“Before, I would go into a room and make sure it was clean. Now I look for an opportunity to WOW my guest.”
That statement came from a housekeeper at the Four Seasons Hotel in Hong Kong.
If hotel managers could get all their housekeepers on the same wavelength, it would be the ultimate competitive advantage. Imagine coordinating your employees in a push for new opportunities for growth and profitability.
Your employees are your most important source of innovative ideas, because they know more about the nuts and bolts of your company than most senior leaders do. These maids are closer to the customer experience than a vice president or regional manager will ever be.
This is not just about housekeepers, though; this is about everyone in your organization.
Four Seasons Hotels created Bluewater to give its 35,000 employees the tools and opportunity to originate ideas, pilot them and refine the guest experience. This program involves everyone from the general manager to valet parking staff.
The quote above came from a housekeeper who had gone through the program, which is guided by three essentials. Its mission is to give every employee a real sense of ownership:
- Be brave with your decisions. Take risks, and own your decisions.
- Greenhouse ideas. No idea is a bad idea. Every idea can be cultivated; managers want employees to feel comfortable bringing all ideas to the table.
- Share those greenhoused ideas: How can we adapt the program to other Four Seasons properties?
Starbucks is a prime example of this practice. One attendee at my New York workshop told how the employees embraced everyone who walked in. She said she counted seven times that they greeted customers by name.
Starbucks also created a branded program called “My Starbucks Idea” to encourage ideas for services. They not only deputized their employees, but also included their customers.
The greenhouse effect
The work environment should mirror the concept of a greenhouse. Ideas get tested, employees are on-boarded and developed, and the entire life cycle is adjusted to the workplace environment.
Creative solutions will not depend a few executives, because those at the top will have empowered the entire workforce to innovate and solve problems. These staffers, deputized as ambassadors, will become unstoppable in hatching new products or processes.
Involving employees and customers in this innovation process increases the likelihood of success; employees see firsthand the issues that must be addressed. When employees feel management is interested in their opinions, they’re likelier to feel they have a personal stake in the business. They’ll feel less like a cog in the machine and more like they’re steering the ship.
The new employee suggestion box
Soliciting employee feedback once meant putting a suggestion box near the watercooler. Often, no one had offered any ideas: Employees felt nothing would be done with them, so why bother?
Four Seasons and Starbucks, among others, have created a “Suggestion Box 2.0” approach. These programs put their workforce through a development process, thus bringing them all in concert forging their company’s mission.
These newly crowned brand ambassadors will unleash an unstoppable force that will deliver the ultimate competitive advantage.
Ron Thomas is managing director of Strategy Focused Group, based in Dubai. A version of this article first appeared on TLNT.