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Marriott Hotel Former GM on 4 Ways to Build an Unforgettable Employee Culture

Why it's important to treat employees like customers

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Kindra Cooper

Marriott Hotel employee culture

In his first job out of Miami University, Charles Ryan Minton was the front desk manager at a Marriott in Cincinnati. Minton supervised a young man named Jason, a hospitality student at a local university and aspiring hotel GM.

“Jason would come into work everyday with this unmatched level of energy,” Minton recounted in his keynote at CCW Nashville. “He would be bouncing off the walls. I was convinced he was in the parking lot pounding Red Bulls before he came in.”

Each day, without fail, Jason would find Minton in his office or behind the front desk, offer a firm handshake and say, “Ryan, thanks for coming in today.” Minton was initially perplexed to hear this from a subordinate, but he noticed Jason did this with everyone. He’d make the rounds, thanking guests and employees from other departments, even ducking into housekeeping quarters at the back of the hotel to express his gratitude.

“As funny as it sounds that he would thank me for coming in even though I was his manager, it made me feel like I mattered, and I loved that feeling,” said Minton, who has managed properties such as Hilton Hotels Worldwide, Marriott International, InterContinental Hotels Group, Gannett, Ultimate Jet Charters and the Cincinnati Reds.

Some years later, Minton attained a GM position at an adjacent hotel, poaching Jason to become his front desk manager. One night, the phone rang. It was Jason’s fiancée saying he’d been killed in a car accident.

“I remember thinking in that moment: I’m never going to meet anyone else like Jason,” says Minton. Jason was in his twenties, on the verge of graduating hotel school.

“I wanted to honor him somehow. So, going forward I found myself thanking people for coming in. It just became something that I did,” remembered Minton, whose bestselling CX book, Thanks For Coming In Today, is dedicated to Jason.

Sometimes, when he did this with a new employee or as a new hire himself, people would look at him quizzically or retort: “Why would I not be here? You’re paying me to be here.” But Minton wanted the staff to understand he was being sincere. “You have a choice when you wake up in the morning whether or not to come to work.” Regardless of an employee’s position, whether they’re a dishwasher, an engineer or an executive, their impact matters, he says.

Marriott Hotel employee culture

Employee impact matters even more in a day and age where CX is forecast to become a greater brand differentiator than price or product by 2020, according to a Walker study.

“We’re all a cell phone recording away from having our brand on blast, our reputation at risk,” warned Minton, referencing a recent racial profiling run-in in at a DoubleTree by Hilton in Portland, Oregon, where a black guest talking on his cell phone in the lobby was accused of loitering even though he possessed a valid room key.

The man, Jermaine Massey, posted a cell phone video of a security known only as “Earl” informing him that he was calling the cops to escort Massey off the premises and that he would have to forfeit his room.

More importantly, customer reviews, whether good or bad, implicate frontline employees in almost every case. “We’re trusting our brand reputation to individuals that make minimum living wage, in a lot of cases $9-12 an hour,” said Minton. “Doesn’t it make sense that we would want to make sure those folks are having a good experience at work?’

Following are the four employee culture gospels Minton lives by:

1. First impressions are paramount

The most important workday for an employee is the first day, according to Minton, but it’s often blighted by boring orientations that do nothing to stoke the employee’s enthusiasm or set expectations for their role. “Company after company I’ve worked with, I’m amazed when I go to orientation and it’s hosted in the same dark corner room and they throw on a video that was literally filmed in 1985.”

Unhappy employees make snap decisions to bolt: about half of all workers who left their jobs in 2018 did so within the first 90 days, which is why proper training and onboarding is so crucial. Minton starts by laying out expectations from the get-go, like his first general manager did with him. “He brought me out to the lobby and he handed me a two-page document, and it had 27 bullet points on it of his expectations,” he recalls.

Marriott hotel employee cultureThe manifestos ranged from “We are going to be the best quality Marriott in the brand” to “I value your quality of life outside of work so I’d rather you work 50 hours a week instead of 70.”

“When he first gave it to me I thought it was kind of weird. But as he started to go through it I loved it, because he was literally laying the groundwork for how we were going to operate.”

After he rose to a managerial post Minton started creating his own “expectation documents,” which evolved over time. He’s amazed at how few companies iterate the basic expectations for service to new hires. “I think we just assume,” he said. “We can’t assume those things.”

At the Ritz-Carlton, all employees carry a wallet-sized credo card bearing the five-stor hotel brand’s three-line credo, which includes: “We pledge to provide the finest personal service and facilities for our guests, who will always enjoy a warm, relaxed yet refined ambience.”

By day three of their orientation, new hires are asked to memorize the credo and recite it in front of the group. The card also shows the motto, employee promise and the three steps of service that have earned the hotel brand its enshrined reputation as a paragon for world-class customer service.

Minton also stresses showing employees your appreciation by looking out for cues and opportunities with them just like you would with customers. It can be something as simple as saying, “Thanks for coming in today,” to sending a housewarming gift from the entire business to an employee who’s just moved into a new home.

2. Don’t be an a**

Minton asks the audience how many of them remember their first boss. Nearly everyone raises their hand. “You have an opportunity to be someone’s first boss,” he said. “They’re going to remember you forever. Take that seriously.” He points out that when you become a leader, you shed some basic rights. If you’ve had a rough day, you must internalize it rather than taking it out on employees, because your job, above all, is to set a good example.

More importantly, don’t bring personal problems to work. “You’ve got to do it behind closed doors because whether you like it or not your title means something and people feed off of you.”

3. Treat employees like customers

In his latest post as general manager, before founding CRM Hospitality and Consulting LLC, Minton would arrive at 7am and spend the first two hours of the workday perambulating the lobby before going up to his office on the second floor, or what Minton says is known in the hotel business as being a “lobby wizard.”

He considered those two hours as the most important in his day. “You’re setting the tone for the day. You make it obvious to your team that you’re there to help. You’re getting real-time feedback.”

Minton considers annual employee engagement surveys a “waste of time,” and merely a window dressing ceremony. “Good employee cultures are about giving daily, weekly and monthly feedback and the only way you can do that is to have real, informal conversations and be involved in the operation.”

Equally important is giving your employees the tools they need to do their jobs. There’s an oft-cited tale in the hotel business regarding one establishment where the employees grew so frustrated they threatened to unionize.

A mediator was brought in to diagnose the situation. It was discovered that a public attendant who’d been there over 10 years in charge of cleaning lobby restrooms and sprucing up the reception area had asked the housekeeping manager for a new mop. She was told it wasn’t in the budget.

“An entire hotel had become frustrated because they were not willing to give this person the tool they needed to do their job.” One employee’s discontent can rub off on the others - the same way hiring the wrong fit can disrupt the productivity of the other team members. Minton says that when an employee doesn’t have the tools to do their job adequately, it’s their reputation on the line, not the organization’s, which is the real reason they leave.

4. Empower your people

One of the mandates in Minton’s “expectation document” is to eliminate the phrase “I have to check with my manager.” “It makes my skin crawl,” he says. “Let people do what you hired them to do. Trust them.” Make sure employees aren’t afraid of making mistakes, and when they do, remember that upset customers when handled tactfully can become your most loyal advocates.