Taking Care Of People Is Taking Care Of Business

Stock image: Cultures with strong ‘people first’ cultures will weather the covid-19 crisis better. getty…

CONGRATULATIONS! You did it! You’re going places!

If you’d told me a year ago that how thrilled I’d be get a made up ‘congratulatory certificate’ for doing, well, pretty much nothing except not stepping foot out my hotel room for fourteen days, I’d have laughed out loud. 

But this morning, when I picked up said certificate from the chair outside my hotel room at JW Marriott in Singapore where I’ve been quarantined for fourteen days, I was pretty darn excited. 

Tomorrow, I am, indeed, “going places!”

Like home. 

However I don’t write this to brag that I’m graduating with honors among my cohort of fellow ‘quarantiners’. There are thousands of us in hotel rooms across Singapore right now. All ‘graduating’ for doing pretty much the same as me. Nothing (bar testing negative for Covid-19).

Rather, I write to highlight the way this certificate has made me feel…

Special. 

Not because I deserve to feel special. I don’t. Rather because for someone to have thought to have created that certificate, they had to have first been thinking about how to make me feel special, deserving or not. 

And that lays at the heart of a culture that is genuinely about people… about serving people, valuing people, and taking care of what they care about. 

While I did not get to choose which hotel I had to serve Singapore’s mandatory hotel quarantine order, I couldn’t have been happier about where I landed. Full disclosure though, I’m a little biased. A few years back, I was invited to Marriott Hotel’s Bethesda headquarters to run some leadership programs as well as facilitate a ‘fireside chat’ with Mr Bill Marriott, the son of JW Marriott ,who took the business his parents began as a root-beer stand and grew it into the world’s largest hotel empire.  

Mr Marriott (I don’t usually address other adults as Mr or Mrs but anything else feels disrespectful in this instance) and I chatted about many things – from risking mistakes to women in leadership. But a remark that really stuck with me was that taking care of Marriott’s employees (which they refer to as associates’) lays at the heart of their DNA.

There is not more important way to take care of your business than by taking care of your people working in it.

By taking care of your people, you are, by default, taking care of those who they are charged to take care of. After all, people who feel valued will value other people.

Little could I have imagined the extraordinary conditions in which I’d later experience the ‘on the ground’ impact of Marriott’s ‘people first’ culture. 

Like so many companies in the travel and hospitality sector, Marriott have been hit hard by this pandemic – worse than “9/11 and the 2008 financial crisis, combined” according to a Marriott media statement issued in May. The flat rate set by the Singapore government for our two week ‘quarantine-staycation’ is far less than rack rate, particularly since we were upgraded us to a suite when I enquired about the possibility of extra space as my husband and I would both be doing work calls.

One might reasonably have expected the service standards to be lower in such extenuating circumstances; that we’d have encountered disengaged staff, disinterested in meeting, much less exceeding, ‘guest’ expectations. We  were, after all, not staying by choice. 

However I experienced just the opposite. Each time I called guest services – to order an espresso or ask for more amenities – the person on the other end of the line made me feel like I was as important as any guest, ever. They had no idea who I was.

During this crisis I’ve repeatedly written on the importance of prioritizing people and not using ‘tough commercial realities’ as an excuse for treating employees poorly.  Sure, hard decisions have to be made.  Everyone gets that. But as I wrote in this previous column about the crucial role of empathy in leading through crisis, when people feel genuinely cared for as human beings, not just as costs on a balance sheet, it might not alter their hard reality of their situation, but it changes their experience of it. 

 Likewise, when you put the heart of people (starting with employee) at the heart of what you do, you build loyalty and trust, setting in motion a ripple effect that will reap commercial benefits long after this crisis is over.

This certificate is a keepsake. Not because I worked so hard to earn it, but because of how it made me feel to receive it. 

Valued. Appreciated. Special.

So three questions for you…

  1. What emotions to you engender in those you interact with?
  2. If I did a secret poll of those you work with, how many would say they often feel unappreciated or under-valued?
  3. And if you’re not certain that number is zero, what will you do to change that?

During this extraordinary time, when so many feel more pressure and less confidence about their future, even small gestures can make a big difference. 

My ‘Congratulatory Certificate’ is a case in point.

Now, must go pack my bags… “I’m going places!”

Margie Warrell is a bestselling author You’ve Got This!, an international speaker on leading with courage.Until this pandemic is over, she is delivering virtual workshops and keynotes to help organizations navigate this crisis with greater resilience, courage, purpose and compassion.

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