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Chapter 4 Developing the hospitality culture: everyone serves!

Hospitality Principle:

Define and build a total service culture.

Work together with employees to develop a "can-do" culture of honesty, integrity, energy, and initiative.

--Norman Brinker, Former CEO, Chili's Restaurants

My role? Well you know I was stumped one day when a little boy asked, "Do you draw Mickey Mouse?" I had to admit I do not draw anymore. "Then you think up all the jokes and ideas?" "No," I said, "I don't do that." Finally, he looked up at me and said, "Mr. Disney, just what do you do?" "Well," I said, "sometimes I think of myself as a little bee. I go from one area of the studio to another and gather pollen and sort of stimulate everyone. I guess that's the job I do."

--Walt Disney


After reading this chapter, you should understand:

* Why a hospitality organization's culture is so important to service success.

* Why the organization's leaders are so important to defining, developing, teaching, and maintaining its culture.

* What essential roles the organization's beliefs, values, and norms play.

* How the organization communicates its culture to its employees--through laws, language, stories, legends, heroes, symbols, and rituals.

* How the organization can accomplish the difficult task of changing its culture, if that becomes necessary.

* What research reveals about organizational cultures.




organizational culture




When you go to the Walt Disney World Resort, fly on Southwest Airlines, shop at Nordstrom's, or stay at a Marriott hotel, you can sense something special about the organization and the people who work there. If customers of these organizations are asked about the experience, they invariably describe it as better than they expected. What's even more amazing is that their employees will also tell you that the organizations are different. The Disney cast members talk about their commitment to the quality of the "show" they produce for park visitors. Marriott and Nordstrom employees talk about the commitment to guest service, and Southwest Airlines employees talk about their commitment to providing a unique and pleasurable flying experience. Not only do employees talk about these corporate values; they believe in them and show the customer their commitment in a thousand different ways every day. The hospitality manager seeking excellence can learn a great deal by examining how these organizations create and sustain their culture of service excellence.


Getting everyone in the organization committed to high levels of guest service is a daunting challenge. Not only did Walt Disney, Herb Kelleher of Southwest Airlines, and Bill Marriott spend the personal time and energy necessary to create and sustain the organizational culture that defines the corporate values for which their organizations are famous; they also got their employees and managers to believe in the culture as well. They knew that as leaders, they were responsible for defining the culture. They all had a strong commitment to excellent service, and they communicated it--through their words and deeds--clearly and consistently to those inside and outside the organization.

Can managers who are not the presidents or founders of organizations have the same kind of influence on the culture that these famous leaders have had? They certainly can, and they must, although managers and supervisors serve more as translators than as definers of culture. The most important influence on any organizational culture is the behavior of the organization's leader. Viewing this influence from the bottom of the organizational chart, employees try to behave as their supervisors do, supervisors are influenced by the behavior of their managers, the role models for managers are their own managers, and so on until top-level managers, and especially the organization's leader, become the role models for the whole organization and the ultimate definers of each organization's cultural values.

Supervisory personnel at all levels, then, must realize how important they are as cultural keepers and translators. If they do not perform this function well, then service delivery will suffer. Managers must not only walk the walk and talk the talk of excellent service; they must consistently remind all employees that they supervise to do the same. Disney referred to "... never letting your personnel get sloppy ... never let them be unfriendly." (1) If a manager moving through the service environment sees an employee doing something inconsistent with the culture and ignores it, that manager sends a message to all employees that such behavior is a legitimate option, that not everybody has to focus on guest service all the time. After a few instances of managers saying one thing but rewarding or not punishing another, everyone knows what the real level of service commitment is.

Not only must all the public and private statements support the idea that everyone serves; the organizational reward system, training programs, and measures of achievement must also support and reinforce this message. When managers publicly and loudly celebrate the service achievements of their employees, they send a very strong message to everyone else about what the organization believes in and what its culture values.

Culture and Reputation

A company's culture, like a person's character, drives its reputation. Companies whose cultures honor customers, employees, and shareholders usually have excellent reputations. These organizations recognize the importance of a strong culture in the competitive marketplace, a strong culture that everyone believes in, understands, and supports. All organizations have a culture, whether or not anyone spends any time worrying about it, shaping it, or teaching it. Managers of effective hospitality organizations understand the value of a strong culture and do whatever they can to reaffirm and support what the organization values. If the culture supports excellent service, then the members learn that providing excellent service is what they are supposed to do. The stronger this cultural norm is and the more the members accept and believe in it, the more likely it is that they will try to do whatever they can to create and sustain service excellence.

Unfortunately, many managers don't understand their responsibilities in managing the culture to get this level of employee commitment, and both their employees and customers can tell. Successful hospitality managers spend enormous amounts of time and energy on training new employees in the culture, reminding their existing employees of the cultural values, and rewarding and reinforcing these values at every opportunity. While there are always other things to do, these managers make the time to reinforce culture.

Disney is an outstanding example of an organization that has worked very hard to define and sustain its culture. Corporate culture is so important to Disney that it is included and defined in the employee handbook. But in addition to being words in a book, the Disney culture is real and important for cast members. After interviewing Disney employees, Jane Kuenz concluded about the people she met:
   These are frequently people who have migrated to Orlando
   specifically to work at Disney, often with exceedingly high,
   perhaps naive, expectations about the park. While these
   expectations are sometimes vague notions that Disney must be "the
   epitome of the fun place to work," at other times they reflect a
   high level of personal investment with the park and with its power
   to raise the innocuous or mundane lives of average people into the
   fantastical and magical existence of the Disney cast member. (2)

In other words, many people believe so strongly in Disney's ability to create a magical experience for its guests that they want to become a part of it. Whatever cultural training Disney provides after these people become employed is icing on the cake; they arrive already believing in the Disney standards of excellence. Few hospitality organizations have this head start in getting employees to understand and participate enthusiastically in the organizational culture. It is, however, a model worth pursuing.

The Manager's Most Important Responsibility

This chapter will present the concept of corporate culture, why and how excellent managers communicate culture to employees, how to change it, and how managers can work with their culture to ensure that it supports the organizational mission of service excellence. Everyone has been in an organization that feels warm, friendly, and helpful, perhaps for reasons they can't quite explain. Similarly, everyone has been in an organization that feels cold, aloof, uncaring, and impersonal. While most people can readily give examples of organizations that fit the two types, few can really explain what makes the two types different.

Making culture different in the right ways is the hospitality manager's responsibility. Len Berry says, "Sustained performance of quality service depends on organizational values that truly guide and inspire employees. And how does an organization get such values? It gets them from its leaders who view the infusion and cultivation of values within the organization as a primary responsibility." (3) Indeed, some leading writers go so far as to maintain that it is every manager's most important responsibility.


In Chapter 2, we talked about defining a service strategy. That strategy is no more than a paper reality. Implementing it is impossible without a supporting culture. No matter how brilliant and well thought out the strategy is, it will fail if it doesn't fit with the organization's culture.

Strategy and Employee Commitment

The firm's competitive strategy provides the basis for such critical decisions as how the organization will be structured, what type of service it wants to deliver, what market niche it seeks to fill, what production and service delivery system it will use, who it will hire, and how it will train, reward, promote, and evaluate those people. But only employee commitment to implementing all those critical decisions can turn plans into actions. All the plans in the world are useless without employee understanding, commitment, and support.

Hospitality organizations require an especially high level of commitment and understanding. Because the guest experience is to an extent intangible and each moment during the experience is so critical to determining guest satisfaction with the experience, employees must have extensive knowledge of both the service itself and the guests they serve and an ability to respond quickly to the many variations in guest expectations. But knowledge is not enough. Employees must also have high levels of motivation to deliver the hospitality experience consistently, in the way it should be done. Consequently, a strong and focused organizational culture becomes an especially important managerial emphasis in hospitality organizations. At Disney theme parks, a "magical moment" for a guest is hard to define but easy to see in practice. The motivation of employees to create magical moments whenever they can results directly from their understanding of and commitment to the Disney culture.

