of the importance that Jurys places on culture is the effort they have made to ensure that all employees are aware of and understand the company’s vision and values. In 2011 a competition was held for the best way to communicate the vision and values. One of the winning entries (Jurys Inn Glasgow), produced a graffiti display on the walls of the staff restaurant. This idea has been adopted by some other hotels including the Dublin Head Office! A ‘best practice’ booklet was produced outlining the wide range of ideas used across the hotels and circulated so that each hotel could adapt their own approach to vary how the message was communicated on a regular basis.

Praise and recognition are also prominent in the Jurys culture. Every second month, one employee in every hotel is recognised for being ‘exceptional’.  At the end of the year an overall winner is selected to represent each hotel to attend the annual gala dinner (with a guest of their choice) where ‘Oscars’ are awarded for exceptional performance or behaviours. There are team awards, such as Best Hotel (Derby was the 2010 winner), and its subsets such as best accommodation, best customer satisfaction score, best employee satisfaction score, most environmentally friendly hotel etc. Individual awards recognise best graduate or and, of course the overall ‘Exceptional Employee of the Year’ chosen from across all hotels.

Operating in a ‘24/7 business’ over 365 days per year, across 32 hotels and 3 head office locations, in 27 cities, it would be very easy for people to feel that they don’t know what’s going on in the company, and this did emerge as one of the PFIs from the 2010 employee survey. To address this kind of multi-site communications challenge, senior management and head office functions have to have communication at the top of their agenda. In 2011, I think it’s fair to say that Jurys really took this lesson on board.

As part of the Leadership Programme, Jurys introduced two Leadership Forums per annum, where senior managers can get together, hear about how the Company is performing against its strategic objectives, the latest developments and plans from John Brennan and the Executive Committee and contribute their own views. In addition, there are quarterly conference calls in which all hotel and function managers participate, which focus on business performance and shorter term operational matters. General Managers have a responsibility to cascade all this information to their own teams and staff and this was further enhanced by new communications initiatives from head office. A series of short videos have been commissioned in February 2012 enabling John Brennan to keep people updated on company performance and priorities. These are supplemented by a monthly Ezine with all the latest company news, profiles of managers and recognition for outstanding hotel, team or employee performance. There is also a comprehensive intranet, including for example a calendar of events to ensure all hotels know what’s happening and there are no clashes of events. CEO John Brennan and the Senior Management team are very visible in hotels, and John ensures that he personally addresses any as many employee meetings or training sessions as possible. 

An early part of the Leadership Programme was also to ensure that all hotel and function managers understood their roles and responsibilities on communication. Prioritising communication within each hotel and within departments was essential to ensure that all employees in every part of the company actually noticed the improvement in communications.

As well as career development, this PFI also encompassed personal development and training. To heighten everyone’s awareness of the range and extent of learning and development opportunities and emphasise that it’s not just about job-related training, HR has developed a new ‘learning and development’ brand called GROW. This applies at various levels such as Grow Team, Grow Graduates, Grow Supervisors, Grow Managers, Grow Leaders. As well as training sessions (see the customer service training later in this article as an example), Grow includes things like job swaps, a secondment programme, networking, and the Jurys Library. HR Director, Jennifer Lee, has been very keen to invest in new e-learning and communication platforms, using the intranet, internet and social media as much as possible for training, learning, internal communications and recruitment. A small but really useful example is the forthcoming rollout of tablets in each hotel to make learning and training more accessible, as well as facilitating every employees ability to keep up with what’s going on in the company.

Hotel action plans
All hotels were set a PFI based on a local issue and determined by survey data from their own employees. As well as general feedback on the survey results, the PFI was communicated to hotel staff by the General Manager and the HR Manager. Examples of local issues could be anything from ‘approachability of my manager’ to ‘staff facilities’. In terms of insight to understand how to address their PFI, hotel management teams could glean a lot of ideas from employees’ comments. The 2011 survey generated over 4,000 comments across the 1,500 responses, an average of almost three comments per respondent. This in itself is an indication of the high level of employee engagement across the company. 

To develop action plans, the management teams consulted widely with their staff and each hotel appointed a ‘Survey Champion’ who was involved in delivering the feedback and, more importantly in developing action plans. The Champions ran sessions alone with employees to decide what actions should be taken, monitor that the actions were happening and report back to the GM on a regular basis. Half way through the year the hotel GMs, HR Managers and Champions held a review with Group HR to report back on their progress.

