The Value of Vision
March 21, 2019
By Ryan Sanders
What is the price of a wallet-sized laminated card? What is the value of a wallet-sized laminated card?
In the first case it is certainly trivial. In the second case it could be insignificant, but in the right case, it could represent the sum of a life’s work.
Follow me here for a few minutes and see if you arrive at a “value”. Here are two stories from the same organization.
Once, a young family traveled to Bali, carried with them special food their young son who suffered from severe allergies. Unfortunately, upon reaching the destination, the food had spoiled. No doubt, panic ensued. The manager and kitchen staff searched the whole town for replacements with no luck. They couldn’t find replacements anywhere. The Executive Chef knew that they could be obtained in Singapore, over 1,000 miles away. He then contacted his mother-in-law and asked her to personally fly to Bali with the food. He had no obligation to ask and she, no obligation to agree to it. However, he asked and she did it because she admired her son’s conviction to his job. It saved the family’s vacation.
Another young family with a two-year-old son spent a weekend away from home on vacation. As they were hurriedly packing to depart for the airport, the mom realized her son had lost his favorite Thomas the Tank Engine toy. It was nowhere to be found and they were in danger of missing the only flight home that day. She found a couple of employees and explained in a mother’s desperate tone, what was at stake. This toy was her son’s most favorite and the loss would surely be heartbreaking. The staff failed to locate the lost Thomas train. Remembering the mother’s plea, they agreed together that they couldn’t give up. The two employees drove to a local toy store and purchased a near duplicate of that famous blue train. Going the extra mile, they wrote a note to the boy in the voice of Thomas the Tank Engine telling an imaginative tale about a fun vacation the toy had taken after being accidentally left behind. The account included adorable photographs of Thomas exploring and enjoying his vacation. Less than four days after the loss of the original Thomas, Thomas the replacement arrived by FedEx, to the sheer astonishment and absolute joy of the family, who now share this story every chance they find.
These are just two of so many stories of exceptional service that have reached legendary status. You probably even know the brand, even if you’ve never visited a company property.
“We are Ladies and Gentlemen serving Ladies and Gentlemen”
The Ritz-Carlton tradition of superior service has made the brand famous worldwide for responding to the expressed and unexpressed wishes and needs of its guests. There are countless moving stories by visitors who have been touched by the above-and-beyond service of Ritz-Carlton staff.
- Ritz-Carlton employees are allowed the autonomy and ability to delight a customer without asking a manager first.
- Ritz-Carlton employees do everything in their power to fulfill the words in their credo.
- Ritz-Carlton employees prioritize the interests of guests and deliver hospitality far beyond the ordinary.
- Ritz-Carlton employees are empowered to make a difference.
The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company consistently demonstrates organizational culture based on exceptional customer service. It received the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award twice (only one other American company has earned the distinction more than once) and has also earned worldwide hospitality industry recognition for top customer satisfaction. The Ritz-Carlton is a good source of best practices when an organization wants to learn how to develop, enhance and maintain a culture with a strong customer focus and results reflecting service excellence.
It started with a clear vision and continues to manifest itself with consistent actions.
A famous aspect of the service at the Ritz-Carlton is that employees can spend up to $2,000 to solve customer problems, again, without asking for manager approval. That is $2,000 per incident, not per year, to resolve a problem or create an unforgettable guest experience. A less famous aspect is that they have done the analysis and have discovered that the average Ritz-Carlton customer will spend $250,000 with them over their lifetime.
Each staff member at The Ritz-Carlton carries a “Credo Card” describing the core elements of the hotel’s specific culture. I remember my Dad talking about the card and why he felt it set the standard for an employee fulfilling the company vision. He said he had asked a number of Ritz-Carlton employees about their credo cards over the years and once, after several questions about it, a kind bellhop knowingly smiled gave him his own copy. He was gifted a small, quad-folded Credo Card the same size as a standard business card. He later passed the card down to me. I learned afterwards that one practice for reinforcing the company’s core values and standards included mandating that the Credo Card be kept on the team members as a part of the uniform. The company holds frequent and regular events such as daily 15-minute stand-ups consisting of all Ritz-Carlton employees and which will often include discussion and role play exercises to reinforce the company gold standards.
The card included six aspects of the organization’s culture: 
- Credo – A creed that describes the Ritz-Carlton’s mission, service, facilities, and experience.