Culture as a Competitive Advantage

The organization's culture can be a significant competitive advantage if it has value to its members, is unique, and cannot be easily copied by others. If an organization has a thriving culture that others cannot readily duplicate, it can use that culture to attract both customers and employees. A good strategy for other organizations is to identify organizations in their industries with successful cultures and try to imitate their cultures as well as they can. (4)

Southwest Airlines has a thriving culture that others can use as a benchmark for their own. The "Southwest Spirit"
   is the twinkle in your eye, the skip in your step; it is letting
   that childlike spirit escape and be heard. To know what really
   makes Southwest Spirit, you have to look beyond the machines and
   things because running a fun and productive airline defies science;
   it is an art that comes from working hard with feeling. (5)

Working in a culture where the employees truly have the "spirit" is very different from working in a typical nine-to-five job. More importantly, being a customer who encounters this type of culture is unique and fun. The Southwest culture represents a competitive advantage for them over other airlines.

Management by Culture!

The stronger the culture, the less necessary it is to rely on the typical bureaucratic management controls--policies, procedures, managerial directives--found in traditional industrial organizations. If the culture can effectively substitute for such expensive control mechanisms, that in itself is a pretty good reason for the hospitality organization to spend money on building its culture. Since hospitality organizations must find ways to delegate more decision-making responsibility to their employees, especially their guest-contact employees, they must rely on strong cultural values to ensure that their people do the right things for their guests. Also, guests are not passive; they frequently participate in providing their own hospitality experience under the guidance of employees. A strong culture can help employees guide guests properly even when the manager is not nearby. Unlike a manufacturing organization where the production process is fairly predictable, the process of providing a hospitality experience is subject to incredible variation; as many different things can happen as there are different types of people. Since defining all the possibilities is impossible, the hospitality organization must rely on its employees to understand what is expected and deliver it to the guest every time. The more uncertain the task, the more employees must depend on corporate values instead of managerial instructions, formal policies, and established procedures to guide their behavior. (6)

An Example: The Chef

The culture of the professional chef is particularly strong. While much of any culinary program is devoted to teaching the principles of cooking, implicit in all of the training is the cultural value of preparing a consistent fine dining experience. Regardless of program or type of culinary training, one central value stands out: The chef must strive for flawless production of a fine dining experience for every guest every time. Indeed, some casual dining chains have sent their cooks to culinary courses not so much to learn how to cook, since the chain's recipes are standardized, but to learn how to respect the culinary cultural values of product quality and consistency so that the diner at a Chili's or Olive Garden, like the diner at a five-star Parisian restaurant, will have a consistently prepared meal.

Culture as a Competency

If an organization's culture is strong, it becomes another core competency. As would be true for other core competencies, the organization that seeks to do something incompatible with its culture is likely to fail. If, for example, the organization's culture is accustomed to providing a high-value service experience, any manager trying to implement a cost-saving move that somehow jeopardizes that experience will meet resistance.

The basic principle is simple. If the organization is committed to a strategy of service excellence, then its culture must support service excellence. Otherwise, excellence will not happen.


Culture Defined

An organization's culture is a way of behaving, thinking, and acting that is learned and shared by the organization's members. One definition might be: the shared philosophies, ideologies, values, assumptions, beliefs, attitudes, and norms that knit a community together. All of these interrelated qualities reveal a group's agreement, implicit or explicit, on how its members should approach decisions and problems. In other words, culture is the way people in the organization act and think as they go about doing their jobs. "It's the way we do things around here." Any culture is also dynamic and constantly changing as anyone who has followed the changes in teen music and dress for the past decade can readily confirm. A culture both influences its members and in turn is influenced by its members. The interaction between members over time as they deal with changing circumstances means that cultures too will change.

Culture and the Outside World

Culture helps an organization's members deal with two core issues that all organizations must resolve: how to relate to the world outside of the organization and how the organization's members should relate to one another. Ed Schein calls culture a "pattern of basic assumptions--invented, discovered, or developed by a given group as it learns to cope with its problems of external adaptation and internal interaction--that has worked well enough to be considered valid and, therefore, to be taught to new members as the correct way to perceive, think, and feel in relation to those problems." (7)

Some managers define how their organizations should deal with the outside world by taking a closed or negative view of the outside environment and encouraging an us-versus-them cultural mind-set. Members of such a culture are unreceptive to new ideas from the outside; they tend to discard or downplay common industry practices or innovations and are generally secretive about what their organization is doing and protective of its "proprietary knowledge." On the other hand, managers trying to create an open-culture organization constantly encourage their people to grow and develop by interacting with others in the industry, to benchmark against best-practice organizations wherever they can be found, and to consider ideas and innovations developed outside the organizational boundaries. Not surprisingly, people in these learning organizations adapt more quickly to changes in customer expectations and respond better to customer needs.

Culture and the Internal Organization: X and Y

Relating to the outside world refers to how the members of the organization see the world, what assumptions they make about the organization's relationship to that world, and how members are supposed to respond to external events. Relating to one another inside the culture refers to how the members see their collective mission, the ways they interact or interrelate with each other to accomplish that mission, and the assumptions they should use in making decisions about those things they control--their functional areas, interpersonal relationships, and attitudes toward change and adaptation. With regard to internal interaction, a culture can be democratic, supportive, friendly, informal, and participatory in its decision making, or it can be formal, rigid, bureaucratic, and autocratic, allowing only those at the top of the organization to make decisions. These two extremes reflect the classic distinction made by Douglas McGregor in his discussion of Theory X and Theory Y management styles. In life, of course, most organizations fall somewhere between the extremes. These two theories represent two very different sets of assumptions about how people behave. Theory Y assumes that people like to work, derive real satisfaction from their work, and want to do a good job. Theory X assumes that people will work only as hard as they are made to work. People entering one culture type from another quickly learn that the behaviors and actions rewarded and respected in their former organization may not be respected or rewarded in the new one. Indeed, part of the employee hiring process should include an indoctrination into the new culture.

Teaching the New Values

Since everyone brings to a new job the cultural assumptions of past experiences, managers of excellent hospitality organizations know they must start teaching new cultural values to employees from day one. The Traditions training program at Disney is a good illustration of how to teach new employees about the organization's cultural values and beliefs. On the first day of employment, new employees go to a classroom at Disney University where they learn about the traditions, history, and core beliefs of the Disney organization. This experience gives everyone a common cultural background and also communicates the importance and meaning of the Disney culture. If it wasn't important, why would the company spend an entire day teaching it to every new cast member, regardless of the job? No matter what function they may later perform inside the organization, the glue that binds cast members together is the belief that they are all participating in the Disney culture, and they know exactly what that means. Disney teaches its employees four company values, in the order of their importance: safety, courtesy, show, and efficiency. When employees encounter unfamiliar situations in which they have to take some action, these four values provide guidance.

Culture Fills the Gaps

These cultural teachings become beliefs about how things should be, values of what has worth, and norms of behavior. They provide guidance to the culture's members as they interact with each other and their customers. In Schein's terms, they guide the members in how they should perceive the world about them, feel about the events they face, and think about what they do and don't do within their jobs. Many bureaucratic organizations believe that the best way to make sure employees do the right thing in their jobs is to establish extensive rules and regulations to cover every possible contingency. Ideally, there would be a rule for every possibility. Excellent hospitality organizations, knowing that rules and procedures cannot cover everything, spend their time defining and teaching the culture so that their employees will know how they should act in treating their guests and one another. These organizations teach their employees as much as they can, then rely on culture to fill in the inevitable gaps between what can be predicted and what actually happens when guests enter the service setting.


