Last week i wrote how i learnt about authenticity from the waiter at a pizza takeaway, today i’m writing about excellence and my experience at a hotel. They’re very pedestrian examples, but have great immediacy and relevance to me, hence these types of experience are great to learn from. We can spend an age reading books about leadership, devising processes to give great customer service, but it never hurts to call it when you see it and see what you can learn from it.
When i arrived at the Belgraves hotel, i was a little frazzled: not only was it a very last minute booking on a day when accommodation in London was in short supply, but i had also just navigated the Tube carrying a heavy box of books and a large poster wedged under my arm. In short: i was looking forward to a good cup of tea and a comfy bed. What i got was a great cup of tea and a home from home.
I travel quite a lot, and you meet many interesting, kind and generous people as you do so, but my experience at the Hotel, over two days, was interesting, not because of the outstanding quality of service, but because of how consistent it was. It wasn’t just good in parts, it was superb overall, and that kind of performance is hard to manage across a team. It takes good people, it takes training, it takes leadership and, probably above all, it needs people who care. But do they care because they work in a great team, or is the team great because they care? Is it strong leadership that delivers a high performing team, or does the strength come from within the team itself, despite leadership? Can you only get great cohesion like this in a great environment, or could you get it in a hostel?
I’ve stayed in bigger hotels, bigger rooms with more pillows on the bed (although Singapore with seventeen pillows on one double bed still holds the record), more bar staff and more expensive restaurants, but none of them have come close to delivering a more authentically social experience than this one, social in that it felt welcoming, rather than feeling impressive. Welcoming means that you feel at home. Impressive means that you feel you’re dealing with a business.
In the Social Age, authenticity is important, feeling genuine, recognising that people have choice and that people respond to people. It’s not about trying to write a script for someone to make them sound like they care: it’s about finding people who do care and providing an environment to work in in which they feel empowered to speak in their own voice, to show that they care, to be proud of their achievements and those of the people around them.
I took a call from someone the other day trying to sell me insurance: they certainly didn’t care as they read the script, deadpan, monotone, slowly, in some naive expectation that i would bite. My mistake would be to judge that person on their performance: the fault is with the organisation, failing to engage at a social level, failing to provide a space for people to grow skills, failing to provide the right training and the right support under the right leadership.
In the Social Age, brand value is created within the community: it’s no longer owned and managed by the organisation itself. It’s these very conversations that shape the brand value, so you’d better be pretty darn sure that they’re good, start to finish, throughout the group and across time.
As we saw from my pizza experience last week, quality is not necessarily a function of cost: you can have great experiences wherever you are. That’s why it’s useful to explore them, to understand what makes them great and to see what we can learn for our own organisations. How can you ensure you organisation is authentic, is relevant, is engaging, in short, how can you ensure you are superb at what you do? It’s from the first time someone sees your name, through the first phone call, the first letter, the product or service itself and the aftercare. How do you get that right, then how do you get it better. If a hotel can manage it, if a pizza takeaway can manage it, why do so many other businesses get it wrong?
It’s not just leadership, although leadership is essential. It’s certainly about finding great people, but also about allowing the great people you have to be great (and to be great within work, not to use their talents elsewhere, where they care). It’s about environment, but that doesn’t mean expensive, it means authentic to what you do, to who you are. A workshop is fine if you’re engineers, if it’s authentic. Authentic is what you do, not who you wish you were.
I went away from the hotel thinking about what i could do differently: i’ve been involved in plenty of training courses where people would have loved for that to happen, but would have been disappointed. It must start with vision, but rapidly move on to developing strength within a team and to create the space for them to succeed. And it must include the understanding that there is the formal space of work and then the social spaces that surround it: we need to be authentic in all of those spaces to succeed.