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Taking a walk in their shoes

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Have you ever traded in your power suit to “walk in the shoes” of line staff? Find out what Mark Fletcher, director of human resources at The Ritz-Carlton, Millenia Singapore, learned by becoming a loss prevention officer for a day. 

In April this year, the guidance team at The Ritz-Carlton, Millenia Singapore, traded in their power suits for a day to “walk in the shoes” of line staff.

This inaugural initiative saw senior hotel executives, such as the general manager, spending his day as a fitness centre attendant; the hotel manager as a line cook and the director of sales and marketing as a laundry attendant.

The idea for the “walk in your shoes” came about during the hotel’s annual department heads’ strategic planning session, which was held at the end of 2013. The department heads felt it would be good to initiate a more structured exercise where senior leaders could assume the roles of rank and file ladies and gentleman for a day to better understand operational needs and challenges and to get feedback from the ground.

This initiative would complement the ongoing culture of lateral services, where our ladies and gentlemen are encouraged to volunteer to assist each other whenever operational needs arise. Such ad hoc informal opportunities have always been a good platform for senior leaders to work alongside and interact with our staff.

The guidance team picked their roles out of a random hat draw and I was given the opportunity to be a loss prevention officer.

A full day programme was mapped out for me and I was attached to Ariff, our loss prevention learning coach. My day involved manning the security desk at the staff entrance, doing perimeter patrols, fire command centre duties and the rare opportunity to access restricted areas of the hotel such as the rooftop, which is part of the vertical patrol tasks.

Being an operational role, a lot more walking was required of me, compared with my more desk-bound routine as a human resources leader. However, being a very hands-on person, I was able to adapt and assimilate into my new role quickly.

Personally, the biggest takeaway from this exercise was the reaffirmation of the importance of staying in touch with and being relevant to the needs of our ladies and gentlemen. At The Ritz-Carlton, Millenia Singapore, our people are the most important resource in our service commitment to guests. This exercise allowed me, as a senior hotel leader, to gain a better understanding and appreciation of how I can better support my staff in what they do.

We want our ladies and gentlemen to be empowered to create indelible experiences that will in turn create Ritz-Carlton guests for life. Having fully engaged staff translates to fully engaged guests, and we viewed this unique opportunity for feedback as a useful tool for initiating change within the organisation.

Collectively, the senior management team felt the feedback we received was so good and relevant, we have decided to hold another “walk in your shoes” exercise at the end of the year so we can all swap roles again.

The Ritz-Carlton, Millenia Singapore has consistently achieved excellent employee engagement scores. In 2013, we scored 95% in our annual employee engagement survey and were awarded the prestigious Aon Hewitt “Best of the Best Employer” award. We also achieved 98% and 95% in 2011 and 2012 respectively, exceeding the Asia Pacific average of 80%, according to Aon Hewitt.

I believe creative channels for feedback such as our “walk in your shoes” and our “open door” policy, which encourages our ladies and gentlemen to drop by the offices of their leaders for informal chats and feedback, coupled with our deeply embedded culture of teamwork and lateral service, have enabled us to achieve such stellar results.

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