A Brief History of the Corporate Culture Transformation at Hilton – Part 1: 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.

Matt is one of the top 10 Hilton leaders that Chris Nassetta relies on.

Today, Matt is the most important ally of Chris Nassetta at Hilton. Chris says, – “There is nobody that I spend more time with in this company than Matt Schuyler, our CHRO, If I’m in the office, I literally start every day by talking to Matt about people, about culture, about purpose, about lots of different things that are going on in our organization. To me, HR has really become the key enabler to what I’m trying to do. If you think about the key job of a CEO in today’s world, HR becomes at least half of the equation because the fact is, you can have the greatest strategy in the world, but without the culture to support it, you can’t get the job done… They’re sort of the two big pistons that have to be fully firing.” -(4).

Matt came to Hilton in 2009, after having worked for three other companies that had also made the list of Fortune’s 100 Best Companies to Work® For in the US: Capital One, PwC, and Cisco (2). At the time, Matt was an advocate of corporate culture, a topic he got very interested in at a young age. After graduating from the University of Pennsylvania with a degree in accounting, Matt became an auditor at PwC. While working for large clients from his regional office in Pittsburgh, he realized that so much leverage was born out of the “people’s equation” at big companies, and yet companies were not seizing the opportunity to make that the leverage point. He reasoned, “If this is my strong belief, why don’t I get into this field and learn as much as I can about it?” From that moment, Matt shifted to an HR track, starting in recruiting and working his way up to regional, national, and global roles (2).

Although Matt did not have that much influence over the inclusion of PwC and Cisco the Fortune’s 100 Best Companies to Work For® in the US, for Capital One and Hilton, his role was prominent. During his tenure at Capital One, he began the application process and got it on the list for the first time. Capital One has remained on the list every year after that (currently 24th), which shows that when a company establishes a good culture, it tends to stay in place for a long time.

At Hilton, Matt is responsible for many of the programs that have made Hilton the best company to work for in the United States, two years in a row. This process started back in 2007, but is just now is getting the recognition it deserves. So all this bring us to the first lesson of this story: implementing a corporate culture takes time, even when you have the best leaders at the top, it takes time, not months… years. For Hilton, this process took 11 years, from the day that Chris Nassetta started (2007) to the date the company was named the best company to work for in the United States (2018).

Matt Schuyler, Hilton’s CHRO

Although in future chapters, I will be expanding on the programs Matt implemented and the story behind them, I want to highlight the three most important things he has done to change Hilton’s corporate culture.

1. Understanding that Hilton is a business of people serving people

The concept of “business of people serving people” was probably introduced to Matt by Chris Nassetta when he joined the company back in 2009. This is a concept that Chris understood since his early days in the industry; he was convinced that happy employees mean happy hotel guests. This concept was embraced by Matt, who took it to the next level over the years. He called this concept our “Service Value Proposition,” which basically means treating your staff the same way you treat your guests (5). Over the years, his scope moved beyond the staff to vendors, hotel owners (franchises), and prospective employees. This led to the creation of a new hiring process from the ground up, implementing new guidelines on the procurement department, and building a best-in-class hotel owner relationship department to take care of all Hilton franchises’ needs around the world.

Hilton wants to become the most hospitable company in the world, and that includes Hilton’s treatment of team members, vendors, prospective employees, and hotel owners. Matt understands that when you give people a great working environment, they will deliver great service to Hilton’s guests (6), the same approach applies to any other relationship Hilton engages on a regular basis.

What Hilton has achieved is a manifestation of Hilton’s culture of “people serving people,” and one team doing it together around the world (2). According to the Great Place to Work Trust Index Survey, 96% of Hilton’s employees say that Hilton is a great place to work, and 97% say that they are proud to tell others that they work for the company; at Hilton everyone is family, Hilton calls its employees team members because they understand that running a hotel requires a team effort.

2. Listening

If there is something Matt is extremely good at, it is listening. The first thing he did when he joined the company in 2009 was to meet with some of the HR legacy employees coming to Virginia from Beverly Hills and ask them for the results of any survey performed to team members around the world. To his surprise, they didn’t have any; they claimed surveying people at the hotel level was not feasible because they didn’t have access to a computer at the “back of the house.” Matt refuted this idea; he didn’t understand why a mobile device, for instance, was not an option to collect this data. Despite some internal push back, he moved forward with the idea and created the first global team member survey which became an immediate success; it had a 92% participation rate around the world and over 150,000 participants (5). This survey has been the best tool he has to identify team member’s 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 (1).

Employees want to feel heard; many companies think an annual employee survey or an on-site focus group checks that box. But Matt points out that listening helps leaders learn. Without employee insights, companies stagnate (7). Today the global team member survey is one of the things that people takes more seriously across the organization.

3. Setting a true north

For Chris, setting a true north was key for the successful transformation of the company’s culture. Chris says, “Think of it in a very simple way — you have to establish what true north is. Who are we? Why are we here? What are our values? What is the reason we get up every day? And I think in today’s vernacular, the way to describe that is purpose (4).”

This urgency for establishing a true north from the very beginning led Matt to come up with a single set of principles that has guided the company’s strategy for more than a decade. For him, aligning the mission, vision, and values around the world was essential. This task was not easy by any means, given the size of the company and the cultural differences of different ethnicities around the world. For these reasons, these values needed to be easy to understand, measurable, and livable. What Hilton came up with was a comprehensive set of values, communicated through letters of the company’s name. “HILTON” and its values are recognized around the world, thanks to Matt. (Hospitality, Integrity, Leadership, Team Work, Ownership, and Operating with a sense of urgency – or Now) that thanks to Matt has now a 99% recognition around the world.

Matt calls the combination of mission, vision, and values the Hilton’s Purpose Platform. I’ll expand on this in a future chapter that explores more about the company alignment and how Hilton got there.

References

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

2.         Schuyler M. Why Hilton Is the Best Company to Work For in America. In: Tkaczyk C, editor.: Great Place to Work; 2019.

3.         Hammett A. Matt Schuyler: Leading 5 Generations in the Workplace: Amanda Hammett; 2019 [Available from: www.amandahammett.com/matt_schuyler_leading_5_generations_in_the_workplace.

4.         Moore E. The One Thing Hilton CEO Chris Nassetta Does Every Night to Ensure Success: Glassdoor; 2017 [Available from: https://www.glassdoor.com/blog/christopher-nassetta-hilton-ceo/.

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

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

7.         Hammett G. This Giant Hospitality Company’s Journey From 33rd to 1st in Great Places to Work. Inc Magazine. 2019.

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