A Brief History of the Corporate Culture Transformation at Hilton | Part 4: Thrive

For Hilton, thriving is not just a fancy word, it encapsulates all parts of an ambitious culture program that started more than ten years ago. The concept of “Thrive at Hilton” was adopted globally after Hilton struck a partnership with Ariana Huffington’s organization Thrive Global. 

The origin and evolution of Thrive@Hilton

This partnership between Hilton and Thrive Global was originally conceived to solve a specific problem Hilton was facing. Back in 2017, a Hilton study revealed the harmful effects of mobile devices in the workplace. The use of mobile devices became a problem when Hilton transitioned from not allowing to fully allowing these devices during work shifts, with basically no restriction. This caused a “digital overload” among team members. Matt Schuyler says, “Our statistics show that on average we are all pushing out 200 emails a day, we are bringing back 200 emails a day from outside our respective organizations. We are checking these devices 150 times a day in our social media applications …That was eight or nine hours a day just on the device.” (1) As a result, Hilton decided to partner with a knowledgeable organization that could help it solve this problem, and the Thrive Global partnership was born. 

The rollout of the program at Hilton evolved to Thrive@Hilton, which is now the umbrella value proposition under which all team members’ programs exist today. These programs include Health & Wellness, Training, PTO, Learning, Recruiting and Referral. The broad idea of the program is to make sure team members understand that they can bring their whole self to work and thrive. Hilton is committed to supporting everything team members are interested in, enabling them to thrive at work. 

Hilton is the first hospitality company to partner with Thrive Global, an innovative wellness startup that was launched in 2016. It is estimated that burnout, fatigue and stress cost US industries $300 billion a year. The day of the partnership announcement Chris Nassetta said that “the company launched the Thrive@Hilton partnership to help our team members understand our people and flourish in every area of the business, from corporate to hourly, from the front desk to back-of-house. We strive to help Team Members feel more resilient, focused, and optimistic about their work, which we believe will support our company’s continued success.” (2)

Thrive@Hilton and Hilton’s Employee Benefits are not the same

It is important to notice that Thrive@Hilton is not equivalent to Hilton’s employee benefits. Thrive@Hilton is more of a framework that generally involves three areas: mind, body, and spirit. The program is focused 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. (3)

Thrive@Hilton has two main goals: allow team members to focus on what is important to them (4) and support team members so they can do their best anywhere in the world. (5) Matt Schuyler says, “Thrive was launched to create an extraordinary culture where the talent is mobilized and achieving its goal potential. It’s our promise to team members that at Hilton, they can reach their full potential — they will develop and grow and flourish with us. We have a history of investing differentially, going above and beyond what our industry might dictate because of our values and what matters to our team members.” (5)

Thrive@Hilton Programs

Although technically Thrive@Hilton includes all the team member programs that exist today at Hilton, I want to introduce five great examples:

  1. Learning & Development
  2. Heart of House
  3. Hilton Wardrobes
  4. Thrive Sabbatical
  5. Personal Growth (GED Equivalence and SPEAK!)  
Learning & Development 

Hilton developed a culture of learning that is unique from anything I have seen before. This culture is guided by the 70-20-10 learning framework, which means that 70% of our learning comes from on-the-job experiences, 20% comes from feedback from others, and 10% comes from formal learning. In each of these buckets, Hilton has created specific tools and resources to get the job done. 

In addition to internal web-based platforms such as Hilton University and Leadership Development Programs, Hilton partnered with leading institutions to offer for free a variety of courses from financial well-being to mental resilience, health, and productivity. 

In the area of financial well-being, Hilton partnered with Momentum on Up to boost financial confidence among team members. In this program, team members can learn about budgeting basics, build spending habits, and more. Hilton also partnered with Commonbond to help team members understand student loans, including refinancing or new applications. As part of these partnerships, team members have 100% free access to these platforms as well as one-on-one financial counseling by phone. 

