I have been on a bit of a hiatus lately, but that does not mean I have stopped moving, thinking... or writing.
It is common to find a copy of the bible in the drawer of the bedside cabinet at most hotels. Almost always, I ignore this. Partly because I don't have any affinity for the bible but also, like most travellers, I tend to overlook and treat this as simply part of the hotel room fittings (apologies to the folks at Gideon International).
So as I was searching for some writing material in my Marriott hotel room in Shanghai, instead of a bible, I stumbled upon a book titled "Spirit to Serve - Our Stories" . The book basically showcased the lives and experiences of various hotel employees from all over the world, each summarized with a caption and a 1 to 2 page writeup.
I am not usually fond of reading corporate marketing material but ended up flipping through the pages. Inside were interesting stories about Marriott's employees - from hotel managers, room attendants, concierge staff, chefs to butlers and bellboys / bellmen. One of those stories included a head bartender who moved from Cambodia to Washington DC more than 30 years ago and he described how many memorable friendships were forged with the returning guests. There was also a story about a mother of four and how she juggled work at the hotel and family time at home.
I found many of these stories intriguing and ended up going through most of them. Towards the end of the book, I came across this afterword which I thought was quite meaningful and that it should have been placed right up front:
Continually challenge your team to do better.
Take good care of your employees, and they'll take good care of your customers, and the customers will come back.
Celebrate your people's successes, not your own.
Know what you're good at and mine those competencies for all you're worth.
Do it and do it now. Err on the side of taking action.
Communicate. Listen to your customers, associates and competitors.
See and be seen. Get out of your office, walk around, make yourself visible and accessible.
Success is in the details.
It's more important to hire people with the right qualities than with specific experience.
Customer needs may vary, but their bias for quality never does.
Eliminate the cause of a mistake. Don't just clean it up.
View every problem as an opportunity to grow.
I have stayed at my hotel in Hong Kong for nearly three years now. Truth be told, the guest-facing staff hasn't changed that much. In fact, most of them recognise me, even if I had gone on an overseas trip for a long time and haven't been back for weeks. I know this because they always pass me my courier packages as soon as they see me step in through the main lobby entrance.
In fact, some time back, I heard that it is quite common to see hotel employees working with the same hotel for more than twenty years. I don't think many of them are paid top dollar, and the skills for the service industry are somewhat transferrable. On the contrary, for many white-collared jobs, it is relatively more commonplace to see people moving around only after a few years.
So it got me thinking: Assuming we say that Marriott is a successful brand / corporation, if it's not about the money, then what keeps these people working at the same place for years and even decades?
Is there a hidden incentive scheme that I am unaware of?
Or is it the familiarity of the environment? The social support that comes with forging familial relationships with colleagues? A genuine sense of satisfaction from a customer service role? A good line manager? Or is it mostly just a lack of better options out there?
For corporations that are religiously fixated on pursuing performance and the bottom-line results, have they sacrificed some aspects of their corporate branding and employee loyalty in the process of being successful?
"Today's analysts will be tomorrow's managers. Today's managers will be tomorrow's Vice Presidents. Today's Vice Presidents will be tomorrow's CEOs and business owners."