McLEAN, Virginia—A popular fashion trend seems to be cropping up throughout the hotel industry: rolled-up shirtsleeves. That is to say, brand executives are rolling up their sleeves and getting their hands dirty at properties throughout the portfolio.
The benefits of a hands-on, back-of-house hotel experience are invaluable, according to Matt Schuyler, executive VP and chief human resources officer for Hilton Worldwide, which is halfway through completing the first round of its “Immersion Program.” Schuyler spent three days in June at the Hilton San Diego Bayfront, working in departments throughout the hotel, such as food-and-beverage, laundry and housekeeping.
The Immersion Program was the brainchild of Hilton CEO Chris Nassetta, who set out with the goal of creating a more unified and consistent culture throughout Hilton’s 3,600 hotels. Of Hilton’s 70-some executives headquartered in McLean, Virginia, 35 of them have been through the first year of the Immersion Program so far, and Schuyler expects the remainder to complete the program by the end of November.
|Helping serve a 5,000-seat dinner during the San Diego Marathon was a memorable experience for Matt Schuyler, Hilton’s executive VP and chief human resources officer, who participated in the company’s Immersion Program at the Hilton San Diego Bayfront.
“Chris’ thoughts were that the stuff we’re working on at the corporate level doesn’t make sense if it doesn’t affect the customer,” Schuyler said. “On the big picture level, it allows us to go back to thinking about the property-level staff and the customers as we design certain brand elements. That’s been invaluable. What is really interesting is to see the tried and true brand execs who have been in the industry who said, ‘I did it; I know how it works.’ They’re the ones coming back most strident, who got the most value and who are really interested in making adjustments.”
The program already has been such a success that Hilton plans on immersing its executives on an annual basis. Next year the project will be global, meaning executives working at international properties will be presented with additional challenges.
Hilton’s program followed a similar move by Choice Hotels International, which took part on the television show “Undercover Boss.” In an episode, Choice CEO Steve Joyce allowed camera crews to follow him as he worked undercover at several Choice-franchised properties in order to re-familiarize himself with the daily ins and outs of running a hotel. Choice also recently announced that it is developing an annual program that will put senior executives to work at a hotel for a few days each year.
Although Hilton is aware the program may seem on the surface like a public relations stunt, Schuyler assures by working 12-hour days and truly getting to know the daily operations of a typical hotel, brand executives are coming away with newfound admiration for what it takes to keep a hotel running.
“The most important takeaway is that we as executives ought to think about the work we do corporately and tweak those processes and reengineer them based on the impact on our team members,” Schuyler said. “That literally is top of mind for me now. I’m constantly reminding our team to figure out what our team members need first and foremost. We have to ask, ‘How does this help them?’”
At the San Diego Bayfront, general manager J. Peter Lynn didn’t view the Immersion Program as corporate puffery either. He really wanted to put Schuyler to task, get his team involved and show Schuyler the nuts and bolts of how the hotel operates.
“We had him from early morning to late evening covering a lot of territory,” Lynn said. “We put him through his paces. We did feed him for lunch, but he had a pretty robust workload.”
Lynn said Schuyler’s personality and charisma connected with his team members immediately, and instead of Hilton’s head of HR he truly became a member of the team.
“It’s important to note that he ran the gamut,” Lynn said. “Originally this was about Matt coming to the property to immerse in the hotel business at the property level, but both sides benefitted equally from his time at the hotel. Just hearing from him what his priorities and targets are for the company was as equally important as him seeing how we do things at the property. The ‘ah-has’ in those times on both sides were extremely beneficial.”
The chief at work
Nassetta couldn’t sneak away without getting his hands dirty, too. In fact, the chief made sure he was one of the first executives to dive into the Immersion Program headfirst, spending three days behind the scenes at the Capitol Hilton in Washington, D.C.
“It was safe to say we had slightly different experiences,” Schuyler said. “Chris is a near 30-year veteran and for him it was truly going back to his roots. He has worked in some of these departments, whereas for me it was a true immersion into the hospitality industry.”
Greg Brown, GM at the Capital Hilton, was pleased to host Nassetta as part of the program.
“Our staff thoroughly enjoyed the association with Chris, and customers applauded his hands-on approach to interaction and understanding of their needs,” Brown said. “This program demonstrates Hilton’s ongoing commitment to imparting meaningful participation in all aspects of our business and in every level of our organization.”