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Ladies and Gentlemen...Checking Out

Question: what could be more demotivating than learning that your work is no longer relevant? Answer: finding out that senior management considers your values irrelevant. That's the message officials of the Ritz-Carlton hotel could be sending their employees in a recent move to overwrite the chain's founding principles.

For over twenty years, the Ritz has epitomized excellent customer service and organizations in every industry have idealized their "Gold Standards" approach. Workers adhered to a set of values known as the "Ritz-Carlton Twenty Basics" from which the company takes its motto: "We are Ladies and Gentlemen serving Ladies and Gentlemen." But now the company is replacing those values with a list of service guidelines that are relaxed to satisfy the modern traveler. For instance, rather than rushing to carry a hotel guest's luggage, employees are now "empowered" to determine if the guest wants to relinquish a laptop computer.

A Wall Street Journal article featuring the changes quotes current Ritz-Carlton chief Simon Cooper: "It's all about staying relevant. Ritz-Carlton has the best and most recognized luxury brand names in the world, and we need to focus on 'relevant luxury.'"

But how will the 32,000 "ladies and gentlemen" who work for Ritz-Carlton react? These employees learned the Twenty Basics during orientation, had them reinforced at daily departmental briefings, and carried pocket-sized, laminated cards on which they were inscribed (former president and COO Horst Schulze said, "Every employee has the business plan of The Ritz-Carlton in his or her pocket, constantly reinforcing that guest satisfaction is our highest mission."). I think many of those workers will justifiably feel unaligned, lost, and foolish.

Consider this: Soon after they are hired, employees start observing and interpreting the norms of their organization's cultures. They look for mutual expectations--which of their own interests and needs are consistent with the values of their organizations. Once they feel aligned, individuals can start envisioning their own place in supporting their organization's success. But when the organization's values change, employees become confused about their roles. And, eventually, unaligned workers leave, accepting new employment outside the organization.

Employees who joined Ritz-Carlton because they shared its customer service values must now wonder if those values still exist. Those who cannot come to grips with the changes will be checking out soon.
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