Narrowing the gap
Whenever a company has multiple stores, branches, hotels or any other sites, the most effective way of improving employee satisfaction is usually to help the least satisfied locations move up to the level of the more satisfied. Jurys selected hotels in the bottom quartile of their hotel league table (i.e. the eight hotels with the lowest employee satisfaction) to receive special focus. As well as the process described above, Group Employee Relations Manager, Deborah Taylor, visited each of the eight hotels every two months to review progress with managers and hold focus groups with employees to really understand through their eyes whether the PFI was being effectively addressed. This then enabled Deborah to feed back to GMs and help them to refine their action plans if necessary. Sometimes seemingly simple actions can make a big difference. For example, in Belfast the staff facilities were redecorated and additional lockers installed and their employee satisfaction increased by 9% (though obviously the many other company-wide and hotel-based actions would also have contributed to this). In 2011, the bottom quartile increased their employee satisfaction scores significantly, narrowing the gap between the hotels with the highest and lowest scores. Achieving a narrow range of satisfaction across multiple sites is a good thing in itself as it demonstrates consistency of processes and management behaviours. 

Employee satisfaction-related pay
Another reason for Jurys excellent progress on employee satisfaction, especially at hotel level, is that a significant part of all hotel managers’ and departmental managers’ bonus is based on the satisfaction of their own employees. A very interesting and rather unusual addition to this incentive is that they are also bonused on the employee survey response rate that is achieved in their hotel or department, which goes a long way to explaining the very good increase in the 2011 response rate. The importance of this shouldn’t be under-estimated. A higher response rate means that the survey is more representative of employees’ views, hence giving it much more credibility with everyone. 

Guest satisfaction
Jurys is a very customer focused company, and the employee survey highlighted just how much employees have taken this value on board. When asked to rate the importance of a range of factors, the 2nd most important was ‘Jurys Inn cares about its guests’. This was rated as much more important than several more selfish requirements such as pay, benefits and staff facilities, and only a fraction of a point behind ‘communication within your team’. Moreover, employees were very satisfied by the extent to which Jurys does care about its guests. This is because Jurys has made a big investment in customer service and guest satisfaction. 

As well as working hard to recruit friendly, genuine, honest people who want customers to be satisfied, the ‘Be’ branded customer service training programme is followed by all employees from the newest recruit in the kitchen to senior management. The amount of customer contact employees have does not influence who goes through the training as Jurys takes the view that employees who don’t directly serve guests all have internal customers and can therefore make a big difference to how well customer facing employees can satisfy guests. It’s also very important for non-customer facing staff to be able to put themselves in the shoes of their customer-facing colleagues. For example, if the kitchen is asked to do something really inconvenient by a colleague it’s probably because they’re trying to satisfy a guest. 

The training includes modules such as ‘Be Exceptional’, ‘Be Empowered’ and there are ‘Be’ badges. After ‘Jurys cares about its guests’, the factor that employees scored second highest for satisfaction was ‘I feel empowered to help guests or my colleagues’. This is directly related to training such as ‘Be Empowered’, which focuses on giving employees the confidence and the skills to do what’s necessary to keep guests satisfied, especially in difficult situations. For example, if a guest’s TV isn’t working, it’s not usually the problem itself but how it is handled that determines guests’ ultimate satisfaction with their stay. Training includes lots of interactive games and activities supplemented by online modules and short 15 minute sessions every day in every hotel. Topics for these will be very specific, e.g. how to say hello to guests in all the most common languages. 

The benefits of employee satisfaction
Jurys Inn is a strong believer in Harvard’s Service-Profit Chain principles – employee satisfaction driving customer satisfaction which, in turn, results in shareholder value. The Jurys employee survey proved the link for them between employee satisfaction and employee retention both for more senior staff (who tend to have a lower turnover rate) and for hourly paid employees. In addition, HR Director, Jennifer Lee, thinks it’s really important that the HR function focuses on what’s most important to employees and the survey really spells that out as well as providing copious insight into how employees feel. This is particularly important for remote head office management and it also enables them to focus help on the hotels with the lowest scores that need it most. 

Above all, the survey demonstrated unequivocally that Jurys is committed to listening to its employees and to its core value of “developing exceptional employees and promoting a culture that values people and their contribution to the business”. According to Jennifer “this is the glue that holds everything together”.

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