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A great book about how a great hotel does things that make you say, "Wow!"
on February 13, 2009
It seems like everyone who's ever stayed at a Ritz Carlton has a story to tell. I guess we just tell them to each other because this is the first book I've ever seen about the marvelous organization that is the Ritz.
In The New Gold Standard, Joseph Michelli does an excellent job of describing why the Ritz is an icon for great service. He starts with the story of the Ritz, from Cesar to the present. Then he tells the purpose of the book.
"The New Gold Standard is primarily intended to help managers, owners, and leaders understand the driving principles, processes, and practices that have generated unusual staff loyalty, world-class customer engagement, and significant brand equity for Ritz Carlton."
He does that and more. Besides the view from the top, Michelli gives us the view from behind the counter and other places at the frontline. He structures the book by using five key principles that he thinks can guide any business that wants to deliver consistent, world-class service.
Principle One, Define and Refine is the foundation. You can't expect it if you can't articulate it. You can't expect it all the time unless you make it part of the culture.
This is not simply the "Credo Card." Many companies have something similar. It's working the card into discussions and instructions. It's sharing the card with guests.
It's the motto: "Ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen." There's an old-world quaintness about the language, but there's no mistaking the meaning. People who work for the Ritz are "ladies and gentlemen." Their guests are "ladies and gentlemen," too.
There's attention to shared standards. Those include the Three Steps of Service and the 20 Basics.
One thing that makes Ritz special is that the application of all of those principles and rules is not rigid at all. And Ritz is always seeking ways to do them better.
Principle Two: Empower Through Trust. Ritz understands what many companies seeking "talent" do not and what many management theorists do not. Empowerment starts with making sure the right people are on board. That means "Select don't Hire."
Then pay attention to training, both to impart skills and as the carrier of culture. There are rituals, like celebrating service anniversaries that encourage people to talk about their service and the company.
Trust is vital. Ritz understands that trust is a matter of making and keeping promises. They also understand that trust and respect go hand in hand. The result is one of the most engaged workforces on the planet. They know this because they measure it, professionally and often.
This all brings us to empowerment. In many companies that's the word they use when they want you to "take risks." Ritz Carlton allows any staff member to spend up to $2000 per guest per day if, in their judgment, it needs to be done.
That doesn't encourage people to "take risks." Instead it does a much more effective thing. It allows staff members to make judgments and act on them without risk.
That brings me to my Ritz story. I was finishing up a book at the time and I had a speaking engagement at the Ritz Carlton in Philadelphia.
I decided that I could stay on at the hotel through the weekend and get the necessary writing done. It was a great spot for that, except for one thing.
The desk in my room was at a height for writing by hand. When I put my laptop on it and sat in the non-adjustable chair, my shoulders started to cramp after an hour or so.
As I was going out for my afternoon walk, one of the staff asked me if everything was alright. In passing, I mentioned the stiff shoulders and went on my way.
When I got back to my room, about an hour later, the standard chair had been replaced with an adjustable desk chair. I was much more productive that weekend.
Principle Three is: It's Not about You. Peter Drucker suggested that the way to success was to "focus on contribution." The Ritz takes that farther. They try to build their business on contribution to others, including guests and each other.
Frontline workers are the key. They are the hotel to the guest. You may never meet the General Manager, but you will certainly deal with staff at the desk, at the doors, and in the halls. Ritz knows they're the key to a great guest experience
Quality programs have a place here. But listening is the most important thing. As theologian Paul Tillich advises us: "Listening is the first act of love."
Principle Four is Deliver 'Wow!' Just about every company on the planet says they want to do this. They want to create what Ken Blanchard calls "Raving Fans." So why do so few companies do it?
The answer is simple. The Ritz can do it because it's done all those other things. They're clear about what they want. They select people who will fit, then spend time training, inculcating culture and empowering those people. When it's time to "deliver Wow!" most of the heavy lifting is done. It's easy.
Other companies want to jump over all that selecting and training stuff. They're not sure they can trust their people to make decisions on their own, so they don't really empower them to do so. You're not going to get a lot of wows out of that.
Principle Five is: Leave a Lasting Footprint. Michelli titled the first chapter in this section: "Aspire, Achieve and Teach."
What he doesn't say explicitly, but what I saw from his examples in the book, is that the Ritz sees training and supervision as two parts of the same process. It's how staff members learn every day what's important and how to do it.
But Ritz goes beyond that to find ways to bring lessons learned into the mainstream. They also find ways to be a good citizen. And, unlike many of the Corporate Social Responsibility advocates, they understand that both profit and individual choice are necessary.
This book does a great job of giving you a ground level view of how a great service organization works. It's a wonderful how-to guide if you want to create a similar service culture in your company. It shows you how to do things that are simple but not easy, long lasting but not quick, to become an organization that customers tell Wow! stories about.
Here's the second half of mine. Later that year, after the book was done, I was asked to speak to a group that was meeting at the Ritz Carlton in Aspen.
When I checked in, the clerk greeted me by name. He asked if I had stayed at that property before. When I said that I had not, he gave me a brief orientation. He asked if I had any special requests. I said, "No." It was all very nice and very polite, but not different from other top line hotels I've stayed at.
Then I went to my room. There, in front of the desk, was an adjustable office chair. I thought, "Wow!"
This review first appeared on my Three Star Leadership Blog.