Significant Stat: Strategic Decisions

28% of executives surveyed said that the quality of strategic decisions in their companies was generally good, 60% thought that bad decisions were about as frequent as good ones, and the remaining 12% thought good decisions were altogether infrequent. (source)

Advice from Jennifer Blackmon, Corporate Director, Culture Transformation at The Ritz-Carlton Leadership Center:

Strategic decisions, whether large or small, can alter the future of an organization. Yet many companies do not have a formal process for strategic decision making. At The Ritz-Carlton, we understand the value and need to involve multiple stakeholders at all levels of the organization to achieve the best outcomes. At each Ritz-Carlton location there is a Guidance Team that is part of the strategic planning process within that market. While each team member has their specific areas of expertise, every team member is expected to share their opinions when determining significant strategy changes. In our top-performing properties, the Guidance Team is adept at seven leadership traits. “Encouraging frank and open dialogue” is one of the traits that ensure decisions are not made in a vacuum. Consequently, each respective team member also gathers feedback and opinions from their reporting Directors and Managers. A successful team openly explores fresh perspectives and creates a decision-making environment where all ideas are considered and vetted for optimal performance. 

Servant Leadership: Empathy

Each month The Ritz-Carlton Leadership Center (RCLC) asks leadership experts questions about servant leadership. Our topic for June is how servant leaders use empathy with employees. This month’s servant-leader experts are:

  • Abigail Marsh, Associate Professor of Psychology, Georgetown University
  • Mark Crowley, Workplace thought leader and author of Lead from the Heart

RCLC: What are some tactics you’ve used to understand employees who may be tougher to access?

Mark Crowley: Teams thrive on diversity — not uniformity — and leaders who understand this will intentionally hire people with varied backgrounds and personalities. Hiring an introverted chef or massage therapist, for example, might prove to be a very wise move!

The best advice I can give to any manager is that not everyone operates from the same map of the world as you do. Just because some employees quickly warm up to you shouldn’t lead you to think everyone will.

So if you find yourself struggling to connect with an employee, be patient with them — and yourself. Find ways to work closely with “tougher to access” employees; just spending one-on-one time with them can help build the trust that will help many of them to come out of their shell. I’ve also found that giving people space, and allowing them to come to you when they’re ready, leads to the most sustainable kind of trust you can ever imagine achieving.

RCLC: When leaders are empathetic, how can they manage an employee who might try to take advantage of a caring boss?

Abigail Marsh: Being caring doesn’t have to mean being an easy target. One of the oldest and most durable findings in psychology is that cooperative interpersonal relationships flourish when people adhere to what is called “the norm of reciprocity.” The norm requires that interpersonal encounters start from the assumption that both players are trustworthy actors who will help each other out when needed. But if either person violates the other’s trust, it is appropriate for there to be a consequence, such as the withdrawal of future trust or assistance. For example, an empathetic boss might offer the employee who has just experienced a distressing life event some extra time off. To foster a strong relationship, the employee might later reciprocate by contributing extra and unasked-for help on a project. Employees who ask for repeated favors without reciprocating should not be surprised to find their bosses less willing to extend assistance to them over time.

RCLC: What advice would you give to leaders who aren’t naturally empathetic or would like to express more empathy?

Abigail Marsh: The crucial components of empathy are simple awareness of and caring about others’ emotional and mental states. Often when people are upset or in distress, simply acknowledging those feelings can make a difference. Something as simple as “I can see you are really upset,” or, “You seem worried — anything I can do to help?” can forge a connection because it demonstrates that the speaker understands and cares about how the listener is feeling. This is all that is meant by empathy. Recognizing others’ emotional states comes naturally to most people, as long as they take the time to pay attention to others’ emotional language and nonverbal cues. But even people who are less naturally in tune with others’ emotions can learn to pay deliberate attention to signs of distress like a furrowed brow, compressed lips, or a voice that sounds tenser and higher-pitched than usual.

Mark Crowley: Traditional leadership theory teaches us that expressions of empathy or compassion toward employees are characteristic of weak leaders — people who do not drive high performance.

So if we grew up working for bosses who rarely displayed thoughtfulness or intentional care in their interactions with workers, it’s not unreasonable that we would model that same behavior in how we manage our own teams.

But mounds of scientific research is now emerging that proves qualities like kindness, concern and empathy are actually leadership strengths — not weaknesses. The more human we are with people, in other words, the greater their engagement and commitment.

