What Does Eating Chocolate in Bogota, Colombia Have to Do With Culture Change in Your Organization?

If you want your employees to do their best work, don’t wait for your out of state CEO to help out.

Whenever I travel anywhere, I observe, listen and talk to
employees, and customers. I consider it part of my research into great
companies that go beyond the Googles, and Zappo’s where employees are
specifically selected who will fit in with their organizational cultures.


I look for companies that employ good people but who are not
from an already elite group. (This is not a criticism of Google, Zappo’s etc.
but my interest lies in diversity and organizations that are able to transform
employee experiences along with the culture)

I was fortunate to spend several nights at a hotel that was
such a place, The Sofitel Hotel in Bogota, Colombia. I was there to speak at a human talent management
conference. My topic was “Leading Today’s Workforce; creating
inclusive cultures where employees love to go and customer’s love to buy.”

From the moment I arrived, I was treated as though I was the
most important guest, and that everyone from the bellmen, to the front desk and
beyond had been waiting just for me. I was greeted warmly and immediately
offered a glass of fresh guava juice. In fact, any time of day, I could go to
the lobby and pour myself as much tropical fruit agua fresca as I wanted. I’d
return to the Sofitel today just for another thirst quenching glass of their juice.


I noticed that
everyone else got the same world-class attention. I watched the way staff interacted
with each other, smiling, laughing and seeming to enjoy their work. Their
enjoyment was contagious. And although I’m not fluent in Spanish, everyone was
patient and helped me with my pronunciation and lack of vocabulary.

I wanted to know more about this hotel, so I could use it
as an example in my program. I wanted to know how they had created this
wonderful environment, so I sat
down with Catalina
Lomanto Fernández, who is Relaciones Corporativas / Corporate Coordinator.

She told me how much she loved
working there and that the cultural driver was the fairly new general manager,
Mario Leite De Oliveira Junior. Before he arrived, the culture had been more
hierarchical. Leite De Oliveira empowered his staff to make independent
decisions that enables them to provide distinct customer service. Previously, they had been hesitant
to make many decisions on their own, and everyone waited for instructions from
the general manager t


Any time culture changes from a hierarchy
to one of empowerment, it will take employees time to change their mindset.
Leaders need to keep reminding and encouraging them until it becomes part of their
mindset and way of doing business.

Employees, who are empowered to
help customers, are also empowered to add to the success or the organization.
One of the keys is to implement culture at every level, so everyone gets the
same message.

I witnessed this happening at the
Sofitel in Bogota. The housekeeping staff was welcoming, and every day someone
had added an extra touch to the room without me ever asking. One of the women
in housekeeping found out how much I loved chocolate so I’d find extra pieces
on my pillow.


The chocolate was some of the
best chocolate I have ever had. I’d go back just for the chocolate. In fact,
the night before I left, I returned to my room after a huge dinner and dessert,
to find that the General Manager, Mario Leite De Oliveira , had sent up a huge
plate of different chocolates. I knew I was leaving in a few hours to go to the
airport, and couldn’t take the chocolate with me, so what else could I do? I ate it all.

While some organizations are able
to create huge culture change initiatives, not all organizations have that
progressive kind of leadership, or
they are just too slow to understand the business value. Too often, regional or
single site managers will say there is little they can do to create change,
when senior leadership is in another state or country. Of course, that would be
ideal, but there is no need to wait.

Sometimes it just takes one
leader in one area, or one property, or one region to make a change. You have
the power to create a culture in your workplace where employees are valued, engaged
and empowered to provide world-class customer service. The Bogota Victoria Regia, a Sofitel hotel, and its general manager
Mario Leite De Olveiera Junior is proof of how one person can make a
culture change at their local level.


You don’t have to wait. Ask your
employees what recent decisions they’ve made on their own to help and retain
their customers or bring in new ones. If you don’t get any answers, it’s time
for you to start recognizing, acknowledging and empowering your employees. Give
them examples of decisions they can make on their own, and reward them when
they do.

Simma creates workplace cultures where people love to do their best work and customers love to do business. Read the Inclusionist blog. Follow her on twitter: @theinclusionist. Subscribe to her newsletter. E-mail or call 510-527-0700. Simma Lieberman is the co-author of Putting Diversity to Work, how to successfully lead a diverse workforce.