Culture-driven organizations seek to define the beliefs, values, and norms of the organization through what they do and say, and what they reward, rather than through rules and regulations. Let's take a closer look at what we mean by beliefs, values, and norms. (8)


Beliefs form the ideological core of the culture. A belief is how people in organizations make sense of their relationships with the external world and its influence on the internal organization. If culture is a set of assumptions about how things operate, then beliefs are formed to help the people inside the organization make sense of how those assumptions influence what they do inside the organization. Beliefs define the relationships between causes and effects for the organizational members.

As a simple illustration, if the people in an organization assume that the marketplace rewards with profits those organizations that provide good service and punishes those that don't, then the importance of providing good customer service becomes a cultural belief. It's something that everyone believes in. Obviously, most beliefs are more complex than this; a multitude of assumptions about how the environment operates may translate into a whole system of sense-making beliefs. The point here is that every organization's members make a number of assumptions about the world and develop beliefs that reflect how they will respond as an organization to those assumptions. The management of an organization that understands the importance of these beliefs will take an active role in defining both the assumptions and the beliefs that those assumptions create.


Values are preferences for certain behaviors or certain outcomes over others. Values define for the members what is right and wrong, preferred and not preferred, desirable behavior and undesirable behavior. Obviously, values can be a strong influence on employee behavior within an organizational culture. If management sends a clear signal to all employees that providing good customer service is an important value to the organization, then the employees know they should adopt this value. They are more likely, consequently, to behave in ways that ensure that the customer has a good service experience.


Norms are standards of behavior that define how people are expected to act while part of the organization. The typical organization has an intricate set of norms. Some are immediately obvious, and some require the advice and counsel of veteran employees who have learned the norms over time by watching what works and what doesn't work, what gets rewarded and what gets punished.

Most outstanding hospitality organizations have norms of greeting a guest warmly, smiling, and making eye contact to show interest in the guest. Some use "the fifteen-foot rule." Once guests are within fifteen feet of employees--window washers, engineers, and grounds crew, as well as guest-contact persons--the behavior norm is to make positive contact with the guest. Within this "hospitality zone," employees are expected to make eye contact, smile, and briefly engage the guest in conversation. Some organizations print the service norms on cards, supplied to every employee to serve as the guidelines for service.

Cultural norms are defined and shaped for the hospitality employee not only by fellow employees and supervisors but also by guests who make their expectations plain. Such guests are an advantage that hospitality organizations have over manufacturing organizations as guests become potent assistants to the managers in monitoring, reinforcing, and shaping employee behavior. At Disney, the guest service guidelines are so well established that even the guests often know them. If a ride operator in the Magic Kingdom fails to make eye contact or doesn't smile, a park patron may comment about the deviation from the service norm ("What's the matter? Did Goofy step on your toe?") or offer a reminder. Ride operators learn quickly what is expected of them by the constant hints, looks, glares, and comments guests make. Guest expectations of normal behavior help shape employee behavior. As with many organizations that make sure their guests know their commitment to service excellence, Disney's guests help reinforce the norms of behavior; they demand that Disney cast members live up to their reputation for providing a high-quality Disney experience.
Disney Guidelines for Guest Service

1. Make Eye Contact and Smile

2. Greet Each and Every Guest

3. Seek Out Guest Contact

4. Provide Immediate Service Recovery

5. Display Appropriate Body Language at All Times

6. Preserve the "Magical" Guest Experience

7. Thank Each and Every Guest

Norms in Advertising

Many hospitality organizations use advertising as a means to sell their services, to show the guest visually what the guest experience should look like. Since the employees see the same ads, they also learn the norms of behavior that guests expect, and this advertising serves to train them just as it informs prospective guests. The guest arrives with predefined expectations, and the hospitality employees had better meet or exceed the expected standard or the guest will be unhappy and dissatisfied.

Norms of Appearance

In addition to the norms of behavior, most hospitality organizations also have norms of appearance and standards of personal grooming. For example, employees may not be allowed to have hair that extends below a certain length, only women may have pierced ears and all earrings must be smaller than a certain size, fingernails may not be excessively long or colored in unusual ways, no necklaces, bracelets, beards, moustaches, visible tattoos, and so forth. Although such norms can lead to criticism about restrictions on personal freedom of expression regarding appearance, hospitality organizations must meet guest expectations in this as in all areas of service. If Ritz-Carlton guests expect to see clean-cut employees greeting them upon check-in, then the Ritz-Carlton had better hire clean-cut employees. Disney wants its employees to have a conventional appearance; anything other than the "Disney Look" would detract from the guest's experience of the Disney show. On the other hand, the Disney Look would probably not be appropriate at a Hard Rock Cafe, Harley Davidson Cafe, or Jekyll and Hyde Club. While organizations that don't serve external customers can ignore such personal-appearance concerns, the hospitality organization cannot. It must carefully define and enforce its norms of appearance to ensure that employees have the look guests expect.

We have seen that advertising can help predefine guest expectations. Here is an example of how an appearance norm at a southern resort hotel affected the appearance and expectations of the hotel's convention clientele. Traditionally, this hotel had required that the men on its management team be dressed in blazers and ties, the women in blazers and skirts. Whenever meeting planners visited the hotel to discuss potential convention business, they could see by the outfits of the hotel managers that the culture was clearly somewhat formal. When these meeting planners went back to their organizations, they reported to their members that the attire for the convention, even though it was to be held in the sunny south, would be jackets and ties, and jackets/skirts or dresses. Now that the hotel's management has quit wearing jackets and instead wears short-sleeve shirts with collars, or skirts and blouses, the entire atmosphere of the meetings held in the hotel has changed. Meeting planners, adopting the new appearance norm, now report to their convention attendees that the meeting attire will be informal and relaxed.

Folkways and Mores

Folkways are the customary, habitual ways in which organizational members act or think, without reflecting upon them. Shaking hands (or not shaking hands), addressing everyone by first or last name, and wearing or not wearing a tie would all be examples of folkways. In a restaurant, a folkway might be to roll silverware when there is nothing else to do in the quiet times between crowds. An organization's mores are folkways that go beyond being polite. These are customary behaviors that must be followed to preserve the organization's efficient operation and survival. Mores require certain acts and forbid others. By indicating what is right and wrong, they form the basis of the organization's code of ethics and accepted behaviors.


The organization's culture, then, represents a shared learning process that continues over time as the people inside the organization change, grow, and develop while responding to a world that does the same. The world external to the organization (consisting of the physical, technological, and cultural environment) defines the activities and patterns of interactions for the organization's members who have to deal with that external world. Ed Schein says,
   One must never forget that the environment initially determines the
   possibilities, options, and constraints for a group, and thus
   forces the group to specify its primary task or function if it is
   to survive at all. The environment thus initially influences the
   formation of culture, but once the culture is present in the form
   of shared assumptions, those assumptions, in turn, influence what
   will be perceived and defined as the environment. (9)

Learning the Culture, Learning from the Culture

As new people join the organization, they learn the culture from both formal company practices such as training and reward systems and informal social interaction with fellow employees, supervisors, and subordinates. They learn the right way and the wrong way to do things in that particular culture. The point is that culture is an important influence on how people inside organizations behave in their job performance, how they make decisions, how they relate to others, and how they handle new situations.

