Building a people-centric operating culture to deliver service excellence at Dorchester Collection 

The culture of an organization is what actually drives performance, and that’s especially true in hospitality.

Eugenio Pirri, Chief Operations and Culture Executive, Dorchester Collection

Previously, we’ve looked at how Eugenio Pirri and the leadership team at Dorchester Collection created a new role that combined operations and culture to ensure each hotel delivers on its brand promise of being “treasured by guests, cherished by employees, and celebrated worldwide.”

In this article, we’ll look at the practical details of how Eugenio and his teams build and live out this culture.

Culture is defined by how decisions are made

“Culture is not something that just happens,” Eugenio told me. “It’s something that develops over time. Specifically, it’s developed over decisions that get made.”

The Dorchester Collection has five values of its culture: 

  • Passion 
  • Personality 
  • Respect 
  • Working together
  • Creativity

“For each of those five values, we determine what that actually means and the behaviors that, if exhibited, bring these values to life. 

Culture is about the decisions each employee makes. If you’re walking down a corridor in the heart of the house, and you pass another employee, it’s a decision you make to say hello or not. It’s the same when you’re in the front of house and you’re passing a guest whether you engage with that guest or not.

“If you take the initiative to say hello and try to bring your own personality or passion for hospitality to that moment, this is going to enhance the culture. But if you make the decision not to do that, it can have a detrimental effect on the culture. 

“We often ask our leaders, do you go that extra mile to satisfy a guest? Do you go out of your way to see if an employee is down and find out what’s happening with them? Do you go out of your way to create an inspirational working environment so that people feel that they can achieve even more? Those decisions you’re making define our culture.” 

“The very definition of our ‘We Care’ culture is where we create an environment that is safe and respectful for our people.”

Inspiring culture through vision

Vision can play a key role in inspiring the culture when done right.

The thing about vision is it can’t be finite. It has to be infinite. It has to be something that you can never quite reach. It needs to be something that you’re always trying to achieve over time.

“We hired an anthropologist to come to our business and help us understand who we are as an organization. Why guests choose to stay with us, why employees choose to work with us, and how our history can inform our future. That’s how our whole ‘treasured by guests, cherished by employees, and celebrated worldwide’ vision came to be.

“When you treasure something, you want to protect it. You want to ensure it is safe. So this vision has so many meanings with regards to how guests interact with you, how employees take care of the business and serve our guests.

“’Cherished by employees’ means that employees will go out of their way to help own your business outcomes, and find ways to enhance the business. If these two concepts – treasured and cherished – are working in tandem, the outcome is we will be celebrated worldwide.

“It’s not about going out there and asking for accolades. It’s about people telling us that we are one of the premier luxury brands.

“A lot of times people come to hotels and it becomes very transactional. You check in, you sleep, you eat your breakfast, and you go on your way. We want to provide more. 

“We are trying to understand why guests come to us in the first place and what emotional need they are trying to satisfy. Is it because we’re easy to do business with? Are they choosing us because they like the status of our legendary hotels? Is it because of our high levels of service?

It is really important to understand why guests choose you. And it’s exactly the same with employees. If you can satisfy these needs, that’s what creates true, long-term loyalty.

Translating vision to operational processes

I wanted to understand how Eugenio translated the learnings and insights he and his team gathered into operational processes and training.

“We do this in two ways. Firstly and most importantly, we put the guests at the center of everything we do. An example of this is the systems that we work with, such as our property management system. We use our property management system to check people in and out of our hotels.

The problem with traditional technology is with the system: it’s room-centric. Everything happens in Room 216. Where does the amenity go? Room 216. Where does the housekeeper go? Room 216.

“But if you flip this paradigm on its head and think about what the guest actually wants, the room isn’t what’s really important. It’s about ‘what does the guest want’? It’s about when the guest wants the service. It’s a very different way of looking at things.

“The Dorchester Collection is not a monolithic brand. It’s not Dorchester Paris or Dorchester Milan. Instead, it’s Le Meurice, its Hotel Principe di Savoia.

“We have introduced what we call ‘Care for the Collection’ – a set of guidelines on how we want to operate our hotels. We moved away from having pages and pages of SOPs (standard operating procedures) and instead, we ask our teams to learn the emotional needs of our guests.

“Of course, we’re going to teach how to serve the perfect afternoon tea. But at the end of the day, if you are there with your friends having afternoon tea, a guest may not really notice where they put the spoon. You just want to have a beautiful time with your friends. So it’s about getting our employees to focus on what is really important. We still do teach the standards, but ensure the focus is on the experience itself.”

“We did something quite controversial as well. Almost every luxury brand uses some sort of external inspector, whether it’s LQA, Forbes, or someone else. A few years ago, we removed them from our business. This is in no way to say they do not provide a valuable service, however for us, it was not the most important part of how we view our business and what we do. What’s important is the interaction that the employee has with the guest and understanding that the employee is actually the most important person in the business – not the management – because the employee is the person who talks most often with our guests. 

“Employees have the most information. They know if the guest wants soup or they want that dessert, not necessarily the leader or general manager. So it’s all about knowing how to read the guest.

What’s funny is when we moved away from those sort of set standards comparing us to every other brand out there, our guest engagement scores increased significantly. We were interacting with the guest as they wanted to be treated and not being driven by where the coffee cup was ‘supposed’ to go. 

“Luxury service is luxury service, and it’s more important to understand what your guest actually wants. Not what a standard may state.” 

Managing regional differences in service

As Dorchester Collection is a global business, I was curious how Eugenio and his teams manage regional differences.

“We don’t expect what we do in France to happen in Italy or what we do in Italy to happen in the United States. These are very different places.

“You don’t want to go to California and get Italian service or go to England to get French service. You want English service, Italian service, French service, American service, and so on. 

“For us, it’s very important that we take our expectations for service and the ways we read our guests and make sure they work at each location.”

Managing change through training

“I’ve been at Dorchester collection for 12 years and originally was recruited as the vice president of people and organizational development. The training of our associates was part of my responsibility. 

“I remember the first changes we made. In the United States, those changes were implemented in two weeks. In England, it took three months. In France, it took five months. In Italy, it took a year.

“What I came to understand is that in Italy, for example, we needed to approach change in a different way. We need to talk about what was behind the change, and how it fits into their culture. There’s nothing wrong with that. It was just cultural.

Even though it took our Italian teams a year to make the change, they were eventually doing it better than our teams in America. You have to understand that some things take time and it’s more important to respect the culture of an organization and the culture of a country that you’re working in, rather than just forcing them to do things that they’ll never do well because they don’t believe in the change.

“To provide exceptional service and build guest loyalty, you have to believe in what you’re doing and have that passion for hospitality.”

For more insights from Eugenio, read our feature profile:

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