Setting Up New Team Members for Success

with Joanna Dodaro Johansen, citizenM

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Would you like to set up your new team members for success from the very start? Today, Joanna Dodaro Johansen, Head of People Experience for citizenM hotels in the US, explains how she thinks about this and does this with her teams.

We’re also learning about:

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Hireology State of Hiring in Hospitality Report 2023

Hotels, resorts, and other hospitality businesses have never fully recovered the jobs they were forced to eliminate at the onset of the pandemic and now — more than three years later — are still struggling to attract talent for these roles. Workers in this sector have the upper hand, forcing employers to adjust their offerings and processes to meet their needs or risk losing top talent and taking a hit to the bottom line.

The key for employers in the hospitality space is to better understand the mindset of today’s skilled workers so you can adjust your offerings and processes to stand out. Hireology recently surveyed more than 400 hospitality industry job seekers to understand the modern hospitality worker and created a report that outlines the six common characteristics found in this group and what it means for you as an employer looking to fill open roles, better serve guests, and maximize revenue for your business.


Setting Up New Team Members for Success

with Joanna Dodaro Johansen, Head of People Experience US at citizenM Hotels

Joanna Dodaro Johansen

Setting up new team members for success from the very start is crucial for any organization, but especially in hospitality. Today, Joanna Dodaro Johansen, Head of People Experience for citizenM hotels in the US, shared her insights on how she achieves this with her teams. From hiring differently to focusing on immersion early on, citizenM has developed a unique approach to onboarding that sets them apart.

Early in our conversation, Joanna emphasized the importance of planning ahead to create an environment where new team members can quickly learn.

Our teams are trained on everything from systems to the F&B to checking in a guest to what to do in an emergency. The operations team works very, very hard to create the structure so that people can come into it, learn it, and then be able to do it very easily. We have a 3-4 week immersion and have done all the heavy lifting for them so that they can come in and quickly say, yeah, I know how to do all that and I can do it really well.

The immersion program at citizenM goes beyond the typical onboarding process. It starts with a “culture immersion.”

Right away, you learn about the history of citizenM, why we do what we do, our values, our vision, our mission, and all of the charity work we do. You learn who we are.

After the culture immersion, the focus shifts to the nitty-gritty details of the job. Team members receive training on the various systems and processes, including creating the food and beverage experience for guests. This includes everything from making cocktails to mastering the foundation of their roles as ambassadors for the brand. The goal is to ensure that every team member understands the different stages of their role and can create a seamless, on-brand guest experience.

Importantly, the immersion process at citizenM actually doesn't start when new team members walk through the doors. It begins with a “casting day,” a recruitment event where potential candidates get to know the company and showcase their skills and mindset.

Casting day lets us get to know you and you get to know us. We do different activities and conversations and scenarios that will show if this person would be able to really work with us and really has the same thought process on creating that experience [we’re aiming to provide] and really deep diving into what a guest needs, having that emotional impact and emotional intelligence and all these things that we feel are important to be an [citizenM] ambassador.

This approach allows for a more comprehensive evaluation of candidates beyond a traditional interview format, where Joanna says too many interviewers make up their minds in 30 seconds or less. This process provides multiple opportunities for candidates to demonstrate their ability to create exceptional guest experiences and showcase their emotional intelligence.

Once hired, Joanna highlighted the importance of connecting new team members to the company's culture and purpose. During the first week of their hire, “support office” employees (I love this instead of “corporate office”!) are asked to work at one of the properties. Getting firsthand experience like this allows them to understand the guest experience and the reasons behind the decisions made by different departments. It reinforces the idea that every role, regardless of its nature, should ultimately serve the front-line ambassadors and the guests.

For us, it's really important that no matter what role you're in, you know what you're doing and why. Your why should be to support the ambassador and for the guest. We try our best in every immersion from ambassador to all of our support teams to connect them back to the reason and who we are and why we do what we do.

Over the past five years, citizenM has experienced significant growth, expanding from a small team to over a thousand employees in the US alone. This is a testament to the success of their approach to onboarding and creating a culture that values its people. By prioritizing thoughtful immersion, training, and genuine care for their employees, citizenM has built a strong foundation for growth and success.

Their commitment to creating exceptional guest experiences starts with creating exceptional employee experiences. That is something that helps them stand out in the hospitality industry - and something we can all learn from.

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