What comes to mind when you think about what separates exceptional organizations from the rest? Is it long term prosperity? Financial success? Fantastic customer service?
Well, Merriam Webster defines exceptional as being unusually good or uncommon.
That said, in order for an organization to be exceptional, it must not only be extremely good at what it does but it must also excel in unique ways that stand above the rest. Based on that definition, truly exceptional organizations are a part of an exclusive group because they are the few that are able to find one-of-a-kind ways to succeed in order to set themselves apart from others.
In many ways, the world renowned Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company is a part of that exclusive group because it has set the bar for world-class service and has turned a vision into a culture. Unlike many organizations that never see their vision surface into a reality due to a lack of effective communication or reinforcement of that vision, Ritz-Carlton is able to express its vision and values in a simple, yet functional way that is incorporated into the daily lives of its employees.
At the foundation of the Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company are the “Gold Standards”, which embrace the values and philosophy by which the organization operates. These “Gold Standards” include the “Credo”, “Motto”, “Three Steps of Service”, “Service Values”, “Sixth Diamond” and “Employee Promise”. Each standard is relatively short in length but rich in meaning.
As Joseph Michelli stated in his book The New Gold Standard: 5 Leadership Principles for Creating a Legendary Customer Experience Courtesy of the Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company, “these Gold Standards define the company, differentiate it from the competition, and serve as a beacon for sustainable service excellence.”
To see the Ritz-Carlton Gold Standards, click here.
Although each one of these standards expresses a desire for excellent service, it is the way in which leadership at Ritz-Carlton clearly defines and communicates these standards that allows the passion for service to become a culture and a reality within the organization. In other words, it is not merely the Gold Standards that makes Ritz-Carlton an exceptional organization, it is how they implement the Gold Standards that truly makes them exceptional.
Below are the five unique ways Ritz-Carlton is able to turn their Gold Standards into a culture, and in turn, an exceptional organization.
Employee orientation and Day 21:
Leadership at Ritz-Carlton utilizes an extremely organized onboarding process in an effort to properly prepare each new employee. Before a new employee can begin their first day of work at Ritz-Carlton, they must attend an orientation.
Under no circumstances may anyone begin working without attending the orientation first. This reassures that each new employee receives the same amount of attention. It is also vital because it is the moment when new employees are formally introduced to the Gold Standards and how they should be used in order to further the Ritz-Carlton vision. Senior management even attends the orientations, which helps let the new employees know that they are special and have been chosen to make a difference.
In addition to the specialized focus on orientation, Ritz-Carlton also does a follow-up after the first three weeks, called “Day 21”, in order to declare the employee certified within their job based on their alignment with the Gold Standards. Day 21 is also an opportunity to allow the employees to open up about any problems or suggestions they may have.
Whereas many organizations may have a tendency to rush the onboarding process for various reasons, Ritz-Carlton treats it with utmost importance and does not budge when it comes to properly preparing newcomers so that they can recognize and commit to the culture of service.
Credo Card and Daily Line-Up:
One way Ritz-Carlton is able to keep its employees actively engaged is through the “Credo Card”. The Credo Card is a trifold pocket card which includes some of the Gold Standards and is included as a part of the uniform for Ritz-Carlton employees.
This is perhaps Ritz-Carlton’s most unique and most talked about approach to enhancing the culture and operating with a single-minded purpose. The reason this tactic has received so much attention is because it shows how serious Ritz-Carlton is when it comes to developing a culture of service. After all, how many organizations go that far in an effort to remind their employees of their vision?
For many organizations, employees will hear about the mission statement or company vision during the onboarding process and then on rare occasions afterwards, which unfortunately will result in a lack of commitment to that vision. For Ritz-Carlton however, the Credo Card provides every employee an opportunity to be reminded of the Ritz-Carlton vision every single day. Even though many employees eventually know each of the Gold Standards by heart, the presence of the Credo Card provides a way for employees to be reminded of their purpose and their value when they are having a bad day.
Another way Ritz-Carlton creates lasting employee engagement is through the “Daily Line-Up”. The Ritz-Carlton leaderships compares the Daily Line-Up to players huddling up in a football game. Just as a huddle in a football game allows the players to prepare for the next play, Line-Ups at Ritz-Carlton hotels provide the employees a chance to prepare for their day at work. The Daily Line-Up usually only lasts about 15 minutes but it is crucial for employees to start the day off right.
The Daily Line-Up serves as a chance for employees to transition from personal life to work. The leadership at Ritz-Carlton recognizes that each employee may be dealing with a variety of issues in their personal life and that it is important to give them a chance to switch gears before their workday starts. Line-Ups also provide employees an opportunity to fine-tune their grasp of the Gold Standards. It is encouraged that employees discuss one of the Gold Standards in each Daily Line-Up and for someone to share an example of an incident in which he or she was able to carry out that Gold Standard. Finally, Line-Ups allow employees to collaborate as a team in order to improve communication and organization.