Heart of House

Hilton has invested millions of dollars revamping the back of house, or what Hilton calls Heart of House . The program provides workers with a place that is as welcoming as a hotel’s public areas to kick back and relax. 

“These are comfortable places with things like locker rooms and flat-screen TVs, where team members can put their feet up, grab a healthy bite to eat, chat with their colleagues, and recharge. This initiative, implemented mainly in newer properties, has passed the 1,000-hotel mark and has already made a difference. Engagement at those properties has gone up, morale has gone up, trust in the organization has gone up, and most importantly, customer service scores have gone up.” says Matt Schuyler. (5)

Creating a fabulous place to work is a significant business advantage that benefits everyone — franchise owners, the company, and team members. Hilton data shows that efforts to promote a positive culture reduce turnover, which reduces costs related to recruiting and training so dollars can transfer back to the bottom line. More engaged team members are a source of innovation, productivity, and product optimization that saves money and allows for differential growth over time.

The Heart of House initiative was implemented after leadership captured the feedback from team members, and corporate executives experienced the issues first hand through the executive immersion program. 

Hilton Wardrobes

In response to team members’ feedback, Hilton created the “wardrobe change” program. Innovative uniforms from Under Armour are more comfortable and versatile. The program provides customized designs, including breathable fabrics for team members working in physical roles or in hot locations. (5)

Similar to the Heart of House program, executives who wore the old clothes in their executive immersion program described them as like wearing burlap fabric and wondered why Hilton didn’t have more breathable, comfortable clothes for their employees. (1) This realization led to the quick deployment of the Hilton Wardrobe Program around the world. 

Thrive Sabbatical 

Thrive Sabbatical is one of my favorites programs at Hilton. The annual program enables ten team members around the world to Give a Dream or Live a Dream. Team members with five or more years of service can propose their plan for four weeks of paid sabbatical time and $5,000 to pursue a passion. A review board makes the selections. 

Give a Dream enriches the lives of others through a philanthropic or volunteer activity of their choice. Live a Dream allows team members to achieve a personal goal, explore a new interest, or embark on a meaningful adventure. 

My love for Thrive Sabbatical is because in the first edition in 2017, I was one of the ten runners-up. The participation was pretty high, so Hilton decided to award all runner-ups with $1,000 that they could donate to a cause they would like to support. Back then, I donated my portion to a Colombian organizations supporting indigenous tribes in the north part of the country. I have participated every year since then, and it is always a fun activity for me. 

Matt Schuyler says “Having seen this program at work for the last two years, we can say with certainty that these sabbaticals have a lasting impact on our Team Members and inspire all of us who follow their journeys.”

Through Thrive Sabbatical, team members have:

  • Supported children with disabilities in Tanzania,
  • Learned sign language to communicate with family in the Philippines,
  • Created eyeglass clinics in Mexico,
  • Taken care of elderly dogs in the United States,
  • Cleaned the ocean of debris in Dubai , all of it making a positive impact around the world.
Personal Growth 

From time to time, Hilton rolls out small and localized projects to address the specific needs of its workforce around the world. A good couple of examples of that is the SPEAK! program in Mexico or the GED equivalency program in the US. 

In the SPEAK! program in Mexico, Hilton helps team members to improve their English skills. Sponsored by the University of Michigan, SPEAK!—Seniors Promoting English Acquisition and Knowledge—provides an opportunity for team members at all levels to improve their English fluency. The benefits are numerous: hotels benefit by being able to provide stellar customer service and retain employees, and team members will have more opportunities for advancement in the workplace. (6)

In the GED equivalency program, team members who didn’t complete their high school can get an equivalent diploma. This is very important for some team members because, through data analysis and observation, Hilton realized that not having a high school diploma was a big obstacle for career advancement. 

Although work flexibility, travel benefits, adoption assistance, and other programs contribute to the overall well-being of team members at Hilton, I’ll be discussing those further in the next article. These initiatives are more closely related to team members’ benefits. 


