2020 has felt like an instalment in the Fast & The Furious movie franchise. One long car crash full of chaos, bangs and scrapes yet the cars continue to get faster and faster. Much like an injection of nitrous oxide gives Vin Diesel’s Dodge Charger a tyre smoking boost so has the Covid-19 pandemic given the hospitality sector an accelerative shot in the arm. Many of the changes and trends that were already occurring have been turbocharged this year and, despite the challenges, hospitality finds itself further down the road than would have otherwise been the case. As the credits start to roll on 2020 let’s celebrate some of the accomplishments and look at what’s to come.
In recent years VUCA (Volatility, Uncertainty Complexity, Ambiguity) had already become a buzzword in management circles and we had accepted change as a constant. When the crisis hit, hospitality organisations exhibited incredible speed and flexibility in their operational response. Overnight, hotels in Shanghai became food delivery businesses, Londoners had the novel experience of dining alfresco as restaurants closed-off streets, and hotel rooms in Berlin converted to day use offices for those tired of home working. Add in constantly changing regulations and the need to close-open-close-open over and over again. There can be no question hospitality operators proved their ability to drive by the seat of their pants.
One of the reasons we all love hospitality so much is the strength of the community. We work, eat and play together and this bond helped us come together in the face of adversity. People jumped online, created support groups and the sector raised its voice, lobbying government for better representation. The tribal nature of the sector shone brightly.
Hospitality businesses also stepped in to fill the void of political leadership. Hotel groups mandated compulsory wearing of masks in the absence of government directives. In the UK industry players have been petitioning the UK government for the creation of a dedicated Minister of Hospitality portfolio. In the US hotel CEOs were quick to take a firm stance and speak out against racial injustice at a time when political messaging was more muddled.
As we spent more time apart, we actually grew closer together. The move into the virtual world requires more conscious levels of engagement and we have seen a more personal and emotionally resonant leadership style emerge. Arne Sorenson’s video address to Marriott’s workforce at the start of the crisis (a masterclass in humble leadership) was a great example of how leaders have lowered their armour, have shown more vulnerability and, as a result, have generated greater engagement and loyalty.
The need for clear and frequent communication from leadership is nothing new but the pandemic has dialled it up. Keeping a workforce well informed during times of uncertainty has been paramount and our businesses have rapidly embraced the online world to host townhall meetings, throw team cocktail parties and for one-to-one CEO calls with Covid-19 infected employees. Communication tools are rapidly evolving and leaders will increasingly be assessed not on how much but on how well they communicate.
As the pandemic continues so do mental health issues rise as employees’ resilience is tested to the extreme. Well-being has been elevated to near the top of the Human Resources to-do-list and organisations are making huge strides in innovating new ways to maintain productivity in this new era of hybrid working. Expect to see businesses increasingly roll out health guides, financial support funds, and meditation apps to their employees.
Remote working has made presenteeism redundant. No longer able to physically see their employees working, bosses are now reliant on trust. The slow, gradual shift to reward for actual performance has finally completed. Contrary to the views of some pundits, the traditional office is not dead, but companies are rapidly recognising the benefits of accommodating the desire of employees, especially the younger generations, to work flexible hours from flexible locations.
2020 will be remembered not just for the pandemic but also for the racial inequality movement. Organisations paying lip service to the diversity and inclusivity agenda will no longer cut it. Employees, customers, and investors will demand more. The hospitality industry has room for improvement in combatting discrimination and advancing opportunity and it is encouraging to see initiatives such as WiHTL and Women in Hotels gathering steam.
Sadly the hospitality sector employs fewer people than it did a year ago. Downsized organisations are learning to tread the fine line between operating with a nimble, lean structure and being critically under resourced. Those fortunate enough to still have a job find themselves covering the gaps and working harder than ever. The redefined org chart calls for a leaner, more nimble structure that leverages transferrable skills. The traditional roles, narrowly focused on functional expertise, are giving way to the need for a workforce that can adapt and flex with the demands of the business.
Doing more with less will not only promote cross-training but will also encourage the gig economy of hospitality freelancers. A key area of upskilling demand is in the digital arena. The development of an organisation’s skillset needs to keep pace with the speed at which digital customer engagement is evolving.
The pandemic has shaved years off the development time for digital customer engagement. Data is king and the speed of digital implementation is at risk of outpacing the development of employee skillset and organisational resources. The accelerating adoption of tech in Operations is also giving rise to a greater need for training and reskilling of the workforce.
I began the year predicting the sector would see some turnover in hotel CEOs. Covid-19 obviously scuppered any chance of me collecting on that bet. CEO tenure is however in a prolonged period of stability and I would not be surprised if we see some leadership changes in the year ahead. After the immediate impact of the Global Financial Crisis we saw boards seek new leadership to navigate their businesses out of crisis and history may repeat itself here. This year has been a highly demanding experience for leaders, having to pivot from pursuing a growth strategy to daily firefighting. As attention turns to the vaccine-led road to recovery, shareholders are now looking to management to devise and implement new strategies that capitalise on the opportunity that arises from crisis.
Organisational and leadership advances in Hospitality have moved into top gear this year. The sector is evolving fast and, despite the bumps in the road, our business will ultimately emerge even stronger. As Vin Diesel would no doubt tell you, it’s best not to focus too long on the rear-view mirror but to keep eyes firmly on the road ahead.
About the Author:
Chris Mumford is an advisor to the global hospitality sector in the areas of leadership and talent. Over the past 20+ years, Chris has helped build leadership teams on behalf of some of the industry’s most prominent operators, developers and investors throughout EMEA, Asia and North America. A frequent author and speaker on human capital issues in the hospitality industry, Chris is a promoter of hospitality as a career choice and an advocate for greater diversity in the workplace. As Head of Leadership Services for HoCoSo, Chris brings to the table his exclusive approach to holistic leadership and team engagement.
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