Thanks to the Credo Card and the Daily Line-Up, Ritz-Carlton is able to immerse the Gold Standards into the daily lives of every employee. This daily immersion ultimately serves as the foundation for the culture of service within the organization.
We all know how hard it can be to trust people sometimes. Well at Ritz-Carlton they make trusting people look easy by placing unlimited trust in their employees. Based on their policies and their track record, it makes sense to say that Ritz-Carlton probably puts more trust in their employees than any other organization.
Since employees at Ritz-Carlton are expected to create memorable experiences for guests, as well as own any problem that crosses their path, it helps if leadership can fully trust everyone. The first and only step in creating and maintaining that trust is respect.
Leadership at Ritz-Carlton displays the utmost respect to all employees, which is then imitated throughout the organization, which ultimately breeds unyielding trust. Leadership at Ritz-Carlton trusts their staff so much so that they came up with the astonishing idea to empower each employee the ability to spend up to $2,000 per guest per day to either resolve a problem immediately or to enhance a guest experience. This applies to all employees!
Now yes, it may seem blatantly irresponsible on the surface, but leadership at Ritz-Carlton discovered that their employees are extremely careful with the company’s money thanks to leadership conveying the importance of financial responsibility to all employees.
Leadership also realized that placing this unyielding trust in all of their employees would not only make each employee feel valuable but also empower them to go above and beyond when it comes to carrying out some of the service values in the Gold Standards. In most cases, employees do not even need to spend a large amount of money in order to solve a problem or enhance a guest’s experience. However, the purpose of the high amount of $2,000 is so that employees can have the luxury of taking initiative without having to seek permission from management first. As a result, employees are more capable and more inclined to create memorable experiences for guests.
Leadership that Walks the Talk:
According to John Maxwell, “people buy into the leader before they buy into the vision.” If this is true, then it comes as no surprise to see the people of Ritz-Carlton buying into the vision. Leadership at Ritz-Carlton is what began the ever-growing culture of service within the organization. In comparison to other organizations, the amount of time and effort that leadership at Ritz-Carlton pours into the vision and the people far exceeds the norm. The effort that is shown by leadership to staff does not go unseen and it is that effort that motivates the staff to emulate that effort for the guests.
In Michelli’s book about Ritz-Carlton, Vivian Deuschl, vice president of public relations for Ritz-Carlton, describes a remarkable experience she had one time with Simon Cooper, president of Ritz-Carlton. One day in a normal conversation, Vivian had mentioned that her back was hurting because she had a bad mattress at home. Simon never said anything but three days later a brand new mattress was delivered to Vivian’s house. It was Simon’s doing.
Vivian was amazed by what Simon had done, saying “how many people work for a company where the president really listens and cares enough to make that special effort?”
It just goes to show that there is genuine humility atop the leadership at Ritz-Carlton. The best part is that when leadership is able to walk the talk, everyone else in the organization recognizes it, respects it, appreciates it and emulates it.
Internal and External Training:
In most cases, successful organizations provide training programs to proactively equip their employees with the right tools for success. At Ritz-Carlton, leadership established an internally focused training center known as the global learning center, and an externally focused center known as the Leadership Center.
The global learning center adds to Ritz-Carlton’s pursuit of service excellence by offering employees specialized training to push for further understanding of some of the pivotal Gold Standards.
According to Michelli, “the legacy impact of Ritz-Carlton training ultimately lives in the impact the global learning center’s curriculum has on giving staff members the tools they need to creatively respond to customer needs and powerfully drive customer loyalty.”
The Ritz-Carlton Leadership Center was designed mainly due to popular demand from outside sources. People became aware of Ritz-Carlton’s incomparable success and simply wanted to learn how it was done. So, the Leadership Center was established and now people and businesses from around the world are able to learn directly from people at Ritz-Carlton about what goes on behind the scenes that contributes to their worldwide revered reputation.
The Leadership Center truly epitomizes the exceptionalism of Ritz-Carlton because it shows that other organizations want to take after their approach in achieving service excellence. If they weren’t truly exceptional then the Leadership Center would have never been necessary.
In many cases it does not take a whole lot of effort for an organization to become excellent or successful at what it does. What does require effort is to find a way to be exceptional.
Remember, to be exceptional is to be unusually good. Not good in an ordinary way. Not good in a predictable way. But good in a way that will set you apart from the rest, a way that is unpredictable and a way that will be remembered.
Just with the Gold Standards alone, Ritz-Carlton has the recipe for excellence. But it is with things like the employee orientation and Day 21, the Credo Card and Daily Line-Up, unyielding trust, leadership that walks the talk and internal and external training that makes Ritz-Carlton not just an excellent organization, but an exceptional organization.