Archive for August, 2009

Service the Ritz-Carlton Way

Monday, August 31st, 2009

I recently had the opportunity to attend a one-day training seminar at the Ritz-Carlton Leadership Center in Chevy Chase, MD, to learn how they provide their “legendary service.”  The seminar was eye-opening and impressive.  The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company is a management company that operates 61 properties worldwide for the Marriott hotel chain.  As most of you know, they serve the international luxury market and are celebrated for their high service levels and attention to detail.

While the instructor provided ample handouts to explain and illustrate the Ritz-Carlton way, I took over fifteen pages of notes.  I shall try to summarize the main elements of how they consistently provide such high level service.

First, Ritz-Carlton has a well-defined corporate culture of service built upon:

  • Mission and Vision statements,
  • Key Success Factors, revised and refined each year, and
  • What they call their “Gold Standards Foundation,” which is made up of the following:  The Credo, The Motto, The Three Steps of Service, The Service Values, and The Employee Promise.

The company culture is so important to Ritz-Carlton that they review aspects of it every day, every shift, in every property worldwide during what they call their “Daily Line Up.”  By this discipline all employees from the CEO and President down to each line employee are constantly reminded of their “reason for being.”

Second, Ritz-Carlton has devised a new hire screening process that focuses on 11 basic talents and every position in the company is indexed on how much of each talent that position needs.  For example, a housekeeper position needs high levels of “exactness” (attention to detail) because there are over 150 items or details that must be checked in every room every day; on the other hand, front desk and guest service employees need high levels of “relationship/engagement” skills to interact and engage guests in a multitude of ways.

The hiring process with Ritz-Carlton can take up to eight separate phone and face-to-face interviews to ensure they hire people with the right set of talents for the positions they seek.  One impressive element of the interview process is that specially-trained line employees conduct the first telephone screening interview to ascertain the candidates “Talent Index.”  If the candidate does not meet certain minimum levels in this interview they are eliminated from consideration.

The success of their screening process can be seen by their employee turnover rate.  When they first started the company in 1983, they experienced a 73% turnover rate.  Last year, it was 23% with 15 of that 23% being voluntary resignations for a variety of reasons.

Third, Ritz-Carlton invests in training.  Each new employee receives a two-day orientation which is heavy on company culture and values, then 20 days of on-the-job skills training for their position.  The trainers of the skills training are line employees who have been trained to train and who derive prestige and a higher compensation level for their role as trainers.

On day 21 of the initial training period, each employee without exception receives a recap of the values and culture, benefits enrollment, training in guest recognition and how to handle difficult guests.  The end of the day is a celebration of their completion of the initial training.  Finally, they are asked to fill out a questionnaire to ensure that the promises made to them at the outset of training have been kept.

Leaders are responsible for ensuring that all employees are certified in their positions.  Employees must be certified within 21 to 30 days of their orientation.  As Ritz-Carlton says, “We never want to practice on our guests.”

Each year, line employees receive 320 hours of ongoing and refresher training.  Leader/Managers receive 250 hours of training per year.

At the end of an employee’s first year, on day 365, each employee has a one-day refresher session designed to “psychologically engage” with employees and “figuratively hire” them all over again.  At the end of this day, they receive their one-year service pins.

Fourth, the company trains and empowers each employee to solve problems.  Any Ritz-Carlton employee can spend up to $2,000 a day per guest to solve problems and, not to just satisfy their guests, but to wow them with outside-the-box service.

Here’s an example:  an international guest at the Ritz-Carlton, Washington DC, checked out and flew to NYC to catch an international flight.  Upon arrival at JFK airport, he realized he had left his overseas flight tickets at the hotel.  He called the Ritz-Carlton in a panic.  The desk clerk with the OK of her supervisor and the hotel GM, took a flight to NY and personally delivered the guest’s tickets in time to catch his plane.

Fifth, Ritz-Carlton is heavily invested in benchmarking all areas of their operation to include conducting random surveys of guests each thirty days.  The results of their ongoing measurements of processes and guest feedback are used for continual improvement of their products and services.

