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“Empower to Retain”
May 2002

increased. Research by the authors Empowerment as a concept has its

An overview of how Geary and Roche in 1999, proposed roots dating back centuries, but is in
empowerment can be key that foreign owned companies are its current business usage since the
much more likely to appoint a human 1980’s. It is seen to have developed
to retention resource specialist, make greater as a result of external challenges in the
efforts towards employee form of greater competition, changes
Donagh Davern
communication and involvement, in the workforce composition and
M.Sc., Dip., MIHCI
initiate employee suggestion schemes increased customer demands and as a
and are more strategic in the selection, result of internal challenges in the
Introduction: development and training of form of employee motivation,
employees. In contrast, approaches to retention and development.
One of our greatest challenges in the management practice in Irish
hospitality business is to select and hospitality industries have been more Although empowerment has been
retain the right people. Recent figures traditional, leading to a number of defined in many ways by the
released by CERT indicate that the initiatives designed to improve human multitude of authors who have written
Irish Tourism Industry will require resource practice, such as the Irish on the topic, one of the most useful
approximately 125,000 new recruits in Hotel Federation’s Quality Employer definitions I have found is by the
the next five years and around 100,000 Programme in 1997 and CERT’s authors Bowen and Lawler (1995)
of these will be as a direct Benchmarking Report in 2000. who have written extensively on the
consequence of continuing labour area of empowerment:
turnover. In 2001 I researched the area of
Employee Empowerment, with Empowerment = Power
Research performed by the Irish particular emphasis on the 5 Star x
Business Employers Confederation market. The research involved Information
through a number of research surveys background research on the are of x
has revealed that on average only ten empowerment and related fields. It Knowledge
percent of employees who leave a firm also involved interviewing a senior x
cite pay dissatisfaction as their reason member of management from sixteen Rewards
for leaving. Therefore employers are of the eighteen 5 Star properties in
looking beyond pay, to concepts such Ireland, along with the analysis of The authors stress that if any of these
as employee empowerment, to over one hundred questionnaires essential components are missing, then
improve staff retention. distributed to employees of these true employee empowerment will not
hotels. It also looked at a number of exist.
The concept of Employee successful empowerment programmes
Empowerment is about allowing established by hotel companies such An analysis of the management
employees to make decisions as Four Seasons, Ritz-Carlton and interviews showed that although the
themselves without management Medallion Hotels, in an effort to use majority of 5 Star properties in Ireland
consultation. It is about sharing these as a benchmark for the Irish had Mission Statements, only one of
information with employees, so that hotelier. the properties involved employees in
they can make informed decisions, its creation, with all others being
trusting them to make the right created at management or board level.
Empowerment and Staff
decisions and rewarding them for their Although a number of properties had
efforts. Motivation:
put strategic plans in place for a set
All the key motivation theorists have number of years, none had a formal
With the entry of international hotel Vision that they created and shared
companies such as Four Seasons, referred to the need for employees to
feel part of an organisation, being with the employees.
Westin, Hilton and Radisson into the
Irish marketplace, improved human involved and sharing in its success.
Employee involvement in decision- All interviewees felt comfortable with
resource management practices are the concept of employees solving
evident and competition for staff has making has been seen as a key to the
implementation of change in an guest’s problems at the point of
organisation. contact, without reference to a
manager, but the importance of
follow-up to minimise repeated
failures in service was emphasised. modern business. Companies such as many had no idea what to do with this
One Irish chain of hotels has Electrolux and Saab-Scania have a new power.
established a customer retention strong empowerment ethos. Glasgow
programme, where in the event of a Airport, winner of the U.K. National Advantages of Empowering
problem, employees set out not just to Training Award in 1999, implemented Employees:
satisfy guests, but also to ‘actually ‘empowerment zones’, where
delight them’. All of these instances employees could easily see the tasks Authors on the area encourage
were recorded and the financial cost they could perform without formal companies to value people for who
noted, with action being taken on any approval, leaving supervisors more they are, if they are to extract their full
recurring issues. Employee time to act as facilitators. Increased potential. Studies have shown that
representative committees have been training, information-sharing and Empowerment can speed up decision-
established in a number of properties performance-related bonus schemes making and increase reaction times. It
to include employee representatives in saw the end of the confrontational releases the creative and innovative
important decisions, while some are industrial relations, demarcation and capabilities of employees and leads to
part of social partnership committees poor productivity that the company greater job satisfaction, motivation
including members of management, was know for. The introduction of and commitment, while giving
employee representatives and union employee empowerment in the award employees greater responsibility and a
representatives. winning Autoglass company in the greater sense of achievement from
U.K. saw a transformation from an their work. It reduces operational
About 50% of the surveyed properties image of poor customer service and costs by eliminating unnecessary
share information on budgets, dissatisfied staff to a company where layers of management, along with
forecasts, profits, guest comments and higher performing staff were reducing quality control and checking
complaints with their employees, with recognised accordingly and had the operations.
the remainder just sharing information opportunity to contribute to the
on guest comments and complaints. management of the company, while Obviously, in the highly competitive
customer satisfaction scores increased nature of the hotel industry today,
It seems that most properties do not dramatically. these areas are very important.
have any form of customer compliant Firstly, there is competition for
