I was recently on a Zoom presentation with Horst Schulze, first president and co-founder of the Ritz-Carlton chain. When Horst speaks, I listen and take lots of notes. One of the questions he was asked had to do with empowerment, specifically about the $2,000 the Ladies and Gentlemen – what Ritz-Carlton calls its employees – are allowed to spend to ensure a guest has a great experience.
That reminded me of an experience I once had at a Ritz-Carlton. The housekeeping staff had left dirty towels in the room from the previous guest. I let the housekeeper know. She was so apologetic and promised me it would be taken care of. I thought to myself, “Is this worthy of using any of the $2,000 budget on me?” When I returned to the room after dinner there was a short note from the housekeeper and a piece of chocolate candy, which probably cost less than a dollar. No, it wasn’t anything close to $2,000, but it was absolutely appropriate. The note would have been enough, but the chocolate sweetened the experience.
Horst shared a better story. He talked about teaching people what they are empowered to do. A guest at the hotel had accidentally left his laptop in the room when he checked out. He flew to Hawaii and called the hotel, panicking because he had lost his computer that he needed for his meeting. The housekeeper who found it did what she believed was necessary to take care of this guest. She took the very next flight to Hawaii, returned the laptop to the guest and returned on the next flight back to the states.
Horst admits that that was, to use his exact word, “Crazy,” but he also said it was what she was taught to do. Did she get in trouble? Of course not. Was she told what to do next time? You bet. No, it wasn’t necessary to get on the plane to return the computer, but Horst loved this story and wanted every member of the Ritz-Carlton team throughout the world to hear it. This is how you teach people what they can do.
My take on empowerment is simple. Hire good people, with a good sense of judgment, and train them to do their job. You want people to take some risks. You want them to understand there is a line they shouldn’t cross, but you want them to get close to that line if necessary to take care of the customer. You want them to know you trust them. When they do something different, that’s great, congratulate them and share it with the team. If they cross that line, congratulate them for using their initiative and teach them what to do next time. Share that with the team as well. Done the right way, you’ll be creating an empowered team of people who are comfortable with making good decisions and taking care of their customers!