Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Creativity Starts With Rigour

How ‘flair’ at Four Seasons starts with ‘flow’

Ok, so I have a tough job!  I’m on our TopDog study tour and just spent the day in the Four Seasons hotel in San Francisco learning about how this famous old brand (they are 50 this year) keeps delivering legendary service and with such a personal and often imaginative touch.

The hotel business is a tough business – long hours, low pay, constant maintenance costs, increasingly demanding and last minute guests..… the list goes on.  Yet somehow the people at Four Seasons manage to ‘WOW’ as they say. 

One of our TopDog delegates showed me a photo he took of the logo of his football team that had been created with chocolates – it was on his desk in his room when he arrived.  Knocked him out. There are lots of little creative touches like that which add up to an experience people rave about. 

Here’s my diagnosis of how they deliver:

1.   Find people with in-built belief in generosity.  This is an upbringing thing – your parents taught it to you or they didn't.  Ask them to prove this by telling ‘service’ stories from the past – hard to fake.  Then induct them into the ‘Golden Rule’ – ‘treat others as you’d wish to be treated’.  The result is each hotel is an army of 300 – 400 believers.

2.   Drill staff with ‘standards’ – 500 separate quality standards that make up a guest experience.  Apparently room service consists of 17 things to get right.  Note Four Seasons talk about Standards not Rules.  The difference is palpable.  And when I say ‘drill’ I mean role play, rehearsal, training, reviews, mystery shoppers….the approach is forensic.

3.   Promote competition.  The crew at Four Seasons are photographing and videoing everything and posting it so their colleagues within the hotels and across the chain get to try to do better.  With believers like this, peer recognition for working out a better way to turn down a bed, serve a cocktail or recognise a returning guest is key.

So by nailing the detail of the job Four Seasons actually liberate their people to try new stuff, to think for themselves.  Flow does indeed make flair!