So many hoteliers have been furloughed or lost their jobs as a result of the COVID-19 crisis. Encouragement can’t come as fast and often enough.
In the second installment from Kenneth Greger and James Theodore, partners in the Travel & Hospitality Practice at global executive search firm August Leadership, industry leaders such as legendary Mike Leven, Marriott’s Arne Sorenson and Accor’s Sébastien Bazin offer some guidance on how to manage through such a difficult career moment. Click here for the first article on key learnings from previous crises and click here for big picture takeaways from Greger and Theodore.
Greger/Theodore: A lot of wonderful people have been furloughed or lost their jobs, and many see their future as uncertain or bleak. What insights can you share, and guidance regarding approach, so as to encourage them and boost morale in a genuine manner during this difficult time?
Leven: You earn the right to have bad news accepted by the way you behave. People will climb mountains for you if they respect you. If you have built a reputation with your employees and your direct reports for being a caring leader who is concerned about their welfare, then you have a chance to mitigate the pain. If you are starting from scratch, you have a big problem and will have a very tough time communicating bad news.
Crises are going to happen, but you have to work on the relationships with your people ahead of time. This is also true with owner-franchise relationships. None of us who are in a position to lead are right about everything; we all make mistakes. The forgiveness you receive from the people around you reflects how you have behaved.
When Arne Sorensen made his first announcement about furloughing employees after the crisis hit, his words would have had no credibility if he had not previously shown the concern I’m describing. If you are a caring leader, you have to absorb some of the pain yourself and set an example. Arne has enough people around him with a similar value structure to help keep him informed down the line, which you need in leading a huge company.
Sorenson: The decision to furlough tens of thousands of people around the world was heart wrenching. We got through it knowing that we’re doing everything we can to take care of those associates while navigating this crisis. We’ve partnered with major employers, such as CVS and Home Depot, who collectively are looking to hire more than 750,000 people for part-time or short-term assignments. We engaged heavily with policymakers at all levels, from the President to Congressional and local officials, to secure emergency assistance for associates. Along the way, we’ve been transparent and empathetic, we’ve continued to communicate as much information as possible, and we’ve remained optimistic.
Our company has prevailed through many crises in its 92-year history, from the Great Depression to World War II, terrorism and economic downturns. We don’t know how long this crisis will last, but we firmly believe that together we can and will overcome it and get our associates back to work.
Edie Rodriguez: Try to furlough as many as possible instead of terminations. Try to budget to allow them to keep their medical benefits as well. This will all be helpful when you hire them back in the future, as your company will need their skill sets and experience again.
The attitude you project is everything and an optimistic attitude throughout this moment in time is paramount, not only for work, but for life. Lead by example with your optimism and it will become contagious for your employees. As a leader, be honest and empathetic. Also make sure that your human resources team is offering employees various services, including assistance hotlines, for whatever they may be dealing with at home, such as depression, financial anxiety, etc. It’s always been my philosophy that a leader must take care of the employees first and they will then take care of the guests. It is no different now.
Bazin: Absolutely the most important thing – and I cannot stress this enough – is communicate, communicate, communicate. Right now, it is such a worrying time for people. We have two-thirds of our entire hotel network closed, affecting hundreds of thousands of staff, and the future might look very, very uncertain to them. So, for me, it is vitally important to communicate with them; to be transparent with them; to reassure them as much as possible that we are doing all we can to navigate this uncharted territory.
I believe every single loyal worker in the organization needs to hear from their CEO, in the regions and at a global level. So, in the messages I share with the teams, I try to be as authentic as I can. One thing I’m doing at the moment is to record regular videos to all our staff worldwide. And I tell them – I aim for total candor – about the situation and what we’re doing. There have been hard decisions, definitely, and in the videos I don’t shy away from that. But I also tell my people about how proud and astonished I am by what they have done through this crisis; by how they have helped one another and offered a hand wherever it’s been needed.
This crisis has shown the best of our company – I genuinely believe that. I try also to reassure people that there is a light at the end of this tunnel, and we are there for them – we have even created a fund to support those most impacted by the pandemic. It’s stressful, I know. It’s terrifying, and I’m with you on that. But soon, thanks to our people’s dedicated efforts, we are going to be in much better waters. And when that happens, we’re going to rehire every single person so we can do what we do best with even more passion than before.