Sixth, Ritz-Carlton has designed a proprietary software and database package called “Mystique,” to record guest preferences.  Each property has two designated individuals, the Mystique Manager and Mystique Coordinator, who have access to this confidential database.  Every employee carries a pad of “Guest Personal Preference Communiqués” with them at all times.  Any time an employee notices a personal preference of a guest or overhears a guest mentioning some detail that would enable the company to better serve them, the employee fills out and submits the communiqué to the Mystique staff, who enter the information in the database.  This system, designed to better help the company personalize their service to individual guests, is a central part of their building a strong service identity and a loyal base of clientele.

Overall, I was impressed with the thoroughness of the Ritz-Carlton systems; their training, treatment, and empowerment of their employees; and the degree to which everyone from the highest executive to the most recently hired line employee is dedicated to service – not just to their guests, but to each other in the performance of their duties.  As one employee said during our late-afternoon Q&A with line employees from the Washington DC property, “I’ve never worked anyplace where I feel like I’m such an integral part of the team, where my ideas and input matter so much, and where I feel like I’m part of a big, caring family.”

While there are clearly aspects of the Ritz-Carlton way that are beyond our reach in the private club business due to budgetary constraints and economies of scale, there is also much we can learn from them – probably the most important being their absolute dedication to high levels of service and their “will to make it happen.”


Thanks and have a great day!

Ed Rehkopf

This weekly blog comments on and discusses the club industry and its challenges. From time to time, we will feature guest bloggers – those managers and industry experts who have something of interest to say to all of us. We also welcome feedback and comment upon the blog, hoping that it will become a useful sounding board for what’s on the minds of hardworking club managers throughout the country and around the world.

Club Resources International – Management Resources for Clubs!

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Guest Blog: Social Network Marketing

Monday, August 24th, 2009

Two years ago the thought of Social Network marketing didn’t even dawn on me for businesses or organizations.  Quite frankly, I had just jumped into the idea of Facebook, and found myself spending plenty of hours catching up with old friends.  I thought it was a great idea, and it gave me a way to keep up with my college group, my family that lives around the country, and my friends who have moved as well.  Then, two years ago I was approached by a company to help me with Search Engine Optimization for my own business website.  I knew the quality behind having a professional tackle this sort of rigorous task, and for those of you who are completely confused, I would advise you to watch this short Sprint commercial, because it probably defines your current state now, as well as my state two years ago when I was approached by this company

So, I find myself, a couple years and many books and seminars later, educated on this massive beast called Social Media.  Now, you might be asking yourself, what does this include?  Think of Facebook, Twitter, Linked In, Ping and even blogging the key influences of this social media.  It is a terrific resource to gain access to millions of people by the click of a mouse, the tapping on your keyboard, and the wealth of knowledge that you are passionate about!  At your finger tips, you can tap into so many resources, gain access to other’s ideas, and even share your passion with others.  All behind the screen of a computer, and all while never actually meeting or “talking” to that individual.

Why is this avenue effective?  Whenever I am giving a consultation to small businesses, or large businesses about why this type of medium is effective, I always ask the question, “If you could have access to all of your clients, customers, members, or residents, in one place at one time, would you jump at the opportunity?”  I have not had a single person say no.  This type of medium allows businesses, individuals, clubs, and organizations the unique opportunity to interact with their sphere of influence, in many different ways.  I will admit that one avenue might be better than another for certain businesses.  But, if you had a wonderful opportunity to influence, affect, or change someone’s life through any type of medium, wouldn’t you jump on the bandwagon?

How to take the plunge?  After my consultation with many business owners, they then say, “I’m on board, now what?”  Let me say first, that it is not just a matter of signing on an account.  You must be strategic, you must be careful, and you must know what you are doing.  It also can be time consuming, especially, if you have more than one account.  I can tell you that first hand.

My best advice:

1.  Ask a professional, or find someone who knows what they are doing when it comes to Social Media, and see what avenue is going to be the best one to reach your target audience.  Remember, Social Media doesn’t always have to be about advertising your business.

