Ask any culture change expert and they’ll tell you that an organization’s mission statement alone doesn’t create a culture transformation, regardless of whether you design a creative poster, have it laminated or carved into wood.
It is the recognition of power in each employee to deliver an elevated customer experience that makes culture worth investing in. It sounds simple, yet there are countless examples throughout history where companies have treated culture as a box-ticking exercise or have failed to recognize that it requires ongoing commitment.
Research undertaken by McKinsey & Company confirms that organizations with high-performing cultures deliver 60 percent higher returns to shareholders and enable the organization to adapt better to change.
The question then becomes, what distinguishes a company with a high-performing culture from other organizations? And, more importantly, what level of investment does it require to sustain this?
While leaders may recognize the value of culture, consistently embodying the types of behaviors and values you are asking from your team is definitely part of the success equation, says Amanda Joiner, the newly appointed Global Vice President of The Ritz-Carlton Leadership Center.
“For senior leaders in an organization who want culture, they have to live it themselves. They have to be the role model of that behavior. And when that happens, guess what? People get really motivated to be on board.”
The makings of a legendary culture
In her new role, Joiner is leveraging her extensive leadership experience in the luxury hospitality sector to help senior leaders achieve the same results within their organizations.
The Leadership Center is an advisory and management consulting group that was established in response to the positive feedback from guests who were keen to replicate the award-winning culture they encountered through the iconic Ritz-Carlton brand.
Joiner first became acquainted with the Gold Standards of The Ritz-Carlton within the first few days of joining the company during the early 1990s. An employee approached her during a tour of the hotel property and warmly addressed her by her full name. At the time, she had been hired as a Housekeeping Manager having heard rumors about the revolutionary Ritz-Carlton guest experience that were circulating through the industry.
“It really speaks to how we treat our guests and how we treat each other. It was special and I have been hooked ever since,” Joiner says.
Fast-forward to 2023 and Joiner’s career has evolved considerably over the years – from National Sales Manager at The Ritz-Carlton in Atlanta to General Manager at The Ritz-Carlton in St Louis.
Her career trajectory maps a transition from learning the culture to delivering it and subsequently teaching it to clients from large companies looking to improve customer and employee engagement.
“I worked very hard in my career with the company over the years, but I was also trusted and allowed to be put in places where maybe I wasn’t an expert,” she explains. “But because I had prior success, they trusted me and allowed me to learn and grow. That is why I’m so engaged in being with this company.”
“It’s not just the culture or the card or the philosophy, it is the uncompromising commitment to it. Uncompromising commitment, meaning it is day in and day out.”
Unlike what many other women in leadership experience, Joiner believes that her gender has never limited her chances of progressing in her career with The Ritz-Carlton. “I think my performance got me to where I am. And I work for a company that also empowers women. They believe in giving everyone an opportunity who’s worked hard for it, and I’m proud of that.”
Having remained with the company for more than two decades is a testimony of the impact a legendary organizational culture can have on employees. “I love the culture of our company. It wakes me up every day. So when I come to work, I’m ready. I’m there, I want to be there, I’m all in,” Joiner says.
“If people are trying to find a place where they can be all in, then they will naturally rise because their performance and attitude will shine through.”
Now at the pinnacle of her career, Joiner has become well versed in problem-solving the most pressing issues that CEOs face today, a large one being the question of how leaders can attract and retain talent.
“It’s not just the culture or the card or the philosophy, it is the uncompromising commitment to it. Uncompromising commitment, meaning it is day in and day out,” she emphasizes. “And sometimes people think, ‘Oh, well, we’ll roll it out and then we’ll be good’. But that isn’t it. It has to be every day, every touchpoint and sustainable.”
During her time working as a general manager, Joiner recalls spending a significant amount of time intimately understanding the guest experience in order to elevate it rather than primarily focusing on financials in order to drive results.
“When you empower your workforce, the finance comes,” she says.
She also shares with The CEO Magazine her strategy for nurturing the brand’s other core audience – the internal staff that create a memorable experience for paying guests.
“For an employee, having a clear set of expectations outlined for them is one way to keep someone engaged. We’re really upfront about how we want to create an environment for our employees, and how we will maximize their talents to benefit them in the company.”
With strong ties to Marriott International, the flexibility to move up the ranks or to a different geographical location is a strong incentive for employees to remain with the company.
“We’re really upfront about how we want to create an environment for our employees, and how we will maximize their talents to benefit them in the company.”
But while not every organization may be in a position to offer its staff such opportunities, empowering employees to be involved in the work that affects them is a core part of the company’s employee promise.
“We tell our employees that they are the most important resource in our service commitment to our guests. That is our employee promise. It really guides the whole culture of how we recognize, how we motivate, how we inspire and how we lead them,” she says.
Perhaps the greatest message Joiner has for business leaders is that culture cannot simply be replicated. It needs to be authentic to the company and its mission, and it requires dedication to ultimately reap the financial rewards.