Don’t let culture slip into buzzword territory
Don’t let culture slip into buzzword territory
19 MARCH 2019 7:19 AM

Instead of looking at it as just a buzzword, hoteliers need to treat company culture as a primary focus among their team.

Culture is a term that is used so often these days that it’s in danger of becoming a corporate buzzword, joining a long list of words and ideas that have become almost meaningless through repetition.

If that were to happen, it would not only be a shame, it would be a mistake.

Despite the fact that seemingly everyone in the hotel industry boasts about their culture, the reality is that a strong culture remains a difference-maker. True, meaningful commitment to building, nurturing and maintaining that kind of culture is rare. It’s even rarer when a hotel management company can continue to live and breathe its core values as it grows larger—maintaining the same foundational principles and practices that defined its work and its people from the outset.

Appreciating the urgency of that mission—and understanding the specific steps that decision- makers need to take to make it happen—is arguably more important now than at any time in the last decade. With softening numbers on the horizon, and the inevitability of what seems likely to be at least a slowdown or a modest downturn in the not-too-distant future, hotel professionals are asking themselves how they can keep making money when and if things start to sputter. With record unemployment and wage growth, an owner’s biggest defense against profit erosion is maintaining your personnel: keeping them engaged, well-trained, happy and motivated. A well-trained employee is significantly more productive than a new hire. And turnover is a killer.

The bottom line is that if culture hasn’t been your primary focus, it needs to be. If you treat it more like a buzzword than a priority, that needs to change—right now. Building a strong culture is inherently a process, not an event. It can’t be rushed, and it’s not a switch that can be flipped.

Of course, the question of how to strengthen, maintain and reinforce your company culture is where things get tricky.

Start by highlighting and rewarding positive examples of employees who embrace and exhibit those ideals and core values. For us, that meant creating a new role of a full-time cultural ambassador who visits every property in our portfolio to present a powerful workshop and training session. That work isn’t directly about Chesapeake, it’s about our people: helping them identify what matters to them at home and at work and how they can integrate those priorities every day.

Your people aren’t magically going to instill and embody your core values on their own. You have to devote the resources to do that—actually implementing and integrating cultural principles as part of your core functions on a regular basis. Every staff meeting shouldn’t include just metrics, but also discussion about one or more of your core values. Work with the human resources department on training, retention and employee satisfaction best practices. Culture literally has to be part of everything you do.

It’s a common mistake to treat culture like a vague or abstract ideal. Be specific. These are the shared attitudes, values, goals and practices that define you—make them clear to your team. We regularly find ways to work our core principles: honesty, the quality of being truthful and fair; integrity, the quality of having strong moral principles, and doing what is right even when it is difficult; and humility, the quality or state of not thinking you are better than others and of being humble. These are applied in our day-to-day operations.

Invariably, whenever we see something going wrong, we immediately recognize that it’s the result of actions that were not in line with our core values. From the smallest moments to the largest decisions (hiring, firing, training, cleaning, maintenance, etc.), you need to filter every decision and every strategic move through the filter of your core values. It takes a conscious effort to do that.

If you do the cultural work on the front end, your day-to-day management demands tend to get easier. Everything works and everything goes smoother when everyone is pulling in the same direction. On the flip side, if you find yourself constantly banging your head against the wall and are having trouble figuring out where or why things are going wrong, it’s highly likely that a cultural deficit might be the “X factor.” Being a third-party manager and emphasizing culture can be a real challenge. But that only makes it more important because where our culture is thriving, the bottom line reflects that. Extraordinary results can seem almost effortless.

There needs to be interconnectedness with our people, guests and clients on a human level more so than on a business level. The key is recognizing that positive outcomes have to be natural returns derived from genuine human connection. You can’t do this with dollar signs in your eyes. You have to have a genuine desire to build connections and relationships and trust that the results will come. You need your people connected to a bigger cause—to believe in what you are doing—and trust that good things will come from that.

And you can’t fake it. If your efforts aren’t genuine, they won’t work. There’s a difference between talking the talk and walking the walk. Your employees can tell. Your partners can tell. Your guests can tell. Everyone talks about their culture. If you want to stand out from the crowd, you have to live your culture.

Chris Green is the COO of Chesapeake Hospitality. He brings more than a quarter century of successful hospitality operations experience to Chesapeake’s corporate team, including nearly a decade in the field at various Chesapeake-managed properties. For more information, visit

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1 Comment

  • Jo-Anne Hill March 21, 2019 2:11 PM Reply

    Great article Chris! Thank you for putting culture front and center in your organization! I would imagine your employees are grateful for your focus on making their work-life better.

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