Give an example of a situation in which informal communication would function well among empowered…

Kimpton Hotels: Our Employees Are Our Brand

The hotel and restaurant industry caters to its guests, but it has always had a reputation for being somewhat inhospitable to its employees. Traditionally, hotel and restaurant workers put in long hours for low pay and little or no recognition; they the invisible hosts who fluff the pillows and sweep away crumbs. But Kimpton Hotels is setting a new example by treating its employees as something better than family: they are, in many ways, business partners.

Kimpton Hotels was founded in 1981 by Bill Kimpton, an investment banker with a vision for boutique hotels: small, luxurious hotels with impeccably intimate service and gourmet restaurants. Today, Kimpton operates 50 hotels and restaurants around the country, each beautifully designed and furnished. But more than that, notes COONiki Leondakis, the people really separate us from other hotels. As COO, Leondakis knows firsthand the difference at Kimpton. Leondakis talks about her company full-blown commitment to empowering employees to make decisions, to take part in running the business, to grow as professionals. The employee of today wants more and expects more, and is not willing just to be a servant, loyal worker, or soldier, she says. Leondakis is proud of that fact and of the army of topflight employees and managers who work at Kimpton various locations.

One of those managers is Peggy Trott, the general manager of the Kimpton Hotel Palomar in Philadelphia. Trott explains how Kimpton empowers its employees. Kimpton wants each general manager to be an entrepreneur, she says. They want you to operate your hotel as if it is your own business. So there a lot of leeway. While some managers might argue that this puts undue pressure on them to perform as business owners, Trott views the challenge as an opportunity. She notes that the attitude toward empowerment travels from the top down in the organization. She says that each of her employees is charged with being a hero every day, especially when it comes to guest service. If an employee is acting on behalf of a guest, then he or she is free to make the decision on the spot.

I have high expectations, but I think that when you give people high expectations, they rise to the occasion, says Trott. For example, if a housekeeper sees that one of her guest rooms is housing a family of two parents and two children, the housekeeper is expected to stock the room with extra towels instead of waiting for the guests to call the front desk requesting more towels. No matter how large or small the task might seem, We expect people to be self-leaders, notes NikiLeondakis. We expect employees to use their heads.

Because each of the 50 Kimpton hotel and restaurant properties is unique to its location and local population, Kimpton actively recruits employees with diverse backgrounds and qualifications, then gives them the authority to serve their guests as they see best. Individuality is nurtured rather than squelched. NikiLeondakis observes that, because her employees come with a wide range of experience at different locations in the hospitality industry, sometimes it is difficult to get them to leave behind their previous assumptions about their role as hotel workers. The biggest challenge with employee empowerment and communication is that we all products of our past, Leondakis says. New employees often have to be retrained to think outside the box, make decisions, and rock the boat, as Leondakis puts it.

The results of this retraining toward empowerment have not gone unnoticed. Kimpton Hotels consistently win awards for service, and the group has received many accolades for its approach to human resource management, including a recent award from the Human Rights Campaign for Workplace Equality Innovation. In addition, Kimpton is regularly named to Fortune list of 100 Best Companies to Work For.

Recent praise from the industry publication Hospitality Design included a statement from Kimpton CEO, Michael Depatie, crediting NikiLeondakis with much of the company HR success. Niki has an extraordinary ability to connect with people, from guests she meets on the road to each and every one of our employees, said Depatie. Leondakis, managers like Peggy Trott, and the entire staff, embody their company assertion that Our employees are our brand. Kimpton Hotels: Our Employees Are Our Brand CaAsSeE 19.3 Chapter 9 Top Performance through Empowerment, Teamwork, and Communication 313

Questions for Critical Thinking

1. Give three specific reasons why empowerment is key to the success of a firm like Kimpton Hotels. How might this distinguish it from other hotel companies?

2. Select the concept of either a problem-solving team or a self-managed team. How might this team function at a Kimpton hotel? Who might be on the team, and what role might it play in the running of the hotel?

3. Give an example of a situation in which informal communication would function well among empowered employees at a Kimpton hotel.

4. Currently all Kimpton hotels are located in the U.S., which is a low-context culture. If the firm decided to open a hotel in a high-context culture such as Japan, how might communication between staff and guests differ?

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