Employee Engagement: Tapping Into Your Team’s Talent

Leadership coach and author of Hotel Success Handbook, Caroline Cooper from Zeal Coaching, joins our team of hotel industry columnists. She kicks off by exploring employee engagement and suggests how hoteliers can tap into people’s natural potential. 

In my role as a leadership coach I often hear managers getting very frustrated that people in their team are not contributing as much as they’d like. They know, or at least suspect, they are capable of more, but for some reason some people are just not taking responsibility for making decision or getting things done.

Employee Engagement: Understand Their role

Firstly consider how they see their role. If you (or maybe your predecessor) has always done the thinking for them, maybe that’s accepted as the norm. Do they recognise that you’d like more from them, and if so what?

How do they see their role fitting into the bigger picture; your vision for the business or your department? What is their contribution to this and how does it fit in with everyone else’s role? If people don’t know where you are heading, how will they know what input you are looking for?

Agree levels of authority

How much autonomy have you given in the past to make decisions – do you like to know everything that is going on all of the time, or do you give people with a proven track record the autonomy and authority to go ahead on day-to-day issues without your approval? All these set a precedent, so start by explaining that you are open to their ideas and for them taking more responsibility.

You might not want to give a completely free reign, so set boundaries and clear levels of authority. Which issues do you want to be informed about, when do you want to be consulted, although you’ll leave the final decision with them, where do you need to be involved in the decision, and where are you want to be notified or involved in the whole process? Make these distinctions clear.

And once you’ve made these distinctions be sure to show you trust them by not undermining their decision or interfering with something where you’ve given that authority.

Break the habit

If people have been used to you making decisions and maintaining control it may seem uncomfortable to have things passed back to them. Back off gradually, rather than just throwing them in at the deep end. This gives both you and them peace of mind.

You’ll still get asked for guidance and for decisions, so when this happens, rather than giving in, bounce it back to them and ask for their views. It may feel uncomfortable to begin with, but you’ll both soon get used to it.


Create adequate opportunity for team members to use their potential.

Clearly if you are someone’s line manager they will have an expectation to get guidance from you on how they should do their job. We are not talking about abdication here, but the utilisation of potential to develop employees and getting buy in. To achieve this, put some of the onus on them to come up with their own ideas and solutions as often as possible.

Involve them in decisions by asking for their views: to analyse the pros and cons of different options and to put forward their recommendations. But don’t do this unless you are prepared to listen to their suggestions and prepared to take them on board. You might not always want to go for their ideas 100%, but at least take them into consideration, or they won’t bother next time.

Speed is often given as a reason for not involving team members in decision making. “We need to make a decision on this now; we can’t keep the customer waiting.” In this instance direction may be needed initially, but then go back after the event and discuss with the person what they would do in similar circumstances to deal with the situation.

Identify and build on strengths

Utilise individuals’ known strengths to capitalise on them, and stretch them. But be aware that they may have strengths that have not yet been identified as there’s not yet been any opportunity to put these to the test.

The more you talk to your team, get to know them, and observe their actions and approach, the easier it will be to identify this untapped potential. Talk to them about what they enjoy, what else they’d like to get involved with, how they would approach things differently. People will generally put more effort into the things they enjoy, and consequently make a better job. And generally the better people are at things, the more they enjoy them. So whenever possible, allocate work and projects to make best use of individuals’ strengths, and compensate for their areas of weakness by utilising the whole team.

Opportunities don’t need to be limited to their current areas of responsibility. Stretch and develop team members by involving them with other projects, providing they can see how it contributes to the bigger picture, and it does not get in the way of them achieving their core responsibilities and KPIs.


Assuming you have some metrics in place, both you and the team should know when things are going well. But, that does mean feedback and recognition can be forgotten. If you want to get the best from people you must let them know how they are doing, what has worked well, and why. Identify and discuss what needs more work, or approaching differently, and why; and get their ideas on how to improve and what impact that will have. Just because things aren’t perfect initially does not mean they are not capable; it means they need encouragement and coaching to get the results you want.


Having got so far and identified more potential don’t then just abandon people. Consider what else you can handover or involve them in without taking away from their core responsibilities. It’s at this point some managers get nervous.

“What happens if I build up their expectations? If there are no opportunities for promotion, will they then get demotivated or will they then leave?”

“I know this person has no ambitions for anything more that the job they are doing”

Stretching or developing someone to get more involved or do a better job doesn’t have to lead to a promotion. It will invariably lead to greater job satisfaction, more confidence and personal pride to do a job to the best of their ability. And by involving people in different aspects of the job makes it more interesting, makes for better team work, and helps with problem solving as it generates more than one solution. Finally it can take some of the pressure off you as it creates a sense of ownership and your team are in a better position to manage on their own.

They are far more likely to leave without this development than with it.

By Caroline Cooper

About Caroline Cooper: Caroline Cooper is a business coach with over 25 years experience in business and leadership development, and founder of Zeal Coaching, specializing in working with hospitality businesses, and is author of the Hotel Success Handbook. She is also creator of the Foundations in Leadership online leadership programme for hospitality managers, bringing a brand new approach to hospitality leadership development.

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