While I travel often for business, my experience staying at the Hyatt Place DFW airport hotel felt different. I was consistently met with genuinely friendly, caring attitudes from all the hotel associates I encountered: from the sales manager who helped me with an extra night’s stay because I needed to arrive early before an impending storm … to the shuttle driver who was excited to tell me about the hotel (not just routinely reciting the hotel’s features) … to the team member behind the small lobby bar/food counter who took my dinner order (with helpful suggestions) and served it as if I were a guest in her home … to the sales team member who was most accommodating in helping me set up the room for my client retreat … and the maintenance team member who pitched in to help as a shuttle driver when my client and I needed a ride.
I complimented David Lamb, the hotel’s general manager, and we talked about his team’s strong engagement and passion for serving guests. He spoke with pride about the team and the special culture they created in the two years since they opened. Impressed with what I learned, I asked David to share his thoughts here.
QSM: I understand when you were preparing to open the hotel in January 2016, your hiring process focused more on attitude and values than specific skills and experience. Please tell us more about that.
David Lamb: We made a conscious decision before hiring the opening crew of the hotel that we were going to choose team members based on their ability to convey hospitality rather than based on any previous hotel experience. We did not care if they were once a front desk clerk, or housekeeper, or hotel supervisor, or any other similar position. What mattered most to us was that they would be able to convey a sense of authentic hospitality towards our guests and each other.
Even to this day when we conduct interviews, we focus on two main criteria when considering candidates. The first being their ability to uphold the values our ‘work family’ has chosen to live by. Those values are respect, integrity, empathy, creativity, fun, humility, and family. So, for example, if a candidate has a lot of customer service experience but has a hard time smiling naturally, that person is not qualified to work here. If they only talk about their previous personal accomplishments and have a hard time talking about what they accomplished as part of a team, they are not qualified to work here. We recruit and hire based on our values. So if a potential employee appears amazing and interviews great but doesn’t have the same values as our hotel, they are not qualified to be on our team. We can teach skills, but it’s extremely difficult to teach values.
The second thing we look for in potential candidates is character. We gravitate towards people who have lived life. By that I mean they have gone through tough times and have gained a more profound perspective on life. It’s so much easier to be able to relate to people with empathy and show care and compassion when you’ve been through a similar experience. We also steer away from those whose worst day was when they didn’t have the right pair of shoes to wear with an outfit, or got their feelings hurt by someone close to them. I’m exaggerating here, but you get the point. Some people are just not able to show authentic compassion and empathy because they’ve not ever had some type of a profound life event to give them a real perspective on what other people go through.
QSM: How would you describe the workplace culture you’ve cultivated in your hotel?
David: Our hotel’s culture is a result of a combination of what we have created and what we allow. ‘Allow’ is important because certain behaviors that we allow, or don’t allow, contribute to the culture we have. As leaders, it is our responsibility to constantly recognize what is being created and what is being allowed to make sure they line up with our culture. We evaluate by asking, “Is this who we are and what we want?”
The #1 force that shapes our culture is our values. What we value determines what we do and how we behave. We can create a special hotel that people love to come to, or we can create a place people would rather not come to. It’s all dependent on our values. This creates a (mostly) drama free and stress free work environment and a place where team members can succeed together in accomplishing great things. The benefits of a strong value driven culture are:
- strong values attract the right people and weed out the wrong people
- right values result in right actions
- a strong value-driven culture eliminates unnecessary conflict because the culture self-corrects
- clear values reduce the need for policies and procedures
- people love to be a part of a place with clear direction and values.
As I said before this a self-correcting system. If an associate starts to veer off course, the other team members will recognize it and work to get him/her back into the fold. If that person won’t heed the advice from their peers, they will push that person out and he/she leaves the team. That way we all can stay focused on our goals without those kind of distractions.
QSM: What types of things do you and your management team do to reinforce your culture and values?
David: When interviewing, we steer towards these values: work ethic, flexibility, teachability, humility, resilience, and sense of humor. If they are talented but lazy, no go! If they are talented but arrogant, no go! If they are talented but have a hard time smiling or laughing or are no fun, no go! If they are talented but inflexible and rigid in their approach to things, no go! Bottom line – we will take a ‘B’ player with similar values over an ‘A’ player with different values any day of the week!
We also make a point to provide leadership training to all staff who want to attend. Through this training the staff is of one mind-set when it comes to on-the-job expectations and their professional growth. Even line-level staff can benefit from this leadership training to help boost their career. This helps keep us all on the same page in terms of what we are trying to accomplish and it syncs together. Besides creating a value driven culture, other topics in our leadership training have been: sharpening our communication skills, thinking like an owner, empowerment, leading up, and overcoming apathy.
QSM: What are you most proud of regarding your team’s performance in taking care of guests?