- Twelve Service Values – Twelve one-sentence values that employees personally embrace and model. These values begin with the heading, “I am proud to be Ritz-Carlton.”
- Mystique – A combination of emotion and tradition to create memorable and unique experiences for guests.
- Three Steps of Service – A concise list of three practical ways to offer exceptional service.
- Motto – “We are Ladies and Gentlemen serving Ladies and Gentlemen.”
- Employee Promise – A description of the Ritz-Carlton’s commitment to its employees and work environment.
Having absolute clarity about these principles, promises, and values sets the tone for the organization’s culture. These statements and strategies give Ritz-Carlton an operating methodology. No one has to blindly guess what target the Ritz-Carlton is trying to hit. It’s clear. Perfectly clear.
A Strong Sense of Vision
The needed, critical behavior trait that is most frequently mentioned by CEOs and Executive Team members is that the CEO conveys a “strong sense of vision”. Clarifying a vision and communicating it to everyone can have powerful results. A vision is not a holy grail and should never be viewed as a magic cure for a sick organization. Clear visions support sound management strategies and they require everyone to “say what they do and do what they say” and to be accountable for their behavior. Everyone. A leader’s vision should start as a vivid, credible image of an ideal future state. The clearer a CEO is about what people should do differently to achieve challenging objectives, the greater his or her chances of achieving the changes necessary for steady, lasting success. New behavior doesn’t come from missions, however aspirational, but from deep, emotional commitment to doing things differently. CEOs who do the hard work to develop and communicate a vision adeptly can make a profound and lasting organizational impact.
A Visionary Vision Statement
Many organizations that begin with a vision articulate it broadly through a vision statement. The statement can be as short as a couple of sentences (i.e., on 1 part of a wallet-sized laminated card) or as long as many pages; a set of simple bullet points or elaborate paragraphs; and vague and abstract on some topics, while clear and perfectly precise in others. There is no one template for a vision statement.
A vision statement fulfills two useful purposes. First, it simplifies the planning phase for defining the vision. Like a set of draft architectural renderings that give substance to possibilities, the statement provides the organizing machinery which enables CEOs and Executive Teams to integrate a wide-ranging collection of skills, goals, dreams, challenges, and ideas and cause them to be actionable to the vision.
A second function of the statement is that it becomes a public document from which there can be no deviation. Employee’s responses to a vision increase when it is perceived as a complete and enduring commitment from the CEO. And real commitments are usually made in writing and in ink.
A Cultural Foundation
A vision must serve as a foundation for the organization. Unlike goals and objectives, a vision does not fluctuate from year to year but serves the future as a promise. A successful, well communicated vision depicts for the organization and illustrates what the organization will do in the face of both known and unknowns. A vision must give employees the feeling that their contributions are meaningful and are intertwined with and moving toward the achievement of company goals. The implementation of a vision that lacks a sense of urgency and does not have immediate – and measurable – milestone(s) associated with it, risks failure. One purpose of vision is to help employees understand what an organization stands for and what is expected of them. Leaders should start by asking themselves:
- What it is and who owns the development of it?
- What will people see, hear, and feel once the changes have been achieved?
- How will the behaviors and changes be measured?
- Who refines it and how often should it be refined?
- Can each person articulate the vision and their opportunity to contribute?
- How will each person be empowered and how will they know it?
- What are the stories that should be told in the future because of the vision?
A CEO and the organization’s quest to build a culture of excellence throughout the company is a marathon, not a sprint.
You can’t build a world-class culture overnight. It must start with a clear, inspiring vision and is reinforced from the highest levels of the organization. It’s an ongoing, unrelenting commitment to excellence, and it never ends.
CEO Herve Humler and the original executive team more than 30 years ago created the hotel brand as we know it and to this day he continues to “exhort his managers and frontline employees to fully realize the vision of the heady early days when that group of hospitality executives joined forces to create what they envisioned as a worldwide luxury chain focused on serving “even the unexpressed wishes” of its guests, and doing so through fully-empowered “Ladies and Gentlemen”.
Ritz-Carlton is truly a remarkable company. They do more than talk about great customer service; they have mastered the art of delivering it. As you pause and reflect on your employees’ interactions with each other, your company’s customers, partners and competitors; consider what you want to be true, and how you can improve, starting with a clear, purposeful vision.
Do this too, and there is no limit to the value of your vision
Ryan Sanders is a Director at Mercato Partners
You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org