2.  For clubs or membership related businesses, it might be best to use this resource to get to know your members, understand their needs, publish events, get them excited about up coming events, find volunteers, promote contests, etc.  Find what works for your business, and your clientel!

3.  After consulting with someone who is familiar in this area, develop a content calendar, or what you are going to say.  If you don’t have a plan, it will come back to bite you.  Have a plan, feel free to diverge from that plan, but continue to have a plan.

4.  And, finally, have fun interacting with the people you are reaching.  If you are not on there to be social, then social media is not the place for you.  It is a relational medium, and you must be relational and interact with it.  Who knows…you might have fun, meet new people and enjoy learning new things.

If you would like more information on Social Media please feel free to contact me, I would love to discuss any resources I have or offer my professional services.

Jamie Thomas Owner/Creative Specialist Behind the Scenes Solutions


Jamie brings a Masters Degree in Leadership and Development and over 10 years experience to the innovative company that she founded. She began by designing websites for non-profits who could not afford the growing technological field but wanted to stay current. After having her first child she decided to start her own company so that she could work from home, but also devote time to her family. In less than two years, BTSS has gained recognition among the Charlotte business community and in some national markets. Jamie now prides her self on recruiting top-tier professionals who can bring their skills and experience to BTSS, managing her staff of Virtual Specialists, and maintaining the highest level of customer service.

This weekly blog comments on and discusses the club industry and its challenges. From time to time, we will feature guest bloggers – those managers and industry experts who have something of interest to say to all of us. We also welcome feedback and comment upon the blog, hoping that it will become a useful sounding board for what’s on the minds of hardworking club managers throughout the country and around the world.

Club Resources International – Operational Resources for Club Managers

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Monday, August 17th, 2009

All of us who work in this business understand that club operations are both people intensive and detail intensive. It takes a lot of employees to provide the requisite levels of service in a club and every aspect of service involves countless details. These two facts make detailed, ongoing training an absolute necessity for any successful operation.

Types of Training. There are a wide variety of topics that must be taught to both managers and employees to fully prepare them for their jobs.

1.  Leadership Development Training for managers and supervisors – designed to enhance consistent leadership skills, which are the driving force behind any successful endeavor.

2.  Organizational Systems Training such as HR and Accounting Standards, Policies, and Procedures for managers and supervisors – designed to teach the underlying organization and operational systems that permit the club to operate efficiently.

3.  Club Culture Training for all employees – designed to foster a thorough understanding of the club’s values and service ethic.

4.  Legal Compliance Training for managers, supervisors, and employees – designed to provide all required training in matters with legal implications for the club such as Equal Employment Opportunity, Fair Labor Standards Act, Sexual Harassment, Family Medical Leave, etc.

5.  Liability Abatement Training in such matters as Safety and HR for managers, supervisors, and employees-designed to limit the club’s liability exposure.

6.  Service Technique Training for employees – designed to give each employee the skill set necessary to perform his job and meet the club’s high standards of service.

Items 1 through 5 above should be developed by the club for consistency sake and provided club-wide; item 6 is specific to each department and should be developed and taught by individual department heads.

Prerequisite to Training. Before establishing training requirements and materials, management must determine in great depth a club’s operating standards, policies, and procedures. These are, after all, the backbone of any organized system of training.

Requirements for a Successful Training Program. Certain things are necessary in order for any training program to be successful:

  • Leadership – the will to make it happen.
  • The necessary focus and attention.
  • Designated responsibilities and accountabilities.
  • Established training objectives, standards, guidance, and budget.
  • Training administration software to monitor and track training.
  • Training benchmarks and reports to track time and costs of training effort.
  • Standardized list of teaching aids and equipment to foster training.

