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Training the Talented, the Ritz-Carlton Way


Last updated 6/3/2014

While training at Ritz-Carlton is a rigorous process of identifying committed service professionals, individuals come to the company with varying levels of technical skill and backgrounds both inside and outside the hospitality industry. New staff members are assigned learning coaches who train and certify them on the core competencies of their jobs.

Mandy Holloway, senior director of global learning at Ritz-Carlton, observes, “We take training and learning very seriously. We focus on the design of learning, measured competency, and whether the skills learned are truly being delivered to the customer. We are on a journey right now where we’re evolving from a training organization into a learning environment. We understand very clearly that 70 percent of learning realistically is on the job. This feeds through to operational certification, making sure that within the employees’ first 21 days, they are certified within their jobs, in alignment with the Gold Standards for the hotel. We have great tools like online training modules and detailed operational manuals that help facilitate that certification process. Those tools also are in alignment so that we can analyze operational skills acquisition against the results of mystery shopper and customer engagement surveys. In essence, secret shoppers are looking for the exact criteria that staff members are certified to meet. As such, we’re not doing training for the sake of training.”

By way of example, Holloway adds, “Let’s assume that all members of the front desk staff have worked with a learning coach and have achieved certification from that coach on the core competencies of their jobs by the twenty-first day of their employment. Let’s also assume that problems are being detected either by mystery shoppers or from guest surveys that the front desk staff is not consistently confirming the guests’ length of stay during the check-in process. Even though the employees were at one time proficient and certified at that skill, the customer feedback affords the opportunity for what we call ‘just-in-time learning’ to take place to quickly refresh that service delivery standard.”

Mark DeCocinis, regional vice president of Asia Pacific, believes that the company’s commitment to training and skills certification gives them a competitive advantage in international markets. “For example, Asia Pacific is in a unique position as having won best employer in the region (in all employment categories) in multiple destinations. As such, we are able to attract the very best of talent available in the market. With our sound human resources practices, where every employee joining Ritz-Carlton receives more than 250 hours of training in the first year of operation, we develop and nurture a well-trained and loyal team of Ladies and Gentlemen who are at the very heart of our operation. Therefore, in emerging nations such as China, where there is a chronic shortage of qualified hospitality staff, we are able to appeal to and employ the very best local talent available and fully certify them in our Ritz-Carlton philosophy. This training and being part of the Ritz-Carlton culture engenders a great sense of commitment from all of our Ladies and Gentlemen, and they feel empowered and engaged in their own decision making and in their own career development.”

While the new 21-day certification process is constantly occurring as new hires are brought into an existing hotel, the task of initially training staff for a new hotel opening is rather daunting. Senior leadership at Ritz-Carlton works together to source the coaching needs of the new hotel by drawing some of the most talented coaches and trainers from throughout the Ritz-Carlton system. Roberto Van Geenen, general manager of the Ritz-Carlton, Dallas, says, “Our process starts about 52 weeks before we open our doors, and every single week we have to meet certain milestones. When I arrived in Dallas a year before the opening, there were only three of us here—the director of sales and marketing, one assistant, and me. But the most intense action occurs in the hotel 10 days before launch, a period we call ‘countdown.’ During that countdown, we run the hotel like a full-blown operation to make sure everything is ready for our guests.”

Roberto adds, “To train a predominantly new group of Ritz-Carlton Ladies and Gentlemen to prepare a hotel for opening, we choose our service champions from around the world. For example, I think we had four or five executive chefs here for our opening. So it’s all of our leaders, and they have to be certified; they have to have the global reputation with their technical skills and, most importantly, with embracing the philosophy. General managers support one another by accommodating the request to have their best people travel and work hard through the 10-day countdown. We start at 6:00 in the morning with the trainers’ lineup, and we finish business about 8:00 in the evening. At night, we have what we call ‘fun and games.’ Those evenings involve all the trainers, my staff, and me putting things in their right place, stocking minibars, making beds, and doing whatever it takes to make the hotel ready for the next day’s staff training and ready for the upcoming needs of guests.”

The training and launch efforts at the Dallas hotel earned Roberto and his team official recognition as the best employer in Dallas before the hotel even opened.

Ritz-Carlton has effectively developed structured approaches to help staff members understand and embrace the company’s culture during both new hotel openings and the new-hire onboarding process. In each case, the transfer of corporate knowledge is highly valued both in terms of certifiable operational standards and cultural identity and history.

Bob Kharazmi, senior vice president of international operations, notes that cultural imprinting is essential to the success of Ritz-Carlton hotels internationally. “Our president of international operations, Herve Humler, and I go to every international hotel opening. We spend 7 to 10 days with our managers. Herve and I lead the team. No matter what we have going on at our corporate headquarters, we drop everything to make sure the hotel is launched from a solid cultural and operational foundation. We work with both the front line and leadership, helping them understand our Gold Standards and our approach to business. At our leadership sessions, we define our expectations in regard to our business model, treatment of staff, care of guests, and community involvement. Before we leave the property, we get departments together and say, ‘You know our expectations. You know our culture. What do you want to be? This is your hotel; this is your department. What do you want to be?’ We take all their ideas and before we leave, every single department writes their mission statement. This ensures that the Ritz-Carlton leadership approach is easily adopted and is customized to each international property.” 

Kharazmi  adds, “This transfer of knowledge is catching on internationally, as evidenced by the trainers who were involved in opening our second hotel in Beijing. Of the 80 ‘best of the best’ trainers who came all over the world to open that hotel, 7 were from the Beijing Financial Street hotel that had only opened 12 months earlier. One can only imagine the very powerful career message that their success gave to would-be leaders.”

Over time Ritz-Carlton leadership has developed a very sophisticated process of making training a person-to-person journey that results in the inculcation of corporate values and mission.

Excerpted with permission of the publisher McGraw-Hill from The New Gold Standard Copyright (c) 2008, by Joseph A. Michelli. This book is available at all bookstores and online booksellers.