The ENTERTAINER’s Chantal Endemman talks hands-on employee engagement, building a strengths-based team

When it comes to getting great discounts at restaurants, leisure attractions, spas, and hotel accommodation across the across the Middle East, Asia, Africa, and Europe, there are few names bigger than The ENTERTAINER.

Headquartered in Dubai, the company has helped millions save money on great experiences and exposed companies to customers they wouldn’t otherwise have had.

With that success has come serious growth. What was once a small startup now employs more than 260 people.

In charge of ensuring those employees have the best work experience possible is Chantal Endemman.

Born and educated in South Africa, Chantal has two decades of experience across the hospitality and corporate spaces.

In the run-up to her talk at the recent Work 2.0 Middle East event, we spoke to Endemman about her experiences, The ENTERTAINER’s approach to HR, and the major trends in the space.

Engage Me: Can you take us through your journey into HR?

Chantal Endemman: I didn’t take the typical journey into HR. First, I trained as a classical French chef at Hotel School, Witwatersrand Technikon. At the time there were so few jobs in the hospitality industry for young chefs like myself. I therefore decided to pursue a career in an industry I considered my second love, finance.

My path later led me back into the hospitality industry in an operations position. However, I again found myself venturing off and ended up as the Executive Assistant to the CEO of Philips. After some time, I shared my aspirations to move into an HR role with the CEO. He supported my move to become the Recruitment and Development Manager in 2009.

I have since developed my career in HR, where my passion lies, and have found a balance between the skills and fields I have experience in.

EM: What kind of approach do you take to HR at the ENTERTAINER?

CE: The ENTERTAINER is not your typical policy heavy, red-tape-style company. Our role in HR is therefore a lot less about implementing or “schooling” policies and more about engagement, development and delivering programs to support the business strategy.

I am a big fan of on the floor leadership (OTFL), getting to know the employees and what is going on in their lives, both work and personal. I have an open-door policy and will coach and mentor employees on any areas they need support on. I joined as the 94th employee in the company 3 ½ years ago, and have seen the team grow to now being 260 strong. I was part of many of the new team members’ interview and on-boarding process.

EM: What are some of the most important HR and employee engagement initiatives you’ve undertaken at the ENTERTAINER?

CE: We run a lot of HR lead initiatives, but the one I feel has had the most impact on the business was building on a foundation of being a strengths-based company, using data from the Gallup StrengthsFinder. Being a strengths-based company means we focus on what each team member is good at and give them the projects or work that allow them to deliver their best.

Implementing this strengths-based philosophy in our company has seen our engagement scores increase dramatically along with productivity which has enabled our team to deliver against ambitious targets and goals.

Another initiative that goes hand in hand with our focus on strengths is our performance management system, which runs on a bi-annual basis, based on a stop, start, continue model. The focus is on: what behaviours and/or actions do I need to stop doing that are not supporting me reaching my goals? What should I start doing? What’s working now that I should continue doing? The main aim of our performance management system is to create on-going dialogue between employees and managers.

In-between those initiatives, we run Love Week, Health & Wellbeing Month, movie nights, quiz nights, and the company also partakes in a triathlon annually, so our engagement calendar is busy.

EM: The UAE has an incredibly cosmopolitan work force. Should that impact company approaches to employee engagement?

CE: Yes, of course. I do believe strongly in hiring for culture and we are open about the culture and engagement initiatives during the interview process. Being in the Middle East there are considerations around the type of engagement you can do however, our team comprises of over 80% being millennials, 36 different nationalities and with a 1:1 gender mix, we run various initiatives to meet everyone’s taste from bowling nights to brunches.

EM: What are some of the most important HR and employee engagement trends you’ve seen in recent years?

CE: There is a lot of focus on engagement and I believe companies are realising that addressing engagement, whether through brown paper-bag lunches or engagement surveys, is becoming a priority in order to attract and retain talent in an ever-competitive employment landscape.

Doing the survey does not, in and of itself, drive engagement. You need to action the results and hold managers responsible. It needs to be a focus and appear on each manager’s balance scorecard and in their KPIs.

EM: How do you see the HR and talent development role evolving in the future?

CE: The buzzwords are data and digital as HR moves forward. When it comes to talent development and other areas, HR will need to get clever about how to use data to support its own agenda and get a slice of the pie.

The ENTERTAINER’s Chantal Endemman talks hands-on employee engagement, building a strengths-based team
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