Well it’s actually a laundry building at Colorado Springs’ Broadmoor resort. The facility is a multi-million dollar operation that pays for itself with revenue from its retail service to the surrounding neighborhood: one of many “Great Ideas” the Broadmoor demonstrated in the final session of the American Society of Association Executives 2011 Great Ideas Conference held here from March 13th-15th. It is also where I was standing when my wife called from our nearby home, wondering why I hadn’t yet returned.
“Didn’t the conference already end?” I could hear her thinking over the noise of giant machines that dry, press and fold spa towels in one well choreographed motion. The conference had ended for most who had already headed out for the Denver airport or some other way station en route to resuming normal workweeks, equipped now with some Great Ideas to help their organizations.
Though for me and a handful of others, the Conference made it all the way to the depths of the hotel: the laundry center and boiler room, all part of the grand finale “Broadmoor Behind the Scenes” session led by Kate Manzanares, Assistant Director of Human Resources for the resort. It was one of the best sessions for its insights into the management of a very successful business, both local and global, which has won fifty consecutive years’ worth of Forbes Travel Guide Five-Star and AAA Five-Diamond awards, the only property to ever achieve that status, according to the hotel.
Not only was the glimpse into the resort industry fascinating, but it made me look at the Broadmoor differently. I confess that, like any expensive resort where class differences are large enough to trip over, the Broadmoor had always seemed from a distance to be insular and even presumptuous.
But Kate, followed by one employee after another, filled us in on the implementation of a simple but profound idea: Broadmoor takes care of its staff so that they can take care of their guests. Valuing employees is hardly a new management principle, but I realized I had never heard it formulated as a cause and effect: it wasn’t “train” staff or “equip” staff or “incent” staff, so that they could take care of guests, but it was care for them in tangible, unique and creative ways so that they could extend that care beyond themselves. Expressed as a core competency rather than a benefit, it sounded downright New Testament, and they are on to something.
And I don’t know that I’ve ever seen this idea demonstrated as clearly as I did standing among the laundry team members, as they carefully worked together to feed literally tons of clothing to giant dryers and ironing machines. You expect smiles at the reservation desk because you’re paying for them, and it’s not like the laundry center was bubbling up with laughter. Yet there were lots of smiles there and throughout many back hallways and break rooms, as well as a palpable sense of camaraderie. Admittedly, I only caught a glimpse, but you don’t get to be the longest-running winner of the some of the most coveted customer-service awards in history through just lip service.
“If you can’t remember–I mean instantly recall–the last time you praised an employee, it’s been too long,” Kate explained. And it goes well beyond pats on the back, as she reviewed about a dozen different employee motivation programs simultaneously in operation at the hotel. Recognition is based on both colleagues and a diligent interest in customer feedback all the way up to President Steve Bartolin who, Kate said, regularly meets alone with random samplings of staff members to get unfiltered details and starts each morning by reading every guest comment card from the 744-room complex.
Guest feedback, too, is surprisingly unfiltered. The only formula used is the percentage of positive verse negative feedback by department. No other statistical distillation takes place; instead, every comment seems to be treated like a simple but important story. She tied these unusual measures of care directly to numerous accounts about how it overflowed into exceptional customer service. She meant the word “exceptional,” and included the poignant memory of the Executive Committee following a line employee’s suggestion to use hotel shuttle buses to return otherwise stranded bankers back to their homes in devastated Manhattan after September 11th, 2001.
Through the session and the tour, with its impromptu interviews with the surprisingly receptive and warm staff, I realized that the smiles I’ve often seen in the lobby were very likely sincere and sometimes even familial. If creating community is what we as well as our association and other customers try to do every day, treating each other and our customers like family is the next step. It was the final Great Idea of a remarkable conference held in a truly exceptional place.