Sunday 25 August 2019

Employee and guest satisfaction at the heart of Kerry hotelier's thinking

Alan O'Neill

A very small percentage of family businesses survive into the third generation. In Killarney, the Gleneagle Group has bucked that trend and has been growing and growing since 1957.

Now headed up by Patrick O'Donoghue, grandson of the founder, the Gleneagle Group of hotels is the heartbeat of Killarney in Co Kerry.

The flagship property is the main hotel along with the four-star Brehon, the Maritime Hotel in Bantry, Co Cork, and Sheen Falls County Club in Kenmare. They also house Ireland's National Event Centre and the Killarney Convention Centre. These added attractions cleverly ensure business all-year round and not just for the summer season. They have a very high rate of repeat custom, where generations of families continue to visit year after year. All sorts of family occasions prompt customers to come back again. "Our success is totally dependent on the loyalty of our customers," said Patrick. Indeed, as the son of a Kerryman, I remember my own childhood visits for lemonade and crisps.

When I consult with organisations, I always encourage them to develop a customer-centric culture. I truly believe it impacts on customers' behaviours. It ensures customers actually buy, that they come back again - and that they recommend your business to a friend. The Gleneagle Group is one company where this way of working is deeply engrained in their DNA.


Although the Gleneagle Group has lots of amenities and attractions, Patrick is convinced that the secret to their success is their employees. Some have been with the company for 45 years and that says a lot about their culture. My own experience with large organisations supports that too. It's not just a cliché that happy employees ensure happy customers. However, employee turnover is traditionally high in the hospitality sector.

Research shows the overall cost of recruitment can be as high as €7,000 per employee. The tourism business is really good in Killarney and employees have lots of job options.

"We need to be the employer of choice in the hospitality sector, so that we continue to recruit and retain the best talent," said Kathleen Linehan (HR/employee relations manager). With a workforce of 550, the challenge for them is to know how their people feel and where there might be room for improvement.


In order to improve employee engagement, you need a base line as a starting point. That starts with an employee satisfaction survey.

Having been involved in so many of these over the years, I know that the top three causes of poor engagement are communications, recognition and obstacles. The value in a survey however is that it gives the detailed evidence and specific signposts for corrective action.

Here are the initial steps that to take in improving employee engagement:

1 Be clear on your objectives. Plan to use the results to improve as it can be very demotivating for your team if nothing changes after the survey. Talent management is now a key objective in The Gleneagle Group's annual strategic plans.

2 Design a survey specifically to suit your business. Make sure the questions are relevant and are structured properly.

3 Craft a mix of questions, both quantitative (where respondents give scores) and qualitative (where they give comments to support those scores). The Gleneagle Group do their survey twice a year, using the same questions each time for comparison.

4 Don't get bothered by the actual scores in your first survey. Regardless of how good or bad, they are a line in the sand. The critical value according to Kathleen is in subsequent resurveys, where you can clearly identify movement and which manager is taking it seriously, or not.

5 Ensure your top team are on-board as they are the ones that will be accountable for improvements. Kathleen Linehan nurtures this closely. She meets with every head of department to show the benefits, to discuss the results and agree corrective actions.

6 When the results are out, be sure to be honest and transparent. Share the results with your full team to build trust. Patrick had already built a lot of trust in the downturn by being honest - and that continues today with the survey results.

7 Develop a co-ordinated plan of action with the findings. This should be at an organisational level and locally in each department. The Gleneagle Group survey identified an opportunity to improve learning and development. (That's no surprise as in my experience, learning and development (L&D) is more of a priority than ever before. Career minded employees expect it now as a norm). As a result of the survey, The Gleneagle Group set up a Foundation in Leadership Programme which is now underway.


The steps shown here are just to get you started. Employee engagement is a big topic and will be covered in more detail another time. But the benefits far outweigh the investment. You'll be a more attractive employer, get improved morale, improved productivity, better customer service and more sales. The Gleneagle Group has experienced an added bonus. There is a shortage of chefs in Ireland and because of their integrated and cross-departmental approach to L&D, chefs find them to be a more attractive employer.

Chefs value the training and as a result they get promotion opportunities earlier than they would elsewhere.

Alan O'Neill, The Change Agent, is a change consultant, speaker and non-executive director. For over 25 years he has been supporting global and iconic brands through change. Business advice questions for Alan can be sent to

In association with RGON, specialists in Employee Engagement Surveys

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