26 February 2019

Lawrence Jones MBE on Soneva Fushi - culture, motivation

Lawrence on Soneva Fushi.

It’s amazing what you learn when you stop to chat with people.

On our family holiday this past few weeks, I struck up a conversation with Sonu Shivdasani, the owner of the island we were staying on called Soneva Fushi.

He is a fascinating character, a man who has overcome stage four cancer in a matter of months, and someone who followed his dream despite it taking more than a decade to make real progress. That dream? To own an island in the Maldives, creating an extraordinary environment for people to visit.

That’s exactly what he and his wife, Eva, have done.

The island resort is built upon the culture of ‘Slow Life’ – an acronym for sustainable, local, organic, wellness, learning, inspiring, fun, experiences. The island is centred on sustainability and wellbeing.

What really stands out, though, are the people. Sonu calls the team over there ‘hosts’. When you empower someone with a title they are proud to have, they behave differently. Calling someone an employee doesn’t give them the same ownership and empowerment as calling them hosts of the island.

It’s fascinating how a simple language change can shift a whole team’s perspective.

Sonu told me of a recent recruitment push for a senior manager. In hiring the manager, he invited many of the team to meet with the candidates to share their thoughts. This 360 feedback painted a much fuller picture of the character of the person. It also empowered the team to know that they were able to play a role in hiring their boss. Again, enhancing the culture rather than diluting it.

Emphasis on people

As an entrepreneur and business leader, my number one goal is to help people to grow and achieve their goals. So hearing Sonu say that as CEO of the business his top goal is to drive host engagement was music to my ears!

Engaged team mates are happier, happier team mates are more productive and deliver better service, which delivers better overall results for the business. It’s a win-win.

Being able to have even a low level of decision-making – over things like uniforms or managing shifts – boosts engagement massively.

In my experience, one of the most important ingredients of engagement is saying thank you. It’s a simple phrase but one that is often overlooked by leaders for pushing for the next big thing. There is no greater way to let someone know that they are valued than by thanking them for a job well done.

This week’s episode of the Mind Your Own Business podcast shares the full chat between Sonu and I. In it, he covers everything from the early days of the island and how he set course to transform tourism in the area, to how he embraced a different technique to help himself heal.

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