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Perk: After one year of service, associates can receive up to 12 nights of free stays per year at Hyatt properties around the world.
Starting a new job can be downright nerve-racking, much like being the new kid at school. Hyatt Hotels decided to zap the jitters from the equation by developing a friendlier process that pairs an experienced staff member with new hires for their first day on the job. New associates at the Hyatt Regency Resort Maui get an “Aloha!” and a lei, and at the Hyatt Regency Hill Country in San Antonio they bound off on a scavenger hunt through the resort. At the Hyatt Regency Phoenix new hires will find Brittany Hauk or one of her colleagues waiting for them with a card, ready to show them the ropes.
It’s like saying, “Hey, I’m your buddy,” explains Hauk, food and beverage manager at the Phoenix property. “If you need anything, don’t hesitate to ask.” Hauk is one of thousands of People Brand Ambassadors at the 548-property global hotel chain, which restructured and emerged from private ownership with an IPO in 2009. The ambassador program has won raves from employees, who feel they have an instant friend who can provide insight and answer any questions that aren’t covered in the new-hire initiation.
The company believes its one-on-one approach leads to better care for guests. Each associate “is the most important one to make that connection with a guest in an emotional way,” says Doug Patrick, senior vice president of human resources for the Americas.
After taking a critical look at employee engagement, Hyatt developed its people-first initiative specifically to emphasize teamwork and caring for co-workers across five stages of employment, that start with a personal phone call to extend a job offer and go all the way through thank-you sendoffs when employees leave — no matter how long they’ve been on the job.
In 2012 senior leaders traveled to Stanford University’s Institute for Design, known as the d.school, to learn about “design thinking.” According to Rakesh Sarna, group president for the Americas region, the biggest lesson was how “empathetic listening” leads to more innovative ideas and durable solutions.
An early test case: revamping new-hire orientation to be less about classroom-style paperwork and much more about interacting and exploring (the scavenger hunts, for example). Empathetic-listening interviews revealed that employees want to feel from the get-go that they’ve made the right choice — an exciting, fun, and friendly job in hospitality.
As design thinking becomes “Hyatt thinking” across operations in 48 countries, the company is encouraging workers to toss out scripted interactions and talk sincerely with guests. Similarly, employees are encouraged to offer candid suggestions via a network-based idea bank that launched last year — just one way a global chain can make staff feel as if they’re part of a big family.
This story is from the April 7, 2014 issue of Fortune.