What Is It That They Get So Right?
The Ritz-Carlton training and development system amply demonstrates what researchers in behavioural and cognitive science have shown for years, which is that adult learners engage or disengage as a direct result of how they feel – about their manager, their environment or the organisation (Callahan, 2004; Dirkx, 2006; Goleman, 2002; Lutz, 1988; Opengart, 2005).
Their culture and values centre on the philosophy that, to paraphrase Aristotle, pleasure in the job puts perfection in the work.
Very few organisations have been as effective in realising such tangible business success from their training and development endeavours as the Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company. In just the last two years, the organisation has been the recipient of over 16 international training and service awards.
Every large organisation offers training, but the Ritz-Carlton treat their people as “the most important resource”, as evidenced through their dedication and care at each touch point – from the initial job fair, the immersive experience that is the Seven Day Countdown, the first 21 day review to their ongoing 384 hour annual training commitment (Aveling, 2009).
Getting companies to prioritise leadership and management training is not easy. One recent survey revealed that managers are America’s most neglected employees, with an alarming 62% of leaders claiming they are unhappy with their manager training programs (Root Manager Training Survey, 2014). The Ritz-Carlton training system begins encouraging leadership from the moment of appointment.
Their Gold Standards promote and encourage every employee to own and take action on issues and situations usually reserved for management. Their service values are overflowing with sentiments such as empowerment, ownership, involvement, responsibility and responsiveness. Moreover, each and every employee is at liberty to spend up to $2000, without approval, on each individual guest should they see an opportunity to do so (Reiss, 2009).
New recruits learn the culture, standards and values of the organisation not by reading a brochure, watching a video or completing an e-learning program, but through direct experience. They themselves are treated as guests. They are met with a warm welcome, escorted past beautiful music to partake of snacks and beverages, and fondly farewelled.
Before they have even joined, they are immersed in the culture of service – treated as ladies and gentlemen.
How Do You Balance Quality Standards Against The Need To Empower The Individual?
The Ritz-Carlton Gold Standards, which consist of The Credo, Motto, Three Steps of Service, The 6th Diamond, Service Values and The Employee Promise are rigidly upheld throughout 88 hotels in 29 countries. For over a century the name has been synonymous with quality and service. Without doubt, the adherence and commitment to quality standards, alongside the Ritz-Carlton “Mystique” – an enigmatic description of what amounts to a sophisticated customer database and wish fulfilment system – deliver a superior and aspirational level of service.
From top employee engagement rankings to line, supervisor and management turnover rates of 18% as against a luxury hotel industry average rate of up to 158% (Robison, 2008), the Ritz-Carlton’s training system is by any measure a success. Research has also demonstrated that higher employee engagement leads to lower turnover, fewer safety incidents and higher profitability and productivity (Gallup, 2016).
In recent years, criticism has been levelled at the hotel chain for its ‘old-fashioned’, robotic use of phraseology among staff and its rigid adherence to tradition (Solomon, 2015). It could be argued that such a clinical adherence to such standards robs individual employees of their creativity, freedom of expression and individuality. Research suggests that organisations open to individuality and self-expression benefit from increased retention and customer satisfaction (Cable et al, 2013).
In this area, however, the Ritz-Carlton training methodology strikes a uniquely effective balance between quality standards and creative expression. Although their Gold Standards are prescriptive in nature, the manner in which they are delivered rely on the creativity, innovation and individual judgment of employees. For example, the fact that employees are given the freedom to spend $2000 to either enhance an experience or problem solve for guests boosts confidence, empowerment and intrinsic motivation (Gagne et al, 1997).
Moreover, their use of First-Class Service cards, “Wow” stories and 5 Star Employee Rewards program are specifically targeted at the creative application of Service Values.
Employees are rewarded and praised for anticipating guest needs and acting on them in their chosen style. They receive this feedback daily in their pre-shift ‘lineup’, where teams gather to talk over incidents, messages and indicators. In this way, the Quality Standards support and endorse the thoughtful use of creativity and empowered action. “Individual aspirations are fulfilled” has been written into the Employee Promise for decades, and it appears to be working, with a 90th percentile ranking for customer engagement (Robison, 2008).
Additional direct evidence is to be found in post-departure employee reviews, 837 of which now appear on Indeed.com. The average rating sits at 4.5 stars.
Would This Work For Other Industries?
The Ritz-Carlton have for decades now been refining and perfecting a training and development system that works. Much contemporary research points to the fact that engaged employees deliver 70% higher financial results than their competition. (Fleming and Asplund, 2007).
