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Naomi Titleman Colla is Founder of Collaborativity Leadership Advisory, a Toronto-based consultancy focused on driving progressive talent strategy in this new world of work.

An island off an island in the middle of the North Atlantic is where you will find the much buzzed-about Fogo Island Inn. I was fortunate enough to visit the inn off the north coast of Newfoundland this summer on holiday with my family and to revel in its customer experience that is truly second to none. Granted, with just 29 rooms, the luxury inn is able to better focus on and individualize the experience; however, what was striking to me was the warmth and genuine care exuded by every staff member with whom we came into contact. This begged the question: What is unique about the worker experience that enables such a rich customer experience? And what can we learn and translate to our own workplaces?

Lead with purpose

Fogo Island Inn is a social enterprise under the umbrella of Shorefast – a charity and the brainchild of Zita Cobb, an eighth-generation Fogo Islander who spent much of her career in high-profile corporate jobs away from the outpost island.

In the mid-20th century, because of overfishing by international companies, there was a drastic decline in jobs on Fogo Island and thus many families, including the Cobbs, following Ms. Cobb’s high-school graduation, left to pursue opportunities elsewhere.

She returned to create the Fogo Island Inn with a purpose: to build economic and cultural resiliency on Fogo Island. This purpose is what is now bringing Fogo Islanders back to the island to work for the inn – so that they can share their passion for their homeland with customers who are flocking from near and far.

Empower at all levels

For every staff member with whom I interacted, there was seemingly no inconvenience or challenge they could not handle. For example, when my son asked for a ball to play basketball at a nearby playground, upon realizing a ball wasn’t available at the inn, a staff member ran home to get one. No hesitation, no approvals needed. She just made it happen. When I asked about policies and protocols, the staff member explained that the sentiment shared from the top down is, “Be yourselves and treat everyone like a distant cousin." This message of empowerment creates a culture of trust and community in the workplace.

Be transparent

Transparency is a critical element in the inn’s culture. The inn and Shorefast provide transparency for customers and staff regarding how its revenue is spent. For example, 49 per cent of what you pay for a stay at the inn goes to pay staff wages and any surplus from operations (12 per cent in 2018) is returned to Shorefast for reinvestment in the community.

Having direct visibility into the fruits of their labour further enhances the inn’s culture of trust.

Second, there is a clearly documented “no tipping” policy – instead, staff participate in a shared bonus pool. In contrast to tips, which could motivate individualistic behaviour and misaligned goals, this approach gives staff the incentive to work together to fulfill the purpose of the inn.

Engage the community in the worker ecosystem

The worker ecosystem of Fogo Island Inn extends well beyond its permanent staff members. The inn engages community members (think giggers) who work as community hosts – leading guests to partake in local activities like jam making and fishing.

Also essential is the Fogo Island community as a whole – before the inn opened, it was important to carefully manage the change associated with transforming Fogo Island into an international tourist destination – so Ms. Cobb invited every family on Fogo and nearby Change Island to spend a night at the Fogo Island Inn experience. This not only helped gather valuable feedback, but also engaged the community in their ownership of the project.

Encourage lifelong learning

The staff at Fogo Island Inn are encouraged to continuously learn and grow, beginning with their on-boarding when they get an experiential tour of the island. Later they engage with top talent from all over the world as mentors. Even the most renowned culinary team members have a sense of humility and are eager to learn from the environment in which they work, as well as from globally-accomplished leaders in their space.

As expressed by one of the staff members during my visit: “I walk to work, and get to talk to and help guests plan their days. … I meet people from all over the world. … I get paid for this?”

Thinking about our own organizations, delighting and engaging our employees to this extent practically ensures a more genuine and positive experience for our customers, and mutual benefit for all stakeholders.

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