What If…


What if we could truly achieve understanding, unity and enhanced communication within our organizations, particularly the larger corporate environments? Anything is possible if we can start to think differently.

One of my pet peeves is when I hear a C-suite executive refer to the employees as “them.” I just cringe. What happened to “Us?” Conversely, too many employees head to coffee or lunch and throw endless jabs at the C-suite. This is inherent in a disconnected company, and hardly productive. To make it worse, the C-suite implements “policy” so that everyone fits. But, we all know that everyone doesn’t fit, and that imposing a template approach doesn’t really work.

It’s always a good practice to review each year’s Best 100 Companies to Work For list published by Fortune to see what stands out, and what is consistent among these companies. Too many of us in leadership are doing things according to habit, or “the system,” without questioning ourselves or imagining something different… better. Imagining is the key to much of the successes in life and business, and it can be applied to this topic as well. Imagine a different management or communication structure from the one that exists in your organization today.

Here is a thought to stimulate your thinking: What if a representative from each level of your organization was to serve on a “Corporate Council?” Imagine it – direct communication instead of employee surveys, guessing, relying on memos, internal posts, newsletters and the annual “all-hands” summit, or the time-consuming review and resolution of comments on Glass Door or Indeed.

Imagine that each representative is elected by his/her departmental peers and is accountable for accurately communicating issues their department faces, etc., as well as accurately reporting back. What’s so interesting here is that, clearly, the focus needs to be on the overarching goals of the business, but given an environment of silos, those goals are usually lost since each department focuses on and advocates for its own interests instead. With a Corporate Council, those at the lowest levels to the highest will be in the same meetings, listening, learning and discussing. At the most fundamental level, an obvious benefit is that the C-suite will hear information directly and better understand the realities each department faces. A complementary benefit is that the employees will have a better appreciation for the issues, constraints and challenges with which the C-suite is dealing. Imagine that the representatives of all levels – including the C-suite – report back to their peers about what they’ve learned beyond the limited walls of their respective functions – do you think the culture would improve? Not only that, but imagine this: The C-suite representative listens carefully as an employee issue or challenge is described, then responds by saying, “How would you like to approach creating a solution? Shall we discuss it together or form a task force to get back to the Council with its recommendations?” Think about how different that is from departmental meetings describing a new policy being mandated and how to implement it.

For an additional perspective, I spoke with Elizabeth Norberg, Executive Vice President & Chief Human Resources Officer for Red Lion Hotels Corporation (“RLHC”), and a former senior human resources executive with Starwood Hotels & Resorts. I also spoke with Robert Mellwig, Senior Vice President – Really Cool People for Two Roads Hospitality, the company created last year from the merger of Destination Hotels and Commune Hotels & Resorts. Both are savvy and progressive human resources professionals. Elizabeth’s view is that the best communication practices have a multi-prong approach (tech, print, and face) which may include various councils. “The council idea may work if you have the right charter, member selection criteria, and a very clear process.” At RLHC, they’ve implemented a concept called V.O.i.C.E. (an acronym for “Voice of the Internal Customer Experience”). The goal is to capture the “voice” of their associates by involving them early on in creating new initiatives, innovating process, hiring, and problem solving. They connect their teams together by crossing department lines to gain different perspectives and challenge thinking.

Following the acquisition of Vantage Hospitality Group last year, RLHC utilized the VOiCE strategy, to bring its teams together to tackle the integration of the two companies. The approach was to form one team with one new culture, building on the respective company’s successes. RLHC used the VOiCE model to leverage their strengths to deliver viable solutions and to create a strategic framework for its future success. Elizabeth believes, “A critical element to their VOiCE strategy is to cascade the information back to the associates to ensure they captured their feedback accurately and then move to implementation.” These behaviors and outcomes are rewarded and reinforced through formal and informal systems. Elizabeth concludes that “RLHC believes this disciplined approach can enhance the associate experience and continue to grow and create greater value through its people, while having a whole lotta fun!”

At Two Roads Hospitality, innovation “jam sessions” are held with a variety of smart, highly analytical people to solve problems or to reimagine things, such as the check-in process. A reward system is tied to results and includes a financial element as well. Sometimes they discuss and set initiatives in a crowd-sourced manner. For example, they recently had 200 general managers and human resources professionals in a room together, after which the company put time, dollars and resources behind the resulting initiatives. “We’ve worked to build a high trust organization,” says Robert. “High trust organizations have fewer policies. Low trust organizations require a lot of policies.” When Two Roads tackles projects, the Company selects or expands the team based on the focus. “We’ve taken the concept of an idea council and applied it around the organization,” Mellwig explains. We’ll even bring in vendor partners to help solve some issues. For example, we brought in a law firm to help with employment practices and an insurance vendor to help with benefits.”

As the greatest example of leveraging the entire organization, Robert cites the work recently completed to integrate the Commune and Destination businesses. “Commune had a legacy culture and was a newer company, whereas Destination had a culture embedded for 43 years. We empowered both organizations and paid homage to tradition as new ideas were shared by the group. We had a goal to discuss and define our values moving forward. I think we’re probably one of the only organizations in the world to have involved all 19,000 of our people in the process; all had a chance to vote and to offer their words. We had values jam sessions and factored in multiple languages so that everyone had a voice. The words shaped into themes, themes into ideas and ideas into phrases that became very sticky. The concept of values can be abstract, but, in our company, they are understood.”

Moving forward, most employers will have a multi-generational workforce, one that includes millennials, a group that doesn’t respond well to rigid organizational policy and structure, or antiquated thinking. We can learn a lot by tapping into these diverse generations. When accepting a job offer, most people are excited to be part of something, something that is an “Us,” but, too often, the template approach and hierarchal structure creates an “Us-Them.” If those of you in the C-suite are smart enough and experienced enough to be in that position, does that mean you’ve stopped learning, stopped creating, stopped imagining? I propose that making it to the C-suite doesn’t mean you’ve “arrived.” It means that you must continuously train to be the top athlete expected in the role, and to stay relevant. You must continue to imagine and be willing to call it out when the company can improve. Unfortunately, a high compensation package does wonders for failing to remember what it was like coming up, and often dilutes any thought about rocking the boat.

It also does wonders for killing imagination, as well as employees’ morale, loyalty and retention.

Think about it – I mean, what if…