The guidance that culture can give in handling unusual situations becomes especially meaningful in hospitality organizations. Unlike manufacturing organizations, where much of the job can be defined in advance through engineering methods and bureaucratic control mechanisms, the hospitality industry is full of unusual events. People ask unbelievably odd questions, make the most outrageous requests, and behave in unpredictable ways. Without a cultural value system to guide them, employees in hospitality organizations would frequently fail the guest because they would not know how their organization wants them to respond. While most manufacturers of products can focus on teaching employees only the hows of producing the product, the hospitality organization must also teach its employees the whys. Developing, reinforcing, and communicating clear cultural norms about what is and is not the right way to deal with customers is a very effective way to teach those whys. A sign frequently seen in customer-focused organizations says:

Rule 1: The customer is always right.

Rule 2: If you think the customer is wrong, re-read Rule 1.

While no organization believes that all customers are always right in all situations, the two principles are a good guide to behavior in those organizations that want to remind their employees of the organization's fundamental value structure. This sign is a strong symbolic reminder of this important cultural value.

Like everybody else, employees need to make sense out of their environment and how to behave within it. Culture helps them do so. When people collectively make assumptions about how the world outside the organization operates, they form beliefs that help them make sense of those assumptions, collectively decide upon what is valued, and then define norms that enforce and carry forward those values in the day-to-day behavior of the members.

It sounds more complicated than it is. Essentially, managers who recognize these concepts and their worth to the organization spend considerable time and effort clarifying and articulating the assumptions, shaping the belief system, and making clear the organizational values to all

the members. Members of every culture want to make sense of what's happening inside and outside the organization and will find a way to do so with or without management help. Hospitality organizations wanting to ensure that the primary cultural value is service excellence will continually emphasize and define that critical value for the entire organization.


Cultures often split into subcultures. Usually, the more people involved in the culture and the harder it is for them to stay in communication with one another, the more likely it is that the organization will see some subcultures form. They can be good or bad, supportive or destructive, and consistent with or contrary to the larger corporate culture. Since culture relies on interaction to sustain itself, people who work together may well create a subculture of their own, especially if they don't interact much with other organizational units. Organizations that depend greatly on part-time employees are especially susceptible to subculture formation; the part-timers may not spend enough hours in the greater organization to absorb its culture. The organization will want to do what it can to ensure that the subcultures are mainly consistent with the overall cultural values even if their behaviors, beliefs, and norms do vary somewhat from them. Communication is the key to sustaining the overall culture.

The authors of Inside the Mouse show how the large size of the entire Walt Disney World Resort operation has led to the development of subcultures. The categorizing and subdividing of employees by place (Tomorrowland versus Frontierland), type (food and beverage versus attractions operator), shift (weekend versus weekday), and amount of work (fulltime versus part-time) have the effect of forming many different and clearly identifiable subcultures. Cast members tend to associate with others like themselves who are doing things like what they do in areas where they are likely to meet one another frequently. After all, a culture is a shared experience, and the more it is shared, the more definable it becomes for those sharing it. Pirates of the Caribbean people tend to hang out with other Pirates of the Caribbean people, Haunted Mansion people hang out with other Haunted Mansion people, and so forth.


The subcultures forming within the overall culture can be a managerial challenge if they operate in ways that do not support the overall corporate culture. The Jungle Cruise operators have a tendency to see themselves as excellent stand-up comedians and compete against one another for the best comedy routine during a Jungle Cruise ride. Although some humor can enhance the "show" for guests, this subcultural competition promotes values that, if carried to an extreme, could directly conflict with the overall Disney culture. Gross deviations from the accepted scripts might become so outlandish as to violate the overall cultural value of providing a wholesome and nonoffensive family entertainment experience. While the worst comedians eventually get caught, the damage to the overall Disney experience for some guests may by then be irreparable. The larger culture must be strong enough to override the subcultures on issues important to the organization's survival. While some cultural variation may be tolerated, the overall culture has to be defined and reinforced by management in ways sufficiently strong that the central values of the organization come through in the customer experience.


While the substance of culture is a set of assumptions that lead to beliefs, values, and norms, culture is communicated to those inside and outside the organization in a variety of ways, including laws, language, stories, legends, heroes, symbols, and rituals. In these ways people can express, affirm, and communicate their shared beliefs, values, and norms to each other and to those outside the organization. Each form is important in helping the members learn, implement, teach, and reinforce the culture that the members share. They should be used together and become part of an overall message to members of what the culture stands for. The more these communications support each other in sending a single clear message to the organizational membership, the stronger the impact of that message will be.

Leading hospitality organizations know the importance of these elements in defining the organizational culture. They manage these cultural mechanisms in a holistic way to reinforce, clearly and consistently, those organizational values which they expect all employees to have in mind when they meet, greet, and serve customers. Learning the culture becomes part of the training for all new employees. Managers and other experienced employees, internal communications media, and organizational reward structures all continue to teach, reinforce, and celebrate the corporate culture thereafter.


The laws of an organization are its rules, policies, and regulations--the norms that are so important that they need to be written down so everyone knows exactly what they are. They tell the members what behaviors are expected within that culture and also detail the consequences of violating the norm.

Two norms are so important to Disney that they are corporate policies--in effect, laws. One, a cast member in costume must not walk in an area where the costume is inappropriate. An employee in the futuristic Tomorrowland cannot go to Frontierland. Nor may an Epcot World Showcase member of the China Pavilion be found in costume in the Moroccan Pavilion. A cast member violating either norm can be fired. Another strict policy is that cast members portraying Disney characters must stay completely in character; they must maintain and fulfill the character expectations of Disney guests. They cannot speak, be seen out of costume, take off any part of the costume in public, or do anything else that might destroy the sense of fantasy for the children (of all ages). Indeed, a policy forbids transporting any character costume in a public area unless it is in a black bag that completely covers all its parts so no child (of any age) will see a favorite fantasy character "in pieces."


In addition to the common language of the larger social culture, each organization develops a language of its own, which is frequently incomprehensible to outsiders. The special language is an important vehicle for both communicating the common cultural elements to which the language refers and in reaffirming the identity with the culture that those who speak this language share. Terms an insider uses to talk with another insider communicate an important concept quickly and also distinguish that person from an outsider.

For example, everyone at Disney uses certain important terms which carry strong cultural messages. All employees, recruited by casting, are called cast members. This term sends two important messages. First, everyone is equally part of the overall cast of the organization, a concept reinforced by the use of first names only on all name tags. Second, the term reminds cast members that they are playing "roles" that help make up the Disney "show." This show concept is reinforced by the use of other terms such as "on stage" to define all situations and areas where cast members are in front of their customers and "back stage" to define areas the customers cannot see. Law enforcement staff are called security hosts, and everyone's uniforms are costumes which are checked out daily from wardrobe. In other words, the language of the culture is carefully constructed to ensure that cast members constantly think of themselves as participants in an ongoing stage production designed to create a magical fantasy experience. So effective is this training in language that Smith and Eisenberg report that no Disneyland Park employee they talked to during their 35 half-hour interviews used any of the traditional terms uniforms, customers, or amusement park, instead using costumes, guests, and property. (10)

Stories, Legends, and Heroes

Stories, legends, and heroes are another way of transmitting cultural beliefs, values, and norms. They communicate proper behaviors and the right and wrong way to do things. The cultural belief the Magic Kingdom has magical qualities that create a positive fantasy experience for children of all ages is reinforced by stories about people who work there. There are the stories about the busy corporate executive from another organization who makes time to work at the Magic Kingdom for a few days every month, and the heiress who jets over from her own private island to ladle punch at Aunt Polly's landing. While the stories may or may not be completely accurate, they represent a central belief by employees in the culture that "Walt Disney World is the place where truck drivers' daughters work alongside corporate executives in their common mission of producing magic." (11) In other words, being a part of the Disney experience is so positive that it draws in everyone regardless of social status or position, and, while in the park, all cast members are united in doing the same thing: providing a magical experience for guests. Numerous powerful stories teach this cultural belief.

