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Keeping the door open for employees

There's no secret to Ritz Carlton's sterling success in engaging its staff. It all boils down to plain hard work.

"The listening part is the most important part of our work. Everything else can wait . . . It's only at the end of the daily briefing that we talk about the guest list. In other hotels, they talk about the guest list first. We look after our people first, align them with the culture, then transition into the VIP arrivals." - Mark Fletcher, HR director, Ritz-Carlton.

The hotel's staff (called ladies and gentlemen) have a 15-minute pre-work daily briefing to review work done, address issues raised, reinforce service values, and celebrate special staff occasions, if any.

A COMPANY must score highly in "high employee engagement", "effective leadership", "high performance culture" and "compelling employer brand" to earn Aon Hewitt's "Best Employer" title. The Ritz-Carlton Millenia Singapore must have scored very high marks in these qualities because the high-end hotel has been recognised as the "best of the best" in this year's "Best Employer" award.

It's not the first time that Ritz-Carlton has netted the top honour on the "Best Employer" list put out by Aon Hewitt, a US-based human capital consultancy. In fact, except for one year when it didn't take part, the hotel has appeared on the biennial rankings since 2001, when the "Best Employer" roll call made its debut. And, beginning last year, the listing has become a yearly affair.

How has Ritz-Carlton managed to do it? "There's no secret formula," says Mark Fletcher, Ritz-Carlton's director of human resources in Singapore. "A lot of hard work goes into what we do every day in terms of looking after our human capital."

What it takes to become a best employer is already largely known (and some would say, self-evident). It boils down to recognising that your employees are your most precious resource - and to treat them as such.

At Ritz-Carlton Singapore, where there are over 600 staff, this is written down in black and white in a little folded blue card employees carry with them. Under the heading "Employee Promise" in one section of the card, it's stated that "our ladies and gentlemen (which Ritz-Carlton staff are called) are the most important resource in our service commitment to our guests".

It goes on to say that "by applying the principles of trust, honesty, respect, integrity and commitment, we nurture and maximise talent to the benefit of each individual and the company".

Staff come first - before guests - in the hotel. Mr Fletcher says one indication of this is seen in the daily 15-minute briefing with the hotel's ladies and gentlemen before work starts. It reviews work done, addresses issues raised, reinforces Ritz-Carlton's service values, and includes staff celebrations, if any.

"It's only at the end of the briefing that we talk about the guest list," Mr Fletcher says. "In other hotels, they talk about the guest list first.

"We look after our people first, align them with the culture, then transition into the VIP arrivals."

In short, the hotel believes that happy employees will result in happy customers - and it works hard to make that happen.

For Ritz-Carlton, to be a best employer, you must have leaders who walk the talk, listen to employees, and empower them.

According to Mr Fletcher, the listening part is "the most important part of our work". "Everything else - reports and so on - can wait."

The hotel has an open-door policy where any staff with a problem, a suggestion to improve work flow or a need to discuss any other matter can walk into the boss's room - including that of the hotel's top man - without an appointment. The boss then has to drop everything he or she is doing to attend to the employee.

Such walk-ins are highly encouraged by the hotel management. "My gauge of success is the number of people who walk into my office," Mr Fletcher says.

The open-door practice is not meant simply to lend a sympathetic ear to employees; the hotel follows up with action after hearing them.

Such accessibility is pivotal in keeping staff engaged, committed and willing to give their best, according to Mr Fletcher.

Keeping staff engaged is the key. "It's as simple as that," he says. "To do it consistently - day in, day out, 365 days a year. That's always going to be a challenge. We make mistakes, but we learn from the mistakes and try to improve. That's the hallmark of what we do."

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