They have proven without question the correlation between what others dismiss as ‘touchy-feely’, and tangible business benefits (Roehl & Swerdlow, 1999). This approach demonstrably works for employees, customers and the wider organisation and, as a result, the Ritz-Carlton has much to teach the service industry.
Service industries such as banking, finance, healthcare, IT and consulting services all operate under the same conditions as the luxury hotel industry. They have employees, staff and customers. There is not one of the twelve Service Values that could not be applied to another industry. When companies under-train their employees, three potential scenarios take place: the employee will not be able to appropriately help a customer, the customer will be left dissatisfied, and/or the employee will be left frustrated and become disengaged (Ryan, 2008). For this reason, the service industry would be wise to engage in a serious study of the Ritz-Carlton methodology.
To date, over 3000 organisations have been trained in the Ritz-Carlton way, benefiting from attending the Ritz-Carlton Leadership Center, launched in 2000 after the parent organisation was awarded the Malcolm Baldridge Quality Award – twice.
The Ritz-Carlton approach aligns with the three characteristics of training today. First, it is increasingly technology based. Second, it is aligned to organisational performance. Third, it deals with broader issues than technical prowess (Dessler, 2009). Ritz-Carlton employees are provided with Palm Pilots, and they view video content and attend online courses. Management communicates all company priorities to all levels of staff, and offers them the opportunity to contribute to a SWOT analysis and suggest innovations and improvements to systems – all of which is loaded into a database for immediate actioning. All staff, whether guest facing or not, are required to be trained in a broad array of communication, teamwork, responsibility and business subjects (Robison, 2008).
There is substantial evidence in favour of the Ritz-Carlton training and development system. We know this because the results of their programs are measured and tangibly linked to quantitative and qualitative outcomes. We know this also because other successful organisations such as Apple, Inc model their training and service standards on the Ritz-Carlton way (Furness, 2012). We know this because the company engaged the Gallup organisation to survey both guests and employees, such was their commitment to ensuring they live up to their Gold Standards. The results vindicated their commitment. Gallup proved companies that score above the 50th percentile in both employee and customer engagement outperform those below by 240% (Robison, 2008).
Despite the obvious and proven benefits, organisations continue to pull funding from learning and development in times of economic hardship (Butcher, Sparks & McColl-Kennedy, 2009). Companies that do so find themselves at a severe disadvantage in rebuilding internal expertise and capability (Kristick, 2009). Successfully adopting a ‘training-led’ philosophy does not necessarily need to cost more. With the advent of leveraged technological advancements, the service industry could easily adopt some of the more effective initiatives used by the Ritz-Carlton. Southwest Airlines replaced the traditional classroom with more interactive shared experiences similar to the Ritz-Carlton’s ‘lineups’ (Taylor, 2003). Viacom developed the Manager’s Toolkit, a video series with executives from across the business sharing stories, akin to the “Wow” moments (Taylor, 2003), and NetApp taped all their seminars to allow their teams to listen online, reducing the duration of training by a third (Laff, 2008).
The Ritz-Carlton, like any organisation, are not beyond criticism and must continue to evolve their training and development program to meet ever-increasing demands and a changing business landscape. They have, however, become the most awarded and respected brand in luxury hotels in the world, with most internal and external experts agreeing this is largely due to the way in which they train their people.
Therefore, applying similar principles would seem a logical and sensible strategy for others in the service industry. In the words of Diana Oreck, Vice-President of the Ritz-Carlton Leadership Centre, “I can assure you we would not be spending the kinds of money we do on training … if we didn’t think it was going to show us the money” (Furness, 2012).
Aveling, G. (2009, July) The Ritz-Carlton Experience: It's All in the Implementation. Retrieved from http://www.brandingasia.com/columns/017.htm
Butcher, K., Sparks, B., & McColl-Kennedy, J. (2009). Predictors of customer service training in hospitality firms. International Journal of Hospitality Management, 28(3), 389-396.
Cable, D., Gino, F. and Staats, B. (2010) Breaking Them in or Revealing Their Best?
Reframing Socialization Around Newcomer Self-expression. Administrative Science Quarterly, 2013 March Vol 58:1 p1-36
Callahan, J. L. (2004). Breaking the cult of rationality: Mindful awareness of emotion in the critical theory classroom. New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education, 102, 75-83
Dessler, G. (2009). Fundamentals of Human Resource Management. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.
