Modeling the Way in Paradise

Over the past several years, my wife, Joan, and I have had the opportunity to take vacations in the beautiful Caribbean. Each time, we have chosen to stay at a Sandals Resort. While the views are amazing and the properties are flawless, it’s their wonderful culture of customer service at their resorts that gets me every time. I don’t purposely spend my vacation looking for it, I am on vacation after all, but it still shows up in a way I feel provides valuable lessons for us all.

Picture this: We are enjoying our week on a beautiful property in Barbados–reveling at the beach, the pools and the parties. As the week progressed, we are consistently running into a very pleasant gentleman who is busily busing tables, asking guests if he can get them a drink, or serve them in some way. The man is always genuinely interested in the comfort and happiness of everyone around him. Just this afternoon, as we relaxed in the hot tub, he stopped by to ask if we would like anything from the bar. Now that’s a great vacation.

This man did not have on one of the recognizable uniforms worn by the wait staff, the bartenders or another recognizable group from the property. Shame on me, but it was not till after several times he had asked to serve us that I got around to asking what his role was at the resort. I knew he was on staff, but I did not realize he is the Hotel Manager for this 280-room all-inclusive resort hotel. He is also the co-manager at a sister property opening 230 new rooms next month. Wow!

In a beautiful example of Modeling the Way–as outlined in The Leadership Challenge framework, this man, Koen Hietbrink, the Hotel Manager at Sandals Barbados exhibits diligent customer service through his actions.

I ran into Koen at 1 PM that day, and since I count my steps, we compared our walking distance for the day. My meager efforts were decimated as he had already put in over 11 km moving around the property. His spirit of service comes through in the way he interacts with each person at the property, both guests and staff.

A true culture of service is created not merely by what we say, it is created by what we do as leaders. All cultures are created this way. Our people will not listen to what we ask of them if our own actions are inconsistent with what we propose. As Koen shared with me…

“I always attempt to inspire and motivate through the words that I speak, and show genuine interest in the people that I work and interact with.”

His personal actions show that what he asks of staff is also how he acts himself.

Koen explained to me his philosophy of service and leadership. Each member of the team at the property should always be on the lookout for how any guest’s vacation is going and identifying a way to make it extraordinary. When a staff member asks how a guest’s day is going and the answer is a less emotional word like “fine” or “ok”, they should inquire further to understand if there is some small change that they could make to turn the experience to “outstanding”. It was wonderful to notice this attitude and practice among the staff. They show a genuine interest in actually caring about the answer to “How is your day?” Using it not as merely a scripted question to ask, but as an opportunity for potential feedback that could possibly lead to further inquiry if needed for an improved outcome.

I have seen the culture of service evident at Sandals Barbados at their other properties, which lets me know they have put in place processes around hiring, training, feedback systems and recognition to support a true service culture.

I wrote a brief article about another property a few years ago after being similarly impressed by the level of service and joy in service that I saw. If you are interested in what I said there, it can be found here – Seven Reasons that Sandals Customer Service Rocks .


Evans Kerrigan

Evans Kerrigan works tirelessly in both corporate and public sectors as a dynamic business consultant, presenter, and coach. With over 30 years of experience working with multi-national organizations such as Cisco, Sun, Blue Cross Blue Shield, BP, State of Arizona and King County Washington, Evans has been at the forefront of change management--building healthy organizations and creating great places to work. His contributions to these organizations have been credited with increasing employee engagement scores, dramatic reductions in costs and improvement in efficiencies and revenue, resulting in improved operational excellence.