The Chesapeake Point of View

How hoteliers can improve their company's work culture

How hoteliers can improve their company's work culture

June 26, 2017

It should come as no surprise that successful hotel management professionals tend to be good at managing the myriad details and complex operational issues that go into running a hotel.

But making a hotel popular and profitable—and sustaining that success over time—requires more than just a knack for logistics. It requires a cohesive and coordinated group of talented personnel that communicates well, works together efficiently and shares a common set of values.

In other words, it requires a strong culture. And while the seeds of that work culture might be planted at the GM level, a healthy culture flourishes in an atmosphere of collaborative teamwork and individual initiative that is very much an organic and “grassroots” phenomenon.

Culture club
It is ironic that culture, which is something that gets talked about a lot, is also somehow overlooked (or at least underappreciated) by far too many hotel professionals.

Culture is more than just a buzzword, it’s an incredibly important ingredient in the recipe for long-term business success. In a professional context, culture is simply a group of people with a shared set of beliefs and a common mission. It might be helpful to think of culture as a blend of your company’s “personality” and organizational values: the characteristics that help your company stand out from a crowded field of competitors.

While a healthy professional culture is an asset in any industry, the realities of hotel management–where teams of professionals move into often challenging circumstances and must make prudent and timely changes—make a strong culture absolutely essential. A healthy work culture can improve communication, enhance efficiencies, boost morale, improve the guest experience and affect the bottom line.

Understanding how to cultivate and sustain a healthy work culture is an important prerequisite to building the kind of strong, cohesive and capable teams that form the backbone of any hotel management operation.

What it isn’t
It’s important to understand that culture isn’t a logo or tagline–it’s a set of practices, values and principles that infuses virtually everything you do on a day to day basis. Culture may seem like an abstraction—the kind of vague concept that sounds good in a corporate retreat, but doesn’t really translate to the “real world.” The reality is quite the opposite: a healthy professional culture is a very practical, tangible and meaningful phenomenon. There is a direct connection between a positive and productive work culture and improved performance and profitability.

From the ground up
The hotel management world is a results-driven business, and while the ultimate responsibility for achieving those results begins at the top, a healthy professional culture permeates throughout the organization. That ground-up cultural development is only possible if there is clear and consistent communication that flows both up and down the organizational chart, with contributions from every member of the organization.

A values proposition
Regardless of whether you make a conscious effort to establish one, every company has a culture that can be one of strength or weakness. The key is for every member of your team to take an active role in defining your culture—and to ensure that your culture is an asset instead of a liability. One of the areas where confusion can arise is in the interpretation of core values. Clarity and consistency are vital, and a shared set of universally understood and appreciated core values becomes all the more important when coordinating different employees who might be coming from different organizations, different backgrounds and experiences. You must live your culture, not just say it.

Communication and conversation
One of the great benefits of a strong and healthy professional culture is the way in which it fosters productive communication. At a time when some management professionals are afraid to have the tough conversations, a strong foundation of trust and communication can make all the difference. Sharing positive feedback is easy, but delivering negative feedback in a way that is positive and productive can be a challenge. Open and honest conversation helps reinforce clarity and purpose, which is vital to delivering consistent results.

Employee empowerment
Part of a healthy culture is creating a set of circumstances where employees–particularly those who are in a position of responsibility–have all of the resources/information and all of the confidence and freedom they need to make independent decisions. Your team needs to feel both confident and comfortable, and part of that is the ability to make, correct and learn from their mistakes. Freedom within a framework provides the support, structure and guidelines, while empowering the team to be accountable and flexible to make decisions that support the culture and lead to results. Teams that are constantly looking over their shoulder are more likely to sweep mistakes under the rug—and small problems can subsequently become bigger ones.

Accountability doesn’t have to be punitive, and once you remove the fear of making mistakes is minimized, the result is a positive and supportive environment where information is shared readily, openly and collaboratively.

Repeat and reinforce
Your culture is directly connected to your organizational values and your mission, but it’s not enough to simply draft a mission statement. Your culture will only be as strong as your commitment to cultivating it, and the best management companies make it a priority to strengthen and sustain their culture.

In a multi-location business, this can be difficult. Cultural fit should be an important ingredient in personnel decisions, and promoting and rewarding employees based on their adherence to core values is a good idea. Creating and maintaining a strong and healthy professional culture relies on consistency.

Culture doesn’t magically manifest itself; instead, it must be intentional, and it must be reinforced. To the extent that it is possible, hotel management companies should structure its internal and external messaging around that culture, and should not miss an opportunity to reiterate the many ways in which who you are directly translates to how you achieve success. Ultimately, your entire team needs to practice what they preach.

Chris Green is principal and COO of Chesapeake Hospitality and brings more than a quarter century of successful hospitality operations experience to Chesapeake's corporate team, including nearly a decade in the field at various Chesapeake-managed properties. He is responsible for all field operations of the Chesapeake managed estate, a portfolio of properties that continues to evolve to reflect the contours of a changing marketplace. Under Green’s leadership, Chesapeake has demonstrated a proven ability to deliver industry-leading financial results across a wide range of markets and hospitality concepts. Green understands how to balance a property’s long-term strategic vision with the practical immediacy of day-to-day operational demands, and he takes a leading role in actively managing, improving and protecting every asset.

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