Dirkx, J. (2006). Engaging emotions in adult learning: A Jungian perspective on emotion and transformative learning. New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education, 109, 15-26. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Fleming, J.H., & Asplund, J. (2007). HumanSigma: Managing the employee–customer encounter. New York, NY: Gallup Press.
Furness, A. (2012) An Interview with Diana Oreck of Ritz-Carlton. Business2Community.com, retrieved from http://www.business2community.com/expert-interviews/an-interview-with-diana-oreck-of-ritz-carlton-0322451#jjhUFJtyT6ssIA1X.97
Gagne, M., Senecal, C. B., & Koestner, R. (1997). Proximal Job Characteristics, Feelings of Empowerment, and Intrinsic Motivation: A Multidimensional Model. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 1222-1240.
Gallup Business Journal (2016, Jan 19) Engaging Employees: Big Companies Need the Most Improvement Retrieved from http://www.gallup.com/businessjournal/188675/engaging-employees-big-companies-needimprovement.aspx
Goleman, D. (2002). Primal leadership: Realizing the power of emotional intelligence. Boston: Harvard Business School Press.
Kristick, J. (2009). Filling the leadership pipeline. Training and Development, 63(6), 48-52.
Laff, M. (2008). Steady under pressure: Training during a recession. Training and Development, 62(8), 46-49.
Lutz, C. (1988). Unnatural emotions: Everyday sentiments on a micronesian atoll and their challenges to western theory. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Opengart, R. (2005) Emotional intelligence and emotion work: Examining constructs from an interdisciplinary framework. Human Resource Development Review, 4, 49-62.
Reiss, R. (2009, October 30). How Ritz-Carlton Stays At The Top. Forbes Magazine.
Retrieved from http://www.forbes.com/2009/10/30/simon-cooper-ritz-leadership ceonetwork-hotels.html
Robison, J. (2008). How The Ritz-Carlton Manages the Mystique. Gallup Business Journal.
Roehl, W. S., & Swerdlow, S. (1999). Training and its impact on organizational commitment among lodging employees. Journal of Hospitality & Tourism Research, 23(2), 176-194.
Root, Inc (2014, Dec) America’s Workforce: A Revealing Study of Corporate America’s Most Neglected Employee. Retrieved from http://www.rootinc.com/pdfs/campaign/Americas-Workforce-Report-2015.pdf
Ryan, L. (2008, Jun 12). The high cost of cutting training budgets. BusinessWeek. Retrieved from http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2008-06-12/the-high-cost-of-cutting-training-budgetsbusinessweek-business-news-stock-market-and-financial-advice
Solomon, M. (2015, Sept 30) Your Customer Service Is Your Branding: The Ritz-Carlton Case Study. Forbes Magazine. Retrieved from http://www.forbes.com/sites/micahsolomon/2015/09/24/your-customer-service-style-is-your-brand-the-ritz-carlton-case-study/#38983201b8a8
Taylor, C. (2003). Recession survivors: Training to the rescue. Training and Development, 57(10), 28-35.
How good can Harvard possibly be anyway? I decided I'd get on a plane and find out. Signing up for the Graduate Certificate in Organizational Behavior at their Extension School, I finished my stand-up comedy set in New York at 2am and headed off to Boston for the 8am class.
Good idea? Well, let's begin by saying that, unlike some of my tertiary education experience - they held my attention.
Despite having very little sleep, driving through the worst blizzard the state had seen in 30 years AND being exhausted from a month long intensive in New York at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theater.
So, this is a business blog, Craig. Let's get down to it. My first course was Change Management. Here are some thoughts, ideas and ruminations in an attempt to convey just how much value I received for my pitifully underpowered Australian dollars...
Why Change Management?
I studied change initially to learn how to support and understand my change management colleagues better. My projects nearly always involve liaising with the change professionals and their work seemed to be particularly difficult, thankless and complex.
Having had now the chance to reflect on the process of change and its role in large organisations, I see that I had isolated myself to accepting work over which I had relative autonomy, expertise and control. It’s ironic, but after examining and being questioned on my 'competing commitments', it was very clear to see that I was avoiding being involved in the very work about which I was most passionate.
The above revelation came to me after my Professor questioned whether I was challenging myself enough. I realised that, for reasons of comfort, control and popularity, I had been avoiding the more difficult and broad change work in order to make my life easier. The by-product of which was a little frustration and cynicism. I maintain to this day that kindness and empathy must underpin change efforts, but I have come to see that not only is change possible, but that I am in a strong position to assist, lead and enable it within client organisations.
