Hilton Hotels: Training IT Team Members to Succeed

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Hilton Hotels are famous for more than one photogenic starlet: The Hilton brand is one of the most-recognized in the global lodging industry. Part of that can be credited to a very pro-training work environment, from which Hilton IT employees are not exempt. With more than 500 full-time IT employees who support about 150,000 employees worldwide, Hilton IT team members are trained continuously not only to meet the specific needs of their colleagues inside the organization but also to keep up with the overall fast-moving IT industry.

“We’re pretty much a self-sustained shop,” said Laurel Bailey, vice president of IT marketing and communications, Hilton Hotels Corp. “Most of our IT work is done in-house, supported with some contracting resources, but the bulk of the work is done internally. We have a large software development organization, our own data centers and network engineering group, our own help desk that we call the ‘OnQ support center.’ OnQ is Hilton’s proprietary technology. We also do our own testing, our own telecommunications support. We have our own database management group, architecture and engineers.”

When evaluating potential IT candidates, what’s valuable and/or desirable can depend on what department needs help and what the established needs are in that division.

“Our vice president of customer solutions, who is responsible for a large software development group, found for him education is more valuable than certification because it’s not as specialized,” Bailey said. “He felt that the education level and someone’s major give a person a broad level of knowledge and has the added benefit of helping us understand a little more about the person. He did, however, feel that certainly a certification would add to the benefits that you get for a person who has an education.

“Our senior director from networks, operations and engineering told us that candidates that have certifications tend to be able to hit the ground running more quickly because we might have a specific need to support a particular application area or a particular hardware device. If they’re certified on that, they can come right in and understand the context they’re working in. He found that candidates with education but not a certification usually have a longer assimilation period to become really productive, but once they prove technically sound, they tend to be more prone to advance to management levels with greater ease because of the breadth of their education. When I spoke to our senior director of customer support, he said that if he’s hiring engineers, they need certification. Engineers that support or are working with hotel network environments and operating system software, they need that certification.”

Hilton not only supports certification for certain IT staff areas — it requires standardized online training and OnQ technology certification for the roughly 200 employees in its support organization who work with the system directly, as well as for those who will operate the system in individual hotels.

“Everyone who works in the support center, regardless of their position, must become certified on OnQ,” Bailey said. “It’s actually a requirement for their continuing employment. During their probationary period is when they go through the online training — they get coached, and they need to get certified before their probation is over. Hotels can’t go live on the software until they’ve shown that as a team they have passed with a score of at least 80 percent.”

Aside from technical expertise, Hilton IT team members require soft skills for IT staffers who come in close contact with customers. Hilton also places high value on project management skills. The organization recently developed a customized, intensive, three-day project management workshop that is closely aligned with a project methodology created especially for use in Hilton IT. Those who successfully complete the course earn 21 CPE credits, 16 hours in management and five hours in personal development.

“We are in the process of having all of our IT members eventually work through this project management course,” Bailey said. “We’re beginning with the management-level people and working our way down through the organization. I don’t know that we’ve dubbed it a certification, but in effect it is.”

In order to develop Hilton-specific IT skills, the company’s corporate HR department provides a new set of courses each quarter that are available to anyone in the corporate environment. They include anything from soft skills to leadership skills. Further, all new hires go through orientation within the first week they work for the company, and Bailey said there are numerous development opportunities there.

“Within IT we take that a step further. For example, take the project management course that we’ve developed: Our support organizations have quite an array of internal training that they do because our software is proprietary — you can’t go outside for training,” she said. “The online training that we have is supplemented with more information to put it in the context of the entire organization’s goals and objectives and how the pieces all fit together. They have a little mini-training group in support because they are constantly educating their people. The environment is changing all the time, and they have to constantly plan things.”

Bailey said in some of the more technical IT areas, training evolves right along with the next great piece of technology. By reacting to industry developments, Hilton ensures it has training available for any person in the organization who will use that technology or tool.

Despite the mélange of in-house IT training options Hilton provides, the company also encourages IT pros to go outside the organization to pursue development opportunities. Over the past two years, Bailey said the company has nearly doubled funding for IT team member training.

“We have some education reimbursement based on a corporate policy,” she said. “There’s a cap on that each year for an individual. What we’ve done for the last couple of years is tell our management when they do their annual budget that they should budget a minimum dollar amount that we give them for every full-time employee for the year. In the past there were occasions when an employee might say, ‘I asked my boss if I could go to such and such class, and they said we don’t have any money.’ We don’t want to give people the impression that we’re not interested in developing their careers. We set some guidelines for our team members to say ‘Don’t have training be the first thing cut out of your budget.’ On top of that, if a more technical manager knows that he needs some technical training for his people, he has leeway to augment that budget as long as he can explain why.”

Bailey said Hilton spent time over the last year evaluating IT career paths to ensure that in addition to the many training programs the organization offers, IT team members will be able to clearly see where development can take them on the career ladder.

“We didn’t want to create something too specific because we don’t want to put people on a train track and say, ‘This is the only place you can go,’ ” Bailey said. “We’ve created something called the IT Job Map, and it is a pictorial rendition of all the jobs that we have in IT and how they relate to each other. If I come into the organization as a programmer, I look on the job map, and my job is down near the bottom of the food chain. There’s a job right above it that says ‘programmer analyst,’ and there’s another one above that says ‘senior programmer analyst.’ Another one above that says ‘lead programmer analyst.’

“That’s a pretty obvious career path, but some jobs just aren’t that clear. I could be a business analyst and decide that I want to jump over outside my train track and become a supervisor in the support organization. Ins

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