Crowdsource Your Way to An Engaged Workforce

“Before I would go into a room and make sure it was clean. Now I look for an opportunity to WOW my guest.”

That was a statement from a housekeeper in Hong Kong from the Four Seasons Hotel. Let’s imagine for a minute if they could get all of their housekeepers on the same wave length. That would be the ultimate competitive advantage. In other words, you would be leveraging your own employees in the push for new opportunities for growth and profitability.

Your employees are the most important source of innovative ideas because they know more about the nuts and bolts of your company than most senior leaders. These maids are closer to the customer experience than you will ever be. But this is not just about housekeepers. This is about everyone within your organization.

The Four Seasons Hotels created BLUEWATER to give its 35,000 employees the tools and opportunity to originate ideas, pilot, and refine the guest experience. This program gets everyone involved from the general manager to the people who park the cars. The quote above came from one of the housekeepers who had gone through the program. They have basically unleashed an unstoppable force that can truly motivate an entire organization.

This program is guided by 3 essentials. Its mission is to give every employee a real sense of ownership:

  1. Be brave with your decisions. Own your decisions and take risks
  2. ‘Green House’ ideas. No idea is a bad idea. Every idea will be given the opportunity to be developed; managers want employees to feel comfortable bringing all ideas to the table.
  3. Sharing ‘Green House’ ideas: How can we adapt this to other Four Seasons properties?

Starbucks is another prime example of this practice. I was working in New York a few months back and one of the attendees at my workshop told the story of how the employees embraced everyone who walked in. She said she counted 7 times that they greeted customers by name. Starbucks also created a branded program called “My Starbucks Idea” to encourage ideas for services. They not only deputized their employees but also included their customers as well. Who knows as much about their products as their employees but their loyal customers?

The Green House effect

I have often used the Green House concept as an analogy — our work environment should mirror the concept of a greenhouse. Ideas tested, employees on-boarded, developed and the entire life cycle adjusted to the controlled environment we call work.

Organizations that master this will have no burning need to be innovative, reach strategic goals or whatever challenges they may face. The reason is they will not depend on a C-suite with a few executives, because they will have empowered their entire workforce to innovate and solve problems. By deputizing their ambassadors, they will become unstoppable. Whether it is innovation, new product or processes, having turned loose their most important asset will in the end be declared a victory

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The days of the organization being the know all, end all are over. Customer experience as well as employee experience is a valuable resource waiting to be tapped and deputized in the pursuit of “how do we get better at what we do?”

Involving employees — and customers — in this innovation process increases the likelihood of success because employees can identify the organizational issues that need to be addressed. Remember that for the most part they know more about your business than you do. And when employees feel management is interested in their opinions, they’ll be more likely to take a personal stake in the business. They’ll go from feeling like just a cog in the chain to feeling like they’re a part of the team.

The new employee suggestion box

In the old days, soliciting feedback from employees meant putting a box marked “suggestions” next to the water cooler. I was always amazed by this concept because every time I would ask someone about the contents, for the most part no one put anything into it. So basically no one had any suggestions. When I inquired as to why, I was told that employees felt nothing would be done with them anyway so why bother.

What Four Seasons and Starbucks, among others, have done is to create “Suggestion Box 2.0,” but better than merely placing a box in a physical location. Both these programs put their workforce through a development process thus bringing them all into their company’s mission. These newly crowned brand ambassadors will unleash an unstoppable force that will conquer and allow for the ultimate competitive advantage.

“None of us is as smart as all of us”
Kenneth H. Blanchard

Ron Thomas is Managing Director, Strategy Focused Group DWC LLC, based in Dubai. He is also a senior faculty member and representative of the Human Capital Institute covering the MENA/Asia Pacific region.

He was formerly CEO of Great Place to Work-Gulf and former CHRO based in Riyadh. He holds certifications from the Human Capital Institute as Global Human Capital Strategist, Master Human Capital Strategist, and Strategic Workforce Planner.

He's been cited by CIPD as one of the top 5 HR Thinkers in the Middle East. He received the Outstanding Leadership Award for Global HR Excellence at the World Human Resources Development Congress in Mumbai, and was named as one of the 50 Most Talented Global HR Leaders in Asia

Ron's prior roles included senior HR positions with Xerox HR services, IBM, and Martha Stewart Living.

Board memberships include the Harvard Business Review Advisory Council, McKinsey Quarterly's Executive Online Panel, and HCI's Expert Advisory Council on Talent Management Strategy.

His work has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, Inc. Magazine, Workforce Management and numerous international HR magazines covering Africa, India and the Middle East.

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