Last week I got to enjoy some much-needed down time with my family in a beautiful part of western Virginia called Hot Springs, a place both rich in history and a welcome respite for travelers of all ages. Hot Springs is best known for The Homestead, a sprawling, world-class resort, offering year-round activities and delightful views of the rolling hills and amenities offered throughout the property.

Since we took our 12-year old out of school for the week – coupled with my own curiosity about the property’s rich history – I was compelled to take advantage of the educational opportunities offered at the hotel. Every morning at 10am, there is a historical tour, typically given by a very tenured staff member. Our guide was no exception – I believe he is actually a Homestead “legacy” – citing many of his ancestors with ties to the famous property as he guided us through The Homestead’s historical timeline.

As we were taken back in history to the days of George Washington’s early years as a young General, when he visited the mineral springs, through Thomas Jefferson’s three-week visit in 1818 and many other famous visitors over The Homestead’s 250 years in operation, I was awed at how this incredible little bit of heaven – tucked far back in a remote corner of the state – has remained not only very popular, but even more so a destination of choice for many.

Yes, it’s picturesque, and one can’t help but feel a sense of luxury when walking through the Great Hall or relaxing in one of the many pools or enjoying the spa – or awe at how the property’s nearly 500 guest rooms and other amenities are so meticulously maintained. But what also struck me was the sense of belonging and pride so many of the staff members displayed during our stay. They all seemed to understand not only their individual responsibilities but also their role in the overall Homestead experience, and they genuinely embraced the true spirit of Southern Hospitality. They were all happily engaged to ensure our experience was absolutely perfect. They made it so pleasant for us that we are already planning to return.

This evident commitment of the staff may seem easy, because employees at the Homestead, Bath County’s largest employer, are like family as generations spend their lives working its historic corridors and expansive grounds. But if one considers the massive changes the property has experienced from the early days when The Homestead opened its doors as a humble, 18-room lodge to a now iconic resort encompassing 2,300 acres with 483 guest rooms, numerous dining outlets and more than 30 recreational activities, without a doubt the staff and organization have been impacted through the years. And despite it’s beauty, there’s not a whole lot to do in Hot Springs, VA outside of The Homestead, so many of their employees have to travel a fair amount to get to work.

So how does this historical property keep its employees so engaged and compassionate about The Homestead’s commitment to providing excellent customer experiences – and ensure its many guests keep coming back?

Like many companies in the hospitality world, retailers struggle daily with not only finding good associates but more importantly keeping them, especially once the initial “newness” of their job has worn off and their responsibilities become perhaps mundane – or even too much of a burden to effectively execute. I’ve seen and heard many retail associates and field leadership who are simply overwhelmed with the amount of work they are tasked to handle, and even the most optimistic of these can eventually become frustrated enough to look elsewhere. Retail is tough – no doubt. Those in the field are faced daily with customer complaints, employee issues, vendor problems, distribution or product concerns and more. It’s almost always “show time” in the store, and this dynamic often leaves little time to get the growing “to do” list of store operations or field tasks accomplished properly.

Parker Avery recently helped a retailer who was growing at a fast clip with this very problem – their growth strategy had essentially eclipsed the field organization’s ability to effectively handle their operations, and employee turnover was continuing to be a growing issue. (Click here to read about this project.) We helped the company re-align the roles and responsibilities of the field staff – District Managers, HR and Recruiting support, Asset Protection staff and more – and determine appropriate number of roles in each support area and within each geography so that they could best focus on making sure the growing company was continuing to provide a solid customer service experience – and achieve the status of “employer of choice” in their segment. It was no doubt a big and much-needed change; the company had attempted to re-design the field organization a few years ago, but the changes were not effective enough and didn’t “stick.” Parker Avery also lead the efforts in developing the retailer’s training materials that would ultimately be used to roll out the new field organization company-wide.

During this project, there was a marked sense of enthusiasm, especially in the District Manager ranks – the position that would be most positively impacted by the new organizational design. We also saw a bit of apprehension, since organizational change can sometimes be a bit fearful, regardless of how beneficial it may appear on paper. But overall, the associates were looking forward to being more effective in their roles and helping the company attain its strategic growth objectives.

As the first pilot geography was being trained, the company was looking forward to experiencing a more effective field organization, with lower turnover and enhanced succession planning. The company can continue its aggressive growth plans with the confidence that their field organization will be better equipped to handle the operational workload, and the goal of achieving “employer of choice” is now closer to being realized – all underpinning the assurance that the company’s customers will continue to return as loyal shoppers.

If you ever get a chance to visit The Homestead, I highly recommend it. As an added bonus to the overall amazing experience, if you visit during 2016 – the resort’s 250th “birthday” – every day during the year, they are featuring a different type of birthday cake, served to all guests starting at 2:50pm in the Great Hall. You can be sure…my 12-year old son and I were there promptly at 2:49pm every day of our stay.

– Tricia

Published On: March 3, 2016Categories: Change Management, Customer Experience, Training, Tricia Chismer Gustin