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JW Marriott finds a unique way to teach its global staff the more subjective aspects of delivering luxury service by emulating the body movements, mental focus, and self awareness of ballet dancers.

JW Marriott Hotels & Resorts is officially announcing the brand-wide rollout today of its “Poise & Grace” staff training program, designed in partnership with Chicago’s renowned Joffrey Ballet.

The dance company produced a series of videos focusing on four core behaviors that professional dancers must master to perform flawlessly on stage: Warming Up, Proper Breathing, Flow of Movement and Connecting to the Audience.

The intent here is that front- and back-of-the-house staff at JW Marriott’s 68 hotels in 26 countries can also perform their roles better by practicing the same basic routines that some of the world’s best dancers go through.

“One of the most important things of the luxury experience from a guest perspective is being able to demonstrate poise and grace as part of the service style,” says Mitzi Gaskins, VP/global brand manager of JW Marriott Hotels & Resorts. “Our associates have to have a certain sophistication that’s on par with the guests who are coming into our hotels, and so what better way to inspire poise and grace than with a ballerina?”

According to The Joffrey Ballet’s artistic director Ashley Wheater, all of us know what poise is, so it’s something that can be taught in a structured setting. Grace, on the other hand, is more nebulous. We might not be able to define it succinctly, but we certainly know it when we encounter it.

Wheater suggests that by studying ballet dancers, who are the very personification of grace, people will begin to understand that ephemeral quality a little bit more, and how it relates to the hospitality workplace. The takeaways are obvious for the staff members’ personal lives as well.

The brokering of this partnership is in line with a variety of others over the last few years at JW Marriott, who has been seeking collaborators to deliver experiences revolving around three core brand pillars: Culinary, Culture and Well Being.

“One of the things we ask our partners is, we want them to provide knowledge and expertise around our passion points in different channels like social media and our in-room magazine,” explains Gaskins. “But we also think that a really good partner is someone who can actually help us design the guest experience.”

The Lessons

Beginning this month at all JW Marriott hotels, in-house staff in every department are required to watch the videos and practice the various movements and behaviors at least three times a month. They’ll do this during their Daily Rehearsal, which is a 15-minute window at the beginning of every shift.

These practice sessions could be as simple as learning to shake someone’s hand with the gravity and bearing respective of the individual and local customs. It could also be a small obstacle course set up in a tight dining room, where service staff must always approach guests with their shoulders square.

Staff are taught about eye contact, speech patterns, hand gestures, etiquette and body language, with the emphasis on being present in the moment so they’re aware of their stage presence at all times.

“We’re not asking them to do pirouettes or split jumps, we’re not asking anyone to do anything uncomfortable in front of their peers,” explains Gaskins. “It’s more about giving them the tools to say, ‘You know what, when I’m in front of a guest and I’m out there, I’m on stage. And I have to deliver this amazing experience and engage with my audience, and how do I do that?’ So, it’s really about giving them confidence, it’s not about making them feel uncomfortable at all.”

JW Marriott staff have access to the brand’s internal employee recognition app called Orchestr8. When any team at any hotel has developed a new and innovative way to use these videos, or any other staff training program, they can upload their notes into the app and share it company-wide. JW Marriott’s corporate HQ can then pull out the best ideas and examples each month and highlight them in the company’s internal media platforms.

Gaskins also says supervisors can search through all of the content on the app to gain inspiration for a specific staff training theme that they want to work on within their own department.

“If I’m, let’s say, a manager at Desert Ridge [Arizona], I could pull out a story from somewhere in Mumbai that they did, and share it with my team,” she explains. “So that provides a lot of inspiration for everyone, and it instills a lot of pride among our associates who value that sense of collaboration.”

Greg Oates covers hotel/tourism development and travel brand media. email/twitter

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Tags: jw marriott

Photo credit: Joffrey Ballet artistic director Ashley Wheater (center) teaches the finer points of a proper handshake. JW Marriott Hotels

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