How The Dorchester Collection empowers staff to deliver ultimate customer experiences

Hotel employee engagement
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How does The Dorchester Collection achieve its award-winning employee engagement levels -  and how has this impacted its customers?

Luxury hotel chain The Dorchester Collection is a brand that has been recognised on multiple occasions for its engaged staff - with accolades including Company of the Year at the 2014 Employee Engagement Awards, and 2015 Personnel Today Employee Engagement Award​. 

Eugenio Pirri is chief people and culture officer at The Dorchester Collection, and he believes the organisations approach to engagement is the foundation of the company's customer experience. 

“I consider our USP is to deliver the ultimate guest experience,” says Pirri. “I’ve always believed that our role as employers is to create engaging environments for our employees so they have the right talent, the right knowledge and the right skills to deliver the ultimate guest experience.”

The Dorchester Collection achieves this through a combination of:

  • A strong set of values.
  • Recruiting the right people.
  • Teaching new recruits about the company’s service philosophy.
  • Ongoing bespoke staff development.
  • Giving the staff the freedom to make big decisions for the customer thanks to the organisational structure.  

Pirri told us about how this combination creates engagement for the staff, and loyalty amongst its customer bases.

Empowering staff through organisational structure

My director of guest experience and innovation says: “You hire people and you put them in a box on the organisational chart, and then you spend the rest of the time working with that employee trying to get them out of the box!”  

We do indeed look at hierarchies very differently.

For us, the most important person in the organisation is the last person who spoke to the guest, or the person who has the most contact with the guest. 

In the traditional organisational structure it will normally be the general manager or director at the top. But we don’t look at organisational structures – we look at it as a series of bubbles. Whoever is talking to the guest is the most important person now.

For example, in our business, a waiter in a restaurant takes the customer’s order and they are now the most important person because they have all the information. It’s not the restaurant manager who did the schedule for the day and who decided which table the customer was sat at; it’s the person on the floor who has the information. 

For us, the most important person in the organisation is the last person who spoke to the guest, or the person who has the most contact with the guest. 

So, because we realised that networks work differently, we set up organisational structures which can give us the success we need. You have to live at the ‘intersection’ – the intersection changes every minute and every day, and you never know who is going to be in the intersection. You never know what the guest interaction is going to be. 

Sometimes we think that large decisions have to be made by the most senior person in the organisation, but the reality, certainly in the customer service world, is that decisions get made by people who are not directors. 

Giving staff the freedom to make big decisions

People may say they are not making big decisions, but I disagree.

In our company, an average guest who stays with us for three nights could have a bill in the region of £5,000 to £15,000. That’s significant revenue, and if an employee has to make a decision as to whether that guest will receive the ultimate guest experience, that is a big decision to make.   

This is why the intersection changes and why you share information and you allow your employees to have as much leeway and as much entrepreneurial spirit as possible to make these decisions. They are the people who will make your company successful. 

Our business is about building loyalty. We want guests to be loyal to us and to choose us when they come to town instead of our competitors. Creating loyalty happens a moment at a time. That’s why we spend so much time on bespoke development - so employees and guests can be engaged.  

Yes, we have service standards and check-in procedures, but when you visit a hotel you don’t remember how the coffee was served; you remember the way in which the staff talked to you, if they smiled and if they had a conversation with you.

Most organisations have huge binders of service interactions and standards. We are a little different. Yes, we have core standards, but for every service interaction there are a few points on just one page. 

We hire people because we believe they can provide the ultimate guest experience. Based on our core values we want to see that passion in how they deliver that ultimate guest experience, but we also want to see their personality.

Yes, we have service standards and check-in procedures, but when you visit a hotel you don’t remember how the coffee was served; you remember the way in which the staff talked to you, if they smiled and if they had a conversation with you. That’s what’s important.          

Teaching employees the service philosophy

When new employees start they go through a two or three day induction programme called ENGAGE, where they will learn about the company culture, our vision and learn about each other. 

I say to new employees on the programme: “Every single day you will be faced with making a series of decisions.” We don’t have a huge number of guidelines, so instead we try to teach the service philosophy. 

