Is the Customer Really Always Right? A Hotel Company Invests in its Employees First

Posted by Dawn Marie Bailey

What if you turned the service philosophy “the customer is always right” on its head and considered your employees first? What would happen to your customer service?

Employees first (or ladies and gentlemen first) is a consideration of two-time Baldrige Award recipient Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company, LLC, where inspired, engaged employees are considered one of the most critical investments, said Valori Borland, Corporate Director, Culture Transformation, at the Ritz-Carlton, speaking at a recent Baldrige Quest for Excellence conference.

“We know without a shadow of a doubt [that] you cannot have excellent customer engagement without having passionate advocates who work with you,” said Borland. “We support. We invest. We grow. We develop. We want to inspire [employees] each and every day.”

She added that the two most important things you can say to an employee are “Thank you” and “That means a lot.”

And in the hospitality industry, where the average rate of employee turnover is 80%, retaining employees, especially in ultra-competitive markets such as Miami and New York City, is a challenge. But Borland said the Ritz-Carlton averages an employee turnover rate of just 20%; “a lot of that comes back to culture.”

Growth of the Culture

In the early 1980s, Borland said, the Ritz-Carlton started as three U.S. hotels and now has 140 properties in more than 30 countries. The growth is both in number and type: the Ritz-Carlton now offers properties that include destination clubs and year-round residences. The hotel company has had to evolve its culture and processes through different elements of the hospitality industry, different regions of the United States, and even different countries, she said.

What the hotel company attributes to its success to be able to grow and consistently deliver service excellence are four pillars: (1) the Gold Standards (made up of components: the Credo, motto, three steps of service, employee promise, 6th diamond, and 12 service values), (2) alignment across properties, (3) its human resources key processes, and (4) the delivery of unique experiences (e.g., global flavor and celebrity chefs), said Borland.

“As we have grown and as customers adapt and evolve, and their needs have changed, we had to stay relevant,” she said. “We have a commitment to quality. This actually came out of us going through the first Malcolm Baldrige assessment. We had to quickly be able to figure out how do we align and create consistent messaging.”

Borland said the Ritz-Carlton’s original vision, written by former president Horst Schultz, was to create a world-class, luxury hotel company on the premise that we are ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentleman. That motto has not changed over the years.

She said, in the late 1990s, the employee survey revealed that the ladies and gentlemen wanted an internal statement of their beliefs, so employees and leaders, across global properties, held roundtables to seek feedback, and the employee promise was developed. As an employee, Borland said, “I was so blown away that they wanted me, along with my colleagues, to be a part of the writing and co-creating and collaborating [on the employee promise]. . . . When you involve your employees in the planning of the work that affects them directly, wow.”

Borland said the 12 service values all start with the word “I” followed by an action word; for example, “I am proud to be Ritz-Carlton” and “I am creating.” She said putting the “I” before the values indicates ownership and pride. She added that the service values support the mystique of the brand, as well as the emotional engagement of the Ritz-Carlton’s ladies and gentlemen.

Recruiting, Hiring, Training

As a luxury brand, the Ritz-Carlton looks to serve the top 1% of the travelling market, a pretty specific niche, said Borland. So, the hotel company needs to recruit the same caliber of employees to be able to deliver to this market. She said the Gold Standards that encompass the Ritz-Carlton’s values and philosophy are the foundation of the culture, but the employees make the magic happen.

“You can’t just add on when renovating a building; you have to go back to the foundation, make sure it’s solid, reinforce it before building out,” she said. “To consistently deliver service excellence around the world is all about human resources—our systems behind the smiles. . . . How do we inspire and engage on a regular basis daily, at all times?”

Prospective employees go through four to five interviews, with team members often involved in decisions, before they are selected to join the Ritz-Carlton, said Borland. The hotel company is not solely looking at skills and knowledge. “We are looking for individuals who possess the behavior and have the DNA of who we are already as a company,” she said. “Can [the employee] consistently bring [the Credo] to life and energize it for every guest, every day? I cannot teach you to smile and to care and to be genuine and authentic.”