Many tales are told about Walt Disney and his attention to detail, service excellence, and the future direction of the parks. It is reported that when he died in 1966, he left behind a series of films in which he conducted staff meetings to an empty conference room with the intention, and apparently the result, that they be shown monthly to his senior staff after his death. As one observer reported, he held conferences into at least the 1970s in which he would make statements like, "Bob, this is October, 1976. You remember we were going to do this or that. Are you sure it's underway now?" (12) Such attention to detail and commitment to service quality left an important legacy behind. Indeed, for years after Disney's death, many decisions were reportedly made by trying to figure out "what Walt would have done" or "what Walt would have wanted." This thinking so permeated the culture that the organization continued for many years to work as if the brilliant leader were still somehow nearby and able to guide the new leadership's thinking.

Few organizations can access the vast array of heroes that Disney has available to it. Through the many fictional characters seen in its motion pictures, management can teach, perpetuate, and model desired behaviors and core values. The Lion King was such an inspirational movie to one Disney hotelier that he used it as the basis for teaching the "Circle of Service." Instead of the Circle of Life used in the movie, he used the movie's characters and songs to bring a strong message to his employees about the value and importance of the guest service commitment in which he wanted them to believe. The movie was a dramatic medium for bringing this message home in a powerful way. Other resort hotel managers have used the "Be Our Guest" song from Beauty and the Beast to build similarly inspirational stories about providing excellent guest service. These are only two examples of the many powerful symbols that Disney managers have available to them.

American Express: Great Performers

American Express calls those employees who have provided exceptional service to customers Great Performers. Two customer service people in Florida got money to a woman in a foreign war zone and helped her get a ship out of the country; travel agents in Columbus, Georgia, paid a French tourist's bail so he could get out of jail; an employee drove through a blizzard to take food and blankets to stranded travelers at Kennedy Airport; an employee got up in the middle of the night to take an Amex card to a customer stranded at Boston's Logan Airport. Any hospitality organization has its heroes--employees who have gone above and beyond the call of duty--and their stories should be preserved and shared. American Express distributes its Great Performers booklets to all employees worldwide.

Larry's Chair

The Olive Garden restaurant also uses stories to teach employees the cultural value of service it hopes to communicate. At all new store openings when the corporate culture is being taught to new employees, the opening manager will usually tell a story about a customer named Larry. It seems that Larry came to an Olive Garden and found the armchairs uncomfortable for his significantly above-average weight. He wrote the company president a letter praising the food and complaining about the chairs. In response, the Olive Garden ordered and placed in each restaurant two Larry Chairs that have no arms. These chairs are discreetly substituted for the normal chairs whenever a person of extra girth comes into the restaurant. Needless to say, telling the Larry Chair story at an opening reveals a great deal about the company's service values and sends a strong message to the new employees about how far the restaurant (and they) should go to respond to and meet a customer's needs.

All organizations need stories, heroes, myths, and legends to help teach the culture, to communicate the values and behaviors that the organization seeks from its employees in their job performance, and to serve as role models for new situations. Most people love stories. It's so much easier to hear a story of what a hero did than to listen to someone lecturing about "customer responsiveness" in a formal training class. Not only are stories more memorable than some five arbitrary points listed on a classroom overhead, but the tales can be embellished in the retelling and the culture thereby made more alive. Tales of "old Joe" and what wondrous things he did while serving customers teach desired responses to customer concerns and reaffirm the organization's cultural values at the same time. Every hospitality organization should capture and preserve the stories and tales of its people who do amazing things, create magical moments, to wow guests. The effort will yield a wonderful array of inspiring stories for all employees and send a strong message about what the organization values and desires in its employees.


A symbol is a physical object that has significance beyond itself, a sign that communicates an unspoken message. Cultural symbols are everywhere in organizations. A window office, an office on the top floor, or a desk and office in a particular location communicate information about the status level and organizational power of the person within that transcends the mere physical objects involved. At Walt Disney World Resort, the Mouse Ears are everywhere. The plants are grown in mouse-ear shapes, the anniversary service pins are mouse ears, the souvenir balloons are ear shaped, the entrance to Team Disney is framed by ears, and Disney-MGM Studios landmark water tower ("The Earful Tower") has mouse ears on it. Mouse ears are subtly hidden everywhere around the property and serve as a constant symbolic reminder of where Disney began. Not even the employees know where all the mouse ears are, and a Web site is devoted to "Hidden Ears." Other symbols are evident as well, to communicate parts of the culture. The executive offices are in a building called "Team Disney" to represent the corporate value placed on the team concept.


Rituals are symbolic acts that people perform to gain and maintain membership or identity within an organization. At most hospitality organizations, all employees go through a similar training program. It is mainly informational; new employees learn the organizational basics and cultural heritage. But, like military boot camp or initiation into a sorority, it also has ritualistic significance because everyone goes through the experience upon entry into the company to learn and share the common culture. Most hospitality organizations develop elaborate ritual celebrations of service excellence. These can range from a simple event like a departmental pizza party to honor all those receiving positive comments on customer comment cards, to very elaborate Employee of the Year award ceremonies that resemble a major gala. The point is that what the organization celebrates ritualistically and how much effort it makes to celebrate tell the members a lot about what the culture believes in and holds valuable.


Leaders Teach the Culture

Managers of effective hospitality organizations constantly teach the culture to their employees, reinforcing the values, mores, and laws. Strong cultures are reinforced by a strong commitment by top management to the cultural values. Ed Schein suggests that the only thing of real importance that leaders do is to create and maintain the organization's culture. (13) Davidow and Uttal make a similar point: "Leaders who take culture seriously are bears for internal marketing, selling their points of view to the organization much as they would sell a product or service to the public, with slogans, advertisements, promotions, and public relations campaigns. The largest single chunk of their time is spent communicating values." (14)

These leaders worship at the altar of the customer every day, and they do it visibly. They are personally involved in service activities. They back up slogans with dramatic, often costly actions. To instill values, they stress two-way communications, opening their doors to all employees and using weekly work-group meetings to inform, inspire, and solve service problems. They put values into action by treating employees exactly as they want employees to treat their customers. (15) They use rituals to recognize and reward the behaviors that the culture values, and they praise the heroes whose actions have reflected worthy cultural values. Other employees can use these hero stories as models for their own actions.

Ed Schein offers further insights about how leaders can embed the culture, especially at the time the organization is being formed. (16) In the beginning, the leader defines and articulates a set of beliefs and assumptions about how the organization will operate. According to Schein, "At this stage the leader needs both vision and the ability to articulate it and enforce it." (17) Since new members join the organization with mixed assumptions and beliefs, the leader must carefully and comprehensively define the new organization's culture. Schein says, "It is intrinsic to the leadership role to create order out of chaos, and leaders are expected to provide their own assumptions as an initial road map into an uncertain future." (18) This process creates the definition of the corporate culture, embeds it in the organization's consciousness, and shows what behaviors are reinforced. Whatever the leader responds to emotionally or with great passion becomes a powerful signal to which subordinates also respond. Thus, during the period of an organization's creation, the leader must spend some thoughtful time defining what is important, how the organization's members should interpret the world they face, and what principles should guide their actions. Once the organization's culture is in place, the leader constantly adjusts and fine-tunes it as markets, operating environment, and personnel change.

Schein suggests that leaders can use five primary mechanisms to define and strengthen the organization's culture: "(1) what leaders pay attention to, measure, and control; (2) leader reactions to critical incidents and organizational crises; (3) deliberate role modeling, teaching, and coaching by leaders; (4) criteria for allocation of rewards and status; (5) criteria for recruitment, selection, promotion, retirement, and excommunication." (19)

Setting the Example

Bill Marriott, Jr., provides a good example of how a leader can help to sustain the culture. He is a constant teacher, preacher, and reinforcer of the Marriott cultural values of guest service. He believes in staying visible. He flies more than 200,000 miles every year to visit his many operations and to carry the Marriott message visibly and personally to as many people as he can. (20) He is famous for dropping in at a hotel and chatting with everyone he sees. He has been known to get up early in the morning and wander into the Marriott kitchens to make sure the pancakes are being cooked properly. This intense commitment to personal contact with each and every Marriott employee and visible interest in the details of his operations have become so well known among the Marriott organization that his mere presence on any Marriott property serves as a reminder of the Marriott commitment to service quality.

