Leading Meeting Professionals

Professional Convention Management Association

July 2013

They Listen to Their People

By Hunter R. Slaton

Whether it’s something relatively minor like food and drink or something more fundamental, like what a meeting’s educational or business focus is, Best Companies to Work For are also good about getting their employees involved in the planning process. “We spend a lot of time on pre-event communications,” said Don Jones, vice president of sales for the Americas at Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts, where he’s a 25-year veteran. That means “really understanding what people’s needs are, and how this meeting is going to serve those needs.”

One of the bigger meetings for which this gets practiced is Four Seasons’ biannual global marketing conference, held most recently this past May 13-16 at the brand-new Four Seasons Hotel Toronto, in the hotel company’s headquarters city. Three-hundred fifty people attended the meeting, including directors of marketing for each of Four Seasons’ 93 properties worldwide, as well as general managers, directors of revenue, public-relations and agency people, and the company’s global sales organization.

Perennial A-Lister Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts works hard at getting its employees involved in the planning process for its meetings, including the biannual global marketing conference, held this past May at the brand-new Four Seasons Hotel Toronto, where the hotel company is headquartered.

For this year’s conference, Four Seasons sent out a pre-event survey “with fairly open-ended questions,” Jones said. “As a collector of data, that makes it difficult. But we wanted to make sure we were really hearing from everyone.” When the surveys came back, the responses to those open-ended questions “absolutely drove the content that we were delivering,” Jones said.

The company is currently on the hunt for a new CEO, and many questions emerged about that change in leadership and how it would affect Four Seasons’ overall direction. “While this was a marketing conference, we realized we had to step away from marketing and make sure that our fellow associates were comfortable with our leadership and direction and growth strategy,” Jones said. “We had to put people at ease that that culture was going to stay intact.”

Of course, it’s not always big-picture stuff that has employees anxious - sometimes it’s more quotidian matters like what’s for breakfast, as one of our other Best Companies to Work For discovered a few years ago. “The No. 1 concern at our 2010 conference was that there wasn’t bacon at breakfast,” Camden’s Scharringhausen said proudly. “If every year the only concern is bacon, for $150 I can fix bacon any time of the week.”

That might sound like small potatoes (or hash browns), but employees want to know they’re being listened to. So Camden made sure the next year that there was plenty of pork on the menu, even going so far as to make an inside joke of it by working with the host hotel to get bacon involved in every meal — even dessert.

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