handling training for employees, with Some of the largest and most employees and the creation of an
most of this training being done successful companies in the world empowerment environment will add to
through observation or practice. have created an empowered there job satisfaction and job
Although Employee Empowerment workforce. Chairman of Texas enrichment. Also, empowerment can
only features formally in only a few of Instruments, Mark Shepard, sees his improve service creating a satisfied
the Irish 5 Star hotels, many of the employees as “a source of ideas, not customer and in turn more business.
hotels promote and discuss just acting as a pair of hands”, while in
empowerment during induction for retail giant Walmart, Sam Walter says
new employees. that “our best ideas come from clerks Empowerment in the
and stockboys”. In Boeing, they are Hospitality Industry:
Most of the managers interviewed “proud of their ability to pull people
promoted the idea of setting limits on from several layers down in the Studies have shown that high
employee discretion and spending technical structure and put them in involvement industries such as hotels
initially, so that employees felt charge of major projects, often with are ideally suited to employee
comfortable working within these higher salaried and more senior people empowerment. As the client is nearly
guidelines. These should then be reporting to them”. always physically present during the
relaxed as the employees become transaction in the hotel, this increases
more confident. Outside of business teachers, parents the importance of the employee
and coaches are using the concept of having the power and knowledge to
Examples of how employees have empowerment successfully. Sven- solve problems.
used empowerment include porters Goren Eriksson, the English Soccer
using their own cars to transport Manager, is a promoter of the concept, A study on best practices in the
guests to the airport during a taxi listening to subordinates, encouraging lodging industry conducted by Cornell
strike, repairing broken luggage for dissent, slashing hierarchies, reaching University in 2000, highlights
guests and one employee who decisions by consensus and above all Empowerment as one of the key
organised a Leprechaun and a Tarot empowering. In a broader context categories of best practice. The report
Reader at 7am to aid an American Mikhail Gorbachev’s policy of noted that to improve performance,
guests wedding proposal. All of these Perestroika provided the Russian notable hotels changed their people
guest empowerment actions created people with freedom to think and management model to reflect an
memorable guest experiences, often manage their own affairs, therefore expansion in employee involvement,
leading to a return guest. empowering them. The problem was employee authority and a greater
that they were so accustomed to being sharing of information, along with
The use of empowerment is becoming controlled by their government, that improving training and introducing
more and more commonplace in cost containment strategies and
performance-based rewards for employees may receive credit for Examples of Empowerment in
employees. This resulted in many successes, rather than themselves. Action:
cases in a reduction in employee
turnover, a reduction in costs, • Information Examples of award winning
increases in customer satisfaction and Information needs to be shared empowerment actions include hotels
increased employee confidence in with employees if true such as the St. Paul Hilton Airport,
customer service situations. empowerment is to exist. This where line-level employees were
includes information on the empowered to make guest satisfaction
We are all familiar with the financial state of the company decisions leading to improvements in
‘production-line approach to service’ along with information on guest comment cards, ADR, occupancy and
where as in McDonald’s, employees comments and customer cost savings; the Ritz-Carlton Tyson’s
are taught to greet customers and ask expectations. To quote Ed Corner where line-employees were
for an order by following a set script. Carlson, the dynamic President of empowered to set their own schedules,
Then follows a set procedure for United Airlines “nothing is worse select team members and prepare
setting up and delivering the order, for morale than a lack of forecasts, leading to a 22-percent drop
followed by further scripting for information down the ranks”. in employee turnover; and the Ritz-
saying thank you and asking the Carlton Boulders Hotel where
customer to come again. This Regular feedback, encouragement empowered self directed housekeeping
approach makes customer service and the celebration and reward for teams allocated and inspected their
interactions uniform and gives the success are also essential. own rooms leading to greater
organisation control over them. But efficiency, employee motivation and
who wants to here this robot-like Potential Barriers to staff retention.
approach in a hotel and what if
something goes wrong and an Ritz-Carlton’s empowerment
employee has to handle a complaint? programme allows employees to
Barriers to a culture of empowerment
This is where the empowerment spend up to $2000 to immediately
include middles managers not
approach to customer service correct a problem or handle a
embracing, encouraging or fully
outshines the production-line complaint. Companies such as Ritz-
understanding the concept; a lack of
approach. Employees can personalise Carlton and Four Seasons are offering
reward, reinforcement or guidance for
their service and respond quickly to their employees empowerment within
empowered team members and the
customers needs. They can provide boundaries, which protects not only
absence of links between the
quicker responses to dissatisfied the hotel, but also the employee. The
programmes and the company’s
customers and employees feel better hotel knows that the employee will not
business objectives and performance.
about their jobs and themselves. spend over a certain amount of money
Managers need to fight their natural in the name of guest satisfaction,
However, in a service firm where while the employee knows that they
instinct of guarding information and
customers a looking for cheap, quick can spend within certain limits without
instead share information and
and reliable service, with no frills, the fear of rebuke.
knowledge and trust employees.
production line approach may be
Managers should also change actual
preferable to empowerment. Medallion Hotel’s established its own
behaviour and not just make well-
However, this does not rule out some empowerment programme called ‘The
intentioned statements about
aspects of empowerment such as I Saved the Guest Programme’.
empowerment with no real action.
employee suggestion schemes. Through the use of this programme,
Employees should also be informed of
