Employers of Choice attract and retain quality people who are engaged and focused on their jobs. Focused, committed, long term employees are a key factor in business success. In today's competitive and diverse job market, the way to become an "Employer of Choice" is to create a Respectful Workplace Culture. This means a workplace where respect is a core organizational value reflected in every business practice.
"Employers of Choice" understand the importance of having leaders who "Choose to Walk the Talk" of respect. This means not just having a mission statement about respect. It is not about making politically correct statements. It is about walking the talk and modelling respect so that respectful behaviour becomes the foundation of your organizational culture.
Isadore, "Issy" Sharpe, founder of the Four Seasons Hotel Corporation, which is consistently recognized as an Employer of Choice, knows all about walking the talk of respectful leadership. Issy realized his vision of success in business through passion and relationship building. His leadership skills and philosophy of a "culture of mutual respect" resulted in one of the most successful hotel chains in history, with over 70 highly ranked hotels around the world. 1
Issy was a visionary business leader. From the start, he knew that his most valuable asset would be his employees. He believed that if his staff felt appreciated and esteemed, they would deliver exceptional service and make hotel guests feel valued and respected. He decided to make the "Golden Rule" the cornerstone of the Four Seasons’ corporate culture. In case you are wondering which Golden Rule we’re talking about here, it’s the one many of us learned about in childhood: ‘Treat others as you would like to be treated.’
Issy didn’t make that decision because the law required him to do so. His decision predated the legal obligation to promote respect and dignity in the workplace by a good 25 years. He was a businessman, and he made the decision to base his corporate culture on the Golden Rule for one reason. He knew it made good business sense.
Apparently so. Four Seasons Hotels has been named an "All Star" company by Fortune magazine. It is one of only 18 organizations that have been on the Fortune 500 "100 Best Companies to Work For" list every year since the list first appeared in 1998. It is also the only Canadian company to appear on that list. Unlike many other ‘best company’ lists, The Fortune 500 list is based solely upon employee input. It focuses on issues like credibility, communication, respect, fairness, diversity and camaraderie.
Why is it that Four Seasons employees - chamber maids, bell hops, and waiters – consistently place their employer on that list? What is it that causes employees to line up to work at the hotel? What factor is responsible for the average 15 year term of service among their senior executives and general managers? According to Nick Mutton, Executive Vice President of Human Resources, it is the workplace culture. "We have worked very hard to build a culture where our people feel as respected and cared for as our guests …" 2
At the Four Seasons, the Golden Rule has never been a paper strategy. It is a deeply felt ethical belief, a leadership philosophy that is reflected in every business practice, and demonstrated by every employee in the corporation, from senior management through to the front line and around the world, regardless of nationality.
Issy Sharp sold the Four Seasons hotel chain in 2006. However, he has not lost any of his passion for promoting his vision of a respectful workplace culture. He chose to stay on as CEO. After more than 40 years, Issy still walks the talk of respect. He spends time every day talking to his employees, and not just those that work in the executive offices.
One of the fundamental aspects of respectful leadership is a genuine interest and a willingness on the part of the leader to get to know each and every member of his/her staff. Respectful leadership involves accessibility and accountability. It demands ongoing dialogue across hierarchical lines.
A respectful workplace is an empowered workplace. Respectful leadership involves a shift in the traditional balance of power that exists in most organizations. A leader in a respectful workplace culture leads by inclusion and example, not by bullying or intimidation. He/she is not threatened by employees that show talent and promise. Rather, he/she supports them so that they thrive and excel - even if that means that they become a peer rather than a subordinate.
In a respectful workplace employees follow direction because they respect their leaders, not because they are motivated by the fear that disrespectful leadership causes. Employees are empowered to contribute to the clearly communicated goals of the organization. They know that their unique contribution is adding to their team and their organization’s success. They know this because their leader talks to them, and not just when there is a problem, or because communication is required by a yearly performance appraisal.
A Respectful Workplace culture produces a true win/win outcome. Both the business and the employees that work there succeed. In our tight labour market, talented and savvy employees actively seek out respectful organizations. And when they find them, they become focused and committed long term employees. As the example of Issy Sharpe and the Four Seasons Hotels demonstrates, making the choice to "walk the talk" for a respectful workplace culture can and will empower and benefit you, your fellow employees, and the organization you all work for.
1 Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts is consistently ranked highest in the luxury hotel segment in the J.D. Power and Associates North America Hotel Guest Satisfaction Index Study.
2 Best Companies’ Offer Diversity-Related Lessons, Rebecca R. Hastings SPHR, SHRM On-line, January 2007.
Road to Respect: Path to Profit
This article appeared appeared in the May 8th, 2008 issue of HR Voice, the e- newsletter of the B.C. Human Resources Management Association.
Pinsky’s writing style makes this book an easy read for managers, decision-makers, human resource professionals and business owners and anyone else interested in building a respectful workplace. She provides tangible advice interwoven with the stories of real organizations who demonstrate on a daily basis the value of promoting a respectful workplace. Pinsky ensures that readers can glean from the book information they need to take action. A respectful workplace culture is a road “paved” over time with trust and support; and Pinsky’s book provides the tools you need to arrive at your destination.
Catherine M. Mattice
President, Civility Partners, LLC & SME on Workplace Bullying