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Building A Hospitality And Customer Service Culture

publication date: Aug 1, 2016
author/source: Micah Solomon

Four Seasons Hotels: Building A Hospitality And Customer Service Cultureutor

Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts, and its humble hospitality beginnings.

Isadore Sharp, Chairman and Founder, Four SeasonsThe company we know today as Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts began life modestly, as the (kidding you I’m not) Four SeasonsMotor Hotel. It was a fine place, and by all reports founder Isadore Sharp was a fine “motellier,” but it was always in essence an offshoot, an afterthought, of the Sharp family’s construction company. The set of principles that define Four Seasons today weren’t laid out formally until years into the organization’s existence, with multiple properties under its management. Formulating and publicizing these principles led to a turning point in the brand’s history, from which, happily, they have never backslid.

The Seasons Start Changing

You should take courage from this belated turning point.  While the heart of Four Seasons’ leader was always in the right place, it took him years to learn the value of putting that rightly-placed heart into practical, transformational words and action.

When Sharp got the urge to do just that, he sat down in a war room with the small group of employees he felt most closely shared his as-yet unarticulated vision.  Together, they wrote out the principles that would define the brand as it moved forward.

The central principle of what they came up with, Four Seasons’ ‘‘Our Goals, Our Beliefs, Our Principles,’’ is simple, yet it lays down a very rigorous standard:

“In all our interactions with our guests, customers, business associates, and colleagues, we seek to deal with others as we would have them deal with us.”

This central principle is then fleshed out in the course of four sections (as befits the Four Seasons) that spell out how vendors, customers, colleagues, and the community are to be treated.

(Sharp never claimed this concept as original; it’s materially identical to the “Do unto others…” standard of the New and Old Testaments. Though I could argue that Sharp’s proclamation has been less widely ignored than the biblical one.)

The principles laid out in that war room don’t sound all that scary, unless you realize that Isadore Sharp meant them.  And it was already known throughout the Four Seasons organization that whenever Mr. Sharp said something, hedid mean it.

Extremely un-thunderous acclaim

Sharp announced the primacy of these principles companywide, to extremely un-thunderous acclaim from the executives and managers of the company. In fact, the number of execs and managers who felt they could not live with the new set of principles was so high that turnover was very significant for some time, as faxes laden with résumés flew down the wire.

The leaders who didn’t buy in but didn’t self-select out either?  They were gone pretty soon as well, through more forceful means than self-deselection.

All of which is to say:
One of the keys to building a company is to make a decision about what you stand for, and what you will stand for, as a company.

  And then publicizing that decision.  That decision, if it is sincere and is effectively broadcast, can affect who wants to work in your company, and how they want to perform their work. In other words, it can help build, from that day forward, your culture.


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