Have I Implemented Anything I Learned?
Yes. One of the most empowering and motivating aspects of the work I developed for a banking client was to create a system whereby a selection of participant video reviews would be personally answered not only by the creative team but by management.
This simple idea created trust, accountability, transparency and empathy between teams that had until then had no face to face contact at all. As opposed to a hierarchical training delivered from one expert with ultimate authority, we created a one to one narrative based platform where ideas and opportunities were explored in a safe and conversational way.
The program inspired me to make a bold, public statement of intent that was difficult to return from. Our entry into the learning and development awards and application to be accredited with the BILD Quality Mark were instrumental in mobilising their team and creating a sense of urgency. It placed the organisation and learning and development team in a position whereby they had to stand together, gather evidence, complete the applications and in the process – question all their existing methodologies.
Particularly influential on the program was the case study of Kazuhiro Hara. His work influenced the strategy to introduce powerful and influential allies – helping to provide legitimacy and the corporate and external authority. In addition, by demonstrating the use of ambassadors, he allowed us to ‘give the work back’ to those who joined together to achieve the promised value. Deepening his influence further was highlighted in the ‘groping along’ philosophy demonstrated throughout the process. From small video interviews to an over-arching and top-down change in executive leadership – his influence was undeniably valuable.
Best Piece of Advice I Received?
Without question, the best piece of advice was from Kegel and Lacey on 'competing commitments'. This fundamental and personal work, magnified by completing the Authentic Leadership exercises offered, led to a deeper awareness of my own beliefs and attitudes towards change.
As the Master Yoda offered in 1977, “named your fear must be before banish it you can”.
I uncovered competing commitments which were fundamentally opposed to my stated value proposition. This came initially as something of a shock and latterly, a revelation. They highlighted the futility of proceeding if I was to hold them as truths throughout the endeavour. So, they had to be re-examined and abandoned if I wanted the project to work, and indeed I did. I had to discredit my own status quo, before that of the organisation.
Once my competing commitments were wrestled into submission, I turned to Ganz. By becoming aware of the need for a powerful and personal narrative, I was able to make a decision about how best to approach my clients. In the end, I elected not to share my personal story publicly unless asked, but to pursue ‘the story of us’ for the creative and management teams.
This work was made easier through the award and quality accreditation processes, but it also served to highlight the need to consistently anchor the change work to a common vision, narrative and culture.
On this project, we were able to leverage urgency, hope, YCMAD (You Can Make A Difference) and solidarity to a satisfying extent. Inertia, apathy and self-doubt played a role, certainly – however achieving quick wins and gaining vital acknowledgement from the leadership team offset these enough to render them less powerful than they would otherwise have been.
What Have I Learned About Myself as An Agent of Change?
I’ve learned much. Foremost among the revelations is the critical importance of self-awareness, active listening and a robust and diagnostically sound strategic approach to change. I’ve learned that if you practice a philosophical approach to change projects and ‘get up to the balcony’ as often as possible, it provides a platform from which a successful change project may be launched.
I’ve learned I’m much more suited to a leadership than a management role. Given my ability to bring humour and a ‘light touch’ to situations that may ordinarily descend into gravity and seriousness, it makes the process of counselling those for whom change does not come willingly or easily more palatable. Given I’m also now at a stage in my career where I’m considered to be an authority in learning and development, I can leverage that perception more easily than I could ten years ago.
Most importantly, I’ve also learned now that my approach to change was understandable, but ultimately flawed. I used to feel that removing obstacles and re-framing the problems of others was a kindness. I now see that, in many instances it can deepen and prolong pain for others. Time and time again over the past 10 years, I’ve seen that hastening the speed at which my stakeholders meet and experience the cognitive and emotional dissonance involved in change creates a better outcome over the middle to long term. A ‘change midwife’, perhaps.
What Was The Most Challenging Aspect?
Without question, the most challenging aspect has been uncovering and confronting my own internal beliefs, attitudes, programs and commitments – before becoming involved in meeting organisational change initiatives. The efforts with clients, the late night development sessions and deadlines all pale in comparison to the work required in order to become a truly effective agent of change.
The internal adaptive work required to clear the way is ongoing and relentless. Like the parlour game ‘Whack-a-Mole’, as soon as it appears I’ve cleared my prejudices and judgments, yet another rises up – needing to be dealt with. Visiting the balcony is indeed important in order to gain a clear picture of what is occurring for others, but I’ve had to construct yet another balcony from which to ‘observe the observer’. A meta-balcony, if you will.