1.         Great Place to Work. Watch Hilton CHRO Matthew Schuyler Speak at GPTW4ALL Summit. In: Schuyler M, editor. GPTW4ALL Summit2018.

2.         Pradfer E. Hilton takes employee wellness up a notch with Thrive Global partnership: Hcareers; 2017 [Available from: https://www.hcareers.com/article/employer-articles/hilton-takes-employee-wellness-up-a-notch-with-thrive-global-partnership.

3.         Wroten B. Healthy workplace culture at hotels demands full buy-in: Hotel News Now; 2017 [Available from: http://hotelnewsnow.com/Articles/153040/Healthy-workplace-culture-at-hotels-demands-full-buy-in.

4.         Leader Perspectives: Hilton’s Chief Human Resources Officer Matt Schuyler on Building a Winning Workplace Culture [press release]. Hilton2019.

5.         Meyer E. Hilton’s Champion Culture – Hilton Celebrated Its 100th Anniversary and Bolsters the Culture That Will Take It Into the Future. Lodging Magazine. 2019.

6.         Little C. Hilton Enlists Help to Bridge Language Gap: Hotel Business; 2019 [Available from: http://www.hotelbusiness.com/hilton-enlists-help-to-bridge-language-gap.

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A Brief History of the Corporate Culture Transformation at Hilton | Part 3 | Listening

If there is something embedded in Hilton’s DNA is listening. As I mentioned earlier, the first thing Chris Nassetta did when he joined Hilton was to spend his first 100 days flying around Hilton’s properties worldwide and listening to owners, employees, and partners. (1) This was the best method for Chris to understand what he needed to do to turn the company around.(2)

Hilton has different strategies to “listen” to people; here below, I describe the ones that I have experienced over my years at Hilton. 


In 2009, when Matt Schuyler joined Hilton, he asked for any existing feedback regarding employee satisfaction and their needs. From his previous roles, especially at Capital One, he knew that listening to employees was key to understanding their needs and introducing meaningful changes. 

When Matt realized this data didn’t exist, he came up with a great and ambitious solution: the first “Hilton’s global team member survey”. (or GTMS for short). The purpose of this survey was to collect important views and opinions from Hilton employees worldwide, from both corporate and “back of the house” team members (housekeeping, engineering, bartending, front desk, etc.). This survey became an immediate success, with a completion rate of 92% and over 150,000 participants (3). This survey has been the best tool Hilton has to identify team members’ needs and desires. Matt says that “listening to team members is the best way to learn how to meet their needs and determine what they will need in the future;(4) listening helps leaders learn. Without employee insights, companies stagnate.” (5)

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A Brief History of the Corporate Culture Transformation at Hilton – Part 2 – Alignment

Part 2: Alignment

When Chris Nassetta joined Hilton in 2007, he used his first 100 days to listen to Hilton hotel leaders around the globe.(1) He then described Hilton as several companies that were not aligned, somewhat like “getting into a boat with oarsmen rowing out of sequence.”(2)

The problem was that the company was almost 100 years old and had been put together through merges and acquisitions.

  • In 1985 Hilton purchased the Statler chain for $111 million, the largest real estate deal in history at the time.
  • In 1964 Hilton International spun off as a separate corporation; this created two independent companies, Hilton Hotels Corp. in the Americas and Hilton Group plc in Europe.(3)
  • In 1996 Hilton acquired Grand Vacations Limited, formalizing a four-year-old partnership that was the beginning of Hilton Grand Vacations.(4)
  • In 1999 Embassy Suites, DoubleTree, Homewood Suites, and Hampton Inn were acquired by Hilton for $3.1 billion in cash and stock. At the time, all four brands were owned by Promus Hotel Corp.(5)

Some of these acquisitions were already the result of previous purchases, for instance, Doubletree acquired Red Lion Hotels in 1996, but in 1997 Doubletree merged with Promus Hotel Corp, creating the six-largest hotel company in terms of the number of hotels. Promus Hotel Corp was later acquired by Hilton in 1999. All these mergers created a “Frankenstein” hotel company, made up of different cultures, different goals, and different people overlapping similar roles. Chis said at the time that it was, in fact, like seven different companies operating in silos without any alignment.(2) Hilton at the time looked like one company to the outsiders, but it wasn’t, it didn’t have a consistent mission, vision, values, or key strategic priorities.

