It is somewhat ironic that the hospitality industry – which hinges entirely on delivering quality experiences for its customers – often fails to provide for the needs of their employees. This often contributes to high turnover of hourly staff who feel pigeonholed and unable to climb to higher levels of responsibility. To overcome this scenario, the Resort Operations Team at Bluegreen Vacations has created two unique programs that educate employees and prepare them for growth within the company.
“Our primary objective,” says Yogi Mueller, “is developing talent, creating a strong learning culture and strategically training associates at all levels. We place a high value on our employees and do everything possible to support their future success and growth.” In his position for eight years, Yogi is Sr. Director, Hospitality Talent Development for Bluegreen Vacations which has 47 resorts across the U.S. and Caribbean and over 200,000 owners.
The Resort Emerging Leaders Program (RELP) is an 11-week program focused on identifying high-potential associates, front-line and supervisor levels which provide experiential, virtual classroom development and mentorship to elevate their leadership, operational and personal development. This is accomplished through rotational modules throughout every company Resort Operations department, critical thinking exercises, group projects, and a capstone. Participants include housekeeping supervisors, inspectors, engineers, activities, guest services, and food and beverage supervisors. Classes, group interactions, and program coordination are provided virtually at each participant’s resort through video conferencing.
The selection process is highly competitive. “We are looking for people who have the hunger to do more and be more,” said Yogi. “Associates know that their selection can lead to a bright future.” In 2019, there were 45 program candidates – nominated by resort leadership or associates themselves – with 30 final participants selected after an intensive interview process.
RELP begins the day after Labor Day each year. Since the first class was held in 2012, they have graduated over 120 future leaders. While there is no guarantee of promotion, because of their work exposure, there is a 60% chance of promotion within a year after graduation.
RELP’s learning and career-path objective is to ensure that participants smoothly transition from their former front-line mentality to understand how solid leadership and strong operational acumen work together to run a resort. The program provides in-depth leadership development as well as hands-on operational experience in all areas of resort operations. Participants, or RELPers as they are called, are provided a mentor during the program and are given these developmental opportunities during their regular 40-hour shift. They may spend up to three days a week out of their normal department to do so.
“When an hourly associate is promoted to a supervisory position,” adds Yogi, “it is often challenging to envision the big picture and adjust to the change to a leadership mentality. Resolving this is a key part of the program. Sometimes the chasm between an hourly supervisor and salaried department manager can seem long and insurmountable. Our intention is to place a steppingstone in between to give supervisors an opportunity to challenge their ability and prepare themselves for new management positions.”
Corynne Holder, CPLP, is Director of Leadership Development and guides this program. For RELP to run smoothly, she must have support of the associate’s site leadership since participants are taken away from their primary role for 11 weeks. Corynne coordinates a team of operational sponsors, resort managers and mentors, who work closely together to support each RELP participant’s educational journey.
RELP Class of 2019 graduate Oscar Martinez was recently named a finalist in ARDA’s annual awards program in the Management & Administration Division, Resort Operations Team Member category. Oscar serves as the F&B Supervisor at Bluegreen’s 842-unit Fountains Resort in Orlando, overseeing a team of 33 culinary professionals at three F&B outlets. He started with Bluegreen as a Lead Cook but was promoted supervisor after completing the RELP program. Oscar says his participation in RELP added immense value to his understanding of the inter-actions between company departments and provided a pathway for the leadership role that followed.
Bluegreen’s iAdvance Program was created exclusively for Department Managers who want to become Resort Managers. The selection process is highly spirited, due to intense competition. Participation in the 9-month resort leadership training program requires a relocation to a Teaching Resort, where they are housed in a resort unit and paid during the process. If they pass the stringent pre-requirements, candidates then face a series of video interviews, essay questions and panel interviews to fill up to two positions per year.
Since the program was launched in 2015, Bluegreen has graduated five leaders, with two currently in the program. Completion in iAdvance can shave up to four years off a standard career path by cramming as much as five years of operational experience into nine months.
Participants are trained in every line of the business, with deep dives into financials, association governance, construction and development. When successful, their new leadership skills will qualify them to become an Assistant Resort Manager in smaller tier or Department Manager in a larger and more complex resort.
Shares Yogi, “At the conclusion of the program, graduates are relocated to another resort, basically uprooting their lives again, so this kind of disruption requires someone who is truly dedicated to their professional future. During their course, we look after them professionally, socially – a holistic approach – recognizing that they have put their trust in us to uproot their lives.
David Turdibekov is currently an iAdvance Manager, at Christmas Mountain Village in the Wisconsin Dells. He started his Bluegreen career as a part-time bartender, but had a thirst to learn more. His Resort Manager suggested him for the program.
Ben Holzhueter is an iAdvance Manager at the Fountains in Orlando. Previously, he worked as a Night Manager at Christmas Mountain Village.
“We have made a huge investment into these programs and the employees who learned from them,” says Yogi. This is evidenced by reduced turnover, improved internal promotions rates, and most importantly, the excitement and desire in our high potential future leaders wanting to participate in RELP to learn more.
“It has been a true joy watching our young associates gain maturity in their roles after successfully graduating and enjoy the close relationships they have enjoyed with their mentors. Our graduates often tell us who they were before our programs and how different they are now after graduation. They are all wonderful stories of positive transitions and growth. We believe our unique programs have played a significant role in helping make this happen.”
Marge Lennon has been writing about the timeshare industry and its people since 1978, almost as long as Ed McMullen has been involved in this very special industry.