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. 

Culture and Onboarding

“Culture drives everything that happens in an organization each day,” according to the book The Culture Engine. Everything. Each day. That’s how important culture is to your organization, and this is why immersing new employees into your culture is of paramount importance. Immerse may seem like a strong word, but think of it like visiting a new country. You need to know as soon as possible whether you drive on the left or the right, whether or not you can drink the water and whether shaking someone’s hand is courteous or offensive. Likewise, new employees should learn about your organization’s customs as soon as possible– culture and onboarding have a symbiotic relationship. They need to understand your organization’s values and goals, general rules of operation and common language and behaviors. Adapting to an organization’s culture does not take place overnight. At The Ritz-Carlton, we understand that new employees go through three phases before they completely embrace the culture.

Phase One – See It

One of the ways your new hires will begin to learn about your culture is from observing their physical surroundings. What people wear to work, how colleagues set up and decorate their offices and whether your company’s vision, mission and values are visible will tell new employees a few things about your organization. At The Ritz-Carlton, the Credo and The Employee Promise are displayed in common areas and in each office. In addition, all employees—known as our Ladies and Gentlemen—have a pyramid on their desk that shows the annual goals, vision, mission, motto and other key cornerstones.

New staff members can also be introduced to your culture by reading a company brochure or new hire manual. They may also hear about company culture from managers or co-workers. New hires at The Ritz-Carlton spend the majority of their two-day onboarding learning about our company’s culture. The new staff is introduced to the culture through videos, presentations by managers and group discussions. All new hires are required to memorize and recite the Credo before completing orientation.

Phase Two – Believe It

After your new employees learn about your culture they may still be skeptical about its relevance. Your new hires may be jaded by past experiences where organizations have claimed something is important, but there is no follow-through. For example, colleges often tell incoming students that refrigerators are not allowed in dorm rooms, and yet, many students have mini-fridges. Rules that aren’t enforced have no meaning. Your new employees need to know that your organizational values are not just posters on a wall or words in a welcome booklet. As new hires experience your culture and see that it is truly lived within your organization, they will begin to trust and accept your culture.

At The Ritz-Carlton, the culture is enlivened at Daily Line-Up. Every day the Daily Line-Up focuses on one aspect of our Gold Standards, and new employees hear how their managers and co-workers are applying the culture. Often the person leading Line-Up shares a personal example of how he or she has demonstrated or witnessed this Gold Standard being expressed. Hearing how colleagues are living the culture not only indicates its validity, but also inspires new hires to do likewise.

Phase Three – Live It

After your employees see the culture and witness how it is embraced, they will begin to live the culture as well. It’s important for your organization that all employees are adopting your culture. Going back to the book The Culture Engine, the author points out that “Defining values and behaviors and then holding everyone in the company or team accountable for living them creates continuity and sanity. Every player knows what’s expected of him or her.” When all of your employees are living your culture, your organization is more unified and therefore, capable of achieving more.

Phase Out – Leave it

Employees that choose not to embrace your culture, most likely, won’t last long at your organization. Hopefully, new hires will recognize that they are not a right fit and will move along on their own accord. If not, your organization may face the task of encouraging people to find other employment. Some organizations even offer new hires “pay to quit” programs in order to incentivize employees who are not a right cultural fit to leave the organization. Offering a “payout” like that may seem extreme, but when employees are happy, engaged and committed to their work and the organization, isn’t it better for all? Employees who embrace your culture will contribute to an atmosphere of teamwork, collaboration and greater success. 

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.

Seven Ways to Engage Employees in Change Management

Culture change expert Dr. John Kotter stated in an interview that “70% of all organizational change efforts fail, and one reason for this is executives simply don’t get enough buy-in, from enough people, for their initiatives and ideas.” Securing buy-in from most of your employees will require extra effort. However, you increase the odds of your success if you take the time to engage employees in your change management plans.

Convincing Your Employees

If your organization decides to move forward with culture change or other change initiatives, you will have employees who will welcome the shift, but you also will have to win over these types of employees:

  • the tenured employees who have seen change initiatives fail in the past
  • the negative employees who tend to forecast doom and gloom even when the sun is shining
  • the “I told you so” employees who feel they are smarter than the decision-makers
  • the “I hate change” employees who are more comfortable sticking with the status quo
  • the “does this mean more work?” employees who are already feeling overwhelmed
  • the “last-minute” employees who don’t want to jump on the train until it’s leaving the station

Embracing everyone in your organization won’t be easy, but here are seven strategies that can help your staff feel more secure throughout this time of transition.

1) Solicit Buy-In Prior to Launch

At The Ritz-Carlton, one of our Service Values is: “I’m involved in the planning of the work that affects me.” This means that major decisions should not be made in private, executive meetings and then simply announced to employees. As you begin making plans, consider holding focus groups or taking surveys and soliciting employee opinion.

An organization had to make a decision that they knew many employees wouldn’t like. They decided to hold focus groups with key stakeholders—even though management felt this wouldn’t change the ultimate decision. The focus groups provided the opportunity for stakeholders to share concerns and for leaders to explain the reasons the change was needed. In the end, management made the unpopular choice. However, because they’d had a chance to give input prior to the decision, the key stakeholders were not only more receptive, but also helped minimize the concerns of their colleagues. In addition, management was able to address several of the concerns brought out in the focus groups, and this showed employees that leaders were listening. The decision—while still disappointing to many—was embraced without protest.