Before they can start their jobs, employees must complete two-and-a-half days of orientation training, which includes content from senior leaders, human resources, sales, marketing, finance, etc., about the Ritz-Carlton culture, said Borland. On their first day, the ladies and gentlemen receive their very own Credo cards. The Gold standards, of which the Credo are part, “are known, owned, and energized with every guest during every interaction at all times,” she said.

After orientation, each employee receives a learning coach to guide them, and on his/her 30th day, each receives an operational certification. On the 31st day, another day of orientation, called day 21, allows coaches to check in with employees. Day 365 is celebrated, but it is also used as an “emotional rehire”; the employee is asked, “Are you still committed to being a part of this organization?”

Ladies and gentlemen at the Ritz-Carlton are empowered to handle service recovery for immediate employee resolution. Borland said employees have the tools and the training to make decisions. She suggests, “Allow them to run your business as if it’s their own. You would be surprised as what that does accomplish. Some say if you give too much power to employees, they might give away or comp too much, but If you teach them, set the examples, and provide the guidelines, you may be surprised that they probably make better decisions” than others who are not on the front-line.

To ensure consistent messaging, across the globe in every Ritz-Carlton property, at the beginning of each shift, every day, 40,000 employees go through the daily lineup, which reinforces messaging about what’s new, a featured topic, a value, a component of the brand, etc. On Mondays and Fridays, ladies and gentlemen share “wow stories”: examples where they have gone above and beyond to deliver exceptional service to guests.

“We are always asking how can we be better. What are we doing that really creates the brand loyalty?”

And for the Ritz-Carlton, that brand loyalty starts with the ladies and gentlemen of its workforce.

Who sees the investment in your organization, the employees or the customers?

Posted in Baldrige Award Process, Baldrige Award Recipients, Baldrige Criteria, Business, Customer Focus, Performance Results, Workforce Focus | Leave a comment

From Take Work to Make Work

Posted by Harry Hertz, the Baldrige Cheermudgeon

For me, it started with e-mail on my laptop computer, progressed to cell phones, and then to text messages. When I accepted my first managerial position, I took work home with me and did it after my children were in bed. Yes, I worked long hours; yes I voluntarily took work home; yes I was a workaholic; but no, I did not seriously compromise my time with family at night, on weekends, and certainly not on vacation.

Then e-mail came along and my wife started taking pictures of me answering e-mail on my laptop during vacations. She tried to make sure she captured the pretty scenery around me. Next, came cell phones and she captured me doing e-mail “on the go’, which was followed by cell phone calls nights, weekends, and, of course, on vacations. Finally text messages came along, seeming to demand instantaneous replies. We, as a society, have evolved from an environment where people chose to take work home, to one where some external force is “making us” work at all hours in all locations, or feel guilty or worse yet, receive retribution.

According to a 2016 Adobe survey,  U.S. white collar workers send 19 work emails and read 29 emails on average over a weekend. Seventy-nine percent check work e-mail while on vacation and nearly 25% say they constantly check work e-mail on vacation. In January 2017, France enacted a law requiring companies with over 50 employees to establish hours when employees should not send or answer e-mails. In a move to better balance work and home-life, German automobile manufacturer Daimler has an auto-delete option for e-mails sent while a person is on vacation. The auto-delete is accompanied by an out-of-office response that states the e-mail is being deleted and giving an alternate contact.

As a leader, I always had a philosophy in organizations I led that family comes first. It was an unstated core value. And in these organizations, we treated each other like family and checked in with each other like family, always sensitive to the needs of each other’s “real family.”

But today how family-friendly are we really, if family time is always subject to e-mails, cell phone calls, and text messages? We regularly read that letting employees put family first is good for the employee and good for business. It builds workforce engagement and loyalty. It leads to people going the extra mile for the organization.

