Time to Speak Up: The Achilles Heel of Industry Corporate Governance Structures


On the topic of leadership, communication and corporate governance (as published in Hotel News Now

We are living in politically interesting times; what happens across the globe in the various Houses of Parliament and the Houses of Representatives has obvious and direct consequences on the economies and us “little people.” Avoiding any political discussion, what we witnessed in 2017 and 2018 on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean, for example, can be described as a political farce – marred with false truths, accusations and superficial and unchallenged “debate.” The word debate is within quotation marks as the alleged “deep conversations” we have been listening to really just resemble political bolstering without engagement of any true discussion or argument.

∙ argument ∙, noun - An exchange of diverging or opposite views whose origins come from Latin argumentum, from arguer, to make clear, to prove, to accuse.

It thus is rather surprising, and unsettling, how little we tend to speak up. How quickly we all seem to resign to new-found realities even though what happens has sometimes negative impacts on us, and that given due participation, engagement and challenge, could have been avoided altogether. This is no call for rebellion, but I cannot help but draw parallels to the big and small corporations and entrepreneurial firms in the hospitality industry and their leadership structure with corporate governance models. In theory, the right structures and policies are all in place to help regulate decision-making and successful leadership. Yet, time-and-again, I see that hospitality organisations are coming to us for help: from replacing seemingly unsuccessful leadership figures to rejiggling organisational structures and governance models, and/or re-aligning compensation and benefits schemes to help drive and incentivise the right behaviour. However, in a surprisingly large number of cases, the issue does not lie with leadership, the governance or structure of an organisation, nor with the benefits scheme in place. Instead, the issue is often more deeply routed within the organisational culture. Whether we are talking about a nation, a corporation or a small start-up, if the elected leadership is not challenged or upheld to its formal duties, infrastructural aspects may either start to derail or fractures appear which are fed by a growing disgruntlement with certain behaviour or decision-making. It is easy to find the fault in the person at the helm of a nation or an organisation, to brandish this particular individual as the “trouble-maker” or to call for new leadership to step in on the basis that the incumbent has not fulfilled their promises. But we are forgetting that there is a “collective responsibility.” As we are seeing in the current political landscape, leadership is in fact quite often following through with what they set out to do in the first place. We have just not fully listened or considered the consequences of what has been suggested as the course of action; nor has leadership clearly pointed it out to us. Thus, there appears to prevail a culture defined by superficial and oft meaningless conversations. Yes, of course there are also voices of concern or, at times, a challenge – yet, it seems that at the first hurdle, people are simply giving up. So, putting politics aside, what does all this mean for the leadership of hospitality organisations across the globe? What can be better in 2019? Knowing that employees seemingly hesitate to voice their opinion loud enough, leadership should proactively, and regularly seek their thoughts and views. This does not mean to delegate responsibility – it means that, just as in any democracy, we are reminding ourselves that government is “by the people.” Active participation and engagement is therefore a must, and not just an option. Town hall meetings, which unfortunately seem to have gone out of fashion, are in fact a perfect platform for leadership to engage with employees in a deeper dialogue and proper discourse about decisions, actions and strategies. The words of many grandmothers and grandfathers will ring true to most of us: “if you do not speak up, you do not have a voice – nor do you have a right to complain.” So, let’s remind ourselves that a culture defined by superficial dialogue and complacency goes against this old truth. Staying silent is, rightly or wrongly, equated to agreeing, to approving of what has been done. So, let’s all resolve in 2019 to speak up.