Training Principles. There are a number of principles which guide the development and implementation of a club’s training plan:

  • Not all employees learn equally well or fast; and not all employees find the same teaching techniques conducive to learning. Therefore, you need to develop training formats that meet the needs of all learners. Such formats will include self-study manuals, checklists, handouts, quizzes, DVDs, Power Point presentations, “on-the-go” training material, scripting of key member interfaces, and ongoing discussions at staff meetings.
  • Training employees is not a one-time task. New employees must receive initial training, but the amount of material that must be mastered requires that ongoing and refresher training be given in most job skills.
  • Some sort of Daily Huddle should be used by every club department every shift to inspect staff, remind them of important service details, provide “on-the-go” training, and ensure every employee has the proper mind-set and enthusiasm to deliver high levels of service.
  • Some training, such as discrimination, sexual harassment, and safety training, is required by law. Because of legal and liability issues, such training must be consistently taught throughout the club and such training thoroughly documented.
  • All individuals tasked with training responsibilities must be trained. Completing a Train the Trainer class is a prerequisite to training other employees.

Strategies for Meeting the Training Requirements. The following are suggested to help managers allocate the necessary time and resources for training:

  • Incremental training – review the curriculum for each position. If there are 30 topics to be covered each year, break down the training into one lesson per week or two lessons every two weeks or five per month. By spreading the training burden over time, the amount that needs to be taught in any given week is lessened.
  • Schedule in advance – take the time to plan and schedule a full year’s training in advance so busy and slow periods can be noted and taken into account when scheduling training. Every so many weeks schedule an open training day that can be used to catch up when unforeseen levels of business force postponement of classes.
  • Take advantage of traditionally slow times (identified from benchmarking revenues) to schedule the bulk of the training or instruction that takes longer to provide.
  • Establish standard training days and times – this helps make training routine for both the instructor and employees.
  • Use The Daily Huddle to take advantage of “on-the-go” training material to give short training sessions. On-the-go material can also be used whenever unexpected windows of time open up.
  • Benchmark all training sessions – track topics, dates, times, how many in attendance, as this will help establish a more efficient schedule for future years.

The Challenge. In establishing a formal discipline of training you are undertaking an extremely challenging endeavor – one that will demand your focused and persistent attention. While it adds a number of time-consuming tasks to an already busy schedule, it ultimately will make your job easier as the quality and efficiency of your operation improve. You can expect that problems and obstacles will arise as you press ahead with this challenging initiative, but with your continued “will to make it happen” success will surely follow.

Thanks and have a great day!

Ed Rehkopf

This weekly blog comments on and discusses the club industry and its challenges. From time to time, we will feature guest bloggers – those managers and industry experts who have something of interest to say to all of us. We also welcome feedback and comment upon the blog, hoping that it will become a useful sounding board for what’s on the minds of hardworking club managers throughout the country and around the world.

Club Resources International – where membership and all resources are FREE!

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More on Service-Based Leadership

Monday, August 10th, 2009

Poor leadership, or fear-based management at its worst example, impedes organizational teamwork and effectiveness but can be overcome by a leader with an open, trusting attitude and a willingness to grow as a person and a leader.  Because of its detrimental impact on employees, members, and the bottom line, fear-based management should not be tolerated in any organization.

At the other end of the spectrum is the ideal of service-based leadership.  With this approach, the attitude and primary motivation of the leader is service to others – to members, to employees, to shareholders.  This approach to leadership naturally creates relationships – the deep and abiding bonds that sustain the efforts of the club.  This outward focus of the leader sets up a dynamic where:

  • Employees are continually recognized.
  • There is an open flow of ideas, opinions, and information.
  • Initiative and risk are highly regarded.
  • Problem discovery and solution is a focus while placing blame is unimportant.
  • Every employee feels energized and part of the team and is valued for his or her contribution.
  • Prestige is derived from performance and contribution, not title.
  • Customers are treated well because employees are treated well.
  • The energy and initiative of all employees is focused on the common effort.

With service-based leadership, you will find that service to both internal and external customers is effortless.  Less energy is expended in processing complaints, grievances, and conflicts.  Work is more fun and everyone’s job is easier.

