Success in establishing an organizational culture that attracts, develops, and retains the best and brightest talent sets a hotel apart from all others in its competitive field. Its very successes in this field of human resources widens the gap between itself and its competitors.

In the January, 2002, issue of Conde Nast Traveler, Conde Nast reports its 2002 Gold List of hotels and resorts, which were selected by 29,000 of its subscribers. These esteemed properties are recognized for their excellence both as providers of the finest hospitality products and services and as employers of choice in the communities in which they operate. As "behind-the-scenes" providers, HVS/The Ference Group & The Center For Survey Research have, for more than 20 years, impacted many of these selected properties with surveys, assessments, and executive leadership retreats. One out of every three domestic properties listed has used our programs to influence, redirect, and support their culture. Internationally, our programs have also made a significant impact.

Executives leading these renowned properties have recognized that employees' knowledge and skills have become their most important assets. They know that the asset management models and systems developed to measure and manage the tangible assets of financial capital and equipment provide little insight into the management of the intangible assets of people skills. These hospitality professionals are continuously seeking new ways to measure and optimize the value of their investments in people in order to provide their organizations with a unique competitive advantage.

In this HVS letter, we explore the leadership combination that we believe has established these properties as the "best in class" and has qualified them for selection by the readership of Conde Nast Traveler. We begin with the belief that the effective development of human assets is fundamental to each organization's unqualified success in this list of the world's best places to stay.

Thinking Strategically Using A Master Plan

Establishing an organizational master plan traditionally depends on vision and mission, core values and guiding management principles, credo/motto, and standards. The strength of the master plan is derived from the executive team's ability to engage in strategic thinking - a process focusing on aligning organizational elements necessary for a successful company culture.

The master plan is concerned with the organizational "big picture"; it deals with the organization's purpose in life. Is a book publisher in the book publishing business or the information business? Is the railroad in the rail freight haulage business or the transportation business? Are some restaurants in the food and beverage business or in the entertainment business?

The cornerstones of a master plan traditionally depend upon clarifying areas such as customer base and market segmentation; philosophy of guest service; distinctive competencies or service specialties; philosophy of managing human resources; and financial goals and responsibilities linked to products and services offered.

A fully developed master plan reflecting strategic thinking will accomplish the following:

  1. Force all employees to ask and answer questions that are of the highest importance to organizational success.
  2. Provide a framework for planning and decision making.
  3. Outline the successful and effective exercise of managerial responsibilities.
  4. Provide a strong channel for communications.
  5. Help train managers and employees to be responsive to standards of performance as expected by the organization's target customers.
  6. Align everyone to standards of operational excellence.
  7. Serve as a coherent motivating force.
  8. Let the customers know what the company stands for.
  9. Clarify the opportunities and threats that lie ahead in the future.
  10. Pay off in short- and long-term organizational performance.

All of the properties that have been recognized in The Gold List have spent time and energy in developing their master plan. They know who they Are!

Generating Survey-Driven Databases

Well-designed survey databases reflecting employee and guest satisfaction and internal leadership styles allow a team to be hands-on in addressing critical issues heads-on. For specific performance issues, this is where "the rubber meets the road." Key to this process is accurate and reliable data serving as a template for discussion and action. Anything short of reliable data runs the risk of putting the ladder up against the wrong wall, climbing it, and only then realizing that valuable time and energies have been spent unproductively.

Well-designed employee and guest satisfaction surveys create feedback for employees to understand individual and organizational strengths and to action-plan for shortcomings. Information is developed at both the executive committee level and the mid-management level. While the philosophy and values are the overall responsibility of top management, we believe that the day-to-day operational standards are driven by department heads who need management tools in the form of applied survey-reports if they are to positively influence their environment.

Another great tool used to generate good data and insightful information is offered in personal assessments such as 360-Degree Feedback. These reports provide individual and team-specific information regarding leadership styles. Besides providing insight into how an employee is perceived by peers, direct reports, and the person to whom the employee reports, 360- Degree Feedback can also identify those employees who are ready to champion change and target the types of individual or group training and development efforts needed to take their performance to the next level. Such valuable information directly impacts the collaborative efforts of the executive, divisional, and cross-functional teams, and facilitates effective management of change across all levels of the organization.

Our own 360-Degree Feedback Assessment, entitled Developing Peak-Performing Teams Through Relationship Management, measures aspects of communication, leadership, motivation, teamwork, quality, and trust. As a tool for helping to create performance cultures, this assessment has been used by many of the executives managing Conde Nast's Gold List Hotels and Resorts.

Employing Team Dynamics To Establish Culture

Effective teams continuously channel their energies, experiences, and skills toward common and important goals and objectives. Peak-performing organizations always view this as a continuous process because despite the best of intentions, progress is often hampered due to conflicting agendas, personalities, and sub-cultures within the organization. Therefore, building team culture becomes not a static event, but rather, a dynamic process, and establishing a common team-culture requires highly interactive processes. Objectives include:

  • Learning creative leadership competencies to use when responding to new organizational challenges.
  • Enhancing employee capacities for visionary leadership and the further understanding of organizational potential.
  • Increasing personal and team effectiveness by learning more about their own leadership styles.
  • Leveraging personal experiences, knowledge, and skills across the organization, thereby creating a learning environment and reducing learning curves.
  • Action planning to create an unusually high level of personal interactions, collaborative inquiry, and goal achievement.

Using organizational data derived from guest and employee satisfaction surveys is critical to establishing the base for action planning. Data needs to measure aspects of the master plan and be coupled with the right amount of team dynamics to yield the dynamic team that constantly strives to raise the bar.

Our 360-Degree Feedback is based on a solid conceptual framework. Our unique report format assists individuals in the development of action plans that build on strengths and help overcome weaknesses. Through highly interactive coaching sessions, employees discover how to better motivate, lead, empower and nurture people and teams ¯ and make sure their personal styles are the most effective for their careers. Within a few days, employees can better understand themselves, their team, and their environment, and be equipped with the tools needed for improvement.

HVS/The Ference Group & The Center for Survey Research, specialists in organizational assessments and performance cultures

We offer a comprehensive and holistic approach to developing performance cultures. We provide the tools to analyze the unique issues and future challenges associated with human capital. Our tools are grounded in research data and sound management practices, and provide a framework for improving competence, commitment, and organizational coherence. In addition to our organizational surveys and personal assessments, be sure to visit our 20/20 Skills on the web:

Our Service Culture Map focuses on key drivers of organizational success. Our ten-step approach for developing a finely tuned organizational culture is founded on more than 20 years of experience in the hospitality industry and a philosophy of Managing For Continuous Improvement. We focus on aligning organizational culture with guest expectations accomplished through leadership, quality systems, and team processes.

Contact us to help build your performance culture. Our assessments help you develop your human assets, champion new initiatives, and manage your organization to peak performance.

Gene Ference
President And Founder Of HVS/The Ference Group & The Center For Survey Research