Hoteliers instrumental in the workplace cultures at their companies and properties said a positive and healthy environment makes for happier employees, which in turn leads to more satisfied guests.
REPORT FROM THE U.S.—The goal of every hotelier, from the front desk to the CEO, is that each guest walks away happy. The key to happy guests is happy employees.
But what makes employees happy? A livable wage with benefits and other perks may keep them walking in the door each day, but sources said it’s a healthy workplace culture that makes them want to be there.
“It starts with recognizing what a culture is … (in) any organization, whether it’s a business or family unit or any group of individuals that come together for a common cause, in the workplace or anyplace else,” said Fred Cerrone, founder and chairman of Hotel Equities. “You consistently talk about it, (and) recognize it is a living, breathing organization and it needs attention.”
A workplace can have one of two types of culture, Cerrone said: Healthy or unhealthy.
“We know what an unhealthy culture looks like,” he said. “It’s one where disorganization, lack of clear communication and a lack of specific goals and timelines exists with wandering generalities. It’s up to leadership to create an environment where healthy culture is an intentional goal.”
A healthy workplace culture is one in which people are nurtured, trained, communicated to and asked to buy into the company’s goals and objectives, he said. Hotel Equities has 12 value statements, he said, and associates are asked to carry them around with them and to review one of them each day as part of a team huddle.
Once a healthy culture is established, he said, everyone must set out to nurture and protect it. Talk about it, recast the vision, restate the goals and objectives, and remind people this is something worth participating in.
Leaders of a company are responsible for providing their teams with the proper training, as well as all the tools and equipment they need to do their jobs well, he said, and leaders must also hold their teams accountable for their actions.
Cerrone said he considers himself a coach along with all the other leaders in his company. Most of his executives and managers have worked in different jobs in the hotel industry, so it’s now up to them to coach their staff members. The company tries to have a coach meeting the first Thursday of every month where they discuss culture and review the value statements.
“In my opinion, the formation of a healthy culture cannot be delegated,” he said. “It has to start with the head of the organization.”
What makes a person tick, Cerrone said, is found in their soul and what motivates them. The same applies to a company, and the company can build its culture around that.
“One way we show people we care about them is we believe in giving back to the community we operate in,” he said.
Hotel Equities wants to be a good citizen and contribute to its communities, he said, and it participates in various ministries and nonprofits, from helping to feed the homeless to helping with Wounded Warriors projects.
Helping them unplug
Hilton recently launched its Thrive@Hilton program, aimed at helping relieve some of the workplace stresses of its employees as part of the Thrive Global initiative.
Hilton has spent a lot of time over the years communicating about investments it’s made in its team members, said Matt Schuyler, chief human resources officer. Those investments include paid family leave, adoption assistance, veterans hiring, travel perks and high-school diploma equivalency assistance. The idea was to take all of those elements and make them part of an overarching approach that acknowledges that everyone feels overloaded, he said.
Recently, Hilton started looking at its workforce and what was happening in society at large, Schuyler said. The company came across the Thrive Global program and saw that its general philosophy resonated with what Hilton wanted to do internally.
“We’re overloaded,” he said. “If an employer would at minimum acknowledge this and make sure there are meaningful opportunities to allow me to work toward getting more in control of it, wouldn’t that be the ultimate relative to cultural aspiration?”
The program isn’t starting things over from scratch, he said, but reframing what is already available and adding some newer elements.
The framework generally involves three columns: mind, body and spirit. The program will focus on the need to recharge the body with rest and proper nutrition, and provide employees with stimulating work and an approach to learning new techniques to help them manage their properties in a more meaningful way. For employee spirit, Schuyler said, Hilton is working on some back-of house enhancements, from team member cafeterias to new locker rooms, Wi-Fi and flat-screen TVs for staff.
Hilton will also introduce uniforms for employees that have breathable and light fabrics, he said.
“Going back to Hilton’s founding, the strategy begins with culture, and culture transcends everything you do,” Schuyler said.
Engaging with employees
As part of Twenty Four Seven Hotels’ rebrand in 2015, company executives recognized they needed to make sure the internal culture matched its external, said Alison Sansone, VP of marketing and communications.
Sansone, who first worked as part of a third-party agency on the company’s rebranding campaign and website, joined Twenty Four Seven to help the redevelopment of the company’s workplace culture.
“We realized soon after launching publicly we need to make internal employees aware of this,” she said. “We saw we needed to make sure the Twenty Four Seven brand was familiar to them beyond their paycheck. We had a brand identity we wanted to get out.”
The company had a strong belief that communication sets the tone for everything. It’s not just opening channels and being transparent, she said. It goes beyond informing employees and engages them with information delivered in a way that’s fun, different and not just “an old, stuffy inter-office memo.”
The company has invested in a mobile app that reaches from the top of the corporate office to every person out in the field, Sansone said. Everyone using the app can interact. For example, an executive can send information out to employees, and the employee can respond directly.
Leveraging technology can foster engagement in a quick, accessible and efficient way, she said. When sharing information with employees, it needs to be consistent with the brand, and not just informative, but also interesting and engaging. She added frequency is also important, suggesting a monthly e-blast or an employee newsletter with fresh content every week.
“They have expectations driven by our broader culture,” she said. “When you look at the ecosystem in a company, you need to leverage the same patterns to get the information, just as they do maybe in the rest of their lives. Use a medium similar to other successful ones, and if you’re doing it frequently, you’re going to drive the message home a lot quicker.”
Everyone is a leader
When Terry Buchholz arrived as the new GM of the L’Auberge Del Mar hotel in San Diego, California, the workplace culture there was good but regimented. He said he wanted to create an environment where his employees all worked as leaders.
“As a leader, you are expected to make decisions to better guest experiences in hotels,” he said. “I expect you to be CEO of yourself.”
He incorporated employees’ voices and ideas because he believes common visions equal common goals and common deadlines. They, not him, are the experts on the front lines, he said.
He said no one is going to slap an employee’s hand when they make a decision, noting there’s always a better way to do something.
“(My staff members) feel trusted and comfortable,” he said. “They’re not afraid. They’re happy to come to work.”
There was some hesitancy at first, Buchholz said. The property had a great leadership team, but they were used to asking for permission.
“For me, I have a fun rule,” he said. “You come into my office: you tell, you don’t ask. It’s taken a little bit to get used to.”
His reasoning behind that rule is that while the employee is waiting to ask him for something, the guest is waiting even longer.
Buchholz described himself as results-oriented, so to him, how the staff comes to a solution doesn’t matter as much as the solution itself. If they need guidance, he’s available to help them.
Guests have responded to this approach as well, he said. Guest scores have increased, even during peak times and specifically in response to problem-solving and guest engagement.
“It’s certainly measurable,” he said. “A healthy work environment—there is (a return on investment) in that. It’s really about making sure the team comes first. If we can’t take care of each other, how can we take care of the guest? The guests know when the team is not taken care of.”
It’s the human element, he said. Everyone has a job to do and responsibilities to handle, and no one’s job is more or less important than someone else’s. Everyone serves the same purpose, he said, and as long as everyone recognizes that with each other, they treat each other with respect and have fun.
“You can throw parties, you can tell jokes and be funny, but that doesn’t mean the culture is good,” he said. “As long as you’re human, you’re consistent and you respect the team, you listen to the team and you include the team and work together, that’s an easy formula.”