In this exclusive interview with Human Resources Online, Sandra Ngan, senior vice president for people and culture at the Langham Hospitality Group shares her leadership journey, her reflections on the past year, and what’s in store for Langham Hospitality Group moving forward.
VITAL STATS: Sandra Ngan is senior vice president for people and culture at the Langham Hospitality Group. On a day-to-day basis, she partners with the group CEO and the steering committee to design and implement strategic global HR initiatives across the group. She is also responsible for aligning all initiatives with the group’s vision.
Q You have held senior leadership positions at some of the biggest hotel brands in Asia for more than 20 years. What keeps you motivated as an HR leader in the hospitality industry?
I’m fortunate that I really enjoy all of my professional roles (past and present), so it really doesn’t feel that long at all! Working in the hospitality industry, I am grateful to have the opportunity to visit places around the globe and to experience diverse and colourful cultures. Along the journey, I also get to experience how my colleagues do their best to create the most memorable experience for guests.
As an HR professional, our colleagues are our guests. We are in a very ‘relatable’ line of work where we interact with our colleagues every day on a person-to-person level.
My HR team and I are in a unique function in that, not only do we work together to create special memories for our guests, we are also making an impact on the development of our colleagues’ careers and personal lives – not many professions out there can say the same.
Q On your LinkedIn profile you wrote, “Focus on what really matters and do the common things uncommonly well”. What are your top priorities right now and why do they matter?
I know that I cannot make an impact on everything and everyone around me. However, I know if I choose to focus on things that matter the most and commit to that, I will have the opportunity to make a small difference each day. At Langham Hospitality Group, we are resolute in becoming an employer of choice. We’re not there yet but we are working steadily towards this goal and I am confident that we will be there in the coming years.
Q Talk us through an HR initiative you implemented that has enhanced HR functions with your team.
One of the major employee benefits at Langham Hospitality Group is that employees can enjoy complimentary room stays at our hotels on their personal trips. In the past, our colleagues had to go through HR for the booking, and HR would seek approvals from multiple departments before any confirmation. The whole process took time so our colleagues did not use this benefit often.
To be fair, we had a smaller number of hotels back then, but in the past five years, we have scaled up a lot.
Aiming to create better employee experience, we digitalised the booking process last year. The whole process is now open, transparent and self-serviced.
Our colleagues can reserve the room online and receive an instant confirmation of the booking.
To further enhance the experience, a few months after the implementation, we asked colleagues to rate their booking experience in a survey. We received very positive feedback and many suggestions. Based on the feedback, we created an internal site similar to the concept of TripAdvisor and other online hotel review sites where colleagues can rate and comment about their stay at our hotels.
Building on this success, we recently extend the eligibility of self-serviced room discounts to employees’ families so not only our colleagues but also their loved ones can experience our worldclass hotels and resorts and heartfelt services.
Q There has been a lot going on in Hong Kong between 2019 and 2020 (from civil unrest to the pandemic). How do you manage competing and changing priorities at work?
We are living in an unprecedented time, not just here in Hong Kong, but around the world. As the global headquarters, we do not pretend that we know it all.
It’s more important than ever as an employer to listen, be inclusive and be open to collaborate during challenging times like these.
We are fortunate to have a diverse group of passionate regional colleagues to keep us informed on what is happening in their regions, allowing us to plan and respond in a timely manner.
Q What are your thoughts on the shift to a work-from-home model for the hospitality industry?
We have essential roles that require our colleagues to serve our guests in person. On the other hand, there are also roles and duties that can be fulfilled remotely. We are supportive of a WFH-friendly environment. We provide the right technology to ensure colleagues can work from home efficiently and stay connected. We’re gradually adopting this trend to offer greater flexibility to our colleagues to cope with their personal needs and stay productive at the same time.
Q Employee wellness has been 2020’s biggest HR trend. How does Langham take care of employee wellbeing?
One of our aspirations within the group is to become an employer of choice. We have set out various initiatives to review and improve our positioning – and employee wellness is something that ranks highly on our list.
We launched a fun initiative called ‘The Race to London Challenge’ to encourage healthy lifestyles and also raise funds for Hongkongers who are in need during this pandemic. The challenge is a virtual journey of 12,200km from our Hong Kong office to the group’s flagship hotel in London. Our colleagues walked, ran, biked and even did some climbing in supporting this campaign. We also encouraged our hotels around the world to virtually race to Hong Kong. We’ve raised over HK$100,000 in total for non-profit organisations in our own markets.
To further spread positivity, we also introduced #LanghamFitnessChallenge and #CordisFitnessChallenge. Our CEO, Stefan Leser, took the lead and participated in a three-part fitness challenge developed exclusively by our fitness partner and encouraged our hotel colleagues around the world to exercise more.
It’s truly uplifting to see the creativity and energy behind these initiatives, and we’ll continue to review our existing strategies, take reference from the best practices around the world and personalise the employee journey at Langham.
Q Do you believe there’s such a thing as work-life balance/integration?
As a working mother, I have always been a strong advocate of work-life balance/integration. If we want our colleagues to excel in their work, we need them to come to work feeling they can be the best versions of themselves. On many occasions, this means ensuring their family is being taken care of or their children are being looked after.
Q What is in store for HR in the new decade?
A focus on building a strategic employer branding framework. This goes far beyond simply hiring a person to post regularly on social media channels. Instead, there’s a need to review strategically each role in relation to an organisation’s purpose, value proposition, internal and external communications, and various touch points along an employee’s journey.
Secondly, keeping up with digitalisation. Such as obtaining technical knowledge to operate tools or learning business etiquette on digital platforms.