Hostmanship - the art of welcoming

11th of December 2013
Hostmanship - the art of welcoming

Hostmanship is the art of making people feel welcome – encompassing areas such as customer care, quality, friendship and hospitality. As a concept it is becoming increasingly popular in many areas of business.

ECJ editor Michelle Marshall spoke to Aura Groen, personnel director at facilities services company Facilicom – based in the Netherlands – about how hostmanship is being introduced into its culture.

There is an official definition for the word hostmanship. “Hostmanship is the art of making people feel welcome. Seeing those we face as our guests, whether they are customers, clients, patients, students…or colleagues.  Good hostmanship covers concepts such as customer care, quality, friendship and hospitality. The starting point is a welcoming and open attitude to people and situations we encounter.

“A welcoming approach adds value to our work. We live in a relational society, where our ability to interact with clients and colleagues is a key to success. A welcoming attitude makes it possible to realise the full potential of people and businesses. Ultimately hostmanship is about living in an open and inclusive way.”

As a business that depends on healthy relationships with its clients and staff, then, the cleaning and facilities services sector has much to gain from adopting those principles. It’s a programme that Facilicom, a group that employs 30,000 people, is spearheading from its headquarters in the Netherlands. Aura Groen, personnel director of the cleaning division in the Netherlands, explains the thinking behind it.

“The start of hostmanship was a couple of years ago - in our experience the labour market is becoming much tighter in that it is now much more difficult to attract and retain good staff. At the moment we are experiencing a different labour market.  We are aiming to be one of the best employers in the country so we needed something to attract good employees, in order to set ourselves apart from other companies in the sector.

“And from a client’s point of view, we believe it’s important to make everyone feel welcome, whoever they are in the building. To sum it up, the principle is to treat others as they want to be treated.”

Groen goes on to highlight the six principles of Hostmanship:

1. Serving others. The desire to help others to achieve their goals and achieve success in the process. Wanting to help means being there for others by drawing on your own talents and experiences and being genuinely interested in the well-being of others: “What can I do right now to make you feel better?”

2. Perceiving wholeness. Customers see the whole company, not just the separate departments. Every encounter they have is part of that company. Everything and everyone who works there is part of it too. The person the guest encounters at that specific moment is always ‘the face of the company’.

Bigger picture

The entirety of what we represent can also include other companies that contribute to our organisation. Car parks, suppliers, catering, the media or the involvement of the local area. Having an understanding of the bigger picture, the complete picture we present in a meeting, the guest who chooses that picture when meeting us. Even if we are unable to take full responsibility for everything that happens, it is important that we realise the guest influences his/her meeting with us.

3. Being caring. Caring is at the heart of hostmanship. It is important to bring out our own humanity as well as others’. Caring hosts concentrate on the humanity of the person in front of them at all times.

4. Taking responsibility. Taking responsibility is all about being brave and courageous. Taking responsibility is not the same thing as being loyal. Loyalty is based on ‘following the rules’ and ‘doing what is asked of you’. Taking responsibility is putting yourself into the other person’s position and trying to help him/her improve the situation.

5. Practising dialogue. Dialogue takes courage. Courage to put your own prejudices to one side and open yourself up so you can host guests kindly and personally and can offer an exceptional encounter.

Some people will hear you out and then answer your question, and others listen and then help you to solve your problem. Guests won’t always ask the ‘right’ questions. But by properly listening to the guest, you will also be able to answer the questions they ask indirectly.

6. Searching knowledge. It is of course extremely important to have sufficient knowledge of the organisation and the context in which we work. Knowing what we are doing and why we are doing it.

But when we talk about hostmanship, being knowledgeable means much more than that. Knowing your guests and what drives them. Knowing your colleagues and what their goals are, and the opportunities for them to grow. Taking every problem seriously: it’s not always the question that counts, but the person who asks it.

Sharing knowledge to break down boundaries between people, departments and companies.
With these six principles in mind, Facilicom in the Netherlands aims to train as many employees as possible in hostmanship, as well as reacting to special requests from its clients. Groen says: “All our ‘hosts’ must ensure that clients, end users and new employees feel at home at Facilicom. Employees will then be trained to be coaches and they will subsequently train other employees.”

The programme is now being rolled out in the United Kingdom or both the cleaning and security division, after a designated group of local ‘hosts’ has been trained by their Dutch colleagues. All staff in the UK will be fully trained in 2014.

Facilicom believes that when all processes are geared towards operational excellence, which forms the strong basis of the company, there is a possible risk that the human aspect can be overlooked – which is why it is developing hostmanship. “Operational excellence will always be the foundation of our company and a vital part of success for the future. Cleaning is what we sell basically, and hostmanship is an extra,” says Groen. “It means the cleaner has to take a view from the perspective of the client, and the client views things from the perspective of the cleaner.”

Training crucial

Implementing such a philosophy throughout the business is an ambitious project and training will be crucial to its success. “We are starting at top management level and working down from there,” says Groen, “with a training programme currently taking place.”

During training the aim is to focus on what it feels like to feel welcome in a building, exploring what hostmanship is by using examples of visiting shops, restaurants, etc. “Employees then think about how they’re going to change the way they work at their cleaning site. Often the client also attends these workshops because they are very much buying into the concept as well.”

Hostmanship does not change the cleaner’s daily tasks, but it does fundamentally alter their view of the job they do. “For example, if they see something broken around the building they would report it to someone, even if it’s outside of their normal remit.” Groen continues. “They are not given extra tasks, the key to this concept is in a different approach – attitude and behaviour.

Creative cleaners

“We hope hostmanship broadens cleaners’ perspective beyond their immediate task list and enables them to be more creative. It’s then up to management to support and encourage cleaners who approach them with new ideas.” This is where the role of management is crucial, in keeping the six principles alive. “Line managers must also change their way of thinking, from being simply a boss to becoming a ‘host’ – to both the cleaner and the client.”

The principles of hostmanship also extend to how Facilicom treats and communicates with it staff. “With the principle that everyone must feel welcome in mind, we thought about how our cleaners would like to receive letters from us,” says Groen, “and that is why we decided to personalise all communication with them, for example.”

With hostmanship now in place throughout the Netherlands and rolled out in the United Kingdom, Facilicom is also holding workshops with clients and end users in order to exchange ideas and feedback about the programme  and the change of culture The results so far have been encouraging says Groen.

“Word is already spreading among client companies, we know that already, because existing and potential customers are starting to ask about it.” There will be surveys to measure client and employee satisfaction with the concept of hostmanship in the near future.

“Creating behaviour is the most challenging aspect of hostmanship and it does not happen overnight,” concludes Groen. “It’s not about imposing a list of tasks; it’s not black and white in that way. It’s the smallest changes that can make the biggest difference. If Facilicom is a good employer, people will enjoy working for the company and they will demonstrate that in their job. The client will also appreciate this.”


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