Luxury hotel chain The Ritz-Carlton Hong Kong has been awarded second place in the Best Employers in Hong Kong 2003 awards. The hotel chain has won best employer awards Asia-wide, in Singapore and in China over the past two years. 'We are still very excited about the recognition and achievement. This might sound like a cliche but is very true to us that staff are the most important asset because they are the platform to our success,' The Ritz-Carlton vice-president Mark Lettenbichler said. The hotel's corporate goals, culture and philosophy were established with a focus on employees, he said. Mr Lettenbichler and the hotel's director of human resources, Sonia Lau Ching-man, referred to the staff as 'our ladies and gentlemen', reflecting one of the hotel's key values: 'We are ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen.' From the perspective of management, its 'ladies and gentlemen' are no different from customers - they have to provide equal service to both. 'As the service professionals, our ladies and gentlemen need to portray a confident image with a methodical and positive manner to guests. Every one of us carries a pocket-sized credo that reminds us of our service basics, promises to clients and philosophies. These are all fundamentals that tell us who we are and how we should treat each other,' he said. Employing a top-down approach, the management makes certain that it treats staff with trust, transparency and honesty. At present, the hotel employs 324 people and enjoys a low turnover rate, of just 12 per cent To better understand staff, the hotel conducts employee satisfaction surveys periodically. From the survey findings, management discovered that job experience and the work place were the top staff concerns - not salaries. By addressing this key concern, the hotel tries to ensure the work place is right for staff. 'No one likes to come to work and make mistakes. We want our staff to feel good when they come to work with us. It is a place where they can do a good job and deliver,' Mr Lettenbichler said. From their first day at work, staff are involved in every part of their job. 'We want staff to participate, voice their opinions and make decisions; we do not want anyone to come here and be told to do everything.' The hotel claims to have a smaller hierarchy than other organisations. 'We empower our staff to do whatever they think is appropriate to complete their work and serve our guests. 'Undoubtedly, we need to ensure all staff have the right attitude to provide this exceptional service,' he said. To ensure staff possess the right attitude and attributes, the hotel has adopted a coaching and counselling approach, as well as a vigorous recruiting process. In the early 1990s, the hotel's head office commissioned a consulting firm to redesign the recruitment interview process, which is now referred to as the 'talent plus interview'. Based on in-depth interviews with the 500 outstanding employees within the hotel's global operations, the consultants produced a set of common attributes and ideal staff profiles. They then developed structured questions for staff recruitment interviews. In every interview, the interviewer will ask pre-set questions to analyse a candidate's profile, talents and potential. 'We provide extensive training to the interviewers and all interviewers are required to pass examinations in order to be qualified as certified interviewers. 'By using this method, we will be certain that the right talents are found for the right job. This is very important as we can not change people, only teach them. We focus on their attributes, personalities and attitude rather than just their experience.' After passing the initial interview, the vice-president then meets short-listed candidates to show the hotel's commitment and expectations. 'This is the time from which we start to engage staff to the job and environment,' he said. The hotel's service and staff strategy has also triggered interest from other organisations, Mr Lettenbichler said. 'From time to time, we are invited to share our experience, values and philosophies with industry professionals or academics,' he said. 'The local universities have been using our stories and experience as case studies for teaching materials,' he said. In addition, their headquarters in the United States operates a leadership centre to share their insights with external organisations as well as a leadership development centre to serve their own people. The impact from the award has been positive, Mr Lettenbichler said. 'Customers are attracted by the award as they are reassured that we have a good team. For now and the future, we will still be consistent in our ways of working and delivering with our staff.'