“How We Culture” With Afeef Hussain, Regional Director of Training and Development at LUX* Resorts & Hotels
Are you gearing up for this year’s Culture Summit? Let us help you get in the mood by introducing you to one of this year’s speakers, Afeef Hussain, Regional Director, Training, Development and Quality Assurance with LUX* RESORTS AND HOTELS – MALDIVES.
Name: Afeef Hussain
Location: LUX* RESORTS AND HOTELS – MALDIVES
Position: Regional Director, Training, Development and Quality Assurance
What attracted you to LUX Resorts? Do you think the culture is an intentional company attribute that’s equally attractive to other employees, or something unique to you?
I was working for an International brand known as One&Only for almost six years when I had the opportunity to engage in a conversation with LUX* Resorts and Hotels CEO, Paul Jones. I knew Paul was the type of leader I wanted to follow, and during my first meeting with him I also met Dominik Ruhl who was the General Manager at the time; at that moment I realised and understood these two leaders have something great in them, and if I can work with them, it will make me a better person.
This was confirmed when I toured LUX* South Ari Atoll in 2012 and saw the smiles, friendliness, care, and attention of the employees. The culture I observed was something I did not expect from a resort brand, especially at an early stage. Immediately it clicked in my mind that I can do something better here and make this resort even a better place with these beautiful people.
The culture is indeed what attracted me to LUX* Resorts and Hotels. From its inception, the whole brand LUX* Resorts and Hotels has been built on people, and the value people can give to others, like guests or visitors to their property – it is a culture of looking after people, whether they are paying guests or team members.
What initially attracted you to the training and development space?
I have had the experience of working closely with operations, understanding the operational needs through various assignments and management internships. I always love teaching, sharing, and making sure I give back to other people whenever I can. This made me want to be involved in the learning and development of people.
I believe there is nothing better than teaching, sharing, and self-learning. When participants leave training or a learning experience and I notice the change in their behavior and attitude as they apply what they have learned, I am humbled. There is nothing better than seeing team members reaching their potential and striving to achieve excellence in their personal and professional goals.
How has that skill evolved throughout your career?
Learning and development and quality assurance are my passions, but I love doing many things. In my day-to-day, I spend a lot of times in resort operation, understanding guest perspectives, reviewing standards, observing team members performance, how they serve, communicate and their approach towards a different type of guests. Each of these elements brings me a learning experience, and I use these to develop various skills of mine such as understanding how to work with operational leaders, understanding the perception of operational leaders towards training, development, and quality assurance.
If you couldn’t work in the training and development space, what would you be doing?
Resort and Hotels Operations side. Even at the moment, I am heavily involved in operations, as Quality Assurance is a part of operations. It is the backbone of consistency and quality control. When one works with operations, you have a competitive advantage of learning things daily as you interact with the people element of your paying guests or clients and top line and bottom line revenue.
What are you reading, online or off, that you recommend?
I love reading, and I’m always reading two to three books at a time. My daily habit of reading looks like this: in the morning I read a chapter from a biography; in the afternoon during my lunchtime coffee, I read about leadership learning or stories; and in the evening, I ready about a business topic.
Right now I am reading a biography of Tony Fernandes, CEO of Air Asia, as well as The Leader Who Had No Title, a leadership book based on a fable by Robin Sharma. I’m also reading Growth Mindset by Matthew Syed.
Online, I read a lot from Harvard Business Review articles, Forbes, INC.com and Entrepreneur Magazine. My best reading materials are always about leadership, growth mindset, and how we can serve and value each other. I admire authors who write about culture and the importance of looking after people.
How do you prefer to read/consume information?
I prefer to read using hardcover books. I don’t like reading things online unless it is a summary or for skim reading. When I read using online versions, I cannot focus. When I am with printed materials or a hard copy, I can keep my phone or tablet away and concentrate on the book/magazine or the printed version. This is a habit one must develop especially with the ever-increasing technology and ways to gather and read information. I love technology, but not for reading purpose.
What’s your technology of choice?
