Today, we want to celebrate the accomplishments, rich background, and experience of one of our own, Dr. Laura Book, who just received her Ph.D. in Hospitality Administration and Management! Laura is our Organizational Learning and Development Manager, and in that role, she draws extensively from her history in operations, HR, and academia to bring our clients the best in customized tools, messaging, and service training content. We are so proud of her accomplishments! Our Senior Content Coordinator, Rachel Fergason, sat down with Laura recently to learn more about her skills and all that she brings to SGEi and our incredible clients.
Rachel: Well thank you so much for taking the time to sit down with me, Laura, and congratulations on your recent graduation. We are so honored to have you on our team! Tell me a little bit about your background—what brought you to where you are today, with a history in hospitality and HR, and now working with SGEi and teaching at UNLV?
Laura: I always like to say I grew up in hospitality, so I maybe never had a choice rather than to be in this industry! Growing up, my parents came over from Europe and started a small Italian restaurant. When I was a year old, it opened, and – often, not by choice – I would spend the majority of my time there, doing everything from washing dishes to bussing tables. As I got older, I began to take a more active approach to learning the business and managing.
When it then came time for me to go to school, I came to Las Vegas to study business and hospitality at UNLV, one of the premier HRHM schools in the country. I started working in various positions here in Las Vegas. My management career started as I helped open the Aria hotel, as part of the food and beverage management team. I then helped open up The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas. And while I really enjoyed operations, I wanted to see a different side of the business, and that led me to Human Resources. I loved being able to see how HR supports the organization, and my background in operations really helped open my eyes to why HR does what they do.
R: So what led you to continue your education through to the doctorate level? What spurred that desire for you?
L: In my time in HR and operations, one thing I really loved was the chance to train, teach, and coach teams, and so the chance to teach at the university level was one reason I went for my doctorate, to share my knowledge and experience with the future leaders in hospitality. But while in the doctoral program, I enjoyed the chance I had to research about the trends in hospitality and HR. There’s so much that has changed, particularly from the time that my parents had their small restaurant. In many of the larger organizations I worked with, I saw similar issues, and thought, what can we do to make a meaningful impact and advance the industry as a whole?
R: Speaking of research, I understand that you have a few published research studies in the fields of both hospitality and HR—what stands out to you the most from the research you performed? How have you seen the trends really come to life in work with our clients?
L: Well, with my first few articles, we really focused on consumer behavior. What’s been really interesting is to look at classic social psychology theories and see how they apply in today’s modern purchasing environment. For example, consumers use online reviews extensively, to aid in their decision-making. It’s so important in so many industries – the customer’s unique experience is what counts so much more than the product itself. Ensuring that each team member is equipped to deliver the best possible customer experience is essential to the success of a business.
In my more recent articles, we’ve dug further into the employee side and researched operations and human resources. Retention is a huge issue in across different industries. High turnover costs the economy billions of dollars each year. As we researched patterns of employee satisfaction, engagement, loyalty, and intent to stay with an organization, we were able to see a direct correlation between employees’ satisfaction with their leadership and their intent to stay with their organization. I can really bring this to life in working with our clients, because supervisor training and leadership development are some of the things we do best at SGEi, and they are so essential to retention and employee happiness and engagement.
R: It’s exciting to see that research come to life in our client case studies and projects on an almost daily basis. As you work with SGEi in design and even delivery of our content, how do you draw on your background and expertise?
L: Working in both operations and HR has really helped me as I’ve created content for our clients. Putting together the trainings, I work alongside the HR management team, but at the same time, I realize that often, the operations managers are the ones that will be delivering those trainings. Making it effective and simple is important, but really, what’s more important is helping to ensure we’re covered all the way around – we’ve gotten great at meeting the expectations of Human Resources, making it easy to deliver on the operations side, but most importantly, creating engaging, effective, and motivating trainings that resonates with the employees.
And, as an academic as well, it helps to be well versed in adult learning theories and higher education, because I’m able to create learning objectives and tie the materials and assessments back to those. With my research background, I’m also able to support our clients with the latest trends and research in training and employee development.
R: It’s exciting to see it all come together – the worlds of HR, operations, and content development, and it’s wonderful to have you on our team and bring that knowledge to us! I think that’s a strength of a lot of our team members, like Shane – working in hospitality, leading into management, and now doing consulting and training to help other businesses. The diverse backgrounds we have help us to be a rounded unit – and that’s what makes us of the most value to our clients!
So getting deeper into our processes and your role with SGEi, you have the unique opportunity to work on both sides of the content, as you not only develop the training and learning experiences, but you often take a part in their delivery as well. How do those two pieces really complement each other?
L: It’s all about finding a good balance. Content by itself can’t do the job! I spend a lot of time considering how that content will be delivered. If I’m delivering the content directly, as I do when I teach, I can create an outline and then interject personal stories or experiences as I go, or ask for audience participation where I see fit. But to ensure that the training is delivered just as effectively when passing it to our client’s training team, we create something that is completely ready to go. It’s been really rewarding to see the gratitude in our clients when they receive a program that is detailed and well-prepared so that they can deliver it seamlessly.
R: What has brought you most out of your comfort zone throughout your career?
L: I would say teaching. I knew I wanted to teach, but I sometimes think I didn’t really think it all the way through. I remember, I was sitting and shadowing a class once, and watching a wonderful instructor at UNLV, Vincent Eade, who has all of these years of experience and teaches so seamlessly. I thought to myself, there’s just no way I can deliver like this; how can I even come close to teaching the way he’s done it? He was so natural.
Even now before I go in front of a class or deliver a training session, I still have that little bit of nervousness and anxiousness. But once I get going, I start to see the lightbulbs click and the participants start to resonate with the information, and I know it’s a job well done. Jumping in with both feet has really given me the confidence that no matter what client project comes our way at SGEi, or how complicated the problem might be, that we can work through it as a team and will absolutely offer our client a great end result.
R: Well, I know we are truly grateful that you joined our team, and for our relationship with UNLV that allowed our paths to cross! We love having the chance to bring our team’s knowledge to the up-and-coming leaders of the hospitality industry, especially, but all industries, really. And we’re so glad that you have the chance to continue to be a part of UNLV and teach this Spring semester!
We at SGEi can truly see the passion, effort, expertise, and caring that Laura has for this industry, her role, and those around her. She is a welcome addition to our leadership team, and an incredible benefit to our clients!
For more information about our content, customized learning experiences, off-the-shelf training programs, and more, visit our Products and Services page, or reach out to one of our friendly team members. We look forward to our continued relationship with our clients in 2017 and beyond, and are so glad that Laura will be a part of our legacy!