I just returned from speaking to hospitality executives in Oslo and Amsterdam as part of my work as a communications coach. While preparing for the presentations, I asked the organizers about the biggest challenge facing hospitality managers in their countries. The answer was exactly what I hear from their U.S. counterparts: motivating employees to offer exceptional customer service. The challenge is universal across countries and industries. Fortunately, so is the solution.
Motivation starts with employee engagement, and engagement begins with effective communication skills. In my presentation to hotel and travel executives, I quoted Jack Welch, former CEO of General Electric (GE) and current BusinessWeek columnist, who once said: "No company, large or small, can succeed over the long run without energized employees who believe in the mission and understand how to achieve it." Three key words in this quotation hold the secret to motivating employees: "energized," "believe," and "understand."
Successful companies have energetic employees. Nothing energizes employees more than public recognition and praise for their accomplishments. Praise fills emotional tanks, giving your team the fuel to perform to its peak potential.
Believing in Your Mission
I recently read an article about a company that spent $2 million on an "extreme" team-building event in a remote wilderness. There's nothing inherently wrong with events that facilitate collaboration. I have participated in several—including a whitewater rafting trip—and found them to be valuable. But too many managers confuse a one-time team-building event with creating a system to regularly deliver recognition.
Not too long ago a friend and her husband were treated to an all-expense-paid trip to Hawaii. She was one of the select few who made "President's Club" based on her high sales. She returned from the trip and started looking for a new job. Why? Her boss had failed to recognize her accomplishment publicly—first woman to make President's Club in the company's 18-year history. Yes, people want to be famous—especially in front of their peers.
Successful companies have employees who believe in the mission. Intuit's (INTU) Scott Cook once told me: "People want more than a paycheck. They want to feel as though they are part of something bigger than themselves." It's up to you to articulate the mission and set the tone for the rest of your team. To create a compelling mission that everyone can rally behind, ask yourself: "What are we really selling?" Are you selling insurance or "peace of mind?" Are you selling computers or "tools to unleash human creativity?" Are you selling coffee, or in the words of Starbucks' (SBUX) Howard Schultz, "a third place between work and home?" Successful missions have less to do with the physical product and more to do with how that product will improve the lives of your customers.
Reinforce the Core Mission
Successful companies have employees who understand how to achieve success. The CEO of Dominos Pizza India, Ajay Kaul, says the company's mission must be simple enough to be understood by all 4,000 of his employees. Once it has been set, it's up to you to communicate constantly how well the company is performing against the objective.
"If you're genuine, passionate, and have a clear vision, it resonates with your employees," Travelocity's Michele Peluso once told me. Peluso's challenge is to make sure all employees around the world understand the company's core mission—to champion the customer experience. Peluso reinforces it consistently in her communications, which include weekly e-mails to all staff, monthly brown-bag lunches that encourage lively discussion, and quarterly visits to global offices. Clarity and consistency facilitate understanding.
Don't confuse employee motivation with price of admission to compete as a successful company. A company has to meet basic expectations to motivate top talent. In the U.S., an employee expects two weeks vacation. In Europe, an employee expects five weeks. But while expectations might differ in countries and cultures, whether or not your own business will stand apart depends on the quality of your interaction with your employees and, in turn, how they engage with your customers.