Case Study:

Holiday Inn Club Vacations

The path to a $1 billion business; 10 years, $2,500 degrees, and curricula that matters. 

How does a leading hospitality company plan to grow to a $1 billion business in 10 years? It places as much value in the development of its people as it does the number of resorts.

Scott Doggett, head of learning and development at Holiday Inn Club Vacations, was facing a conundrum: “The CEO unveiled an exciting but aggressive vision of becoming a $1 billion company in 10 years. Our executive team agreed that talent would be a key success factor, but we quickly realized that we would need many more savvy general managers than we currently had in the talent development pipeline,” explained Scott.

Advancing culture and talent

Scott shared that a talent development strategy quickly became a top priority and pressing challenge. “Culture is a big consideration for us. As we grow and open up resorts from coast to coast, we are looking for leaders that can bring our culture with them to a new resort,” he explained.

According to Scott, many of the managers knew the company well and could be excellent candidates for promotion, but lacked key business skills required to move up to the next level. And having recently surveyed employees, he knew that higher education was the number-one employee wish—and on the bucket list of many senior leader candidates. “We have great employees who want development, and we knew that many of them would need it to advance, so establishing a program was a win-win situation,” added Scott. The difficult question was how to make it happen.

Pete’s Story: Promotable Skills that Pay Off

Like many people, Pete started taking college courses after high school, but it didn’t suit him and eventually work and family took priority. “One of my issues with college when I was going before is that I was learning things that didn’t translate into real-world activities,” he shared. “Now with CfA projects, I see how it translates into the work that I’m doing every day.”

Just six months into his associate’s degree program, Pete was promoted to manage a larger resort. While no single newly mastered skill made the difference, his company knowledge, dedication to learning, and development of promotable skills proved him to be the right person for the job.

It’s possible that this promotion may be one of many. “I think as I continue to grow into this role and develop with Holiday Inn Club Vacations, I will most likely go to an even bigger resort,” he said. “I love my job and the company that I work for.” He also loves advancing his learning. “I’m pleased with the program and really excited about CfA bachelor’s degrees. Once I finish my associate’s degree, I want to enroll right into the next program and continue on.”

Achieving the right educational mix

Scott discovered nonprofit College for America (CfA) at Southern New Hampshire University and was attracted to its competency-based approach to learning, which he saw was applicable to workforce needs. The company asked several of its top leadership candidates to enroll in the program, including Kristopher Perez and Pete Saless, two general managers (GMs) who started at the front desk. Scott said CfA’s flexible approach to learning—which focuses on mastery of competencies instead of grades and credit hours—is proving critical to their ability to progress.

“CfA really stood out because competency-based learning was so different from other things I was seeing.” —Scott Doggett

“Kristopher travels around to resorts to train with senior GMs, but he’s still on track to get his associate’s degree in two years or less,” shared Scott. “One of the things he loves about CfA is that he doesn’t have to be in class at a certain time or hit specific due dates. Instead, he can adjust his learning and project schedule around his work and travel. Some weeks he may spend two hours; on others ten or more.”

Another GM, Pete Saless, is on a fast track to completing his Associate of Arts in General Studies with a concentration in Business. “I simply don’t have time for a traditional classroom schedule,” said Pete. “Not only can I squeeze in my CfA projects during downtime at work or after my kids go to bed, but I really appreciate how relevant the projects are to my day-to-day responsibilities.” He is among more than 90 percent of CfA students who believe that CfA projects have increased skills related to their current job and that the skills learned in the CfA program will help them with future employment goals, according to a survey by the Gates Foundation.

Pete was also pleasantly surprised by how personal the program is. “Because it’s an online program, I thought it would be email-based and impersonal, but my experience has been the opposite. If I have a technical issue, I get great support from the tech team, and my learning coach not only provides phenomenal feedback, but I can call her when I’m stuck,” he explains.

As the head of learning and development, Scott is also excited that the program enables him to track progress and provide additional support or encouragement, when needed. “I can see where students are on their journey and whether or not anyone is struggling. If they are, I can figure out ways to remove barriers to their learning,” he said.

Manageable program costs pay off

Based on early successes, Scott expects its CfA program to benefit Holiday Inn Club Vacations and its employees for years to come. The $2,500 annual tuition cost of the CfA program makes education affordable for Holiday Inn Club Vacations and its employees alike. “With our $2,000 a year tuition reimbursement for our employees, we’re able to get far more people on the path to a degree than would have been possible through a traditional college program,” said Scott. Employees still have to invest $500 a year, which helps keep them motivated, but payment and financing options are available for tuition not covered by reimbursement.

“We think this program is going to be a huge part of retaining our most promising employees.” —Scott Doggett

“College for America is a great tool in our toolbox that we're able to give to our team members. We’re planning to open the program to all of our leaders and hundreds more employees,” he concluded.

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