Empowering Employees: The Power Of One


What does hotel management have to do with landscaping? In both cases, success is based on satisfying — and surpassing — the customer’s expectations. Alex Pratt, director of human resources at the renowned Omni Parker House in Boston, gave landscapers at the National Association of Landscape ProfessionalsDBI Symposium a look at how Omni Hotels uses a “Power of One” approach to empower each employee to give customers the best possible experience.

The Power of One in action

For any business (and this is certainly true in the landscape industry), it’s the frontline employees who clients see most often. A good interaction or a bad experience with your employees can instantly create an overall impression of your company, so it’s essential to carefully select and train employees, Pratt says. After that, empower those employees to create happy customers.

The Power of One concept is introduced to new Omni Parker House employees immediately at orientation. “The idea is that if we talk about it as we go through the orientation program, and then it’s shared again by their department managers, they are really going to get it,” Pratt says.

Through the Power of One, new employees are taught that they are personally empowered to solve problems and to make sure guests have a positive experience at the hotel. If a guest has to wait for a room, for example, an employee can offer him or her a free drink in the lounge. If they hear that there’s a birthday or anniversary, an employee can send that group a bottle of champagne. The key is that employees need to be able to act quickly—on their own. “The person making that decision might be a waiter or a busboy or a bellman,” Pratt explains. “They don’t have to get permission; all they have to do is arrange for the delivery of whatever they want to deliver.” (They do have to make a record of their Power of One action later on so the company can track how much it is spending.)

Pratt also described various ways that Omni Hotels & Resorts employees are involved in day-to-day operations. At Omni Parker House, every morning starts with a stand-up meeting. “It may be fun or it may be serious, but the idea is to stimulate interest among employees,” Pratt explains.

With employees, there is a big difference between job satisfaction and engagement, he stresses. Employees who are engaged will go above and beyond to help, Pratt says, citing as an example a housekeeper who checks under the bed when cleaning, even though nobody else is going to check under the bed or an employee who stays to help resolve an issue a guest is having even though his or her shift is over. “Only by engaging employees will you have workers who go the extra mile,” Pratt emphasizes.

Regular monthly meetings further the mission of keeping employees engaged by asking them how to solve specific problems/challenges that have come up. Asking for their suggestions lets them know that their input is valued. Employees are also included on committees that decide which charities the company will support, giving them a say in this decision making.

Growth from within

At Omni Hotels & Resorts, promotions are made internally, when possible. “There is an emphasis on growing from within,” Pratt says, noting that there are benefits to the company from this approach because the employees already know the company culture, and that this keeps employees engaged rather than just punching the clock.

“If there’s someone in your business who wants to get ahead, how do you help them to do that?” asks Pratt. At Omni, employees who express an interest in advancing within the company are given a written training program that includes specific skills the employee must learn and be able to demonstrate. Once a manager has signed off that these key competencies have been met, then that employee is eligible for advancement into that particular role.

Job shadowing is another way that Omni helps to develop employees. This gives employees a chance to see what other types of jobs within the company are like, so they can decide if there is another position they would like to pursue.

Keeping employees engaged in their jobs also requires fairness; they need to know that everyone is being held to the same standards, and that the pay structure is also fair.

Beyond the benefit of ultimately creating a better experience for customers, Pratt says all of the focus that Omni puts on its employees also results in incredibly low employee turnover, especially given that the hotel industry (like the landscape industry) often experiences high turnover.

Repetitious reinforcement

The Power of One is not something that can be done just at trainings or special meetings. To be successful, it should be a regular part of the way a company does business.

“How many of you tell your staff that they do a great job?” Pratt asked the landscape professionals attending the event. He said “repetitious reinforcement” is what’s needed to get employees engaged.

Another related concept that is stressed to employees at Omni Hotels is the “mirror image” concept: Whether working with customers or other staff, treat them as you would want to be treated. This is exemplified in the Omni Circle fund, which provides financial assistance to employees impacted by accidents/disasters through no fault of their own. It is the company employees who contribute to the fund (along with the company owner), and it is company employees who decide which Omni Circle petitions to fund. Because of the responsibility that is given to them, “it’s the ultimate Power of One,” Pratt says. Knowing that this type of emergency support is available to them also helps to keep employees engaged in their jobs.

Bringing the Power of One to the landscape industry

Pratt and his team at the hotel brainstormed some thoughts on how the Power of One approach might look at a landscape company. Their ideas included:

  • Leaving a bag of plant seeds for a customer to plant
  • Giving customers a garden flag
  • Planting a complimentary shrub
  • Supplying birdhouses to new customers
  • Providing dog bones for pets or pinwheels for children
  • Giving customers free branded ice scrapers during cold weather months

The goal of a Power of One campaign should be to find a way to leave a lasting impression on clients when they get home at the end of the day.

Omni Hotels & Resorts gives its employees a list of ways they can create memorable stays for guests.