Building Strong Relationships

Maggie was a retired schoolteacher starting a second career.  She applied for a sales associate position with a well-known hotel and conference center.  While she had no sales experience, her maturity, calm demeanor, and articulate style impressed the Director of Sales.

The position of sales associate is challenging.  In addition to selling the facility and its services to the local community and industry, it is important to have a good working relationship with the hotel’s operating departments.  Ultimately, they are the ones who must execute the promises of the sales staff.

In short order, Maggie proved adept at winning new business for the hotel.  She had a knack for meeting new people and establishing a sense of trust.  Much of it came from her genuine, down-to-earth nature.  She was short on hype and easy promises, but long on establishing meaningful relationships built upon commitment, confidence, and trust.  Her clients knew that she was true to her word.

But as strong as she was in finding new business, she was even stronger at building those key relationships with hotel department heads and line employees enabling her to ensure that promises were kept and expectations met.

Inevitably things would fall through the cracks and some meeting room was not set up properly for one of her clients.  Maggie, because she always double-checked arrangements, would find the problem and seek help to correct it.  Because she had taken the time to develop good working relations with the housekeeping, maintenance, and banquet staffs, she never had problems finding someone willing to help.  As one porter said of her, “She always asks so nicely, there is no way to say no.”

Maggie was an outstanding success as a sales associate.  In two years she increased her hotel bookings by 18.3%, and more importantly, trend lines promised even more future business from her many satisfied clients.  Not surprisingly, when the Director of Sales was transferred to another property out of state, Maggie was asked by her General Manager to take over the position.

Your success in balancing the needs of those you serve lies in ensuring that you build strong relationships with individuals.  How do you do this?  Begin by:

  • Treating everyone you meet with courtesy, respect, and good cheer.
  • Focusing on each person you deal with as if he or she were the most important person in the world.
  • Taking the time to get to know people, sharing your time and attention with them.
  • Learning about other people’s jobs and the challenges and difficulties they face.
  • Keeping promises and following through on commitments.
  • Being principled, showing fairness, and demonstrating integrity.
  • Recognizing the ultimate value of people in all you do.

Relationships depend upon how you view yourself in relation to others.  If you see yourself as separate and apart from your constituencies, if you view others as the means to your end, if your vision and goals lack a broader purpose than your own needs and ambitions, establishing meaningful relationships will be impossible.  On the other hand, when you see yourself as part of a team with a shared mission, then a sense of service will be an intrinsic part of your service team relationships.

Excerpted from Leadership on the Line:  A Guide for Front Line Supervisors, Business Owners, and Emerging Leaders.

Thanks and have a great day!

Ed Rehkopf

This weekly blog comments on and discusses the club industry and its challenges. From time to time, we will feature guest bloggers – those managers and industry experts who have something of interest to say to all of us. We also welcome feedback and comment upon the blog, hoping that it will become a useful sounding board for what’s on the minds of hardworking club managers throughout the country and around the world.

Club Resources International – where membership and all resources are FREE!

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Monday, August 3rd, 2009

What does it mean to be a leader?  Much has been written to define what constitutes leadership, the role of the leader, the essential traits of leadership, and the habits of successful leaders.  Though the exercise of leadership is situational, the following traits are essential to any successful leader.

Leadership with vision:  Moving large and complex organizations in a particular direction requires the ability to formulate and articulate a vision of what the organization should be.

Ability to inspire others with a sense of purpose and excitement:  “Selling” the vision requires constant hammering home of easy-to-grasp themes.  Without the “big picture” sense of direction, employees become lost in the day-to-day detail of their jobs.  Leaders must engage with employees on all levels and view such interaction as an opportunity to “spread the gospel.”

Ability to transform vision into day-to-day action:  Long range vision must be broken down into a concrete plan of action for managers and supervisors at all levels.  Performance reviews and goal setting sessions play an important part in establishing and communicating near and long term objectives.

Communication and feedback:  Most organizational failures result from faulty or inadequate communication.  Informed employees are better employees.  Leaders should strive to create an environment that facilitates communication flow; where superiors and subordinates keep each other informed, quality and performance standards are communicated, feedback is constantly given and every employee knows where the organization is going and how it will get there.

