Hotel Online  Special Report

Great Service Grows From Great Praise


by Richard K. Hendrie, February 2005
“Praise the tiny qualities you want to grow.”
David Deida, The Way of the Superior Man

Anyone who manages a retail business faces a dilemma. The very talents and skills that allow you to run a profitable business: successful processes to achieve specific objectives, management of information, relentless attention to business detail, and, of course, ability to deliver profits are the same ones that ruin a culture of service. Poison it, in fact. 

I can hear the echo of discontent rumbling through the ether, “Is the man insane? How else do you manage the business?” You must learn to manage feeling, for feeling fuels service.  And, unfortunately, feeling is not numbers driven.

Think about it. What are qualities that make for great hospitality? Warmth. A commitment to serve. Intuition to read customer moods and anticipate their needs. The joy of sharing an experience. Relentless attention to how people are feeling. Spontaneity. As we are in the memory-creation business, then, by definition, we are in the feeling-creation business. Operator’s who get this will see lower turnover, stronger guest loyalty, greater return business and higher sales.

Are there any rules that guide this difficult road? You bet. Ritz Carlton, during the years they were winning the Baldridge Award, corralled and directed feelings through the clear expression of purpose. Every associate understood what their purpose was in building the bigger, more magnificent picture of hospitality that the Ritz represented. I don’t suggest that the culture has changed since it was sold, I just know how they did it in the old days.  Their former President and COO, Horst Schultz said, in every pre-opening orientation for a new hotel, “We will orient you to who we are – our heart, our soul, our goals, our vision, our dreams, so you can join us and not just work for us. You have the right to know our hopes, our dreams and our goals*”

Their Human Resource Chief followed up, “We’ve created an environment where there is no fear of retribution, an environment where employees understand…they must not only fulfill functions but have a purpose. One of the purposes is to improve the system…People don’t come to work to do a bad job – they come to work to do a good job. So it doesn’t make sense for us to punish people if something goes wrong……Our employees are taught…that there is nothing more exciting than fixing a defect or a mistake.”*

What technique, then, must a manager use to manage ‘feelings’? Praise, supported by the reiteration of your purpose. Praise feeds feeling and allows you to develop the very skills you wish to instill in the staff. Reveal your hopes and dreams that your team will present an experience that leaves the guest in awe and wonder. Remind your associates why they are there. 

Information kills feeling when presented in an mechanistic way. When leading your service staff, live in a perpetual ‘glass is half full’ world. Praise specific staff in specific terms. General praise to a group is a little like shopping at the $1.99 evening gown bin, yeah they’re dresses, but no one is going to feel like royalty.

Praise areas of your staff’s performance that need improvement. To someone who sometimes might be a little dour say, “I love your smile. It lights up the room.” That is guaranteed to get more smiles from the person than. “You frown too much. Lighten up.”  Focus on feeling, not information exchange. 

Praise frequently. To that same-smile challenged person, recognize their efforts. “Did you see how that guest reacted to your smile? It was as if you took a thousand pounds off his back. Beautiful job.” You may have ‘targets’ to shorten ticket times or improve housekeeping quality. Most managers use the mechanistic information sharing approach. “Our ticket times were too slow today. Get it together.” This does not get the same results as, “George, I saw you get that table of business people their food in record time. They were on a mission and you helped them achieve it.” Great service is as fast or as slow as the guest needs it to be. Can your staff tell the difference between guests who want more time to those that don’t? If the establishments I go to are any indication, the answer is no. 

Management by praise does not preclude tough standards. That’s where the evocation of purpose on a daily basis comes in. Excellence is derived through eliminating defects. Everyone wants to know what you want to achieve and in what manner you intend to achieve it. The point here is you raise your staff’s performance levels in this tricky area of feeling only by using techniques to which an associate’s sense of value responds positively .

Where do you practice this obsessive praising? Praise everywhere: to specific people in the moment and at pre and post shift meetings. Ah hah, you knew there was a catch!  Even here there are opportunities to blow it. Managers who run pre-shift meeting tend to focus on sharing facts. Almost none run post shift meetings and those that do consider it a post-mortem. 

Feeling creation does not respond to information sharing. Anyone squirming out there had better get used to it. A great manager shift gears from a facts and numbers driven world to the trust filled atmosphere of acknowledgement and praise or they empower someone else to do it. And by empowering that person, they support them.  We’re in the feeling creation business achieved by a staff of people whose skills at expressing and managing feelings ‘purposefully’ need to be admired and developed. Does it sound impossible? How do you balance profit, percentages, goals and objectives with trust, warmth, intuition and love? Start with the recognition that the skills to achieve one are not the same to achieve the other. Then go and find someone doing something right and praise him or her.  Go on, because when you do, guests will see it, become more loyal and tell others. It’s a beautiful sight to see.

* Harvard Business School Case Study revised 7/02


 Rick Hendrie
Chief Experience Officer

Also See: Is it ROI, Return On Investment or ROL, Return on Loyalty / Richard K. Hendrie / January 2005
Brand Enhancement: Invite Surprise and Delight Into Your Operation / Rick Hendrie / November 2004
Your Experience Is The Brand; Good Hospitality, Food and Service Are Merely Entry Points into Being Competitive / Rick Hendrie / November 2004

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