The Baldrige Criteria for Performance Excellence ask about the drivers of workforce engagement in your organization and how you support your workforce via benefits and policies. How often do we include true family-friendliness in our list of drivers, benefits, and policies, even in family-friendly organizations? Maybe it is time to be more explicit in our organizations about what our commitment to family friendliness means. And maybe that means a policy about frequency of being on-line and accessible nights, weekends, and during vacations. Would it improve overall productivity and workforce engagement? What do you think?

Posted in Baldrige Criteria, Leadership, Uncategorized, Workforce Focus | Tagged , , , | 3 Comments

Innovative Leadership Behaviors, Customized for You

Posted by Dawn Marie Bailey

How can you develop as an innovative leader?

A recent Harvard Business Review article by Katherine Graham-Leviss looked at “The 5 Skills that Innovative Leaders Have in Common, and the author provides behavioral suggestions for those skills.

But how do you make the suggestions work for you and your unique leadership situation? The answer may be found in the Baldrige Excellence Framework, which, as a holistic framework, can guide you to customize how you adapt and develop innovative competencies for your organization.

According to analysis by XBInsight, which surveyed 5,000 leaders across a wide range of industries, every CEO should be cultivating the following behaviors:

  • Manage Risk: Leaders should benchmark best practices, set time limits for analyzing situations, and plan for risks as part of strategic alternatives.
  • Demonstrate Curiosity: Leaders should create a learning environment or community to encourage the free flow of new knowledge and perspectives, study patterns of behavior, and make time for developmental activities.
  • Lead Courageously: Leaders should identify and confront risks, share feelings and opinions with clarity and conviction, and learn to recognize and appreciate leadership qualities in others.
  • Seize Opportunities: Leaders should learn to see advantages in changing situations and new developments, consider past opportunities, and encourage collaboration with employees.
  • Maintain a Strategic Business Perspective: Leaders should create and/or participate in a cross-functional committee, perform a knowledge-based SWOT analysis, involve people throughout the organization in the strategic planning process, and develop multi-year strategy to grow the business.

How do you know on which risk or best practice or learning environment or developmental activity, etc., to focus based on your leadership needs and the needs of your organization? That’s where the Baldrige Excellence Framework comes in.

To borrow a line from Baldrige community member Ron Schulingkamp, in the blog “Baldrige and ISO QMS: A Complementary Relationship,” “The Baldrige framework provides a holistic, systems-based business model that builds alignment across the organization by making connections between and reinforcing organizational systems, processes, strategy, and results. . . . The Baldrige framework is like the blueprint of a building.” It helps you determine where the specific systems within the building should go or be adjusted–and for the purposes of leadership development, which behaviors to develop and how.

A leader can use the Baldrige framework–and especially category 1 of its Criteria–to determine the behaviors that work for the organization—based on a holistic, systems-based business model. For example, within the Criteria, item 1.1 probes intelligent risk; items 4.2 and 5.2 probe organizational learning and workforce and leader development; item 4.1 probes continuous improvement and innovation aligned with suppliers, partners, and collaborators; item 2.1 probes strategy considerations; and item 2.2 probes resource allocation, workforce plans, and performance measures and projections.

The Baldrige framework can serve as a blueprint for a leader to probe personal and organizational needs and adjust and adapt innovative competencies to build that leadership for those needs.

How do you focus your leadership development, with an eye toward cultivating behaviors that support innovation and your organization’s needs?

Posted in Baldrige Criteria, Business, Leadership, Operations Focus, Performance Results | Leave a comment

Where Business Students Use the Baldrige Framework to Solve Real-World Problems

By Christine Schaefer

When Tamieka Jameson graduated with her doctorate in business administration (DBA) recently, she also celebrated the completion of a consulting capstone in which she helped a nonprofit organization address a strategic challenge it was facing. Jameson used the Baldrige Excellence Framework as a key resource for her research and recommendations to help the organization.

