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May 01st 2021
Passionate about People
Passionate about People
Awards are always a source of pride. But among the many that the Four Seasons Hotel has accumulated over the years, there is one that has a different shine: The Investors in People Platinum Award. It’s an accreditation that speaks volumes, in a language that takes many years to master.
In the hospitality industry, awards are usually the concentrate of independent reviews and feedback. Often they are trusted by the informed travellers more than any glossy and glamorous marketing material. From TripAdvisor to TUI, from British Airways to Booking.com, all have recognized the Four Seasons Hotel’s excellence, and each award is valuable and appreciated. But one specific plaque stands out; although it does not take a single guests score into consideration, it has arguably the greatest impact on every visitor’s stay. It’s the ‘Investors in People’ (IIP) Platinum accreditation.
Investors in People credo
What started out 28 years ago as a government project is now a not-for-profit organisation with a presence in 80 countries around the world. Indeed, Investors in People International takes a community – rather than a commercial – approach to business, focusing on ‘making work better’. The first three lines on their website sums it up nicely: “Most of us will spend 80,000 hours at work in a lifetime. For something that takes up that much of our time… People should get more out of it than just a pay cheque.” What is written between the lines of this employee-centric philosophy is actually one of Richard Branson’s most shared quotes: “Clients do not come first. Employees come first. If you take care of your employees, they will take care of the clients.”
This key message is also embedded in the Four Seasons Hotel’s management principles. So it was only natural that in 2008 the hotel embarked on the journey to IIP accreditation, working diligently and deliberately, level by level, from Standard to Bronze and then to Silver accreditation, before taking a giant leap past Gold and directly to Platinum accreditation.
For those who are not familiar with the IIP standards, some basic statistics will indirectly reflect their stringency. The Four Seasons Hotel is, in fact, the only IIP accredited hotel in Cyprus, and one of only two hotels on the entire planet to achieve Platinum accreditation – the second one being in London.
The weeklong assessment process was conducted by an IIP auditor from the UK, who visited the hotel in February of this year. Prior to her arrival, a questionnaire was circulated among all the hotel’s staff, with at least 60% voluntary participation required as a starting point, to deliver a broader image of the hotel’s culture and standards. Once at the hotel, the auditor scheduled personal and confidential interviews with 60 staff members representing a cross section covering all levels, departments, positions, nationalities, ages and genders. HR procedures and policies were also audited, and the results had everyone glowing with pride: The hotel not only met the IIP’s highest standards, but even achieved a score that ranked it among the Top 20 organisations worldwide.
The auditor’s Executive Summary, stated: “The Hotel was a joy to assess. This accreditation is an accolade […] to the pride and belief of people that the Four Seasons Hotel in Limassol is a great place to work.” The proverbial icing on this cake was an invitation and recommendation to the Four Seasons Hotel to submit an application for the Platinum Employer of the Year Award, which will be announced and presented in London in November 2019.
Plaques and praise are well and good; but do hotel guests really care?
Return on investment
Barring the HR professionals in our midst, few guests care to know the details of the nine indicators and four levels of maturity that form the framework of the IIP standards. The impact of these standards on your everyday Four Seasons experience is far more telling.
If you were a fly on the wall at the hotel, you would see the IIP standards at work in myriads of thoughtful, spontaneous gestures that go beyond service procedures. For example, a guest with a bad cough found a get-well-soon card with a small jar of honey on his bedside table. A nightgown that had lost a button was discreetly mended and returned before evening. A teeth cleaning kit was placed near a guest’s almost empty toothpaste tube. Favourite sweets were topped up as a special good-bye before departure. The list of small acts of kindness and more serious interventions could fill pages… demonstrating a level of genuine care that cannot be captured in a manual or defined in procedures.
So, what triggers such personal initiative? Muskita Hotels Group Human Resources Director Andreas Loizou says the answer is simple: “You cannot make a guest feel something that the staff never felt themselves.” In other words, show your staff that you care, and they’ll pass that experience on to the guests. That is the return on the hotel’s investment in their people. It’s a long-term, consistent, far-reaching investment, but it’s worth every bit of it.
A culture of caring
Four Seasons Executive Director Nick Aristou cautions against over-ambition. He says: “Achieving this level of service in a hotel with hundreds of staff of different ages and backgrounds is not something that can be done overnight.” To be sure, you cannot read the IIP standards, impose them on a team in a memo, and expect them to start caring about each individual guest. While some have tried to do just that, and have temporarily achieved IIP Standard accreditation, it was impossible to maintain over time, let alone advance to the next level. Nick says: “It’s not about rules and procedures; it’s about developing a culture, and that takes years. To get to the point where our people feel and act the way they do has taken many, many years and the road to IIP Platinum the last 11 years .”
During that time, the hotel has invested significant, time, effort and resources in demonstrating what it means to belong to the Four Seasons Hotel. It means having a pleasant, healthy, and supportive work environment; mentoring and training opportunities tailored to individual strengths and skills; fair compensation and incentives; social activities and team building events; participation in local charities and community initiatives; helping people in need; extra-curricular activities, tutoring sessions and internships for the staff’s children; in short, all-round job satisfaction.
However, Andreas still remembers the bumps along the way. He says: “The only way to improve anything is to identify shortcomings and address them. As managers, we had to encourage staff to reveal – not cover up – a problem, to build trust rather than a culture of fear. It took us 20 years to get this message across, in a credible way, through staff-friendly actions and policies.”
While the hotel’s IIP Platinum accreditation is subject to a strict annual monitoring process, the growing number of happy returning guests is the strongest incentive to stay on track. In fact, experiencing the results and the bond between the hotel and its guests has had an enlightening effect, a Eureka moment from which there is no turning back.
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