I mention this because I think what most of us really need is permission to display empathy with the people we manage — and to authentically demonstrate that we care about them personally and what’s going on in their lives. The evidence is clear that we are all wired as human beings to be empathetic, and only hold back because we think it’s inappropriate to display it in the workplace.

So if you need an incentive to show your people some empathy, know this: when you withhold it, people will see you as being a self-interested leader — and you’ll drive many people away.

RCLC: The Employee Promise at The Ritz-Carlton states that employees are our “most important resource.” How can leaders make employees feel genuinely cared for each day?

Abigail Marsh: People tend to feel cared for when they are cared for. Genuine caring is hard to fake. Genuinely caring people tend to prioritize the welfare of others, even others who are not personally close to them. They tend to assume that most people are doing their best and try to adopt an understanding approach even toward undesirable behavior. They pay attention when others are suffering or in distress and try to help or console them with words or gestures. Classic, caring gestures like a hand on the shoulder or an embrace are simple, ancient and powerful — even our chimpanzee cousins use them to console other members of their group. They work just as well with humans.

Mark Crowley: There’s a huge risk in saying (out loud) that employees are The Ritz- Carlton’s “most important resources” simply because there are so many ways the organization and its leaders can break that promise. And should employees ever come to believe that this pledge is in any way hollow or insincere, their trust in management will likely become irrecoverable.

So each day, managers have the opportunity — and the obligation — to intentionally make deposits into the emotional bank accounts (as Stephen Covey called them) of every person on their team. And some of the smallest gestures can have the biggest impact: Complimenting them for how they handled a difficult guest, thanking them for their initiative and cooperation with other employees, letting them leave work early on a day you know will greatly help them — giving them an unexpected and challenging assignment.

My advice: As best as you can, determine what your employees need in any given moment (e.g., encouragement, trust, patience or guidance) and give it to them. If you do, they’ll know you care. 

Etiquette & Engagement: Polished

Imagine if every person acted like a lady or gentleman…..

Engagement Tip: Ladies and gentlemen are polished in their professional appearance.

Depending on your business, “polished” may not be a word you immediately think of. You may think, “I work in a diner,” or “I work in an office where no customers ever see me.” No matter your work situation, customers and colleagues will always appreciate it when you appear fresh and groomed. Put simply, it’s polite to look put-together. It’s what one might call a “hygiene factor” (literally) in business and employee engagement. When you are polished, you seem prepared to provide excellent work and service for your customers and colleagues. Even if your dress code is shorts and a t-shirt, you can look stylish simply by ensuring your clothes are clean, unwrinkled and appropriate in nature; i.e., nothing offensive and no tears, etc. Like it or not – your customers are judging you. You could provide the finest personal service, but if your appearance is untidy, you will leave your customers with a memory of the wrinkles in your shirt or stains on your pants. Also, your clothing will be the first impression customers have of your organization and your competency. You want your appearance to help establish confidence. At The Ritz-Carlton, our Credo specifies that we provide “a warm, relaxed, yet refined ambience.” One of the ways this is fulfilled is through our commitment to looking polished, which is articulated through this Service Value: “I am proud of my professional appearance, language and behavior.” 

The motto of The Ritz-Carlton is “We are Ladies and Gentlemen serving Ladies and Gentlemen.” This motto sets a tone of goodwill and grace for all.

Significant Stat: Friendly Employees

73% of consumers say friendly employees or customer service representatives can make them fall in love with a brand. (source)

Advice from Jennifer Blackmon, Corporate Director, Culture Transformation at The Ritz-Carlton Leadership Center:

Every person that works in your organization is a direct reflection of your organization. Customers do no delineate between them (the employee) and you (the employer). And when customers are deciding where and when to spend their money, there is no more significant time to be putting your best foot forward. Unfortunately for many of us, this “moment of truth” is lost as employees are mindlessly going through the motions, internally focused on their own problems or deliberately being rude to get back at somebody for something. Employees need a daily reminder of what their core responsibility is—and that is to serve others. Regardless of role or title, we are all working to serve someone and that needs to be at the forefront of everything we do. The Ritz-Carlton daily reminder is known as line-up and it focuses every employee in on our core responsibility, and the role we play in representing the brand. 

Join us for a one-day symposium on November 12th. The day includes a Ritz-Carlton executive panel with Herve Humler, president & chief operations officer of The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company, L.L.C.

Dear Ritz-Carlton: Brand and Culture Related?

Dear Ritz-Carlton: How are your brand and your culture related?

