The long-lasting benefits of transparent leadership
The long-lasting benefits of transparent leadership
04 APRIL 2011 7:06 AM

The truth sets the speaker free. It also yields a number of other positive benefits for hotel organizations.

The well-known quotation goes something like this: “If you tell the truth, you never have to remember anything.” Credited to the American author/philosopher Samuel Clemens, whose “pen name” was the iconic Mark Twain, the lesson is simple: The truth sets the speaker free. What long-lasting benefits can hotel organizations expect when everyone, from the CEO to the reception clerk, picks up the mantle of transparency? 

The first lasting benefit: Trust in management
When transparency becomes a company’s vision, a critical long-term impact is the regard with which the company’s leadership is held. Jack Welch, the outspoken former chairman of General Electric, strongly valued the truth, and he understood its far-reaching impact. “Trust happens,” Welch wrote in his bestseller, Winning, “when leaders are transparent, candid and keep their word. It's that simple.”

Indeed, trust in management is a highly valued asset, particularly when things aren’t going smoothly. In times of challenge, when employees and every other stakeholder need reassurance, what could be more reassuring than regarding what you are told as being the 100% truth? 

Last year on a trans-Pacific crossing of the Crystal Symphony, the cruise liner’s master Ralf Zander had to deliver unsettling news to passengers:  The ship was running on a safe albeit parallel course to not one, but two cyclones as the vessel sailed between Hawaii and Australia. Zander’s calm demeanor combined with a ubiquitous presence in every passenger and crew area allowed anyone to simply walk up to the captain and ask, ‘Is what you said really true?’ The captain, a veteran of many years of commanding icebreakers, had no doubt, he said; he knew what his instruments told him.  The key here was the captain shared what he knew. He also was willing to walk around his vessel to offer personal reassurance. An observer seeing and hearing the captain could feel much better about his “tomorrow, it will be better” outlook than the choppy waves, winds and rain no doubt would have led the less trusting aboard to theorize.

The second lasting benefit: An energized workforce
Important progress in creating more transparent workplaces has shown the way forward for three hospitality companies profiled in a recent study by the Cornell Center for Hospitality Research. In “Implementing Human Resource Innovations: Three Success Stories from the Service Industry” by Justin Sun and Kate Walsh, the authors discuss how Fairmont Hotels and foodservice icons Sodexo and McDonald’s targeted three tough HR challenges—employee recruitment, retention and satisfaction—and challenged employees to be part of the solution.    

Fairmont cited the value of its “Bravo Grams” program, which encouraged employees to send one another congratulatory notes to call attention to their colleagues’ attentiveness to guest service.

A McDonald’s franchisee crafted a successful incentive program that built upon the chain’s vaunted People Promise, its vision for championing employees.

At Sodexo, the challenge was recruitment: How could the foodservice giant change perceptions of a career in that industry? Using Facebook, Twitter and YouTube to rave about employees, Sodexo scored big, bringing in 160,000 interested job seekers.

These success stories illustrate how employees can become energized when their value is continuously communicated by management and they can easily see the positive benefits of being a part of a team.   
The third lasting benefit: Brand trust
The name “Marriott” affords a classic example of how a brand achieves iconic status with customers based on how it cares for its employees. Since 1927 when J. Willard Marriott Sr. opened the company’s first outlet, a root beer stand, in Washington D.C., the Marriott family has been aggressively pursuing open relationships with its employees. The effort has paid off handsomely. So-called “moments of truth” about employee/guest interaction abound at Marriott International.

When a recent Marriott hotel guest checked out, leaving an envelope containing US$5,000 behind, the outcome gave Bill Marriott, Jr., the company’s president since 1964, an opening to do what Marriott does best: thank employees. In his Internet blog, Marriott wrote about Kelsey, the housekeeper who found the envelope: “Her first instinct was to immediately call her supervisor and report what she found. She says she didn’t have to think twice about what to do and credited her parents with instilling in her these morals from a very young age. ‘Integrity is what you do when no one is looking,’ she said, and I couldn’t agree more.”

A Marriott guest posted this response: “Great news but very typical of every Marriott I have stayed in around the world. Marriott is my second home and has been since 1967.”

The message to Marriott employees? Transparency is a virtue your employer values. The cost of that unsolicited brand-approval message that has no doubt been read thousands of times? Zero.

Chuck Conine, a 40-year hospitality industry veteran, is president of Hospitality HR Solutions and provides a full range of HR services and performance coaching to the hospitality industry.  He is a graduate of the Cornell University School of Hotel Administration and a member of the consulting team at Cayuga Hospitality Advisors and Synergy Restaurant Consultants. 

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