Empowering Employees Builds Brand

When an employee study uncovered critical gaps, these results inspired training, action plans, and improved guest experience.

Embassy Suites by Hilton

Embassy Suites by Hilton is a chain of upscale all-suite hotels trademarked by Hilton Worldwide. Founded in 1984, the organization prides itself in providing luxury service to every customer in over 200 locations.

The Challenge

We’re doing this to get better

You don’t know if you don’t ask.

When Maria Urquiola and the team at Embassy Suites Orlando set out to conduct an employee study, they didn’t know what they’d find. To improve employee experience and even enhance guest experience, they simply knew they needed to start somewhere.

When a new COO encouraged the idea of an employee survey, Maria and her HR colleagues across four different hotels took up the challenge. Collectively, they tested different tools, checked out review sites, and started building their questions.

“We tried to keep it short and sweet,” said Urquiola, Human Resources Manager at Embassy Suites Orlando. With four different properties, the team decided to use a common set of questions but manage their own distribution separately. Questions asked about high-level topics like values and management as well as operational elements like equipment and supplies.

“I’m very pro-employee,” said Urquiola, who’s been at Embassy Suites Orlando for 22 years. “I said, ‘Let’s do this!’ and I really took it to heart.”

To encourage more responses, employees were invited to participate through email invitations or kiosks outside the HR department. Communication was a key element of the team’s strategy, and they even shared a few early results during a monthly employee luncheon. Noted Urquiola, “Once they saw how the information was being presented — just a graph with no names — I think it gave some reassurance to people who might have been nervous to share their candid feedback. We wanted to reinforce the point: We’re doing this to get better.”

The Solution

Take this plan and make it happen

Overall results were positive, and analysis identified a few items for attention: pay rates, performance evaluation, and empowerment. While pay increases are a common theme in employee survey reports, the other two pieces surprised Urquiola and her team. Responses showed that managers were completing the required performance evaluations, but these reviews were sometimes conducted only online,without any one-on-one conversations. Results also showed that employees were aware of the company’s “do whatever it takes” policy but they didn’t feel empowered to provide this level of service to guests.

To share and discuss these results, Urquiola held a meeting with managers, and helped them identify their top three and bottom three scores. From there, they worked together to develop action plans focused on how to make improvements. “The management team was very positive about it,” shared Urquiola. “Now I hear them say ‘I know! It’s in my action plan!’ They tell me that they’re going to take this plan and make it happen.”

Separately, Urquiola held report review sessions with each team — without their managers present. She shared printed copies of the results in these conversations, encouraging reactions to the data. “The fact that they could see the results — could touch and feel it — made employees more comfortable. There were no names, nothing identifiable.” Teams discussed their takeaways and suggestions about what could be done to deal with the issues presented and to improve future results.

The Result

They see we care

“At least from my property, I think it was very truthful, very effective, and very user-friendly,” said Urquiola. The insight about employee evaluations offered managers the opportunity to improve employee experience with more regular in-person sessions. The insight that so few employees felt empowered to go above and beyond for their guests also led the management team to immediate action. Seeing the opportunity to educate employees and strengthen the culture of commitment to guest satisfaction, they rolled out an initiative to improve the implementation of the policy. In addition to reviewing and discussing the policy itself, the management team created flyers inspiring and encouraging employees to deliver a little extra to guests. Coupons and vouchers for complimentary dinners and other amenities were also created to make it as easy as possible for employees to implement these improvements.

This study identified clear action items to improve both employee experience and guest experience, and the team plans to continue the conversation. In future studies, Maria Urquiola believes, “People will be more open because they see we care! They’ll see that their voice matters.”


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