It was midnight at the Omni Hotel on Amelia Island about 45 minutes from Jacksonville, Florida.
I had just been dropped off by an Uber driver after a 4-hour flight from Denver and I was dog-tired. I was scheduled to speak for a large conference of 600 C-level executives the next day at this high-end resort and had a 6 am AV/sound check with the tech crew.
“Could your reservation be under another name?”asked Damon, the 20-something hotel employee after not finding a room reserved for Chester on his computer.
“Nope, it’s the only name my parents gave me,” was my somewhat snarky reply. “But since you obviously don’t have one for me, just give me any room you have and charge it to my card. I’ll make sure the group I’m presenting for adds it to their master account tomorrow morning.”
“And what group would that be, Mr. Chester?” Damon asked.
I gave him the client’s name and, after searching through his list of groups staying at the hotel looked up and muttered, “I’m very sorry. But we don’t have that group staying at our hotel.”
Right place, wrong day
I was dumbfounded. There I stood 2,000 miles away from my home in the dead middle of the night, and it was becoming very clear to me that I was in the wrong place at the wrong time.
How could this possibly be happening?
I thought to myself trying to remain calm. I had had this event on my calendar for 4 months! I thought my office had a signed contract for the date and had confirmed all the details. And to make things worse, I remember that I had turned down another speaking engagement for the 27th several weeks earlier because it conflicted with the travel for this one.
I immediately called my assistant in Denver (now after 10 pm her time) and engaged her in a “highly spirited” conversation as she searched frantically through her emails to try to find some documentation that would help me understand what had gone awry. Simultaneously, I plopped my laptop on the hotel check in counter and began madly surfing the client’s website for some information pertaining to this event.
Within minutes, I found the client’s meeting announcement and suddenly, everything came into focus. I was at the Omni at 12:04 am on September 28. The meeting I was scheduled to keynote was being held at this Omni Hotel on the 28th…of October.
Engaged employee heads off a meltdown
Damon was standing by watching all of this unfold. Sensing a meltdown on the horizon, he approached me and placed a room key in my hand. “Mr. Chester, this has obviously been a hard day for you. You don’t need a hotel bill to add to your troubles. You’re our guest tonight.”
This turned out to be the second shock of the night, but in a good way.
You see, Damon didn’t ask me for my driver’s license. He didn’t even ask me for my credit card for incidentals. He simply handed me a key to a very nice room and then added, “I know you’ll have to get to the airport tomorrow to catch a flight. What time would you like a wake up call?”
“Well, I’m going to try to beg my way on to an earlier flight, Damon. And it won’t be easy. So I will need to get out of here around 5 am. It would be great if you’d make sure the phone in my room rings at 4:30 am.”
I warmly thanked him for his hospitality, and headed off to my room.
The wake up call came in 4 1/2 hours later. I threw on my travel clothes and returned to the lobby of the Omni to see if I could get a cab or an Uber. There in the lobby was Damon, smiling in front of the desk, waiting to greet me.
He gave me a warm “Good Morning, Mr. Chester,” as he walked me out the front doors and into a limousine he had arranged to take me back to the airport. “Didn’t want you to have to incur another expense, Mr. Chester. This ride is on us. Travel safely back to Denver and we’ll see you again in 30 days.”
Astoundingly, Damon did all of this without ever asking permission of his manager or supervisor.
He didn’t have to. Instead, Damon acted as he would have if he owned the Omni.
There’s an immediate hit to your profits when you empower front line employees to make snap decisions like these, and they’re not always going to work to your advantage. That’s why most organizations are so stingy when granting autonomy.
However, when you:
- Train your people well; and then,
- Trust them to make important decisions; and then
- Fully support them on those decisions whether they are right or wrong …
… You will create an army of smart-thinking, dedicated, loyal intrapreneurs.
And those are the kind of front line foot soldiers who can convert a one-night stand into a wildly enthusiastic flag-waving customer for life.
This was originally published on Eric Chester’s blog Chester on Point. His new book, On Fire at Work: How Great Companies Ignite Passion in Their People Without Burning Them Out, will be available in October 2015.