Jameson is the first student to complete a new Baldrige framework-based capstone option within the DBA program of Walden University, an accredited university that is headquartered in Minneapolis, MN. The consulting capstone that Jameson helped pilot for Walden’s online doctoral program was designed to provide her with direct experience in guiding a nonprofit organization to solve a key business problem by applying the core concepts and Criteria for Performance Excellence of the Baldrige framework. Jameson’s capstone project focused on how to improve processes and results to support both the short- and long-term success of the organization.

In a recent interview for this blog, Jameson told me she was chosen for the pilot based on her scholarship and commitment to bringing about positive social change in the business and nonprofit sectors. Prior to enrolling, Jameson had worked for four years as a contractor for a U.S. military organization based in the Washington, D.C., area. She had previously been enrolled in another doctoral program, which she did not complete, but many of her credits transferred. She continued working full-time while taking four additional classes online and conducting her capstone research in the Walden program.

head shot

Dr. Tammy Jameson

In describing the educational experience, Jameson stressed the dual roles she played: “I served as both a researcher and a consultant, whereas most students in doctoral programs would serve just as researchers,” she said, clarifying that she was not paid as a student. “Participating in Walden’s DBA Consulting Capstone helped groom me for what was beyond graduation.”


The Research Experience

Jameson conducted her capstone project within a 40-week timeline set by the college. Among criteria for interested organizations to voluntarily participate in the consulting capstone program, they must be in business for at least five years. Jameson was assigned to a small nonprofit that supports youth performance arts within a mid-western city.

“The founder is passionate about social change—that drives everything she does,” said Jameson in describing the appeal of the organization to her as a researcher. Located within a community with many other arts organizations, Jameson’s client/research subject faced the challenge of “competing for the same donors.” Jameson used the Baldrige Criteria for Performance Excellence as a foundation to guide her research. “I embedded my research questions in all seven categories of the Criteria for Performance Excellence,” she said.

“What I love the most about the Criteria is category 7,” she added. “Up to that point, I felt like I was just collecting information. But when I got to category 7, it was like a big ‘aha’ moment.”

For example, she said the results data she compiled on the organization’s participant retention rates (shown in the graphic below) indicate the effectiveness of senior leaders’ processes to leverage the organization’s core competency to attract and retain key stakeholders. According to Jameson, senior leaders’ process effectiveness is demonstrated through increased student retention rates over a recent three-year period. As participants become engaged in the overall instructional program, they tend to remain enrolled and meet achievement goals, she noted.

In compiling results to help the organization better understand its performance, Jameson said she “conducted data comparisons for both my client organization and its competitors.” When her client organization did not have data she sought, she was able to use online resources to fill in gaps.

Jameson also described the collaborative way in which she proceeded in drafting her capstone report: “Along the way, as I would draft a section, I would let the organization review it to make sure what I captured was accurate,” she said. “Then when I completed the draft, I shared it with the organization for another review.”

Support from a Baldrige Mentor

Jameson stressed that she benefited greatly from the support of the Walden faculty member who chaired her doctoral research, Dr. Jan Garfield. Garfield has been an active volunteer for many years at the national and state levels as a Baldrige examiner. She also served for more than three years as the chair of the board of directors for the U.S. Senate Productivity and Quality Award, a Baldrige-based program serving organizations in Virginia and Washington, D.C.

As Jameson’s mentor in the Walden program, Garfield provided support through weekly phone calls and “constant emails,” Jameson recalled. “She guided me through the Baldrige framework and helped connect the dots in my understanding.”

“I’ve learned so much from her and am so appreciative for this opportunity,” Jameson continued. “She went way beyond the call of duty—I don’t think I would get that anywhere else.”

Garfield joins Jameson at her presentation at the university’s Research Symposium.

Garfield shared, “It was a learning journey for Tamieka and her client organization, and it was transformative. They emerged from that experience as completely different leaders in their respective roles due to the power of the Baldrige framework.”

