There I was, my 10th-grade science fair. My mother made
sure I had a tie that fit properly and a shirt that was perfectly pressed. I stood among my peers
with our cardboard presentation displays highlighting what we did to make it to
this point. I was a little nervous but also extremely proud of myself and
excited to see the looks on the judge’s faces when they saw what my project was
of Enzymes on DNA”
Boom. Oh, I wasn’t doing something that many people had seen
already — I was working inside an NIH facility with a brilliant scientist
mentor/coach, to get this done. The memories of taking multiple modes of
transportation after school throughout the week for what seemed like forever
wore me down enough to make sure that I knew this was going to be worth it. And
then after the judges were introduced to all of our concepts and families
poured throughout the gymnasium to see what we all came up with — now was the
moment of truth.
Sweaty palms and teenage anxiety wouldn’t deter me. First place goes to….oh ok, yeah of
course, they deserved that. They worked really hard I’m sure. Second place goes to….oh wow, I didn’t make
second place? At least, I’ll get something. After a third place winner was
announced and the applause faded. I looked, stunned, over at my mother in the
audience whose face was covered in tears. I was ready for the night to be over.
Did I not wear the right tie? Did I seem
too confident? Not confident enough? The questions would consume me until
later that evening when my science teacher told me that the judges thought I cheated or didn’t actually do any
of the work.
Recently, I had an enlightening encounter with Horst Schulze, who led Ritz-Carlton Hotels to national awards and has since opened his own hotel chain, Capella. Hortz gave an informal presentation to members of a program that I’m taking part in, the Baldrige Executive Fellowship, and we continued to talk afterwards. Capella has five ultraluxury hotels from New York to Singapore, and all have been recognized as tops in their region. Horst spoke to us of a culture of excellence. He knows—he has built such a culture time and time again. Excellence does not occur by chance. It requires clear goals and a system.
Horst explained that to be great, everyone in the organization needs to know the goals, in order of importance. For Capella, the goals are 1) keep existing customers, 2) add new customers, and 3) optimize the spend of each customer. Every employee not only needs to know the goals, but they need to know the behaviors to achieve them. The Capella employees ensure a warm welcome, compliance with and anticipation of guests’ needs, and a fond farewell.
All employees are required to know service standards. Twenty-five of them. One of them states that you are responsible to identify and immediately correct defects before they affect a guest—for example, getting customers food when the restaurant is closed. Defect prevention is key to service excellence, just as it is to delivering safe health care. Another service standard states that when a guest encounters any difficulty, you are responsible to own it and resolve the problem to the guest’s complete satisfaction.
Capella has standard processes for everything—how to submit defects, how to resolve them. And they trained staff in the goals, the behaviors and the processes. Each hotel, every morning is required to have a huddle at which all staff attend. They review the goals for the company and read one of the behaviors, called service standards. Every day they read a different one. They cycle repeats every 25 days.
If a manager did not do this, Horst said, they would be fired.