Whilst it inevitably causes uncertainty and pain to constantly re-examine your own viewpoint, it also builds a vital empathy for others for whom change evokes feelings of fear and self-doubt. There’s a certain price to be paid in maintaining a self-transforming mind. I’ve learned however, that it’s a lesser toll than the frustration incurred by standing on the sidelines and wishing it were different.
In Miller’s Death of a Salesman, Willy Loman, too, swallowed a lofty and unnatural ideal about what constitutes a ‘successful life’. He repeatedly sold himself a fervent and deluded conception of the ‘American Dream’, and it ultimately destroyed his marriage, his friendships, family and dignity.
Society painted a picture of such utopian beauty, he became transfixed by it, blinded by the promise of living its reality. Biff was initially sold on the same deceit, that both he and his father were destined for ‘greatness’, if only they followed the rules.
In one searing moment however, he realised what a ‘ridiculous lie’ his whole life had been. He burned his ‘phony dream’. Willy, so deeply lost within the dream and despite not having a ‘thing in the ground’, just couldn’t walk away.
Male suicide rates have increased 60% in the past 45 years (WHO, 2016), and CEOs suffer depression at twice the rate of others (Barnard, 2008) – yet we have never had more material wealth.
What is so compelling about the song of success that we, as children, abandon our natural, moment-to-moment joy for a lifetime of chasing, dissatisfaction and comparison?
To suffer ‘fifty weeks a year for the sake of a two-week vacation’? Ask a palliative care nurse the top regrets of the dying: I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not what others expected of me, and I wish I hadn’t worked so hard (Steiner, 2012).
We have the wrong dreams. All, all wrong.
Barnard, J. W. (2008) Narcissism, Over-Optimism, Fear, Anger, and Depression: The Interior Lives of Corporate Leaders. University of Cincinnati law Review, William & Mary Law School Research Paper No. 08-10. Available at http://ssrn.com/abstract=1136888
Steiner, S. (2012) Top Five Regrets of the Dying. Guardian Newspaper Group. Retrieved from http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2012/feb/01/top-five-regrets-of-the-dying
World Health Organisation. (2016) Prevention of Suicidal Behaviours: A Task for All. Retrieved from http://www.who.int/mental_health/prevention/suicide/background/en/
My driving motivation was simply to be liked, accepted and to do a good job.
Billy’s inability to communicate led him to commit a crime that was entirely avoidable. Under duress, he found himself without words, locked inside. As a result and in immense frustration, he resorted to violence and was punished with death. Claggart was responsible for the Machiavellian and calculated attack on Billy, however it was Billy’s reaction that sealed his fate.
The history of mankind is in many ways, a story of good and evil.
We have proven, if nothing else, that we are capable of the most noble of intentions and actions, but also of the deepest and darkest malevolence. The lesson that Billy Budd serves to highlight for me is that when faced with such evil, we have a choice.
For my part, I need not have chosen to take the stage or, having taken the microphone, could have referred questions to the side or to the session break. Instead I bought into the ‘evil’, panicked and paid the price. Billy Budd too, had alternatives open to him. Yet, his choice to subvert his truth for lies, took a disproportionate and untimely toll.
In Ibsen’s A Doll’s House, Torvald describes Nora as his possession, calling her his “hunted dove”. It serves his self-image to make helpless and weak those around him, as evidenced by his assertion that “I should not be a man if this womanly helplessness did not just give you a double attractiveness in my eyes”.
He had many opportunities to see the effect his charismatic manipulation was having. He saw her compulsive need for treats, her infatuation with money and her desperate need for his approval and attention, yet chose to chide her as he would a child. There were warning signs in every interaction that spoke to her discontent, her suffering and her fears. So turbulent was his wake, he couldn’t see her drowning in it.
Research shows us that a powerful demeanour, which leaders are encouraged to use to benefit their image and effectiveness, has the result of stifling, discouraging and demeaning those around them.
The more powerful the leader, the less resistance they face, the greater their momentum. It’s an unhealthy cycle perpetuated by both the leaders themselves who refuse to openly and truly listen, and by those followers who lack the courage to speak their truth.
As we evolve our philosophy of leadership, perhaps we will begin to see leadership as being not a powerful and charismatic individual, but as a transitory role many individuals may assume given the right time, place or circumstance.