Speaking of Jameson, Garfield said, “Watching her evolve and guide her client organization was amazing.”

She added, “The Baldrige Criteria’s systems perspective is a powerful tool in the hands of doctorally trained professionals. One of the things they see is that the framework is going to help them analyze the connective tissue of an organization. When students in the Walden DBA consulting capstone are asked to explore a business problem [of an organization], they find they must look at all areas of performance. The framework gives them insight into how leaders think within a systems perspective—or not.”

Findings for Future Improvement

The recommendations Jameson provided in her capstone project focus on strategies for the arts organization to better retain donors through improved communications.

“If an organization constantly lets donors know what it’s doing in the community, the donor knows where its money is going and is more likely to keep giving,” Jameson pointed out. “My client organization was doing this already, but I helped senior leaders identify the need for lessons-learned processes. I was able to help senior leaders formalize organizational processes to identify additional communication strategies to retain donors and attract new donors.”

A final version of Jameson’s report with all her recommendations was printed at the beginning of the summer, and the organization received it before her graduation. “Nothing included in my study will be a surprise to the organization,” said Jameson, “because we’ve already discussed everything. I was very transparent throughout the process.”

Other Graduate Programs Using the Baldrige Framework

In making the Baldrige Excellence Framework a basis for DBA students’ new consulting capstone option, Walden University joins a number of institutions around the country that have seen value in teaching the Baldrige framework to the nation’s future business and other organizational leaders. A 2014 blog post on incorporating study of the Baldrige framework in collegiate programs noted as examples Creighton University’s online interdisciplinary doctorate program on leadership; Post University’s bachelor of science degree programs in the Malcolm Baldrige School of Business (in Waterbury, CT); and the University of Cincinnati’s master’s degree in health administration (within its business college).

Following are four more examples of ways that graduate degree programs in business and health care administration (listed in alphabetical order) are currently using the Baldrige framework as a key resource or focus for studies:

1. Evangel University in Columbia, MO: The master’s degree program in organizational leadership “is aligned with the Baldrige Model for assessing effective organizations,” with “courses addressing each of the components,” according to the description online. Students “complete and present projects related to their organizations with high potential for making improvements within them.” For instance, a course description for “The Effective Organization” states that it includes “examination of the Baldrige National Quality Program’s Criteria for Performance Excellence and how it is used to assess and improve organizational performance” and that “students will identify an organization for applied research and a mentor within the corporation who will assist them in obtaining access to the information needed to complete the assignment.”

2. Ferris University in Big Rapids, MI: The master’s degree program in business administration studies the Baldrige framework, as referenced in course descriptions such as “Introduction to Performance Metric Systems” (which covers “the interrelationship between the Balanced Scorecard and Baldrige Performance Excellence Program Criteria as performance metric systems”) and “Customer and Market Systems and Analysis” (which explores “Category 3 of the Baldrige Performance Excellence Program Criteria”).

3. The University of Missouri’s Missouri Training Institute in Columbia, MO, notes that its course on the Baldrige Criteria for Performance Excellence is “applicable to all organizations regardless of size or mission.” The description states, “The Baldrige Criteria for Performance Excellence is the recognized standard for creating world-class organizations. The Criteria has been successfully implemented by for-profit, not-for-profit, government, educational and health care organizations.” The class covers Baldrige success stories, the Criteria’s system perspective, the Criteria’s core values, and interpreting the Criteria, among other topics of study.

Readers: If you are teaching about or otherwise using the Baldrige framework in your education institution or other work, please share your story with us! Please note that our purpose is to provide examples of how the Baldrige Excellence Framework can be used to help organizations of any sector and size strengthen performance for long-term success; no endorsement of any organization or its services or products is implied.

