“Culture” may be one of the most discussed aspects of the workplace thus far at the 5th Annual HR in Hospitality® Conference and Expo, being held at the Marriott Wardman Park in Washington from April 4 to 6.
It was an important part of the opening keynote address given by David A. Rodriguez, executive vice president of global human resources for Marriott International, this morning. And it was discussed often during a panel discussion involving HR leaders at three of Fortune‘s Most Admired Hospitality Companies.
Twice during his keynote, Rodriguez quoted the words of J.W. Marriott Sr.: “If you take care of your employees, they’ll take care of your customers and the customers will come back.” And, in a concrete example of how Marriott’s leaders today strive to meet those core values, Rodriguez talked about how the current recession caused some companies to eliminate healthcare benefits for workers whose hours were cut back and thus, were no longer be eligible for benefits.
“It was never a question at Marriott,” he said. “We immediately suspended the eligibility requirement so no associate or their family would lose their healthcare coverage,” he said.
Even though it was a decision that added to expenses at a time when the company was trying to cut back, “we knew as leaders, we needed to care for our associates. We needed to preserve our foundations and preserve our values.”
Later in the day, when senior-level HR leaders from three leading hospitality companies cited byFortune — Debbie Brown, VP of HR for the Americas at the Four Seasons Hotels & Resorts; Stephanie Rosol, VP of HR at Wynn Resorts and Karl Fischer, chief HR officer of The Americas at Marriott International — discussed their HR policies and programs, they all mentioned culture as an essential ingredient in creating successful enterprises.
“I can’t think of a single decision,” Brown said, “that the driver hasn’t been the culture or [where it hasn’t been] a participant in decision-making. … It’s how we think and what we do.”
Four Seasons, she said, spends a lot of time selecting and training employees. Then it trusts them to do a good job. “They get a lot of benefit of the doubt,” Brown said, noting that such trust is extended in both directions — from company to employee and from employee to company.
That benefit of the doubt was extended by workers to the company during the recession, she said, when “we stumbled, for sure, but I think we did a lot more right than wrong.”
Having a strong culture at Wynn, Rosol said, helps employees, especially young leaders, make proper decisions even when they are not sure what to do. As long as their decisions are grounded in the culture, they are able to “act in the face of not knowing.”