Southwest Airlines is also famous for this hands-on commitment to service. Herb Kelleher was the premier example of quite literally walking the walk through airports, planes, and service areas to show employees his concern for the quality of each customer's experience. Even today this tradition lives on as all Southwest managers are expected to spend time in customer-contact areas, both observing and working in customer-service jobs. These actions send a strong message to all employees that everyone is responsible for maintaining the high quality of the Southwest experience. This same modeling behavior can be seen in the many hotel managers who visibly and consistently stop to pick up small scraps of paper and debris on the floors as they walk through their properties. Employees see and emulate this care and attention to detail.

Xerox has established a Customer Care Day for forty executives, including the CEO. One or two days a month, each executive becomes the "duty officer," personally handling and resolving any customer complaints coming into headquarters that day. These executives keep in touch with real customer problems and show by example the level of company concern with customers. (21)

A leading hotelier in Orlando has earned a reputation among his employees and fellow hoteliers alike as a can-do manager. A story is told about how he took a chance and bought a bankrupt hotel with very little money and a whole lot of courage. When he was seen mowing his own property's lawn, a legend was born that here was a guy who would do what it took to get the work accomplished. He reinforced the message by his attire. His typical working outfit was blue jeans and a polo shirt. His employees learned, by reputation and by deed, that this owner was ready to work at any job that needed doing. Since he also had a big sign on the interstate which could advertise different room rates for each night, he earned a further reputation as a relentless competitor. His strategy was to fill his rooms at rates that would allow him to capture his variable costs plus whatever else the market could bear. His flexibility in room rates and his nightly phone calls to his front-desk manager, asking about the percentage of rooms sold rather than revenues, sent a powerful message to his organization that its goal was to fill the rooms every night. By his own actions, dress, and style, he has been extraordinarily effective in teaching his employees at all organizational levels the cultural values and norms that he wants for his organization.

Hospitality managers must stay close to both their employees and their guests. Only in walking around can they see for themselves that the quality of guest experiences is high, that concerns of guests and employees are being met, and that everyone remains focused on the guest. Unlike the manufacturing industry, which can rely on statistical reports to tell managers how things are going on the production line, hospitality managers inform themselves about how things are going by staying as close to the point where the service experience is produced as possible. As Norman Brinker puts it, "There's no substitute for spending time with people in their own environment. You not only meet everybody personally, you are able to see and hear for yourself what's going on." (22) Many restaurant managers are told to meet every guest and to make as many table visits as possible to talk to them; hotel managers wander the lobbies to observe the reactions of guests; and retail-store managers monitor the looks on customers' faces to make sure the shopping experience is going well. All these strategies are based on the simple idea that the reason for the organization's existence and basis for its success is the customer. For good organizations, being out with the customer is an important organizational value and not just a company slogan, and managers from the top down must set the example. As most of them know, the pressures of day-to-day administrative responsibilities can easily push aside this fundamental ingredient in service success, so they build customer contact time into their schedules.

Guests Teach the Culture

Hospitality organizations often have the added help of guests in teaching and reinforcing the values, beliefs, and norms expected of the employees. As Van Maanen reports from his observations of Disneyland Park,
   Ride operators learn how different categories of customers respond
   to them and the parts they are playing on stage. For example,
   infants and small children are generally timid, if not frightened,
   in their presence. School age children are somewhat curious, aware
   that the operator is at work playing a role but sometimes in awe of
   the role itself. Nonetheless, the children can be quite critical of
   any flaw in the operator's performance. Teenagers, especially males
   in groups, present problems because they sometimes go to great
   lengths to embarrass, challenge, ridicule, or outwit an
   operator.... The point here is that ride operators learn what the
   public (or at least their idealized version of the public) expects
   of their role and find it easier to conform to such expectations
   than not. Moreover, they discover that when they are bright and
   lively, others respond to them in like ways. (23)

Culture and the Chart

Schein suggests that a leader can use other, secondary mechanisms to reinforce or define the organization's culture. (24) A leader can define the value of a functional area by placing that area at the bottom or near the top of the organizational chart. Placing the quality-assurance function near the top of the chart and requiring its manager to report to a high-level executive tells the organization that the leader values quality. The way in which the leader designs the organizational systems and procedures will also tell everyone in the organization a great deal about what is valued. McDonald's sends a strong value message through its quality checklist and by the procedures it uses to maintain its standards of cleanliness and to guarantee its customers the freshness of each hamburger it sells. McDonald's spends a great deal of money sending quality-control people out to individual restaurants to check on these key items, to let restaurant managers know what is important, and to make sure that customers get what they expect. All McDonald's employees know what's on the quality checklist and how seriously the organization takes these inspections, so the checklist helps to define the cultural values of cleanliness and quality.

Culture and Physical Space

The layout of physical space is another secondary mechanism that can send a cultural message. For example, office size and location are traditional symbols of status and prestige. By putting the executive chef in the big office out front, the leader tells the rest of the organization that the chef plays an important role in the organizational culture and that producing food of high quality is an important organizational function. Finally, the formal, published statements of mission, purpose, and vision teach employees the philosophy, creeds, and beliefs by which the organization lives. Although some organizations may not say what they really mean in these public statements, the excellent hospitality organization will do so clearly, concisely, and consistently.

Culture and Leadership Skills

The success with which leaders use these mechanisms to convey cultural values is a good measure of their leadership skills. When they concentrate on using them together in a holistic way, they can ensure that all mechanisms convey to employees a consistent set of cultural beliefs, values, and norms. Consistency is important as a powerful reinforcer of the culture. The more consistently used all these mechanisms are, the more powerfully reinforced the culture will be. Leaders must take care about what they say to ensure that the messages they send are intentional and explicit. What the leader gets angry or excited about tells everyone what is important. A leader who expresses outrage over a service failure caused by a careless employee sends a strong message to all the employees that good service matters. A story is told of how Bill Marriott, Sr., fired an employee on the spot for insulting a guest. When this story got around the organization, there was no question in anyone's mind of the guest orientation that Marriott valued.

At Southwest: Teaching Each Other

Truly outstanding hospitality organizations also engage all their members in teaching each other the organization's culture. Good managers create the opportunities for this teaching/learning to happen. For example, Herb Kelleher and Southwest Airlines created a Culture Committee whose responsibility was perpetuating the Southwest Spirit:
   The Culture Committee was created to pull together people who
   exemplify Southwest's culture. Most of the original committee had
   ten or so years at Southwest and embraced Southwest's maverick,
   caring, irreverent way of doing things. They were all great in
   their individual jobs and were hand-picked for their creativity,
   expertise, energy, enthusiasm, and most importantly, Southwest
   Spirit. For the two years they serve on the committee, they engage
   in leadership activities that protect the company's unique and
   highly valued culture. Committee members have been known to visit
   stations with equipment and paint in hand to remodel a break room.
   Others have gone to one of Southwest's maintenance facilities to
   serve pizza and ice cream to maintenance employees. Still others
   simply show up periodically at various field locations to lend a
   helping hand.

