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Carlson Hotels Gets It
by Jackie & Kevin Freiberg

I just came back from Aruba (I know, tough duty) where I spoke to the franchisees, general managers and vendors for Carlson Hotels Worldwide. I was inspired and encouraged by what I saw. Carlson gets it! They understand that brand identity is derived from infinitely more than your logo and advertising slogans. John Reynolds, vice president, human resources explained that Carlson’s brand is the sum total of the ways in which each guest experiences the company’s products, services, processes and culture. Reynolds went on to say, and I love this, “Branding is the promise of a pending experience.” Reynolds is essentially saying, “Here is what you can expect—stay in one of our hotels and it will look and feel like this—here’s how our people will treat you.”

Who delivers that experience? CARLSON PEOPLE. The IT system that makes it easy and hassle-free for a guest to check-in was designed by people who own that part of the guest’s experience. The exhausted receptionist who has already worked a double shift and still takes an extra minute or two to empathize with a guest’s terrible travel day has just enhanced the brand. The bellman or concierge who goes the extra mile to drum up a pair of black, size 10D, dress shoes for a guest who has to give a speech and left his shoes at home makes the brand come alive. Brand experiences are emotional, intellectual and physical, but they are always the result of PEOPLE who either fall short of or make good on the promises Carlson makes to it guests. What’s a stake? GUEST LOYALTY.

For this reason Carlson Hotels Worldwide is building a BRANDED CULTURE. The company’s motto: “We want to be a great place where great people do great work.” Carlson understands that employees create and control the guest’s experience—and ultimately, the brand. That’s why executives at Carlson are intensely focused on answering the questions; “What inspires people to deliver a world-class guest experience? What drives people to engage—heart, mind and spirit—in delivering on our brand promise?

Our research with the GUTS companies suggests there are at least 5 drivers to employee engagement. These findings are consistent with Fortune Magazine’s 100 Best Companies study, Gallup’s Q12 research and Spherion’s Emergent Workforce study. An employee’s willingness to engage is the result of:
  • The person’s relationship with his or her boss.
    Few things impact an employees perception of your culture than the kind of leadership he or she is exposed to. The greatest leaders are SERVANTS first. They make a thorough study of their employees’ needs and then work to make their people successful. With regard to standards and goals they are tough, but never mean. They inspire greatness in others. Let’s face it, you can have the greatest culture in the world, but if your relationship with the boss sucks, the culture sucks as well. Are you a person people love to follow?
  • Work that is meaningful and memorable—work that matters.
    At the end of the day or the journey when the epitaph is written, no one wants to go home and say, “I made budget.” People want to know that they are giving history a shove, that they are making a valuable contribution with the gifts and talents God gave them.
  • The person’s relationship with his or her co-workers.
    Create a work environment where people trust and support each other—and value the differences each brings to the table—and you are well down the road to building a culture that inspires everyone to engage with a higher level of intensity. Create a work environment that cultivates deep, meaningful friendships and you will create an emotional bond between employees that makes it difficult for them to give less than their very best.
  • Systems and processes that are simple and enabling vs. complex and disabling.
    Nothing can be more frustrating than to want to do great work and having to fight bureaucracy to do so. The GUTS companies understand that systems and processes are a means to a greater end, not an end in and of themselves. Systems and processes should serve and empower people, not anchor them down and make their jobs more difficult.
  • The person’s relationship with the customer.
    It’s hard to get emotionally bonded to statistics and market segments. But, put a face on the customer and it’s easier to become engaged. USAA does a member profile on video every month that takes you behind the scenes and into the life of the member. These videos, often emotional and uplifting, remind the people of USAA exactly who they are serving. It helps the people of USSA better understand and empathize with life in the military.
On a scale of one to ten, one being dog meat and ten being phenomenal, how engaged are your people? How strong is the magnetic force of your culture?

Copyright Jackie & Kevin Freiberg. All Rights Reserved.

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