Ritz Carlton, by any number of measures, has a great culture. So great that books have been written about it, including Joseph Michelli’s The New Gold Standard, which praises the hotel chain’s fanaticism around mutual respect and serving one another. Each morning begins with a lineup where everyone’s reminded they’re all “ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen.” They even coined a name for this type of ad hoc assistance, calling it “lateral service.” Lateral service is all about the mission and could see someone from the front desk cleaning the floor or helping to set the table in advance of a big event. Ever seen a guy in a shirt and tie washing a car outside Enterprise Rent-A-Car? That’s lateral service.
We’ve tried to infuse Livewire’s culture with some of the Ritz Carlton magic, including lateral service. Starting and maintaining are two distinctly different activities and the success or failure of lateral service can fall prey to a construct called availability bias (Jason Griffing wrote a killer article about this phenomenon last year). That’s the emotional state of perceiving you’re working harder than everyone else (I know you are — they just don’t understand).
We first read The New Gold Standard as a company five years ago and started leaning into the idea of lateral service almost immediately. We would thank each other publicly using tools like TinyPULSE and Lattice. Teamwork and friendships at work thrived. Fast forward to 2022 and we’re on the backend of the Covid-19 pandemic’s destruction of in-person interactions. Lateral service has dipped because of availability bias. Salespeople aren’t getting back to the accounting team. Phone calls aren’t being returned in a timely manner. Emails are getting ghosted. Text messages are being “left on read.” Highly visible busy-ness is being used as a giant Snuggie of confusion.
The fish rots from the head. We’re going to reboot lateral service and the idea of “ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen.” It’s very simple. If someone sends you an email, text, phone call, or passenger pigeon, respond within 24 hours. Simple. I’ve tried to lead by example. I can’t stand having to-do items sitting in any inbox.
Also by Henry Clifford: Stabbing Each Other Offscreen
What will our reboot accomplish? I’m hoping a little light humor will give us all permission to step back and reset. After all, we spend more time with each other than with our own families. Showing mutual respect builds trust and everything sits atop the belief that you have each other’s backs.
What are you doing to promote a culture of lateral service?