In our industry, technology is vital. But I must admit regardless of many types of research around, technology will not be able to replace people regarding service delivery from a human touch point. The world will become paperless and wireless but not peopleless.
Personally, I am keen on engaging with various social platforms and understanding how it works to see where I can add value to our people who use them. We use a lot of software and apps for connecting various external and internal needs, and this is something that is changing daily.
What does your workspace look like?
I don’t like to have a big office, or high tech things around at my workplace. I prefer to have a small office space, allowing me to go out of my office, meet people, and connect with our team members as much as I can. In the hospitality business, you can’t serve by sitting in an office. Even our General Manager spends 80% of his daily working hours outside his office. We can only serve our people when we are with them.
Currently, all my staff sits with me in the same office, and we can always see each other and communicate without any barriers. Plus, I always want to sit next to the entrance door of my office so I can be the first one to greet visitors.
How do you define culture? Do you think there is or should be a universal definition?
There are several definitions of culture because different people see it differently. For me, culture is how a group of people live, follow, and get along with each other by understanding that to be a part of something bigger they must learn how to value each other. This is where every culture forms and creates a set of value, and these values bring the behaviors that should be respected and followed by everyone who lives and works together in that particular environment.
I firmly believe culture also defines the level of energy that one can get when they visit or have the opportunity to work with a particular group of people. My favorite airline on the planet is Singapore Airlines. I have had 69 trips by this beautiful airline in the past 15 years. Every time I fly on this airline, I experience the warmth and genuine care that I don’t get from many other airlines. It is not because they know me. It is the culture of Singapore Airlines and the culture that has been created since its inception back in 1972. Meanwhile, if I take a regional airline like Srilankan Airlines, the service level depends on the crew set. The energy level differs, and one can see that there is a culture issue when it comes to service delivery and execution.
What are some common misconceptions about culture?
There are some who still believe that culture is just a word that is referred to specific values or beliefs followed by a group people based on their religious, nation, country or geographical location. I respect different views, but in today’s world culture has become the keyword in every business decision-making meeting or almost every aspect.
Speaking from what I know, LUX* Resorts and Hotels became one of the most admired hotel brands just because of the service culture we create, offer, and consistently strive to maintain and elevate.
What’s the best culture advice you’ve ever received?
Look after each other. Look after and pay attention to the person in front of you, at your back, right and left. Creating and building up the energy of a particular culture takes times. To create a culture, one must implement several initiatives to remind people about the values, beliefs, and, most importantly, leaders must role model the culture values. I believe the rise and fall of every organization depend on the culture they have created, and this starts with the leader.
If you had to pick one culture-enhancing practice or “tactic” most companies could or should implement, what would it be?
Companies or organizational culture comes with a set of values. Some companies may have vision and mission. Whatever their values are, they must live and breathe it internally before they can deliver and practice it with their clients. Every organization must strive to create the culture of what they believe in internally, and this should be the foremost important step in creating a culture. It has to start from the moment of hiring and at every step on onboarding and through every step of the employee’s journey within that particular company.
If you could impart one universal understanding about company culture to every senior executive in the world, what would it be?
Everything rises and falls on leadership. I learned this many years ago from my friend, coach and mentor John C. Maxwell. Therefore, the leaders at the top of the organization must always live, breath, and lead by the DNA of the organization, which is the values that underpin the culture. Leaders must carry the culture values wherever they go and in whatever they do. Good leaders create, maintain, and elevate great cultures.
It’s the year 2030, what is the workplace culture dialogue talking about?
I anticipate that in 2030 or the next few decades we will talk a lot of about what can we do to create more value for each other within the internal service culture. One may think that AI, robotics, and other innovative technology ideas or ways of doing things may reduce the value of human touch or service by living and breathe human being, but this is a misconception; the more the AI, robotics, and technologies come to life, organisations and companies will be evaluating how they can work towards excellence using people, and this will lead to a question about “value.” I foresee 2030 and decades beyond that organizations and companies will invest more time and money in making their people better. The people of the organization will make their culture a worthwhile place, not the office buildings, location, or their product offerings.