Their labor is really a labor of love; their payoffs are the relationships they build with other workers, the knowledge that they have sparked worthwhile and fun endeavors, and most importantly, the satisfaction of having been a vital part of keeping the Southwest Spirit alive. (25)

Another Southwest effort to promote the culture and the Southwest Spirit was the Walk a Mile in My Shoes program which encouraged people to use a day off without pay to shadow another employee doing another job. The program helped employees understand how their jobs fit together in making the organization work. They also created a Helping Hands program to get people to spend some time helping employees at other locations where the growth in traffic was overwhelming. All of these programs had multiple positive effects for the organization and its employees. They reinforced the togetherness of the "extended family" that Southwest believed was an important part of its cultural value system, allowed members to teach each other the culture norms of helping, caring, and having fun at work, and provided a strong visible expression of the cultural values that all employees were encouraged to share. (26)


The world changes and the people inside the organization change. The culture too must evolve to help members cope with the new realities which the organization faces. Even a culture that starts out with a strong customer orientation may change over time as the managers, customers, and employees change. No matter how good a job the founder did in defining the culture and getting everyone to buy into it, the next generation of managers must work, perhaps even harder, to sustain those cultural values that should endure while changing those that need changing. They have available, of course, all the tools discussed in this chapter to do this. The communication tools of symbols, legends, language, stories, heroes, and rituals need constant attention to sustain the cultural values in the face of changing circumstances.

Storyboarding at Disney

Disney chairman Michael Eisner built on the strong cultural values that Walt Disney had created, while responding to his own different needs as a leader. Eisner affirmed the important cultural values and beliefs that should last while being willing to change behavioral norms, even those established by Disney himself, to accommodate new situations. One illustration of how he adjusted past procedures can be seen in his handling of storyboarding. Storyboards had for many years been the normal way of planning out all Disney projects. Walt Disney used storyboards to organize everything he did, from cartoons to theme park attractions. Basically, storyboarding is arranging a series of cartoon drawings, service experiences, or theme park attraction plans to tell the story of the movie, attraction, or whatever Walt was designing.

When Eisner first encountered the storyboarding technique, it frustrated him. He recognized that he comprehended the story line of a movie or a park attraction not by looking at pictures but by reading written scripts. Since the storyboarding format was visual, he had a hard time following it. But the creative culture of Disney Imagineers was based on storyboarding everything. Eisner felt he had to change a deeply ingrained norm of creative production without destroying the creative culture that Walt Disney had left behind.

Eisner tells how he modified the cultural norm without changing the underlying cultural beliefs, values, or Disney's legacy:
   I couldn't follow it [the storyboarding]. I'd go down there and
   they'd go through the storyboards. And you go through one
   storyboard and they'd bring in another storyboard. And I'd sit
   there for hours and I couldn't remember what was in the first
   storyboard. And it was a hard process for me to deal with. I'd been
   used to working in the script area.

      And I was a little critical of some of our animated films that
   had been done before Walt died. Because I think there were great
   scenes but a lot of scenes put together. But sometimes the art of
   the story [as he motions his hands back and forth in an arc in the
   air] didn't follow the way I was used to thinking about stories, or
   what I had learned in school about the construction of--the stories
   and all that. And I'd keep thinking about this.

      And every time I'd say: "How was it done in the past?" And I'd
   hear about Walt. He'd just be there and he'd jump up and down and
   he'd go back and forth between things and so forth. And Roy Disney
   [Jr.] told me a story about how he [Walt] sat on his bed when he
   had the flu or the mumps or something and told the entire story of
   Pinocchio in the bed. And I finally discovered they did have a

      And the script was in Walt Disney's head. We didn't have Walt
   Disney. And therefore we didn't have a single mind, tracking the
   entire movie. We had a committee of minds. And that was the
   problem. And now we do scripts. (27)

Eisner recognized and affirmed Walt Disney's creative brilliance; Disney could keep the entire story in his head and show it to others by storyboarding. But Eisner had to make a change that was important for him. He had the insight and skill to retain and build on the good parts of the culture while changing those which needed to change to accommodate the new circumstances and people.

Carlzon and SAS

The most difficult task of all is changing an entire culture that is not service oriented. When Jan Carlzon took over Scandinavian Airline Services, he was confronted with tough labor unions, disheartened management, a stagnant market, and an obsolete corporate strategy. He knew that the only chance of survival was to change SAS into a customer-focused organization:
   The change in employee attitudes was one of the most significant
   results of the SAS turnaround strategy. By stating that we would
   turn a profit by becoming a service oriented airline, we ignited
   radical change in the culture at SAS. Traditionally, executives
   dealt with investments, management, and administration. Service was
   of secondary importance--the province of employees located way out
   on the periphery of the company. Now the entire company--from the
   executive suite to the most remote check-in Terminal--was focused
   on service.

Beyond the attention to service, we were also able to stir new energy simply by ensuring that everyone connected with SAS--from board members to reservation clerks--knew about and understood our overall vision. As soon as we received approval from the board, we distributed a little red book entitled "Let's Get in There and Fight" to every one of our 20,000 employees. The book gave the staff, in very concise terms, the same information about the company's vision and goal that the board and top management already had. We wanted everyone in the company to understand the goal; we couldn't risk our message becoming distorted as it worked its way through the company. (28)

Carlzon had learned his lesson about the power of getting employees involved directly in the change process during his earlier experience at Linjeflyg, the Swedish domestic airline. His first official act after being appointed president of that airline was to call all the staff together in one airline hangar. He climbed a 15-foot stepladder and told them,
   This company is not doing well. It's losing money and suffering
   from many problems. As the new president, I don't know a thing
   about Linjeflyg. I can't save this company alone. The only chance
   for Linjeflyg to survive is if you help me--assume responsibility
   yourselves, share your ideas and experiences so we have more to
   work with. I have ideas of my own, and we'll probably be able to
   use them. But most important, you are the ones who must help me,
   not the other way around. (29)

People left the meeting with a new spirit of enthusiasm and commitment.

Whether the culture was established by another leader and needs to be updated to accommodate new circumstances and new realities, or the culture is negative and needs to be recreated, the organizational leadership must use all available communication tools to make those changes. Or, if the culture is healthy and thriving, the leaders use the tools to keep it that way. As we noted at the beginning of the chapter, the most important job of the leader may be to frame the culture's beliefs, define its values, reinforce the appropriate norms of behavior, recognize and tell stories about those who personify what the culture should mean for the customer, and find every possible occasion to celebrate when the members make good things happen for their customers. If peerless service is important to the leadership and they tell the members so, clearly and without equivocation, the members who believe in that culture will do the right things to make excellent customer service happen.


Here are some principles about organizational culture that seem to hold generally true.

* Leaders define the culture (or redefine it if necessary), teach it, and sustain it. Doing so may be their biggest responsibility in the organization. Kelleher and Bartlett of Southwest Airlines believe that culture is one of the most precious things a company has, so leaders must work harder at it than anything else. (30)

* An organizational culture that emphasizes interpersonal relationships is uniformly more attractive to professionals than a culture that focuses on work tasks. (31)

* Strong cultures are worth building; they can provide employee guidance in uncertain situations where company policies or procedures are unavailable or unwritten.

* Subcultures will form in larger organizations. A strong culture will increase the likelihood of keeping the subculture consistent with the overall culture values in important areas.

* Sustaining the culture requires constant attention to the means of communicating culture so that they all consistently reinforce and teach the organization's beliefs, values, and norms of behavior to all employees.

