The Good, The Bad and The Beautiful of Employee Empowerment

We’re often asked: “Can employees at The Ritz-Carlton really spend $2,000 per day per guest?” The answer is, “yes.” At The Ritz-Carlton, everyone has $2,000/day per guest to make it right or delight, but the money is symbolic. No one is walking around with $2,000 in his or her pocket. However, from day one at your job, you’re encouraged and empowered to fix or improve a guest’s experience, and you may spend up to $2,000 to do this.

“Employee empowerment means being able to use my natural ability to create a lasting memory for guests or resolve a guest issue and have the confidence that my company supports me 100% in my effort,” explains a senior account executive at The Ritz-Carlton. “Sometimes the most delightful ‘wow’ moments happen in the blink of an eye. If employees are not empowered and need to cross layers of approval, these moments could be lost forever.”

The Fear of Employee Empowerment

Many companies are fearful of employee empowerment. What if employees abuse the system? What if employees make bad decisions? Employee empowerment is one area where you have to be crystal clear. It’s not enough to say to your employees, “People, I’m all for empowerment. Let’s do it!” You need written empowerment guidelines. There are no gray areas. You have to train because there are some people that simply don’t want to take the responsibility.

One Ritz-Carlton staff member with almost 14 years of service remembers her first weeks working in reservations. The first few times an issue came up, she put the customer on hold and asked her manager what to do. When her manager encouraged her to stop putting the customer on hold and handle the situation while talking to the customer, she realized, “So this is real.” Her next call was from a young married couple, and she was able to plan a very special night for them—without asking permission from her manager.

Preserving Trust

Even with training and clear guidelines, it’s possible there will be a misstep. If an employee doesn’t follow your empowerment guidelines, you need to be careful about how you confront the issue. A significant benefit of employee empowerment is that it instills a feeling of trust with staff, and you don’t want to erode that trust. So it’s a matter of your verbiage. It’s a matter of saying, “Susie, your heart was in the right place on this, but if this situation happened again, is there a better way we could have handled it? Let’s brainstorm some options.”

When you empower employees, you’re telling them, “We select the best talent. You’re adults. We trust you. You don’t have to run to the manager to help the client.” The results of empowerment are positively beautiful. Your staff is not only able to resolve issues immediately but also able to build relationships with clients. In addition, when everyone has the same resources and the same goals, they are part of the same team and are more likely to work together to provide creative solutions that “wow” your clients. 

The Ritz-Carlton Leadership Center offers advisory services, courses and presentations to organizations that wish to benchmark the award-winning business practices of The Ritz-Carlton. Your organization can learn about The Ritz-Carlton methodology for customer service, employee engagement, and leadership development. We also guide organizations through a multi-step process in order to achieve sustainable culture transformation.