I’ve recently returned from the half term holiday having spent the week in Jamaica at Beaches-Sandals with my family. We had some much needed sun and vitamin D particularly after the wet and windy weather we’ve had in the UK, which seems to have gone on for an eternity!
This is Eloise & Ethan getting into the holiday spirit!
And what an experience we had – it was amazing!
Believe me, it takes a lot for me to use that word. Our week was such an incredible experience I had to get under the bonnet to unpack what made it so exceptional.
I often talk about how customers want memorable experiences and organisations must become stagers of great experiences, well here are 5 business lessons I learned (or re-learnt!) from my week at Beaches-Sandals.
Let me give you some of the backstory to Sandals as this is important context especially if you’re not familiar with the brand.
The first ever Sandals opened in November 1981 in Jamaica, launched by a charismatic guy called Gordon “Butch” Stewart. He’s called the ‘King of the All-Inclusive Resorts’, the ‘Cupid of the Caribbean’ and the ‘Master of Marketing. Today, he controls a billion dollar, privately-owned Jamaican based empire that includes 24 Caribbean resorts.
This guy is a serial entrepreneur, a great marketer at heart and a truly Inspirational Leader.
Sandals is a machine, in the groove and winning in a tough, competitive market. They have created a success formula which has opened a blue ocean; they own the space and accolade as the premier ‘All-Inclusive Resorts’ revered by their competition and cleaning up on the awards. Since 1994 they have been named the World’s Leading All-Inclusive and Top Caribbean Hotel Group. That is some achievement. Winning in the first place is an achievement, sustaining it for 23 years is a phenomenal achievement.
So, what’s the secret to their success?
Well here’s my take on it, wrapped up in 5 business lessons which I know we can all apply to our own businesses, organisations and professional careers.
How do you and your organisation stack up against each?
#1 Culture, Vision and Purpose cascades from the Top
It doesn’t matter who we spoke with at the Resort or the articles I’ve since read about Gordon “Butch” Stewart there are common threads throughout. They all talk about his uncompromising standards for excellence, his obsessive attention to detail, his unrelenting work ethic and his loyalty and commitment to his people.
The impressive thing was these principles, values, standards whichever language you choose to attach to them are evident in the 10,000 people who are now an extension of the “Butch” brand.
He has managed to create a culture where people feel truly valued and invested in. Perhaps something to do with the fact that EVERY employee goes through 120 hours or formal training every year irrelevant of how long they have been with the company.
Sandals have managed to tap into that unique formula where colleagues and employees don’t just see coming to work as just a job, but as a career.
They follow NOT because they have to but rather because they want to and admire, respect and are truly committed with real genuine skin in the game!
#2 A Leader-Leader, self-sustaining performance culture in action
If you’ve been exposed to a lot of my work and thinking you know one of my passions is how you can build a Leader-Leader, self-sustaining performance culture where everyone thinks, feels and acts with the franchise mentality…it’s my business.
At Sandals they have achieved this, and it is no mean feat when you have 10,000 employees spread over 24 sites on multiple Caribbean Islands doing a complete spectrum of roles.
Running a hotel business is a tough gig – 24/7, 365 days of the year. It cannot be run by just one charismatic, visionary Leader – every person has to step up and take ownership for the customer experience.
At Sandals it is like the Red Arrows all flying in formation. It is truly an exemplar of best practice.
And…we’re not talking about people who are paid a fortune. We are talking about people who genuinely care and pay attention to the detail, who have a phenomenal attitude and where the business has created the environment for them to flourish and FEEL totally valued – it is a career not a job!
#3 Productivity – do it NOW and do it fast – why wait?
This one was a real learn and a great reality check for me!
It is so easy to fall into the trap of adding things you need to action to the dreaded TO Do list. The list just seems to get longer and longer and then there can be a feeling of overwhelm with where to start.
I understand hotels is a real time business and there is an expectation from customers that things happen immediately. However, the expectation and building a culture where this actually is the reality and happens every time are two different things and a hard nut to crack.
At Sandals they have a canny knack of mastering this one! Whenever you asked for something to happen they never wrote it down, they actioned it immediately, in the moment. Whether it was them doing it directly, or making a phone call or speaking to another person – stuff just happened immediately.
It reminded me of a great expression that I haven’t used for a while which is simply two words; Speed Stuns!
So my personal learn was to stop delaying on doing stuff, stop automatically adding it to my list of things to do and if appropriate action it, get it done there and then in the moment.
#4 Authenticity – none of it was fake…it was the real deal!
I’m sure you are all familiar with the quote “You may forget what they said…but you’ll never forget how they made you feel!”
That was our experience right there.
A resort photographer stopping what he was in the middle of doing to show Eloise how to take the best picture of Ethan, mummy and daddy using the light and scenery to best effect.
A member of the team who spotted that Eloise had taken a liking to a badge on his uniform and promised her he would drop off her very own badge in our room at 5.00pm that day. He turns up at 5.00pm promptly, not only with a set of badges for Eloise but also a set for Ethan, he had gone onto the system and noticed Eloise had a younger brother. Really?!
The receptionist who spotted our son’s milk bottle and asked if we would like a fresh carton of milk to be placed in our fridge every night. And one more question; which type of milk do you want? Full fat or semi skimmed?
Honestly the list could go on.
In a world where the big things make little difference…it’s the little things that make a BIG difference!
#5 Communication is everything…
In life it is not just about WHAT you say it’s about HOW you say it!
One of the biggest challenges for all organisations and businesses today is their effectiveness of communication, both internally and externally.
Not only how to effectively communicate in the first place, but the choices of words, the language, the questions asked and how they are phrased.
Sandals must have some phenomenal people behind the scenes training and educating ALL employees on the importance of language.
Not once did we hear things like;
“That’s not my job, you need to speak to…”
Or the one that really grinds on me…
“Sorry, we cannot do that because the system says…”
Their engagement was something to behold and is definitely imprinted firmly on my conscious mind;
Their choice of words, their tone, their calmness in all scenarios and situations.
Their language and phraseology of questions;
NOT; ‘what’s your room number’ but;
‘Just to confirm your room number is…’ or ‘Can you please remind me of your room number’.
The whole week was a masterclass in effective communication, influence and engagement.
My final thoughts…
Some of what I’ve described above I believe cannot be taught.
An element of it is certainly cultural; the Caribbean people and their DNA; particularly their unflappable nature and swan like appearance, their calming persona and their genuine zest and appreciation for life.
However, there are a number of lessons which we can learn from to raise our own game and raise the bar in our businesses in relation to not only WHAT we do but HOW we do it.
I often talk about the best sales force you can have is your customers, and here I am, case in point! I’m sharing my own experiences – off my own back – because I received a memorable experience.
Are your customers your sales force?