Internal Hospitality

“What exactly is ‘hospitality?” I asked my former college roommate.  She had completed her degree in Hotel & Restaurant Management twenty years earlier, and I remembered she had had a course in hospitality.

“I’m interviewing for a Vice President of Hospitality role, and I wanted your take on the definition.”

“It’s really simple,” she said. “Hospitality is welcoming people. It is having a generous spirit.”

It was a pivotal moment.  I realized I had been living and working in hospitality all my life. It was my essence. I just hadn’t known how to label it.

From my first job as a busgirl at a local steakhouse, to my many retail jobs, to sales and management roles, treating customers with genuine kindness had come naturally to me. Hospitality pros have keen awareness from the customers points of view, and they can’t help but notice standards of hospitality wherever they go – noting tone of voice, eye contact, and gestures of baristas, clerks, waiters, and bank tellers.  They are aware of how they are made to feel, because Hospitality is the business of feelings.

True hospitality comes from a pure heart, and it is non-discriminating. I was recently working with a client that employs a superstar salesperson. He cares for his guests, offering them his knowledge, passion, and warmth. Yet, with his coworkers, he can be gruff and dismissive. The cost of his sales success is the diminished productivity of his coworkers.

Service industries seek professionals to represent their brands in a positive manner. Having a staff that genuinely cares about their customers is a necessity for a sustainable business. No matter what the industry, all organizations are in the business of hospitality. Accountants have clients, chefs have vendors, and artists have suppliers. Success in businesses happen through successful relationships. And relationships within the company are even more important that customer relationships.

Creating a culture of internal hospitality, where employees treat one another with the same consideration they treat their customers, can be powerful. In 2013, scientists gathered at Stanford University at a “Kindness and Compassion” conference, sponsored by the Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education. Olivia O’Neill, who studied the effects of companionate love in the workplace, facilitated a panel of psychologists and organizational scholars. They shared that when employees get burned out, they’re not capable of feeling caring or compassionate. And if leaders feel stressed, it is a contagion to their staff. A culture of kindness can make a significant difference to the company. Skewing to the compassionate reduces turnover, absenteeism, and makes recruiting easier. Happier employees make for happier customers.

A culture of internal hospitality is created with intention, and occurs in the small moments. Leaders set the tone for the culture, and making a shift to internal hospitality can be simple.  The Ritz Carlton has gratitude cards that staff give to one another, and are presented at daily line ups. As a leader, there are many things you can do to shift your culture to a climate of hospitality:

        Say thank you. Praise the specifics.

        Write an email with only one message:  to congratulate and show appreciation.

        Refrain from negative talk.

        Give the benefit of the doubt for shortfalls and offer support.

        Publicly acknowledge acts of kindness at employee gatherings.

        Extend your hospitality beyond your people to other departments.

According to a Glassdoor study in 2016,  the primary reason people stay in their jobs is workplace culture. Nurture a culture of care, and you will lower turnover and increase productivity.  When you create a culture where your employee care for each other, it will organically extend to your customers.



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