Need To Focus on Hospitality Culture Has Never Been Greater
Hospitality Leaders Responsible for Building New Foundation for Younger Generation

By Rick Takach, HNN columnist
March 30, 2022 

Outwardly, the stresses and strains were evident, as during the worst days of the pandemic, we scrambled to keep our properties afloat. We learned to mask up and social distance. There were new sanitation and housekeeping standards. In many cases, food and beverage services were curtailed. Cross-training was the order of the day as we learned to work with reduced staffing, even as many properties would quickly scale up and down business-wise.

Our industry performed admirably in the face of these and other challenges. Many markets and properties, especially in drive-to locations, did remarkably well, all things considered. Others are on the road to recovery, although we still await a fuller return to business and group travel.

But occupancy numbers can belie the profound people changes in our industry that haven’t taken place within a short period of time.

Understandably, many of our most senior people, both in the C-suite and at the property level, have chosen to retire, taking with them many years of experience with our individual organizational cultures. As we realign our teams, we quickly thrust new people into the front lines of our industry. We have also been shuttling front-line team members quite a bit, with some organizations resorting to contract labor given staffing pressures.

Even those who have stayed the course with us may be distracted by the immense new responsibilities that have surfaced in the wake of the past two years. In today’s world, even before people get to work and deal with on-the-job challenges, they have had to deal with challenges on a personal and family level — two-parent households juggling schedules, child care, homeschooling or making sure older parents are OK. As a result, many of us are understandably still a bit fragile and it looks like world events and their repercussions will keep us further on edge for some time.

Leadership in Demand

With so much still in flux, a key challenge is to maintain our organizational cultures as well as the shared values and principles by which we operate.

This organizational culture is our moral compass for how we treat others, including our fellow team members, owners and investors, strategic partners and vendors, our guests and host communities. It provides, ultimately, our competitive edge in any given marketplace. Should we go astray, our organizational culture and values guide us back home.

Above all else, it is the responsibility of our hospitality leaders to set the expectations and rationale for personal behavior and how each member of our group is to support another. Today, that means taking the time to appreciate what individuals of all ages expect from their work life.

However, we must acknowledge the importance of today’s younger generations to the future of our industry and how many of these individuals seem to be more skeptical, more inclined to demand “prove it to me” than perhaps previous generations were.

There is no use in bemoaning these trends. We must respond by building a new kind of foundation for these individuals, rather than trying to force a round peg into a square hole. The future employee base will be more about collaboration and inclusion, rather than being spoken at by leadership and canned training. A culture doesn’t mean anything if you don’t have employees that believe in it. This means meeting them where they are with the new world challenges that they face and including them in decisions that make them feel as an integral part of the company.

It sounds simple on paper, but its execution will take creativity and innovation on our part, a willingness to look at long-held hospitality principles from multiple viewpoints and paying even greater attention to not just consumer trends but also deep-seated social ones.

If we do this correctly, our hospitality industry will emerge stronger than ever. After all, a genuine organizational culture is our real elixir for success.

Rick Takach is chairman and CEO of Vesta Hospitality.