Insight article

“Showing our guests that we care”

It’s no great revelation to say that storytelling forms an essential part of who we are, but the role stories play in an institutional setting is only beginning to be understood. Stories are not just a form of communication. As important as such issues as strategy, performance and market placement are, human engagement – the stories of change, empathy, human endeavour and success – plays a vital role in fortunes of the business. These are the stories that engage, motivate and inspire people, and will help create a powerful emotional connection to the business and the journey it’s on. And with emotional connection comes fertile ground for improvement and change.

A great example of this emotional connection played out at a leadership conference we once organised for a global hotel brand. To illustrate one of its strategic priorities — “showing our guests that we care” — one of the delegates, the general manager of a hotel branch, stood up and shared a story. He recalled a time when a father and his sick son were visiting his hotel. They were popular regulars, as the medical centre treating his son was nearby. The night before the son’s chemotherapy began, his father explained to the restaurant staff that his son had decided to shave his head from the outset. And to support him, his father had decided to follow suit.

His request to the head waiter was that when they appeared the following morning for breakfast, that the wait staff didn’t pass comment or react openly to their shaved heads, for fear of embarrassing his son at what was to be the start of a very challenging period of his life.

When they arrived for breakfast, nobody in the room batted an eyelid nor said a word. Four of the waiters, however, had shaved their heads too. Needless to say, many people in that conference were reduced to tears of both pride and empathy as the story was told, and the story is still being told in the organisation to reinforce the fact that they care. And that’s what caring for guests looks and feels like.

Nailia Tasseel