Dedicated to needs and desires of members and guests:  The bottom line for any business is customer satisfaction.  Shortsighted policies that have a negative impact on this satisfaction will eventually show up on the bottom line.  The surest way to keep customers satisfied is to know what they want.  Employees at all levels should be required to constantly seek the feedback and input of members and guests.  Further, they should be instilled with a complete dedication to member satisfaction.

Proactive in finding problems:  Every organization has problems and some managers try to hide their problems.  A sure sign that there are problems in an organization is that no one ever talks about them.  Everything goes too smoothly and no one rocks the boat.  It is a simple task to ask questions, to dig a little wherever one goes.  Inevitably problems turn up.  Often those most familiar with and vocal about problems are the line employees who deal with them every day.  A significant step in solving problems is to place a major and positive emphasis on problem discovery.  It’s the first step in problem solution.

Every problem has a solution:   Every problem can be solved.  It’s merely a matter of priorities.  Even the most complex problem can be broken down into its smaller solvable components.  Sometimes a solution is the result of compromise or many little steps that contribute to an improvement in the overall situation.  As much as possible, one should look for systems solutions to problems.

Bias toward action:  Accomplish something every day.  There is an insistent time factor in management.  New problems crop up every day.  When problems are not solved, the sheer volume of accumulating problems can paralyze an organization.

Strong organizational team building:  Motivation and morale is built on making every employee part of the team.  Organizational loyalty seems to be the strong suit of the Japanese, but it is little more than a corporate version of the military’s esprit de corps.  Much of it goes back to pride and recognition, but it also depends upon building a strong organizational identity and constant communication.

Strong support for employees:  On any level, leaders serve two important constituencies – customers and superiors.  There is, however, a third constituency of major importance – employees.  Without the willing and committed involvement of this group, the organization will never achieve high levels of success or standards of excellence.

Self motivation and self starter:  A leader’s ideas, words, action and example are major determinants in the success of the operation.  No one should need to tell a leader what has to be improved in his or her organization.  He or she should formulate the vision and prepare the action plan to accomplish it.

presentation3-2Personal selling:  Perhaps the greatest marketing tool available is the committed involvement of leadership in the marketing effort.  By becoming actively involved in various organizations and actively selling the property at every opportunity, the leader promotes not only the operation, but himself/herself.  Since many decisions are influenced by personal loyalties, this type of salesmanship is often the most far-reaching and effective.

Strong financial manager:  Benchmarks speak volumes about an operation.  While they are not the complete story, they often point to troubled areas and make it easier to discover the underlying problems.  Month to month and year to year comparisons of income statements, balance sheets, cash flow analyses, key ratios and operating benchmarks are the basis of sound decision making.

Computer literacy:  Large and complex organizations create a mountain of data.  Without the ability to organize, compile and analyze operating data, the leader does not have the resources to make good decisions.  Computers are important tools toward this end.

Attention to detail:  A good leader must have an eye for details.  Much can be learned by observing an operation and a leader must spend a good deal of his or her time “out and about” to know what is going on in an organization.

High standards of quality:  Leaders must establish and disseminate their standards of quality.  When employees are left to decide quality standards for themselves, the best that can be expected is inconsistent and, at worst a complete absence of, quality and service.

A positive attitude that remains upbeat in the face of adversity:  Attitude is all-important in any endeavor.  Employees look to leaders for guidance, reassurance, and example.  A leader must learn to roll with the small ups and downs while keeping an eye on the larger vision.  The proper attitude should also be mixed with an upbeat good cheer that is invariably infectious.

Thanks and have a great day!

Ed Rehkopf

This weekly blog comments on and discusses the club industry and its challenges. From time to time, we will feature guest bloggers – those managers and industry experts who have something of interest to say to all of us. We also welcome feedback and comment upon the blog, hoping that it will become a useful sounding board for what’s on the minds of hardworking club managers throughout the country and around the world.

Club Resources International – where membership and all resources are FREE!

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