* Excellent hospitality organizations hire and retain employees who fit their culture and get rid of those who do not. The fit between the individual and the culture is strongly related to turnover, commitment, and satisfaction. (32)

Lessons Learned

1. Leaders define the culture for everyone by what they say and do every day, and by what they reward.

2. Culture fills in the gaps for employees between what they've been taught and what they must do to satisfy the guest.

3. To create a culture of success, celebrate success--publicly.

4. Leaders think carefully about how every corporate action ties into supporting the cultural values of guest service.

5. Leaders find heroes, tell stories, and repeat legends to reinforce the important cultural values.

Review Questions

1. Recall any organization in which you were heavily involved as an employee or as a student.

A. How would you describe the culture of that organization?

B. What did the managers or leaders do or not do to cause the culture to be as you described it?

C. What ideas in this chapter could the managers or leaders have used to improve the organizational culture?

D. How does all that relate to managing the guest experience in hospitality organizations?

2. Why is culture such an important concept to guest service organizations? How does culture influence the guest experience?

3. What is the difference between a strong and a weak culture? What can a manager do to create a strong culture?

4. Does a culture exist whether a manager does anything about it or not?

5. Why is storytelling important to building and sustaining a strong culture?

A. Give examples of stories you have heard that helped teach cultural values.

B. How does all that relate to managing the guest experience in hospitality organizations?

6. "Walking the walk" is an expression that one hears in hospitality organizations in connection

with the leaders. What are some possible meanings of the concept in the hospitality context?

7. See how many key terms and concepts in the first four chapters you can relate to Larry's Chair, starting in this chapter and working backward.


1. Divide into groups. Come up with a list of what factors or aspects make up an organizational culture. Which characteristics are the most important?

2. Find a hospitality organization that has a strong, clearly defined service culture. You may work for one yourself or have friends who do. How does the organization create and sustain that culture? What training methods, incentives for managers and employees, and communications techniques are used to create and define the culture? If you know of an organization that has a weak, muddled, unfocused culture, talk about that organization, too.
Case Study

Doug's Fried Chicken

Within four years of assuming the presidency, Judy Hart brought
Doug's Fried Chicken from a 2 percent market share to 20 percent.
She was a risk-taking, innovative entrepreneur. She increased the
chain from 400 outlets to 1,743 and rapidly expanded into 27
countries. "I've got to be involved in a continual go-go growth
cycle. Because of my successful track record, the franchisees and
the board go along with any programs I propose," Hart believed.
Hart was flamboyant and sensational. She shifted the annual
franchisee convention from Des Moines, Iowa, to New York. She moved
headquarters from a converted post office into a new $5.8 million

Then one Friday afternoon, Doug's board of directors dismissed
Hart from the presidency. "Judy," said chairman Doug Jones, "for a
while we liked your 'full-steam-ahead' attitude. But you can't seem
to slow down. You're trying to change too many things too

The board elevated John Davis, vice president for finance, to
the position of president. Davis was a conservative, accommodating
executive who watched budgets closely and believed in rigorously
controlled expansion. He emphasized fiscal responsibility. Davis
set up a centralized purchasing system (which Judy Hart had always
opposed). Board Chairman Doug Jones was pleased; he considered
Davis to be "in tune with the mood of the board and the franchisees
at this point in time."

Judy Hart was unemployed over the weekend. Then she was
enthusiastically hired by Berger's Burgers, a company that had
achieved financial stability only in the last couple of years. Now
they were in a strong cash position. "Judy," said Horace Berger,
chairman of the board, "we think we're ready to take off. We want
to triple the number of Berger's Burgers outlets within three
years. Can you do it?"

"Can do, Mr. Berger," said Judy happily. "But first we've got to
refurbish this tacky headquarters building and change the site of
the annual convention. I envision a truly spectacular party for the
franchisees in Las Vegas...."

1. How do you explain Judy Hart's unceremonious dumping from
Doug's and her warm welcome at Berger's?

Additional Readings

Denison, Daniel R. 1996. What Is the Difference Between Organizational Culture and Organizational Climate? A Native's Point of View on a Decade of Paradigm Wars. Academy of Management Review 21(3):619-654.

Goffee, Rob, and Gareth Jones. 1996. What Holds the Modern Company Together? Harvard Business Review 74(6):133-148.

Lundberg, C., and R. Woods. 1991. Modifying Restaurant Culture: Managers as Cultural Leaders. International Journal of Contemporary Hospitality Management 2(2):4-12.

Schneider, B. 1980. The Service Organization: Climate Is Crucial. Organizational Dynamics 8(3): 52-65.

Van Maanen, John. 1992. Displacing Disney: Some Notes on the Flow of Culture. Qualitative Sociology 15(1):5-35.


(1.) Walt Disney: Famous Quotes. 1994. Printed for Walt Disney Theme Parks and Resorts, 80.

(2.) Jane Kuenz. 1995. Working at the Rat, in Inside the Mouse: Work and Play at Disney World (Durham, NC: Duke University Press), pp. 108-109.

(3.) Leonard L. Berry. 1999. Discovering the Soul of Service (New York: The Free Press), p. 38.

(4.) For further information on adapting the culture ideas of other organizations, see Jennifer A. Chatman and Karen A. Jehn. 1994. Assessing the Relationship Between Industry Characteristics and Organizational Culture: How Different Can You Be? Academy of Management Journal 37(3):522-553.

(5.) Kevin Freiberg and Jackie Freiberg. 1996. Nuts! Southwest Airlines' Crazy Recipe for Business and Personal Success (Austin, TX: Bard Press), p. 154.

(6.) For more information on this point, see William H. Davidow and Bro Uttal. 1989. Total Customer Service (New York: Harper), pp. 96-97.

(7.) Edgar H. Schein. 1985. Organizational Culture and Leadership: A Dynamic View (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass), p. 9.

(8.) The definitions in this section are indebted to Harrison M. Trice and Janice M. Beyer. 1993. The Cultures of Work Organizations (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall), pp. 33-34.

(9.) Schein, 51.

(10.) John Van Maanen. 1989. The Smile Factory: Work at Disneyland, in Peter J. Frost et al., eds., Reframing Organizational Culture (Newbury Park, CA: Sage Publications), p. 66.

(11.) Inside the Mouse, 143.

(12.) Ibid., 133.

(13.) Schein, 2.

(14.) Davidow and Uttal, 48.

(15.) Ibid., 107.

(16.) Schein, 317-320.

(17.) Ibid., 317.

(18.) Ibid., 318.

(19.) Ibid., 224-225.

(20.) Karl Albrecht. 1988. At America's Service: How Your Company Can Join the Customer Service Revolution (New York: Warner Books), p. 130.

(21.) Alan G. Robinson and Sam Stern. 1997. Corporate Creativity: How Innovation and Improvement Actually Happen (San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler Publishers), p. 209.

(22.) Norman Brinker and Donald T. Phillips. 1996. On the Brink: The Life and Leadership of Norman Brinker (Arlington, TX: Summit Publishing Group), p. 191.

(23.) Van Maanen, 70-71.

(24.) The discussion of secondary mechanisms is indebted to Schein, 237-242.

(25.) Freiberg and Freiberg, 165-166.

(26.) Ibid., 166-172.

(27.) David M. Boje. 1995. Stories of the Storytelling Organization: A Postmodern Analysis of Disney as 'Tamara-land.' Academy of Management Journal 38(4):1023.

(28.) Jan Carlzon. 1987. Moments of Truth (New York: Ballinger), pp. 26-27.

(29.) Ibid., 11.

(30.) Freiberg and Freiberg, 145.

(31.) John E. Sheridan. 1992. Organizational Culture and Employee Retention. Academy of Management Journal 35(5):1052.

(32.) Charles A. O'Reilley III, Jennifer Chatman, and David F. Caldwell. 1991. People and Organizational Culture: A Profile Comparison Approach to Assessing Person-Organization Fit. Academy of Management Journal 34(3):487-516.
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Title Annotation:Section 1 The Hospitality Service Strategy
Publication:Managing the Guest Experience in Hospitality
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 1, 2000
Previous Article:Chapter 3 Setting the scene for the guest experience.
Next Article:Chapter 5 Staffing for service.

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