By Thomas Segesta
A bake sale.
A bake sale in the lobby of the Four Seasons Hotel.
A bake sale in the lobby of the hotel with the food donated by our employees – not made by our kitchen.
When I started in the hospitality industry, little did I think I would ever be involved in a bake sale. What I have learned is that corporate responsibility comes in many styles for the benefit of all.
After the Haiti earthquake our employees wanted to help, so we came up with the idea of having a bake sale in the hotel to raise money. The idea snowballed, and over 300 employees donated food. Once word got out, our surrounding business neighbors got involved with many coming over for lunch. Our initial goal was to raise $10K. One individual liked our enthusiasm so much, he offered to write a check for the difference to get us to our goal. Another neighbor said he would match any amount we raised, so our $10K goal increased to $20K.
Most of our initiatives, like the bake sale, start with ideas from our employees. We have a culture where employees are encouraged to suggest activities in which they can contribute their skills to the benefit of the larger community. As a group, we want to give each other encouragement and build self esteem. Our attitude? No goal is too high, no obstacle is too big.
I believe our overall success is dependent upon keeping employees engaged by establishing a culture of community activism. Many of the initiatives we support are obvious – we deliver Meals on Wheels, serve lunch to the homeless at Caritas, and raise money for the Seton Shivers Cancer Center – to date almost $400,000. Our staff has the opportunity to see directly how their work is paying off, while their confidence in the company skyrockets.
We also identify the resources we have to offer in the hotel, and use them to help non-profit organizations. For example, we donate meeting space and conference rooms to non-profits so they can do their planning and host fund raising events. We’ve also developed a package we call “Pay it Forward,” which allows volunteers from around the world to receive a highly discounted rate on a room if they volunteer a few hours of their vacation to help one of our non-profit partners.
To establish this culture over the long term, we have ongoing discussions with our employees about how we can get involved. I constantly ask employees what they care about most, and evaluate different skill sets for the greatest impact. There aren’t many metrics to know for certain how this affects our bottom line., but we do know how good we feel about ourselves and how we’re achieving the goals of the hotel. In fact, we’ve had the highest employee satisfaction scores in 20 years based on these initiatives.
For any company that is seeking an opportunity to be more responsible, get started. You’ll know your employees as individuals, rather than the waiter, housekeeper or cook. And since they are all different, and have different skill sets and causes they care about, getting behind their initiatives helps to build loyalty and retention and helps each individual’s growth path. You’ll see results in retention, and your bottom line.
Publisher’s Note: In January, 2011, the Austin Four Seasons was one of 13 Texas hotels picked for “Travel + Leisure’s” 2011 top 500 hotels list.
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