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Employee engagement: Ritz-Carlton’s secret to providing world-class service and increasing customer loyalty

Justin Hoffman • Feb 16th, 2018

Ritz-Carlton's employee engement

“Ritz-Carlton serves the top one percent of discerning global travelers. So we need the top one percent of employees,” says Valori Borland, Ritz-Carlton’s Culture Transformation Corporate Director at PSA’s recent Partnership event series.

An award-winning, five-star hotel and resort company with locations globally, Ritz-Carlton is renowned for its legendary services and luxury facilities creating unforgettable travel experiences in the world’s top destinations. Among the countless recognitions, Ritz-Carlton has been featured on the 2016 Conde Nast Gold List, and it is the only company to have twice been honored with the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award from the United States Department of Commerce.

So what’s their recipe for success?

Empowering and engaging culture

“We empower our employees,” Borland explains. “We invest in them; we trust them; we nurture and maximize their talent. We put our employees first, because they are the most important resource in our service commitment to our guests.

Most businesses tout a “customer-first” philosophy. Ritz-Carlton, though, focuses on creating a culture in which employees, referred to as Ladies and Gentlemen, feel inspired, passionate, and driven. This helps them be emotionally engaged and go above and beyond to provide unforgettable customer service.

“I’ve worked at Ritz-Carlton for 30 years,” Borland beams. “And our employee engagement culture we’ve created is fantastic. Our Employee Promise, printed on a pocket-size brochure and carried by every employee at all times, was written by employees from around the world. We came to a consensus about the standards how we treat one another:

“By applying the principles of trust, honesty, respect, integrity and commitment, we nurture and maximize talent to the benefit of each individual and the company. The Ritz-Carlton fosters a work environment where diversity is valued, quality of life is enhanced, individual aspirations are fulfilled, and The Ritz-Carlton Mystique is strengthened.”

These words were not dictated by Ritz-Carlton’s leadership; rather they were created by the Ladies and Gentlemen. I’m proud to say I’ve directly had a hand in creating our company’s culture powered by employee engagement.”

Function, Purpose and Passion – beyond employee engagement

Another key ingredient to Ritz-Carlton’s success is distinguishing the difference between Function and Purpose. About 51 percent of employees surveyed in Gallup’s “State of the Workplace” report admitted to being complacent—or, as Borland labels them, “just there”—which indicates a lack of Purpose. Complacent employees fall into the Function category: they’re reliable and dependable, but they don’t go beyond their job descriptions to help their companies. They’re uninspired. Ritz-Carlton prevents this by prioritizing Purpose, which focuses on employee engagement.

“Every day, at every Ritz-Carlton location around the world, employees ‘line-up’ with a manager,” Borland says. “Every shift begins with 7-10 minutes dedicated to promoting Purpose. Sometimes employees discuss a motivational quote; other times they’ll go through a brief training. As leaders, we need to inspire employees to apply the company’s values in their daily work.”

“Leaders also need to reinforce that each employee’s work is important,” she says. Your team shouldn’t just Function, going through the mechanics of their jobs on autopilot, but they should instead feel a sense of Purpose.

Why? “Purpose turns into passion,” Borland emphasizes. “When our housekeepers are asked what they do for a living, they don’t say ‘I clean sheets and tidy up rooms.’ They say ‘I create a home away from home for our guests.’”

Creating an engaging and productive culture isn’t only about promoting abstract concepts and conducting brief daily meetings, though. It’s also about creating an environment in which employees can thrive. And this means you should make sure, you’re leading your team in an environment with high trust and low fear,” Borland continues. “You want them to work in an environment where mistakes are embraced—that’s how we learn and improve.”

Mystique – an ineffable customer feeling and an unforgettable experience

She refers to Ritz-Carlton’s “The 6th Diamond,” which provides instructions for bringing to life the company’s values and improving workplace culture. The diamond is divided in three sections, each of which builds on the previous and provides strategies to “operationalize the Ritz-Carlton principles.” If these methods—which include recognizing employee achievements and celebrating innovation and risk taking—are applied, employees’ emotional engagement should increase.

“Recognize, recognize, recognize,” Borland says. “To create an environment where employees feel valued, recognize their achievements.”

“Celebrate meaningful accomplishments that are above and beyond the norm, not praising someone for showing up on time for work, for instance. And when you do, do it genuinely,” recommends Borland.

The ultimate result of effective leadership is Mystique: Ritz-Carlton guests leave energized, with a sense of satisfaction they can’t quite articulate. All employees contribute to guests experiencing Mystique, and they do so because they feel valued, inspired, and purposeful.

Armed with these best practices, your organization can also deliver exceptional service and increase customer loyalty. Interested in learning more? Make sure to attend our next PSA Partnership event, “The Circle Blueprint” on March 27, 2018.

About the Author: Justin Hoffman is PSA’s Chief Marketing Officer. He oversees business development initiatives and PSA's Marketing Department. His focus includes sales leadership, Account Executive support and recruiting, sales training and CRM technology. He supervises PSA’s awareness, community-building and demand-generation efforts. The majority of his 14-year career has been spent at financial services firms, managing brand development initiatives, advertising, public relations and electronic marketing. Prior to joining PSA in 2007, he led M&T Bank’s sports marketing assets, overseeing relationships with the Baltimore Ravens, Buffalo Bills and other sports franchises. Justin holds a Master’s degree in Marketing from Johns Hopkins University. You can reach Justin on LinkedIn or via email.