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25 November 2016
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Learning the Marriott way

I tire of cynics across healthcare; they are almost a disease in their own right, gnawing away at the heart of many healthcare environments. Yet, as a coach in healthcare leadership, I have to pinch myself and watch out for my own inner cynic who likes to peep out occasionally.

I noticed this when FMLM and the BMJ asked me to facilitate a day at the Leaders in Healthcare 2016 conference, spending time learning from a hotel chain. I do believe it is important not to limit ourselves to learning exclusively from within our own industry, as there is so much to learn from other sectors. My frustration can be that other industries also have much to learn from healthcare and the wonderful things it gets right, time and time again, and yet that seems to be often forgotten.

A hotel chain! Surely they are about filling beds and taking the financial reward for doing so; healthcare is looking to get people out of beds, yet does it still get rewarded for filling them? Maybe there was something to learn.

So I find myself with an equally intrigued group of medical leaders at the Liverpool Marriott hotel and hear first-hand from their leadership team about how they maintain their edge in a competitive landscape.

It wasn’t long before our eyes were opened to what is possible when you live your values demonstrably – simple yet consistent messages lived through day to day behaviours. Some insights were slightly embarrassing, causing a little discomfort in the room when the hotel manager explained: “we look after three things in our staff: their physical health, their emotional health and their financial health”. I wasn’t alone in thinking that, as healthcare professionals, we see many colleagues struggling to find time to look after their own health, let alone that of colleagues around them.

My cynic kicked in again – but this is only a hotel, you can’t compare this to the massive institute that is the NHS. Just as we then discover the Marriott and its partner brands are the largest hotel chain in the world, with property in hundreds of countries.

“Take care of your employees and they’ll take care of the guests” was the philosophy of the founder J Willard Marriot and his wife Alice Sheets Marriott, a real husband and wife team.

This was supported by five key principles which we tested through the day only to discover a rich vein of simple initiatives that paid off – in the way they recruit, retain and develop their people;  it prompted the questions as to just where the transferable learning is.

The Marriott way:

1. We Put People First

Take care of associates (their staff) and they will take care of the customers

2. We Pursue Excellence

Our dedication to the customer shows in everything we do.

3. We Embrace Change

Innovation has always been part of the Marriott story.

4. We Act with Integrity

How we do business is as important as the business we do.

5. We Serve Our World

Our ‘spirit to serve’ makes our company stronger.

All their associates gain automatic access to the gym and pool facilities and are encouraged to use them routinely. All line-managers take an active interest in knowing their associates beyond the workplace, meeting their families and partners – through initiatives such as ‘bring your child to work’ days and, soon to be implemented. ‘bring your parent to work’ days, an idea spawned from a member of the team.

Anyone on the front line (eg from those who prepare the rooms, work on reception or in the kitchen) can make suggestions to improve the customer experience; if it works, it stays. Days are set aside for staff to  engage with local charities or community groups, giving people a sense of belonging in the community where the hotels sit.

The learning just kept coming, and the only way to capture it all is to get yourself to the next conference and see it for yourself.

Yet two things stood out for me: the empowerment of all staff to make customer decisions in the moment, having the confidence that they will be supported by their manager; yes, a maid can award a free night stay to a customer if they feel they have a justifiable complaint. Yet, perhaps the biggest learning was ‘don’t over complicate leadership’; it is a human thing, and demonstrating humanity between people, caring and showing an interest in each other beats any leadership model. Those who are treated with compassion treat others with compassion.

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