The Top 5 Employee Engagement Strategies With Horst Schulze

Susanne Axelsson

Horst Schulze began his career in the service industry at just fourteen years old, waiting tables at a small hotel in Germany. 

Many bellmen, white robes, and room services later, Horst worked his way up to co-found one of the world’s most famous hotel companies, the Ritz-Carlton.

Talk about a humble success story. 

In an exclusive presentation from the AskNicely Frontline Experience Summit, Horst reveals his key to success: his frontline employees.

Horst is adamant that the Ritz-Carlton would have failed without his motivated frontline team, and their commitment to the 20 basic tenets of service. 

Employee engagement strategies

Studies show that 80% of millennials are willing to pay more for the exact same product if they receive excellent service and attention. 

Let that sink in for a moment. 

Service-based companies, from glamorous hotels to pest control businesses, compete on customer experience, and customer experience relies almost solely on your frontline team. 

So we know how essential your frontline team is in order to grow your business, but how do we empower our frontline employees? How do we build a team of people with a genuine desire to deliver above and beyond expectations? What are the best employee engagement strategies my business should follow?

Horst has 5 key strategies:

  1. Select don’t employ.

The first step in empowering great employees is to select the right people in the first place. Not people to do a job, but people who can join your collective vision. 

As Horst says, “We didn't hire employees. We selected employees. We invited employees to join us in our vision.” 

His vision was to build the finest hotel company in the world. In the hiring, orientation, and and building of daily employee habits, Horst ensured this vision manifested through every employee. His employees were always working towards a bigger picture, a picture that benefitted them. If the hotels grew, so did they. If the hotels made more money, so did they.

Think about an employee you’ve managed or worked with that didn’t quite cut the mustard…

Who was the leader? Why did you hire them in the first place? Are there faults in your selection process? Your orientation process? Did the employee feel appreciated? 

These are the questions Horst encourages a friend and fellow business owner to ask when he’s discussing letting an employee of his small business go. 

Horst’s advice to his friend is confronting. He says “the fact that Joe is not a good employee is not his fault, it’s yours.”

Ouch. That’s some tough love advice. But as with most tough love, it hits hard on the truth. 

The more energy you put into selecting, training, nurturing, and inspiring your frontline employees, the better your customer experience will be. And the better your customer experience is, the more repeat business and referrals you’ll get, and the stronger your brand will become.

  1. Establish Your 20 Basic Tenets of Service. 

Within days of selecting employees, Horst teaches his frontline team the 20 basic tenets of service. That is, a list of 20 service standards that sets the Ritz-Carlton experience apart.  

"We want to be number one in the world," he said. "What are the 20 things we have to do in order to become number one in the world?" 

Try applying this to your business -

What do you want to be? 

And what are the 20 service standards you need in order to achieve your mission? 

The 20 basic tenets of service are not orders or directions. They’re aspirational objectives that your frontline employees work towards. Some examples for the Ritz-Carlton are: 

  • Adjust to each guest and be sensitive to their unique needs
  • Make your guest's experience memorable and unique
  • We assist each other, stepping out of our primary duties when necessary

Horst says it is management's job to establish these standards, and create processes, systems, measurements, and controls to ensure these expectations are met. It’s then leadership’s job to foster an environment where employees are inspired to deliver on these expectations. 

  1. Provide a sense of belonging and purpose. 

Over two thousand years ago, our good friend Aristotle made a good point. He said people can not be fulfilled unless they have belonging and purpose. 

Employee engagement strategies: purpose

A sense of belonging is a fundamental human need. However, 40% of people say they feel isolated at work. Employees cannot and will not provide excellent customer service if they don’t feel a sense of belonging. Why would they? What’s in it for them? 

Belonging has a clear correlation to commitment and motivation in the workplace, which directly translates to employee retention, pride, and motivation.

When companies place significant emphasis on belonging, like Horst Schulze did when building the Ritz-Carlton, they reap significant bottom-line benefits. The Harvard Business Review says a high sense of belonging is linked to: 

  • A 56% increase in job performance. 
  • A 50% drop in turnover risk. 
  • A 75% reduction in sick days. 

Take these statistics and apply them to a company of 10,000 people, and that’s an annual saving of more than $52 million!

When it comes to fostering belonging and purpose, Horst advises returning to your shared vision. Ask yourself, is your vision good for all concerned? Is it good for investors, customers, employees, and society at large? Carry this vision into everything you and your frontline team do. 

A key solution is checking in and communicating openly, preferably on a daily basis. An EY survey found that 39% of respondents feel the greatest sense of belonging when their colleagues simply check in with them, both personally and professionally, revealing the power of communication and feedback. 

  1. Teach the function and provide feedback. 

The fourth essential employee engagement strategy is practice and feedback. This is about implementing the 20 basic tenets of service and providing both positive reinforcement and constructive feedback. 

It’s widely known that coaching and feedback are directly correlated to employee performance and morale. But finding the time, resources, and money to regularly coach employees is a challenge for many businesses. 

This is where AskNicely can help scale a limited number of managers to effectively engage very large numbers of employees. AskNicely provides multiple toolsets such as the app that provides instant transparency and visibility. In a single glance, every worker can see their own employee experience score, ranking, shoutouts, and areas for improvement. All on their phone.

Customer feedback is one of the most valuable currencies to your business. You simply can not build a powerful customer experience without it. Horst says, “We orient the employee. We clearly let them know what our customers think” in order to successfully create a better customer experience.

  1. Sustain thinking and knowledge. 

So your employees are well selected, they’re well oriented on your 20 basics of service, they are working towards a collective vision, they feel a sense of belonging and purpose and they are receiving training and feedback. 

Take a breath. You’re almost there. 

But here comes the tricky part: sustaining this motivation. Long term employee empowerment requires a continuation of inspiration, training, feedback and knowledge. One-off training doesn’t cut it. 

Winning employee engagement strategies depend on getting feedback to every employee at every location every day. For service businesses with thousands of employees, this may sound impossible. AskNicely built our customer experience platform that specifically addresses the challenge of scaling 2 minutes of employee feedback per person per day across a huge employee base.

Each day at the Ritz-Carlton, frontline employees focus on one basic service from their list. As the 20th day rolls around, they go back to service one. This practice is about identifying what makes your organization excellent, and repeating it. It’s about refreshing mindsets, providing new strategies and sustaining constant support and feedback. 

Employee Engagement Strategies

The Ritz-Carlton would not be where it is today without their highly motivated frontline employees. “If my employees were 5% better than yours, I would win,” Horst says, and rightly so. A business with a highly motivated frontline team is a business that will succeed. 

Empowering your employees and providing them with meaningful feedback is not an easy task. AskNicely built our customer experience platform to help engage your employees to perform their best in alignment with the vision your brand has established.

Susanne Axelsson
About the author

Susanne Axelsson

Susanne is the Frontline Community Evangelist as well as the Author and research for Frontline Magic Handbook. She believes happy customers are born out of great experiences. Great experiences are delivered by motivated frontline people.

Susanne Axelsson
About the author

Susanne Axelsson

Susanne is the Frontline Community Evangelist as well as the Author and research for Frontline Magic Handbook. She believes happy customers are born out of great experiences. Great experiences are delivered by motivated frontline people.

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