Recently, many hotel and restaurant managers started using the technique called empowerment to increase guest-satisfaction levels. Many believe that empowering front-of-the-house staff can achieve their goals. Before employees can be empowered, however, would-be empowers must clearly understand and define the term “empowerment”.
At the moment, there is no globally accepted definition, leaving executives to develop their own interpretations. Some say that empowerment is a condition or state of mind in which employees feel from unnecessary restrictions on their ability to take action in the interests of guest satisfaction.
Others suggest that empowerment involves a process through which managers and employees, individually and collectively attempt consciously and continuously to make progress toward that reactive condition.
J.W. Marriott, CEO of Marriott Hotels, defines empowerment as follows: “The process of extending to the associate (employee) closest to the customer the resources, educating, and authority to create extraordinary service while preserving profitability”.
He continues by further asserting that empowered employees are able to make decisions and to take initiative that will continuously improve the level of service. Many organizations, however, operate under the misconception that all management has to do is to empower employees and guest satisfaction will improve automatically. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Employees cannot be empowered without appropriate training, guiding, and coaching. Without training and coaching, they will start choosing the path of least resistance and conform to familiar ways of relating to management. Their motivation in so doing will be to avoid risks, when rather they should be anticipating and responding to the needs of guests.
The first step in the training process is to remove the barriers that employees feel prevent them from reacting to the needs of guests. Strangely enough, though empowerment has to do with freedom, training must clearly outline both the limits of empowerment and the responsibilities that attend it. Clearly, no company can afford to empower any employee to “give away the store”. One famous hotel chain tried it, empowering employees to make on-the-spot adjustments up to the amount of two thousand dollars. This, however, had to be reduces substantially, when some employees overused the option as a “quick fix” (as some parent’s overuse sweets to pacify shrieking babies). Both of these options can work immediate wonders of conciliation, but may not address the underlying problem. The training needed to successfully and fully launch an empowerment program involves lessons in negotiating, decision-making, and brainstorming. Employees must become familiar with the standards of the operation. They must also be made comfortable with responding to guests and their special service needs. One way to nurture this is though role-playing exercises, where hired actors play guests in a restaurant and create situations to which servers must respond. While the individual (trainee) on the floor is learning a lesson, other servers benefit, too.
Today, empowerment is not an added safeguard that assists in the delivery of service; rather, it has become a necessity for business that hope to survive. En route to empowerment, most businesses must improve their internal communication channels and techniques. In large companies, the “cascade technique” is most successfully employed. This requires the decisions of top management be communicated to middle management, continuing with the same pattern throughout the work force. Since the cascade patter mirrors the philosophical pattern necessary for building an empowerment or total-quality-assurance program (top-downward), it is a particularly effective tool for stimulating necessary changes in corporate culture.
Managers need to become attuned to communication and confirm that information they transmitted has been, in fact, received. Frequent problems occur when managers think that the information imparted was comprehended and never bother to verify the level comprehension of the listener. Occasionally, managers think that they have communicated everything they intended, while reality shows they have neglected to verbalize some of the details. The “osmosis” or “mental telepathy” method, whereby employees second-guess what is required of them, rarely works.
Mental telepathy also fails as a form of reinforcement. Most employees need to be told (over and over if need be) that they are important for the success of the business ad that without their help, commitment, and dedication, the establishment cannot survive. If the business fails, ultimately, they will have to for another job. Employees should also have been given awards, monetary or otherwise; this will demonstrate management’s integrity and support.
All employees must be proud to reform their jobs and believe in the company. They must feel that they are effectively contributing to the success of the operation. This cannot be achieved with one or two isolated meetings and short, intermittent training session. Both must be ongoing and genuine in their intent.
Many restaurant and hotel mangers claim they are committed to training their employees, but available statistics suggest otherwise. While Japanese companies spend as much as 12 per cent of the salaries they pay on training, Farce musters two per cent.
The United States and Canada lag still further behind with just 1.4 respectively – though accompanies by much rhetoric and advocacy. The goals of totals quality assurance cannot be achieved through preaching by simple fiat. Sincere adaptors must mobilize their resources to convince all employees that management is serious about and committed to TQA. If training and implementation is attempted before this belief has been embraced, TQA programs simply will not “take”.
It may be worth mentioning that Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts is one hotel company that subscribes successfully to the notion of TQA and empowerment. It works for them because their commitment starts at the top and permeates throughout the company. But not even for them did empowerment “just happen”. It grew through the organization, invading the corporate culture through commitment, communication, practice, and trust.