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. 

Surveys 

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)

The global team member survey is an extensive survey that usually takes place around September of each year. This survey measures four different key areas: engagement, trust, leader effectiveness, and “thrive index.” The scores on each category have been increasing because the leadership team “heard” the feedback of employees and implemented new policies and benefits to address their needs. Some of the programs that had been created as a result of this process include

  1. Travel member program (Go Hilton),
  2. Heart of house
  3. Lobby Buzz,
  4. Celebrating milestones, and 5. Travel with purpose 2030 goals.

Although I won’t be discussing these programs in detail yet, it is important to highlight that they are the result of listening directly to team members. 

Executive Immersion Program

Another strategy Hilton has used to listen to team members is the “Executive Immersion Program.” Chris Nassetta gets credit for this program. He, more than anyone else at Hilton, understood the importance of getting to know the business from the inside. The opportunity for executives to work hand-in-hand with team members behind the scenes created the perfect environment for sharing valuable information. 

Although Hilton had a lot of successes implementing programs for its survey, the company failed to create one that really resonated with many hotel-based team members. Specific needs from this group were difficult to capture through surveys, so the solution of putting leaders in these positions was perfect for filling that void. Leaders in these roles had the chance to hear direct feedback from the people involved in these activities, real connections and real conversations take place in these immersion programs. 

Those conversations have led to many of the programs Hilton has implemented. A good example is the origin of the “GED program.” Leaders participating in the executive immersion program realized that not having a high school degree was a roadblock for team members to advance in their careers. As a result, Hilton’s leadership team came up with the “GED program” that helps team members establish their high school diploma equivalency, creating more opportunities for them within company. (3)

Another great example is the “Hilton Wardrobe.” This program also came out of these executive immersions. Participating executives realized that some of the clothes worn by front-line team members were not practical and in some instances very uncomfortable; this led Hilton to partner with Under Armour® and create the “Hilton Under Armour Wardrobe Program” (www.hiltonuawardrobe.com ) to supply all team members around the world with the most comfortable breathable clothing they could possibly wear. 

Anonymous Feedback

At Hilton, open communication is non-negotiable. During my time working in the e-commerce department, our senior director at the time, Francisco Trejo, used to have an internal form that any team member could fill out to provide anonymous feedback to leadership. I personally never used it, but I know many people who did. The feedback was always taken seriously, and leadership always reacted to it quickly. 

I remember as well that for years we had OfficeVibe to provide anonymous feedback. This feedback was regularly discussed between managers and team members. All these new feedback was shared with our VP of Destination Marketing and E-commerce and it was a fixed part of the agenda. A lot of the programs implemented at a department level within the company came as a result of the feedback shared by team members in this platform. 

This tool was useful to resolve immediate pressing issues; it was like a permanent gauge of the group’s morale. It helped to address situations quickly before they became major issues. Just the exercise of submitting feedback every week was a good reminder for everyone that we were being heard. Since the global team member survey was taking place only once a year, the weekly recurrence of OfficeVibe helped the whole team to keep things checked and on track in an ongoing basis. 

To summarize, when creating a great culture, listening is an important habit to adopt. Companies that don’t listen, don’t know what they need to change or how. I would say 90% of Hilton’s team member programs came out as a result of the feedback received from the channels described above. This is something Hilton understood in 2007 and brought the right people to do it. Listening and processing this data can be challenging, especially for Hilton with more than 400K team members around the world, but after seeing the results, this is definitely worth the effort. 

If you are interested in previous parts of this story visit: 

References

1.         Hancock A. Chris Nassetta: old values for a modern resilient company: Financial Times; 2019 [Available from: https://www.ft.com/content/555f9a90-ded3-11e9-b112-9624ec9edc59.

2.         Nassetta C. How CEO Chris Nassetta Turned Hilton Around. In: Gharib S, editor. On Leading with Suzie Gharib: Fortune Magazine; 2020.

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

4.         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.

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

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