Best Practices within Learning & Development in the Hospitality Sector

Best Practices within Learning & Development in the Hospitality Sector

There are many experts in the Training and Development industry who are relied upon by various companies in order to create an optimal workforce. Celeritas Solutions sat down with Calvin J. Banks, Director of Training and Development at Benchmark Global Hospitality, whose expertise has helped the hospitality industry train employees to provide the best service for their customers and all stakeholders in the organization.

1. How did your career in the hospitality industry start?

I literally got started at a little fast food restaurant across the street from where I lived (Taco Bueno), grew to a theme park (Six Flags) and then in 2004 joined the opening team for the Gaylord Texan Resort & Convention Center.

2. How have you been involved in organizations like CHART ( and HX Experience (

In 2006 I moved from a Human Resources and entertainment role to a training role. As a part of my development, I attended the CHART conference in July of 2006 and I fell in love with the organization. I remember having the opportunity to connect with some of the leadership of CHART and they told me in 2006 that one day I’d be President of the organization and it actually came true. As a member of CHART, I have been on many conference teams, on the board, as well as President-elect and President. To this day I facilitate breakout sessions and volunteer where I can. I also have represented CHART and my company, at The National Restaurant Show. It also allows me to be a part of HX, which is the hotel and restaurant show (from) American Hotel and Lodging Association (AHLA). I’ve had the opportunity to do a number of different things with NRA (National Restaurant Association), AHLA from working with the Department of Labor to develop the competencies for the restaurant and hospitality industry to reviewing their certification and committee work to provide ideas that will improve growth and development in the hospitality industry.

3. What are some of the initiatives you are most proud of and why?

One that I’m most proud of is our ‘Train the Trainer’ program that I’ve had the opportunity to be a part of at all the organizations that I’ve worked with. You have an individual that’s in the position, who’s fluent in their job and then they can have the ability to train someone else that’s going to be in that position. I have seen so many people grow and develop. I got a LinkedIn update of an individual that I worked with (who) got promoted to a new role in the organization that she works for now. The advancement, of those people going through a program like train the trainer excites me to this day.

4. What are your thoughts on corporations using E-Learning methods for their employees in addition to (or in lieu of) actual live training?

I feel like the E-Learning methods have really helped in terms of resources. A lot of the properties I work with today don’t have a dedicated training person. So when you have online learning that allows you to provide that learning without a physical person teaching it, that’s one aspect. One thing that I would caution with online learning is it can’t be the ’be all, and end all’. If you’re sending someone through an e-learning program, there has to be some type of face-to-face follow through with the individual to ensure that learning actually happened. So it supplements, and in some cases, takes the place of a resource that wouldn’t be there without online learning.

5. How much does data analysis play a role in the perspective that you bring to each new project?

100%! I often get calls from properties and they will say generic things like ‘We need service training, we need communication training, or we need some leadership development’. It’s my job to figure out what exactly does that mean? When you say you need service training, what are our scores saying? What are our guests saying? What are our employees saying? What are you saying? So whether it be Trip Advisor, our guest satisfaction scores, our employee engagement scores, letters that the general manager is receiving, conversations with people, there’s a lot of touch points for data analysis. When a property calls, there is an immediate need for service, so you don’t have a lot of time to do research. But data analysis plays heavily into it because you’ve got to get down to the root cause. At the end of the day, whether it be internal or external, internal for our employees and our vendor partners and the people that we work with every single day, external for our guests that are coming in and paying to be a part of our experience, it all comes down to how people feel. Being able to utilize that information to develop a program that makes sense for the people who are delivering it, and for the people who are receiving it.

6. Do you see any new developments in Diversity and Inclusion that have used your expertise to succeed?

Diversity and Inclusion is all the typical things that we would think about, race gender or how an individual identifies. But one thing that that needs to be included in diversity and inclusion, is different personalities, different types of individuals, even generational differences as well. Really including all of those aspects into the learning environment is important. I really believe that we are a forward-thinking organization, when you’re thinking about that diversity and inclusion in terms of different generations, different personalities just as much as, backgrounds, races, religion, gender and abilities.

7. Is Virtual Reality and Artificial Intelligence shaping how you adapt your talent development structure to include more interactive trainings?

We haven’t done anything with virtual reality or AI to this point. What I have done a little bit differently with role-play is piloting what is called Star Coach with Forbes Travel Guide. It’s an app on your phone where you’ve got an individual that’s talking to you, and then you respond as the employee to the individual. It records what you were saying but it also picks up your subconscious mindset/energy behind how you are communicating, and then it shares with you, your energy, your confidence, your ability to connect based upon this subconscious information. From a learning standpoint, when we teach communication, we teach that 93% of communication isn’t what you say, it’s how you say it. Only 7% of what is communicated is the words that are coming out of your mouth. So even though this particular program is capturing the words that are coming out of your mouth, it’s really focused on that 93% of how are you saying it, and then it communicates to you how you said it. It’s something we’re piloting right now, it’s not Artificial Intelligence, but it’s using technology to help us from a role-play standpoint.

8. What are you most looking forward to as you continue to provide Training and Development leadership?

I always look forward to the reason why I’m in this business. I’m in it for the growth and development of the people that I support. That’s all I ever wanted to do growing up and it just so happened that hospitality is the place that I get the opportunity to do it. So it motivates me when I go to a property and facilitate learning. It excites me to see those Linked In notifications or to get emails or text messages from people I’ve had the privilege to work with in my past to see how they’re advancing in their in their career. I personally believe that everyone should spend time in hospitality. It’s not for everyone, but I do believe that, whether they’re in engineering, whether a doctor, in finance, whatever the case may be, that the behaviors are transferable to all businesses. So just watching people grow and develop, that’s what excites me, that’s what brings me to work, and that’s what I look forward to because as our people grow and develop, the individuals that they take care of, that they provide service to, are having great experiences, and they’re loving their time with the property and the organization. Then because they’re having a great time, the organization is growing.