the benefits of empowerment so that each employee was encouraged to
What is needed for they feel that it is not just the same spend up to $100 to correct a problem
Empowerment to work? money for more effort. or satisfy a guest’s need. Employees
could pool their $100 together if a
• Training Empowerment does not come without particular situation needed more
Sufficient training must be its problems. Inevitably employees money to address. The employee
provided, as employees need a will make some bad decisions, but it is completed a special form detailing the
framework to work within. All important that these are dealt with in a issue and their actions, which was then
employees must be adequately way which guides the employee in the submitted to their manager. As a
prepared for their new right direction and not in a heavy reward they received a ‘Blue
responsibilities if they are to handed way, which might show the Medallion’- a piece of paper which
handle situations efficiently. end of the employees use of could be placed in draws for prizes
empowerment. such as holidays for their family, at
• Management Commitment the quarterly meetings. At the end of
Managers must be able to release each month, a ‘Save of the Month’
control and let the employee was chosen at the department heads
make decisions without fear of meeting and a special award was made
retribution. Managers must also to the employee involved.
be prepared for the fact that
An important aspect of the programme Conclusion: Personally, I have just started down
was that no employee was ever the road of employee empowerment in
questioned about their ‘save’. Each Although the primary research my own workplace. But, already I
one was seen as a contribution to indicates that no formal empowerment note greater satisfaction as employees
overall guest satisfaction in the hotel programmes are currently in existence take it on themselves to recognise a
and the potential creation of a repeat in Irish Five Star hotels, the research guest celebration by putting
guest. The success of the programme has shown that there is ample chocolates, wine or a note in their
was evident in guest comments as well evidence of either informal room.
as in the satisfaction expressed in the empowerment or of components of the They go out of their way to organise a
employee survey. empowerment process. cake at short notice for guests
celebrating a birthday or anniversary.
Through this programme, employees The influence of international hotel They also try and solve any problems,
were able to deal with challenges on companies on the Irish market cannot which guests may have immediately
the spot. They did not have to seek be underestimated. International and follow up to ensure overall
the approval of a manager; they were companies have a more developed satisfaction. These are the actions,
empowered to make the decision human resource function and there is which create satisfied return guests,
themselves. Memorable uses of the no doubt that this influence has while allowing employees greater
programme included the maintenance extended to Irish hotels with six of the freedom to participate, therefore
man who removed all of the interior management interviewees having improving their personal job
doors of a suite, to accommodate a worked for companies such as Four satisfaction.
disabled guest when no accessible Seasons or Ritz-Carlton. Their
room was available and the waitress experience has seen the introduction My research has shown that
who drove all over town to find a of components of aspects of their empowerment on an informal level
frequent guests favourite cd. Often, as previous employers programmes into exists within Irish hotels and that our
in the first case, the employee actions the hotels, which they manage. culture may encourage its use without
did not involve any monetary outlay. having to create a formal structure.
Evidence of employee empowerment Further encouragement of this
Employee Views: in Irish Five Star hotels is clearly empowerment culture can only lead to
visible. Although the research shows greater success in both customer and
From the confidential survey I that the Irish Five Star hotel does not employee retention. However the
conducted on a selection of over 100 implement empowerment as formally establishment of an empowerment
employees in Irish Five Star hotels, as its international competitors, culture is neither a quick or easy
over 90% of employees felt that mission statements, some transfer of process, it requires the collective
receiving information on their hotels power and information sharing are in dedication, skill, commitment and
performance was important to them, evidence in many of these properties. patience of all involved.
with only 30% of employees feeling
that they were actually involved in the With the evidence suggesting that
hotels decision making process. benefits included more motivated About the Author:
employees and improved guest
When asked about what motivates satisfaction, empowerment is certainly Donagh Davern is currently General
them in the workplace, 72% of Irish 5 not a concept to be ignored. So, what Manager of the 5 star Killarney Park
Star hotel employees mentioned Job can be done to encourage employee Hotel. He has gained vast hospitality
Satisfaction, with 22% listing money, empowerment in your own hotel? experience having worked for Hyatt,
13% promotion prospects and 7% Hilton, and Marlfield House. After
each mentioning guest recognition and• Establish a Mission Statement and working in Texas for the Medallion
rewards. formal Vision for the hotels future Hotel Management Company, Donagh
with the help of all employees. returned to Ireland to take up a
81% of employees felt a sense of management position with Sheen Falls
fulfillment when they are able to• Encourage employees to make Lodge.
satisfy a guest who had a complaint. decisions and solve problems at
the point of guest contact without He joined the Killarney Park Hotel in
Only 32% of respondents felt that they reference to a manager. Later 1999 and has just completed an
always had the power to solve guest have the employee relate the Honours M.S in Hospitality
complaints, with 59% feeling that they problem to a manager so that Management at DIT. His thesis
would sometime have the power to follow up action can be taken. entitled “Empowering Employees
solve guest complaints. Only 10% of towards improved performance”
respondents felt that they would prefer• examined current empowerment
not to take responsibility for guest• Communicate with employees the practice in international hotel
complaints and instead refer them to a challenges and successes of the companies in an effort to benchmark
manager. hotel and allow them to express these practices for the Irish 5 star
their opinions. Hotel.
Bowen, D. and Lawler, E., (1993), “The Empowerment of Service Workers: what, why, how, and when”, Sloan Management
Review, Vol. 33, No. 3, pp. 31-39