Posted in Baldrige Criteria, Baldrige Examiners, Education, Nonprofit | Tagged | Leave a comment

Five Ways to Provide the Best Assessment Possible

Posted by Dawn Marie Bailey

How can you provide the best assessment possible?

First, you need to understand what/whom you are assessing. For the Baldrige Program, in alignment with its mission, that means understanding the organization being assessed, either for a Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award or simply for feedback to help an organization be more competitive and sustainable.

Based on the voice of the customer, the program has made several recent improvements and added offerings to help ensure that Baldrige Award applicants and other participating organizations get the best feedback possible. And, in some cases, the improvements are intended specifically to help Baldrige examiners better understand the applicant organizations they are assessing, including their business models; their relationships with parent organizations; and the impact of their size or sector.

Organizational Profile

The first aspect of conducting a value-added Baldrige assessment is understanding the Organizational Profile, which is the Criteria preface within the Baldrige Excellence Framework. The Organizational Profile sets the context for an assessment because it asks thoughtful questions that explore the unique aspects of an organization, including about its environment, relationships, competition, strategic context, and performance improvement system. The Organizational Profile is not scored by examiners during an award assessment; instead, it is used to help examiners understand what is important to the organization. In fact, for many organizations, completing an Organizational Profile is their first self-assessment.

Independent Review Calls

An example of a recent improvement are Independent Review calls that occur at the very beginning of the Baldrige Award assessment process. Each Baldrige Award application is assigned to a team of examiners. The team leader calls the applicant organization’s official contact point to ask some very specific questions:

  1. Out of all the information in the Organizational Profile, what are the most critical factors that impact the success and sustainability of your organization?
  2. Is there anything you consider unusual about your environment or business model that you think might be difficult for the examiner team to understand?

These questions allow the organization to explain and clarify what it feels the examiner team needs to understand for its assessment. The team leader may also ask other clarifying questions that arose after the team read the organization’s Baldrige application.

Just-in-Time Training

To be part of the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award Board of Examiners, examiners must complete two to three days of training (an extra day is added for new and senior/alumni examiners), prework, and online training modules (as appropriate to their experience level). Examiners also may receive just-in-time training based on the sector to which their applicant organization belongs or the size of the organization. For example, examiners assigned to applications from large organizations/systems may receive guidance concerning the evaluation of complex applicants—where the deployment and integration of processes and approaches often have unique challenges, where results typically vary across the organization, and where the reporting of segmented results may be difficult within a 50-page application limit. Similarly, examiners assigned to small applicants (500 or fewer employees) consider other aspects for a fair evaluation.

Baldrige Site Visit Experience and Baldrige Collaborative Assessment

Beyond the Baldrige Award process, the Baldrige Program offers more face-to-face assessments to give organizations immediate feedback and new insights. The Baldrige Site Visit Experience may be offered to organizations in the Baldrige Award process that do not score high enough to receive a traditional site visit. Instead, a team of examiners conducts the Baldrige Site Visit Experience, where, during a face-to-face assessment, examiners can share with the organization what evidence they are looking for, why they are looking for it (using tools like the Criteria and application to help the applicant understand the assessment), and how the evidence they find might impact Baldrige scoring.

The Baldrige Collaborative Assessment also includes a site visit, which is collaboratively planned with the examiner team and organization. Together, the team and organization identify key strengths and opportunities based on the Baldrige Criteria, with immediate feedback delivered while the examiners are still on-site. (Note: Although both the Baldrige Site Visit Experience and Baldrige Collaborative Assessment include on-site assessments and feedback, neither offers prescriptive guidance on next steps.)

How do you provide the best assessment possible? Getting to know an organization is something that the Baldrige Program and its examiners have been continuously improving for almost thirty years.

More information on the offerings above can be found on the Baldrige website. Please feel free to share other ideas you may have on how to provide the very best assessments and feedback.

Posted in Baldrige Award Process, Baldrige Criteria, Business, Customer Focus, Leadership, Performance Results, Small Business | 1 Comment