I also tell them: “When you have to make a decision you need to ask yourself, does it promote passion, does it promote working together? If the answer is ‘yes’, then it’s the right decision.” 

It may not always be the perfect decision, but life is not about making perfect decisions; it’s about making the best decision with the best available information at the time.

Provided the common sense approach you use is based on the core values you will be headed in the right direction.   

A commitment to values

I believe we have a company-wide commitment and a real belief in our core values. We have our five core values of Passion, Personality, Respect, Working Together and Innovation.  We underpin those with our ‘We Care’ philosophy and we align this to all of our people practices. 

For example, when we create, design and implement either a particular service or a strategy such as our learning and development approach - which is known as the Dorchester Collection Academy - we ensure that it aligns to those core values. 

We ask ourselves:

  • Does it display passion?
  • Does it have personality?
  • Does it promote working together?
  • Is it respectful?

When you have a commitment to weigh decisions against the core values, those values in effect become gatekeepers. And keeping those values at the forefront ensures the culture of engagement remains strong. 

Bespoke development of employees

Bespoke development is key to the growth of our people. Alongside our Dorchester Collection Academy, we have a lot of programmes which underpin and support it.

When you talk about development it’s important to understand that people are joining the organisation for a number of different reasons. Some people join because they want a career; others want to be developed and learn new skills; others are happy to do a job for a long period of time and are not necessarily all that interested in being promoted. 

People are motivated by different things. Some people are supporting their families, some people want to travel, and some want a career. It’s very important you understand those different motivations by talking to your people and finding out what those motivations are. Whatever their reason, we ultimately have one role as an employer: to create a safe environment where they can flourish. 

The development journey then varies from property to property. We have a graduate leadership programme, which we call our Ultimate Leaders Programme. Under the programme graduates will come in and will work in a minimum of two hotels. That provides cross exposure so they can understand that each hotel is different. 

If you are just starting on the path to creating an L&D programme, first make sure you are bringing in the right talent.

Long-term engagement is about keeping people motivated. If they are motivated they will deliver on those core strategies. That’s why bespoke development is so important to the strategy itself. You have to attract them well, and you have to develop them in order to drive engagement.       

If you are just starting on the path to creating an L&D programme, first make sure you are bringing in the right talent. A lot of companies think that they need to fill the job and so will hire someone who may not be right. I think you are better off waiting in order to get the right person for the company, rather than bringing in the wrong person. 

We have seven levels to our Academy, but I think the first level is the vital one – when somebody joins the organisation we get them to understand who we are, what we are trying to create, our vision and values, what their role is in it and why they were hired. Therefore, the initial induction stage is key.

Secondly, you need to make your senior leadership understand what your vision is and how they are going to get the best out of people. We no longer live in a world when you can just tell people what to do. Old school thinking was that the boss is the boss, and you do what the boss says. That approach hasn’t worked for years.

The new generation is more knowledgeable than you. They may not have the experience, but they have the knowledge, the speed and the insight. Getting your senior leadership to understand how to lead and how to bring the vision and the mission to life and how to create an engaging environment is key.

The third aspect is the person who is between the leadership and the employee, i.e. the supervisor/manager. They need to have a lot of development as they can get stuck in the middle.  

Having those three elements as your core is a great way to start. 

The science of engagement

I consider myself, and many of the people who work here, as quite methodical. I believe that to have a strategy you need to understand the science behind it.

You have to look at engagement overall - from how we treat our employees, to how we treat our guests, to how we develop our people, or in turn how we use our talent to deliver the ultimate guest experience. 

It starts before people join us – understanding their attraction – and then looking at what natural talent people have so that they can fit into the organisation. And once you have them, that’s when you can provide bespoke development to drive organisational success.

A lot of people think having great engagement is about having a great staff party – in fact, it’s the complete opposite of that. It’s really about understanding the people you have working for you, and understanding where they want to go and what they want to do.   


About Neil Davey


Neil Davey is the managing editor of MyCustomer. An experienced business journalist and editor, Neil has worked on a variety of newspapers, magazines and websites over the past 15 years, including Internet Works, CXO magazine and Business Management. He joined Sift Media in 2007.


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