When it comes to creating, maintaining and sustaining great company culture, size matters.
There’s an awful lot of discussion about the importance of corporate culture on profit these days—and not just in the hotel business. But if you ask me, those conversations are missing something important.
Before I make clear what I think that missing piece is, let me clarify something: I’m not trying to minimize the importance of culture. Far from it. An outstanding professional culture is something we truly do pride ourselves on here at Prism. We see it as one of the biggest keys to our success for our owners. And I know lots of smart people who share that viewpoint regarding their own companies.
I acknowledge that articles and observations with knowledge sharing and insights about how to build and maintain a strong culture are important. What’s missing, however, is any mention of the role that the size of the organization plays in creating and perpetuating that culture.
The reality is the larger the hotel management company, the steeper the cultural hill is to climb. It’s exponentially harder to create those connections and build those relationships that are at the heart of great culture for a company with more than 75 hotels—there are about 20 companies out of the top 100 that size. Some do have good cultures, but the dynamics of interpersonal relationships and size push the organization to treat employees less as a person than a number. That’s not to say that leaders at larger companies don’t care. But it’s extraordinarily difficult, if not impossible, to dedicate any kind of meaningful individual attention to promote a strong culture.
And here’s the kicker for owners: if people are treated like a number, they will end up treating your guests like a number as well.
That’s something we’ve given a lot of thought to in our in-house discussions about how big we want to be as an organization. My perspective is that a midsized hotel management company—44 of the top 100 companies have between 25 and 74 hotels—allows you to compete with the largest companies in the industry when it comes to national support, comprehensive resources (tax specialists, legal, IT, digital marketing, etc.) and performance delivery—without the cultural and logistical challenges that come when you grow past a certain point. I never want to lose that personal connection that I think separates good from great in this business.
We never want to be in a situation where we can’t have honest and connected conversations with every single member of our team. I want our GMs and other management professionals to speak their truth to their peers and to their corporate support team. It fosters a kind of professional intimacy that only comes with no barriers and genuine trust. Those kinds of honest individual conversations just don’t happen—you have to create the kind of conditions where they can take place. And that’s difficult to do that in an organization with thousands of employees.
Many of our biggest competitors, and many I personally admire, are four to six times our size. And I see them struggling with this very issue. I’ve spoken with some very talented and motivated hospitality professionals at larger organizations recently, and this isn’t news to them. In fact, some are privately admitting they need to start doing things differently because they’ve lost so many good people to midsized competitors.
This isn’t just about recognizing and rewarding talented employees. It also speaks to the challenge of making your operational realities reflect your cultural aspiration for personal attention, connectivity and accountability. In our weekly leadership meetings, for example, we look at every single property. At least once a month we talk about every single GM and director of sales. There’s no hiding with this approach. But no one gets lost, either. And that personal attention to detail translates into how we communicate with owners, too. When we meet with owners, our entire leadership team is sitting across the table from them. And I know for a fact that’s not the norm. Ultimately, personal care, attention and connection leads to better performance, as well as all of the benefits of a strong culture: better talent, recruiting and retention.
No matter what size you are, of course you still have to hire the right people. You still have to create commonalities and shared culture. And you still have to create and utilize lines of communication and internal touchpoints for interaction, knowledge sharing and support.
So where’s the sweet spot? What’s the right size organization to enhance your chances of fostering a creative, constructive and collaborative environment and a place where employees feel supported and empowered? We’ve answered that question for our company, and I think in this competitive environment where culture will always be a hot topic, every hotel management company needs to do the same.
Steve Van, president and CEO of Prism Hotels & Resorts, founded the Dallas-based company in 1983. Under his leadership, Prism has become an award-winning full-service hotel management, investment and advisory services company. For more information, visit https://prismhotels.com/.
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