2) Communicate Consistently

It’s likely there will be some confusion during a change process. Employees may feel disoriented as your organization lets go of old processes and embraces new procedures. In order to help your staff feel more comfortable, make sure to communicate with them often.

Think of your organization as a sailboat, and you’re simply changing your course. When you turn your boat, the sails often luff or flap as they adjust to the shifting winds. As captain, you can keep your crew from panicking by reassuring them you’re headed in the right direction. Employees will feel safer knowing that someone is at the helm.

3) Lead by Example

It is vital that your senior leaders model any change initiatives for your employees. If your senior leaders do not “walk their talk,” employees will quickly stop trying as well. Your staff will think, “Why should I make these extra efforts if the people running the organization aren’t bothering?” Leaders who don’t back up their words with actions lose employee trust. A change initiative requires a team effort, and management should be fostering trust and leading their teams. Senior leaders can introduce a change process, but it’s their active participation that demonstrates the organization’s commitment to change.

4) Reinforce and Remind

It’s natural to want to see immediate results, but it may take time for employees to catch-on to new methods. William Bridges notes in his seminal book, Managing Transitions, that employees will need to go through a psychological transition. He asserts that “when a change happens without people going through a transition, it is just a rearrangement of the chairs. It’s what people mean when they say, ‘Just because everything has changed, don’t think that anything is different around here.’” Your organization needs to give employees time to psychologically adjust and absorb the new processes—while also ensuring that employees don’t hold on to old methods too long. Meetings, training sessions and written standard operating procedures (SOPs) can help reinforce changes.

At The Ritz-Carlton, our culture is reinforced through a daily meeting called “Line-Up.” These meetings take place at the beginning of every shift at every Ritz-Carlton hotel around the world. Each day this line-up meeting focuses on one aspect of our Gold Standards and gives employees a chance to share how they have enlivened the culture.

5) Establish Accountability

If you do not enforce following new methods and procedures, your employees might be tempted to slip into old patterns. Accountability often can be established through metrics and reports, but leadership may also need to check in with employees more frequently when launching new initiatives. This can be handled through one-on-one meetings or through smaller team meetings. The advantage of team meetings is that there’s an element of collaboration—the idea that we are in this together. But there’s also an element of peer pressure—if everyone else is committed to change, then even your change resisters will feel pressure to conform to the crowd.

You have to be careful when establish accountability because you don’t want to create an environment where employees are being asked to police each other or where your staff feels like Big Brother is watching over them. On the other hand, remember that people are creatures of habit—habits make up 40% of our daily activities—and some monitoring may be necessary.

6) Invite Employee Feedback

As you’re going through your change process, make sure there’s a channel for employees to offer feedback. There are several ways this can be accomplished:

  • an employee suggestion box
  • employee surveys at key checkpoints
  • town meetings where employee feedback is encouraged, responded to and recorded
  • an open-door policy by senior leadership

When you give employees an outlet for their concerns, they have a proactive way to express themselves—rather than complaining, venting and grumbling behind closed doors. They’ll also feel that they have a voice and are a valued part of the change initiative.

7) Measure & Celebrate Progress

When you have a big goal ahead of you, it’s easy to feel like you’re not making enough progress or that you may never make it to the finish line. To prevent feelings of defeat, it’s important to measure your progress. Establish key metrics right from the start, and let your team know what the goals are. Consider creating signage or a digital dashboard that keeps your employees informed of progress. This kind of transparency will allow staff to see that their efforts toward change are making a difference. In addition, this focus on metrics will create a feeling of teamwork and will squelch rumors and speculation on your organization’s chances for success.

It’s also important to celebrate incremental successes along the way. Small celebrations will renew your staff and reward them for their efforts. For example, if part of your goal is to raise your HCAHP (Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems) or Net Promoter Score, why not have mini-celebrations as your score begins to improve? Think of these smaller celebrations as a cup of cold water along your marathon route.

Emphasize the Positive

Tackling a change initiative can be daunting, but try to focus on the end results. You can even try to make the process fun by giving it a theme. At The Ritz-Carlton, when the sales team participates in an annual thank-a-thon, the event includes costumes, treats and motivational videos. Just because a project is hard work—doesn’t mean it can’t be enjoyable. Keeping your teams focused on the benefits and outcomes will help everyone think beyond the day-to-day challenges and remember the purpose of committing to change. 

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 developing a customer-centric culture.

Dear Ritz-Carlton: Convince Senior Management?

Dear Ritz-Carlton: How can you change culture if senior leadership is not there? How do you convince senior management that change is needed if they think they’re doing okay already and that change would only interfere with work?

The above question is from an attendee atSymposium: Your Journey to Service Excellencein April. Answer from Diana Oreck, Former Vice President at The Ritz-Carlton Leadership Center:


Diana Oreck PhotoUnfortunately, you cannot have culture change if senior leadership is not present and there is pushback. Senior leadership cannot abandon their responsibility in driving the organizational culture and service strategy. The moment people agree to be leaders and have “Manager” in their title, optics come into play. By optics, I do not mean eyeglasses. I mean, the moment we become a Manager, we are being watched by employees. Employees expect us to “walk the talk.” Leadership has to consistently role model the change they seek.

Organizational culture change takes a great deal of work. Senior leadership must be passionately committed for culture change to work. I have seen instances where senior management has been convinced by data. If there is a compelling enough reason for the change and you can provide data that align culture, service and passion with results—such as profitability or error reduction, then senior leadership will see the WIIFM (What’s In It For Me?) and support and role model the culture change. 

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.