Important Techniques to Inspire Passion in Your Employees

By Jeff Kmiec President & Managing Director, The Greenbrier | June 01, 2011

In May 2009, The Greenbrier experienced one of its most significant changes in over two centuries: a new owner, the first in 99 years. The transition from an out-of-state corporate parent to a local businessman, Jim Justice, was sure to bring challenges, as well as a new leadership team. With over 1500 employees, including more than 300 with 25 years of service or more, it was vital that we quickly establish a rapport between the new management and tenured staff. And to achieve our new owner’s far-reaching goals, we also had to motivate the team so that we could not just accomplish these tasks but surpass them. To do so, we utilized five key techniques motivate and inspire The Greenbrier team. At the core, we established our vision and mission statements. This ensured that we were all working toward the same end goal. We also improved communication, enhanced our recognition programs, exhibited enthusiasm and finally, we let the employees inspire us.

During the previous two years, The Greenbrier team had endured a great deal of adversity and faced an uncertain future. Jim Justice, who is also an incredibly successful high school basketball coach, was intent that we, the resort’s new leaders, bring the team back together stronger and more focused. Creating new vision and mission statements was the first step in this process. Our vision statement described our ultimate goal and our four mission statements, employees, guests and members, owner and community provided the map to achieve our vision. How we implemented these principles was equally important.

In the beginning, we challenged each other to recite these mantras and we used them repeatedly in meetings. We printed pocket-size vision and mission statement cards for employees to carry with them and painted the phrases on the walls of the corridor leading to our employee cafeteria. The vision and mission statements became part of our new employee orientation, training sessions and employee meetings. We used them everywhere. As everyone became familiar with these statements, we moved to the next phase and showed their relevance to our operations. For example, when discussing changes to our purchasing operations, we would relate it to our mission statement for our owners, which read: “We will increase the value of The Greenbrier by being financially responsible while driving profitability and sustainability through continuous improvement.”

While the statements were designed to be guiding principles, they were also inspirational. We wanted to create a sense of pride among the employees so these messages were upbeat and positive. This is best exemplified in our mission statement for our employees: “By creating an environment and culture that inspires passion and excitement in each other to serve with excellence, our jobs will be the envy of the world.” We wanted each employee to feel a personal connection and recognize their role, their importance, in achieving our goals.

An integral component of any employee relations effort is communication. No matter what business you are in, information about your company is the most important tool for your employees. Just as chefs cannot cook without ingredients, employees must be knowledgeable about the products and services they represent. George Bernard Shaw once said, “The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” While many leaders believe they communicate well with their employees, the reality is quite often the opposite.

At The Greenbrier, our approach may be considered over-communication. Every day, each department holds a “line-up” meeting at the start of each shift. During this time, managers share the latest news, upcoming developments and other relevant details. On a weekly basis, our team of 150 managers meets to review new initiatives, financial reports and pertinent information for the coming week. Minutes of the meeting along with a brief summary of key points covered are shared with all managers so they can in turn provide this information to their department. Also, I send weekly email messages to every employee which focus on our vision or mission statements and serves as an update on the resort. Every Friday, our human resources team publishes our “Resort Short,” a one-page document highlighting upcoming events, resort news and benefits information. Once a quarter, we hold a day of three, all-employee meetings, with meeting times set to accommodate the various shifts here. Our owner and key executives not only present information, but also greet people as they arrive and depart. In a nutshell, we take advantage of any and every opportunity to communicate with our team.

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Guest Service: Empowering People

Excellent customer service is vitally important in all businesses but it is especially important for hotels where customer service is the lifeblood of the business. Outstanding customer service is essential in creating new customers, retaining existing customers, and cultivating referrals for future customers. Employees who meet and exceed guest expectations are critical to a hotel's success, and it begins with the hiring process. It is imperative for HR personnel to screen for and hire people who inherently possess customer-friendly traits - empathy, warmth and conscientiousness - which allow them to serve guests naturally and authentically. Trait-based hiring means considering more than just a candidate's technical skills and background; it means looking for and selecting employees who naturally desire to take care of people, who derive satisfaction and pleasure from fulfilling guests' needs, and who don't consider customer service to be a chore. Without the presence of these specific traits and attributes, it is difficult for an employee to provide genuine hospitality. Once that kind of employee has been hired, it is necessary to empower them. Some forward-thinking hotels empower their employees to proactively fix customer problems without having to wait for management approval. This employee empowerment—the permission to be creative, and even having the authority to spend money on a customer's behalf - is a resourceful way to resolve guest problems quickly and efficiently. When management places their faith in an employee's good judgment, it inspires a sense of trust and provides a sense of higher purpose beyond a simple paycheck. The April issue of the Hotel Business Review will document what some leading hotels are doing to cultivate and manage guest satisfaction in their operations.