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Rethinking the Corporate Culture Conversation

By Dr. David Rodriguez, Global Chief HR Officer, Marriott International

Dr. David Rodriguez, Global Chief HR Officer, Marriott International

Corporate executives often talk about company culture during a crisis. In my mind, that’s a bit like looking through the wrong end of a telescope. A sound corporate culture is vital to business success. But it can't be imposed on a company or defined retroactively. A company's culture needs to be the product of something deeper — timeless core values. Whether you’re a large multinational corporation or a small business, debating the kind of culture you should have is likely the wrong discussion. The real discussion should be about championing core values. Once those are established, the culture will follow.

There’s no substitute for core values and there really shouldn’t be internal debate or even marked differences between companies. Every company should have a people-first mentality. Every organization should put a premium on things like innovation and integrity.

Our founders were ahead of their time in 1927 when they very wisely kept things simple with a number one priority: put people first. They fundamentally understood every human being wants an opportunity to build a rewarding and meaningful life, and to be respected and valued.

Fast-forward nine decades and nearly 7,000 properties later, and our core values are more relevant than ever. Interestingly, when we look at our workforce survey data, we don't see significant differences in satisfaction based on race, ethnicity, age or gender. It turns out everyone – baby boomers, Gen X, millennials and the emerging Gen Z – wants to feel good about optimizing their talents at work and their prospects for the future. There also are powerful implications to everything from the practices of diversity and inclusion, to mergers and acquisitions.

If your company is focused on core beliefs, you have the building blocks for a sound and sustainable culture. So, where do you go from there?

In my view, there are three key elements that matter most when it comes to translating core company values into a lasting and winning corporate culture:

1: Lead by Example: Live Your Company’s Core Values

Leaders must make the decision to identify and affirm core values. But espousing values is one thing -- living them is another. Have the courage to take on the tough stuff. Not only is it the right thing to do, it will resonate with more people and in more ways than you may anticipate. Cases in point: we’ve trained more than 500,000 hotel workers in human trafficking awareness and implemented a popular cultural-competence program designed to help our employees understand, appreciate and celebrate diversity. Training like this can’t be developed in a vacuum or silo. It must reflect practical business needs and be co-created with employees. The best training is a true reflection of what is strategically most needed – whether that’s a language app on your phone or a cultural-immersion class with a sari tying demonstration.

2: Empower Your Employees to Animate Your Company Culture

One of the hardest but also wisest things for leaders to do is to entrust employees with the company culture. How do you that? Empower employees at every level of the organization to express your core values in a way that is relevant and meaningful to them. In that way, they will bring your culture to life and truly own it. Have the courage to resist the urge to create culture by telling people how to behave. That time-worn idea is a sure path to a static and uninspiring culture that will not fare well in our diverse, fast-changing and disruptive world. By empowering associates to translate core values into day-to-day culture you will ensure that your culture is continuously refreshed and remain vibrant across cultures and generations.

3: Ensure Your Core Values and Culture Reflect Fundamental Human Needs

Everyone wants OPPORTUNITY. We’re fortunate to be in a large and growing industry. At any given time, we have thousands of job openings – some with low barriers of entry, which can transform the trajectory of an individual’s life and their ability to provide for their family. Beyond this, there are a multitude of career-advancement opportunities. Making it clear to every prospect and every employee that you can have a long-term career with us is both a business priority and imperative. If this seems like something from a bygone era, I’d encourage you to rethink it. The truth is, retention is earned and must never be taken for granted.

"Every company should have a peoplefirst mentality. Every organization should put a premium on things like innovation and integrity"

Everyone wants COMMUNITY. Research clearly indicates one of the keys to happiness is your personal relationships and social network. Since we spend so much of our waking hours at work, the ability to build meaningful relationships on the job is vital to our wellbeing and to inclusive environments that fuel innovation and performance. Companies too often spend too little time focused on this dynamic. Organizations that build a strong sense of community will have a workforce with the commitment and enthusiasm required to tackle the changes and challenges all businesses invariably face. And employees are looking to – and counting on – their employers to lead the way. Appreciating and embracing the all-important employee-employer relationship builds “Trust at Work.” Structured correctly, it can also be the basis for employees to support each other in times of critical need, as we’ve seen countless times through the TakeCare Relief Fund.

Everyone wants PURPOSE. No matter how much the world changes, one thing remains constant: the yearning to be part of something bigger. More companies are coming to realize this and have embarked on corporate social responsibility efforts. This must be more than just a web page promise. At Marriott, we’ve branded our holistic approach to employee wellbeing – TakeCare – based on the universal human need for opportunity, community and purpose. It is complemented by specific social impact goals addressing some of the world’s most pressing social, environmental and economic issues. With our size and scale, we believe we have a global responsibility and a unique opportunity to be a force for good. It's why we celebrate our associates who go above and beyond to meet the needs of our guests and serve the communities in which they operate.

Bottomline

Timeless core values are the bedrock of long-term success. And in an ever-changing world and marketplace, we must rethink the conversation around corporate culture and constantly ask ourselves not, “What should our culture be?” but rather, “What can I be doing to inspire our people as the true stewards of an evergreen culture of success?”

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