A few weeks ago Susan and I spent the day interviewing 11 employees at Oak Ridge Hotel & Conference Center  in Chaska, MN (see Oak Ridge Part 1 here).  We had observed that Oak Ridge had “gotten the formula right on employee motivation” and wanted to probe more to find out how.  From our original findings, we highlighted five things that stood out: 1) leadership counts, 2) It is not about the money, 3) It is about the team, 4) Genuine recognition rejuvenates and 5) It is all about appreciating people.  I’m taking a different approach this time, looking at it from the 4-Drive Model and seeing how each of the drives showed up in the 11 interviews.

Drive to Acquire & Achieve:

The lack of emphasis on this drive was a bit surprising to me.  There was much less focus on bonus and incentives than expected.  Oak Ridge did have a few typical recognition programs that were seen as being moderately motivating (Employee of the Month, Shining Stars).  The one program that focused more on achievement and was viewed as very motivating to a lot of people was their weekly Legendary Moments.  This was seen as a significant opportunity to be showcased for your outstanding achievement – not only by peers but also by customers.  Legendary Moments is a weekly whole company gathering in which individuals are recognized for their outstanding service, highlights of the week are discussed, and fun updates are given.

One worker described Legendary Moments as “A weekly ‘pick-me-up’…I feel that it is a best practice.  It is energizing, re-energizing, and positive to listen to coworkers and customers tell about a job well done.  I really enjoy it.”

Drive to Bond & Belong:

This was much higher than expected.  People continually commented on how Oak Ridge felt like a “family” or that the sense of “team” was undeniable.  There was a significant lack of territorial silos with lots of discussion on how everyone was working on the same team.  People expressed how everyone pitched in to help when it was needed regardless of title or role – if sheets needed to be changed, everybody would be there helping out including the General Manager.  The bonding goes beyond just the employees, but it is encouraged to happen with the customers as well.  As one person said, “these aren’t just my customers, they are my friends.”

This sense of bonding and belonging started at the top with Senior Management taking the time to get to know employees on an individual basis at the initial interview – knowing employees names, what is going on in the employee’s family, and activities they like to do.  It was perpetuated by daily “walk-abouts” by the management team, with a cup of tea, asking how things are going throughout the building, what is happening in their lives, what is new or exciting in their lives.  We see this personal bonding as a significant factor in the overall motivation and satisfaction level at Oak Ridge.

One story that exemplifies this was when an employee’s young child was sick and in the hospital, the General Manager sent a care package that included a stuffed hamster.  From his frequent informal discussions with this employee, he knew that her child loved hamsters and that it would be a special gift.

One person stated this about how they feel about their bond with the guests, “The guests are my family and it is my job that I take care of them. I keep them fed during break and take care of them. It makes me happy when they are happy.”

Drive to Challenge & Comprehend:

Being a service organization, people commented on how they were constantly being challenged by the various situations that occur naturally when dealing with customers.  This was seen by most interviewees as keeping their job interesting.  They relished the opportunity to “solve” people’s issues.  As one worker stated, “the attitude here is that we need to do everything possible to serve the customer and make them happy.”  That provides an opportunity for employees to have a sense of autonomy as they are empowered to solve those issues.  They are given free rein to “serve the customer and make them happy.”

This is translated into not only doing this reactively, but looking for opportunities to shine.  Every customer that comes in is an opportunity to seek out what it is that really drives them and what they need.  Stories abound about how a Server overheard that a client liked a particular soda but it was not provided with the standard break sodas – so the Server went out and got the soda for them; or how the Housekeeper realized that a client was using a lot of a particular tea so they stocked their room with extra tea bags.   Not as obvious but also very important was the constant sharing that occurs.  Legendary Moments is a structured communication tool, but all levels of management also have meetings daily to review what is going on, and the informal communication that happens between teams and levels is constant.  Management encourages this and helps it with their daily walk-abouts.

One customer from Australia came into Oak Ridge Hotel & Conference Center very distraught and upset that all her luggage had been lost.  The front desk immediately started to “solve” her issue, even though Oak Ridge had nothing to do with it.  The customer was given money from petty cash to go and buy some new clothes, transportation was provided to her to do this, the GM ok’d phone calls back to Australia to talk with her family at no cost and the IT person came in to configure her computer that wasn’t working so she could e-mail.   All of this happened without reviews or meetings – much of it undertaken by front-line employees.  By the end of her three days, the customer had converted from being upset to being so grateful and happy that she provided flowers for the staff as a thank you.

Drive to Define & Defend:

Oak Ridge Hotel & Conference Center’s reputation is outstanding in the Twin Cities Metro area.  This brought a lot of pride and satisfaction to the employees.  They felt proud to tell their friends where they worked.  One person said, “I like going to parties and talking to people about [working here] because someone always tells me about their great experience with us.”  The environment that Oak Ridge is situated in helps as well as the building design which brings the outside in – with lots of windows and natural light.  It is enhanced by the service that is provided to their guests and the constant focus on “serving.” This is key to understanding the overall motivation of the employees.  Psychologically they identified working at Oak Ridge as a part of who they were and they felt good about it.  This positive attribution makes employees more inclined to be motivated to defend Oak Ridge and do what is necessary to ensure that it remains a positive influencer in their lives.

One employee identified that she not only enjoyed working here, but that many of her family worked here as well.  This really exemplified the “family” feel of working here and made it much more of a “tribe.”  There was a sense that people were able to tell a very positive story about working at Oak Ridge that made them feel good and reinforced their engagement with the company.

Overall there is much to commend Oak Ridge on how they have built a community of highly engaged and motivated employees.  While some of the aspects that they use to do this are unique to their situation and circumstance, there are many insights that can be transferred across companies and industries.  I look forward to comments or thoughts on how this could occur.