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A Brief History of the Corporate Culture Transformation at Hilton – Part I | The People | Matt Schuyler

Matt Schuyler, Chris Nassetta’s biggest ally at Hilton

The incredible culture transformation at Hilton led by Chris Nassetta is not by any means, the effort of just one person. A transformation of this magnitude requires synchronized teamwork executed with precision and simultaneously around the globe.

Hilton has more than 6,000 properties, in 114 countries and territories (1). It has 460,000 team members worldwide, 55,000 of them in the US alone (2). At this scale, any change requires not only a massive level of effort but incredible coordination between all the corporate offices and hotels. To make things more complicated, size is not the only challenge for culture adoption. Hilton’s workforce spans five different generations (3), from boomers through Gen Zers; that means change has to be appealing for everyone, regardless of their cultural background or age. This requires a huge understanding of people, their motivations, desires, and cultural background.

Chris Nassetta assembled the best possible team for this endeavor, including Matt Schuyler. A leader who came to the company from outside the hospitality industry, Matt proved critical to executing Chris’ vision for Hilton.

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A Brief History of the Corporate Culture Transformation at Hilton – Part I | The People | Chris Nassetta

Chris Nassetta – Hilton

Most people think that culture transformation is mostly the job of a leader, and it can be achieved in a short period of time. Nothing can be furthest from the truth. A corporate culture transformation like the one Hilton experienced took 10 years on the making and many people working behind the scenes. But those ten years are just the tip of the iceberg; the reality is that this process started 36 years ago when Chris began to put together the pieces of what an excellent corporate culture was and what that entailed. He was 17 at the time, and much of the culture we see today at Hilton was a long time process that was shaped by Chris’ experiences. When Jon Gray from Blackstone called Chris to discuss the opportunity at Hilton, he told him, “you have been training your whole life for this position.” and that was the truth (1). In these chapters I’ll explore the beginnings of this process and how continuously keep evolving. On chapter one will be focused on the people that led to the change, but later on, I will be highlighting the strategies and implementation I have perceived most effective. 

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My world flipped upside down

My life was a living dream three months ago, my career was successful at Hilton, the best company to work for in the United States in 2020, I had the best boss, and my work-life balance was at all-time high. Last year I was the runner up of the circle of excellence, a Hilton award to the best performers from commercial services and customer teams worldwide, my morale was high, and I couldn’t wish for something better. On February 17, 2020 I traveled to Miami to meet with my team (marketing planning and performance), but little I knew that that trip would be the last one we had together. 

Great moments in Miami, in our last team meeting of our planning and performance team
Great moments in Miami, in our last team meeting of our planning and performance team

While we were in Miami, we had a great time. It was as fun as any of our previous trips to San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago or Montreal. But something was slightly off. One night while walking from the hotel to a nearby restaurant in South Beach, I didn’t feel well, I felt out of breath, and my chest was hurting. From Miami, I scheduled an appointment with my doctor, just to make sure there was nothing wrong with my health. 

When I was back in Orlando, my cardiologist ordered an electrocardiogram, an ultrasound, and a stress test. The results came back relatively quickly, and the news was not good. I was diagnosed with coronary artery desease and I was scheduled for surgery on Friday, March 13th. For some reason, my cardiologist called me back a couple of days later to push back the surgery date to March 25th. Since my health was deterioration quickly, my wife called the hospital and asked if they had an earlier date available, thankfully they did have one, and I was rescheduled for Thursday, March 12th (by the way, a much better date than Friday the 13th for a heart surgery).

At that point my health was not the only bad news, the outbreak of the coronavirus in China was spreading like fire around the world, and started to hit hard already some parts of the country such as Washington and New York states. 

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