Answer from Jeff Hargett, Senior Corporate Director, Culture Transformation at The Ritz-Carlton Leadership Center:

Photo of Jeff Hargett

An organization’s brand and culture have a symbiotic relationship; they are interdependent. Culture is all around us; in our homes, our social groups and our workplace. Some cultures are very structured (The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company) while others are less structured (Apple). Both Brand and Culture are intangible. As consumers, we experience the results of Brand and Culture. For example, when you hold a cold can of your favorite cola on a hot summer day and then taste the refreshing, fizzy liquid that quenches your thirst, the Brand of that cola is being strengthened through your psychological enjoyment and sensory experience. When you sink into that cloud-like bed at The Ritz-Carlton, the Brand of Ritz-Carlton is being solidified as your “Hotel of Choice.” Culture helps create the Brand, and Brand fortifies the Culture. When a culture of teamwork, engagement and purpose exists, the Brand will become legendary, thereby validating the Culture. 

Join us for a one-day symposium, “Your Journey to Service Excellence.” The day includes a keynote speaker, a Q&A session with The Ritz-Carlton executive panel, an optional networking reception and presentations about legendary service, employee engagement and a customer-centric culture.

Treat Your Brand Like an Endangered Species

Long ago, a brand was simply a mark burned into cattle to show ownership, but today, the concept of brand is much more expansive. A brand can be defined, described and dissected in innumerable ways.

In one sense, your brand is your customer experience. Your brand communicates your standards and creates a brand promise with your customers. If you consistently deliver on your brand promise, then you have the chance to cultivate brand loyalty. Customers who are loyalists not only bring in repeat business—they share their experience with colleagues, friends and family—and help extend the strength of your brand.

However, even brand loyalty can be easily lost if your brand promise is broken. This is especially true now that customers share grievances over social media. Recently, a British Airways customer turned his lost bag complaint into a national headline by spending money to promote his Tweet.

Consumers today are not only looking for fair treatment, they’re willing to try to damage a company if they feel they’re not being heard. This means that companies must respond rapidly and appropriately to consumers, and organizations must defend their brands even more vigorously. A lapse in the consumers’ faith may not be noticed immediately, but over time, if your brand promise begins to erode—if your reputation becomes tarnished—then customers won’t trust your brand and they won’t continue to do business with you. Your company will eventually face extinction.

If you treat your brand like an endangered species, then you can preserve the integrity of your brand and help it survive well into the future. Here are three tips for protecting your brand.

1) Regulate Your Brand’s Environment

Creating brand standards that are followed throughout your organization can help ensure that your brand promise is consistently fulfilled. The smallest details can impact your brand. “Even the vocabulary you use will contribute to your brand promise,” states Lisa Holladay, Vice-President, Brand Management and Guest Experience at The Ritz-Carlton. “At The Ritz-Carlton, we call our employees ladies and gentlemen. It’s a significant way to brand the service experience. It communicates to our guests that they’re going to have a differentiated experience at our hotel—because at our hotels—ladies and gentlemen are the people taking care of you.” Take the time to write and maintain detailed brand guidelines that will enable your staff to fulfill your customers’ expectations.

2) Keep Tabs on Your Brand

Seth Godin notes that, “if your brand has any traction at all, people are talking about you. Of course, they’ve always talked about you, but now they’re doing it in writing, in video and in public.” Organizations must use whatever tools they can—focus groups, polls, customer feedback, software, research, agencies—to monitor what consumers are saying about them. You should also review the strength of your brand. “The Ritz-Carlton uses brand tracking to measure the functional and emotional attributes of the brand,” shares Holladay. “Brand tracking also helps drive strategy for the company.” Monitoring and measuring your brand are key factors in your organization’s survival.

3) Adapt as Needed

It’s not enough to listen to your customer. You have to respond and, quite possibly, make changes. Tom LaForge, the global director of human and cultural insights at Coca-Cola, advises that brands “adapt to a fast changing, increasingly interconnected world.” Organizations must be nimble and prepared. They should have processes in place that allow them to amend the brand to keep up with today’s consumers.

When thinking about brand, it’s important to remember that well-known adage: “It takes years to build up trust, and only seconds to destroy it.” Consumers expect that every interaction with your organization will fulfill your brand promise. If you lose the consumers’ trust, you could eventually lose your business. When you treat your brand like an endangered species, you’re not only protecting it from extinction, you’re shepherding it toward expansion and growth.

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.