Bowen, D. and Lawler, E., (1995), “Empowering Service Employees”, Sloan Management Review, Summer Edition, pp. 73-84

Davern, D. (1994), “Motivation- The Key to the Hotel Managers Success”, Thesis submission to the Shannon College of Hotel

Davern, D. (2001), “Empowering Employees Towards Improved Performance – an analysis of current practice in international
hotel companies and how their programmes can be adapted to the Irish Five Star hotel”, Thesis submission to D.I.T. Cathal
Brugha Street

Donnellan, L. (1996), “Lessons in Staff Development”, Cornell HRA Quarterly, December, pp. 42-45

Enz, C. and Siguaw, J., (1999), “Best Practices in Hotel Operations”, The Cornell HRA Quarterly, December, pp. 42-53

Enz, C. and Siguaw, J., (2000), “Best Practices in Human Resources”, The Cornell HRA Quarterly, February, pp. 48-61

Geary, J. and Roche, W., (1999), Multinationals and Human Resource Practices in Ireland: A Rejection of the ‘New Conformance
Thesis’, Working Paper Number 29, University College Dublin

Hales, C. and Klidas, A., (1998), “Empowerment in Five Star Hotels: Choice, voice or rhetoric?” International Journal of
Contemporary Hospitality Management, 10/3, pp. 88-95, MCB University Press

Lashley, C. (1995), “Towards an Understanding of Employee Empowerment in Hospitality Services”, International Journal of
Contemporary Hospitality Management, Vol. 7, No. 1, pp. 27-32.
Lashley, C. (1996), “Research Issues for Employee Empowerment in Hospitality Organisations”, International Journal of
Contemporary Hospitality Management, Vol. 15, No. 4, pp. 333-346

Merrick, N. (2000), “Return on Investment”, People Management, 8th June, pp. 27-33

Peters, T. and Waterman, R., In Search of Excellence- Lessons from Americas best run companies, New York, Warner Books,

Pollock, L. (2000), “Ground Force”, People Management, 20th January, pp. 44-46

Reports and Documents

CERT, (2000), Hospitality Best Practice- a benchmarking study, McIver Consulting

CERT (February 2001), Blueprint for the Future- a strategic review and recommendations for the Irish Hotel and Guesthouse
Industry, Volume 1, CHL Consulting Co. Ltd.

Cranfield/University of Limerick, (1995) Survey of Human Resource Management Practices in Ireland

IHF, (1997), Quality Employer Manual, the Irish Hotels Federation

Ritz-Carlton, (2000), The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award Application Summary 1999