This article has been inspired by the Hospitality Resilience Series‘  fifth session, held on March 24th 2021, hosted by Jonathan Humphries, Chairman HoCoSo, Chris Mumford, Founder Cervus Leadership Consulting, Jon Hazan, Executive Coach Atlas Coaching, with special guest Bruce Harkness, Senior Vice President HR, Consumer Experience and Brand communications at Wyndham Destinations Asia Pacific.


Embrace Uncertainty, Recalibrate

The term VUCA; volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity, first coined in 1987 by Warren Bennis and Burt Nannus seems particularly apt currently. For many, this situation creates feelings of uncertainty and discomfort; we crave plans, goals, order, and certainty. So how do we deal with this? What can help us navigate our way through these uncertain times?

There are many definitions currently being used to understand resilience, for us it means the ability to adapt and respond to any given situation and to be able to do that appropriately. In some ways the creation of this series of discussions was our way of asking for help, reaching out to our community for their advice, experience, and learnings. In this way, Bruce was able to share his experiences with Wyndham Destinations in answer to this question. He started by giving context to where we are now.


What has changed in the workplace and for the workforce?

In the middle of 2020, the western economy plunged into recession. As a result, organisations have had to operate in a much leaner fashion. Technologies have been fast tracked, especially around employee communications to such an extent that they are now common practices in the workplace and are likely to remain so. Competition for work is on the rise, it is an employers’ market making the importance of personal brand and building resilience in line with this especially important.

Workplace trends have changed considerably. One of them being mobility, we can work from anywhere, anytime and from any location which poses a challenge to the employer and must be managed accordingly. Boundaries between working and private lives have blurred because of working from home and the demands on workplace design are changing accordingly. Key considerations for getting the workforce back to the workplace move beyond aesthetics and into safety and convenience. The simple question of whether the office is required has implications for many employers. Employers are increasingly expected to pay due care and attention to employee welfare, both mental and physical. Employee Assistance Programmes (EAPs) are no longer an optional perk but a necessary function of any ethical organisation. Organisations are under pressure to remain nimble, adaptable, and flexible and importantly to provide certainty and support to their workforce.


Providing certainty and support

So how did Wyndham Destinations approach the challenge? They consulted top tier health authorities to review their employee health routines, people management strategies and return-to-work strategies to ensure employees felt safe to return to work and supported once they were back at work. Putting the safety of their employees first meant in some regions closing their properties in the interests of staff and guests, a challenging decision. Having taken the initial steps it was then vital that this became adopted as an ongoing strategy manifesting itself in their workplace safety and wellness programme focussing on physical, financial and workplace wellbeing for staff. They rolled out a mental health awareness programme in partnership with an organisational psychology group equipping managers to identify when there were stresses within their teams and went further to inform staff how to manage their own resilience.

In recognition of the changing environment much of this training and development was offered online and across all levels of the organisation and that there was an ongoing and evolving need for this.  As ever, there is a need to balance the requirements of the workforce with the financial situation of the organisation. To this Bruce describes the need for ‘clever spend’. Identifying the need to deliver training in a clever, targeted, and efficient fashion.


Evolving leadership

Wyndham Destinations also recognised the need for a more evolved style of leadership. If employees were to be given a sense of certainty and support their leaders needed to be equipped with the right tools and communications style to do this. They identified the need for empathetic leadership, for leaders to be able to empathise with individuals in their team, understand their circumstances, personally and professionally to appreciate the pressure they are under and to react accordingly. He also emphasised the need for adaptability in leadership, to be able to respond to changes in the environment and communicate this change clearly and confidently to their teams. To be able to provide a plan, no matter how much it might have to change. Authentic leadership was also recognised as important, allowing leaders to find their own style that might achieve the desired outcomes. This is a careful balancing act when it comes to providing certainty and support. A leader should be able to provide hope and inspiration but cannot be seen to be continually handing out empty statements, they must learn to deliver both good and bad news to their teams. By way of an example, Bruce cited the Australian Government’s recent handling of the catastrophic bushfires in southern Queensland and northern New South Wales. The government recognised the need for reliable information and therefore shared what they knew with the public whilst at the same time accepting that they could not guarantee the outcome yet, ‘here’s what we know, we are dealing with it, we will tell you more once we know.’ Nobody expects leaders to stare into a crystal ball, but they do expect them to be able to clearly communicate what is happening and what is going to be done about it, clarity creates certainty.

He also identified the need to develop skills and capabilities in areas of interest. Wyndham Destinations has partnered with the Gallup Organisation working with emerging and existing leaders on identifying their key strengths and understanding how best to use them. Bruce sees the need to move away from previous styles of personal development that focussed on improving people’s weaknesses and instead to focus on their strengths. It is easier to get the most out of people who are given the space to develop where they are strongest and look at how to manage and overcome their weaknesses rather than the other way around. Having seen the success of this approach they are now committed to rolling out strength based coaching across the organisation.


Recalibration: Personal brand and resilience

“Your personal brand is what people say about you when you’re not in the room”.

Jeff Bezos, Founder, Amazon

Bruce highlights the opportunity for us to ‘recalibrate’ to look to our own personal brand, our own sources of resilience and review them in consideration of the changing environment. He has identified several techniques and strategies we can use to do this.

For Bruce there are three core areas of personal brand: Recognition, (what you do); Reputation, (how you do it and the quality of your work) and Respect, (what values you apply to achieve results). Underlying all this is consistency, the ability to sustain these three factors throughout your career to present a reliable, trustworthy personal brand. To achieve this consistency Bruce has conceived his, Career Pyramid.

The career pyramid - Bruce Harkness

Bruce sees self-awareness as the starting point, or base of the pyramid. Taking time to explore and define your own values, motivations, aspirations, and behaviours is a crucial starting point to understand and develop your personal brand. From here is it important to align your values to a purpose, some goals and then ultimately to take action to move towards the attainment of these goals. Taking time to reflect, review and adjust is an important ongoing tier of the pyramid.


Build your network

Bruce also highlighted the importance of network to understanding and building both your personal brand and your resilience. The need to stay active and engage with professional forums, to make the most of any networking opportunities. To be proactive and reach out to like minded people or those working in similar areas. Bruce talks of building your ‘team’ around you. This might be friends, family, colleagues, consultants, or coaches. Whoever it is, there is a need for a strong community of people who can support and strengthen you in uncertain times. Chris recalled how the people he has reached out to recently have been reassuringly responsive. Perhaps it is in recognition of the importance of support or merely the recognition of your brand and reputation. Suffice to say it is easier to find a way through the volatility and complexity of life surrounded by trusted people than on your own.


Finding a balance

Finding certainty and building confidence in this challenging environment is not something that can be done quickly or without effort. For an organisation it is the chance to look inwards, review their culture, processes, and structures in light of the fast moving environment they are part of as well as investing where necessary and focussing on developing and supporting their staff. As individuals we also have the opportunity to develop and learn, create our own pillars of resilience upon which we rely on to get us through a climate dominated by the VUCA principles. This also takes investment and commitment to explore, reinvent, question and act.

For Bruce it is a question of balance. Not allowing your focus to drift into one area at the cost of the other. For example, the need to build mental and physical strength alongside each other. To stay informed, look at what is happening around you, identify future trends and to make sure you are ahead of the curve in terms of any innovations that are taking place whin your sphere of industry and understand that your network and community are there for you throughout.


> Join the Hospitality Resilience Series‘ community on LinkedIn and on Instagram.

Our thanks to Bruce  for his time, his thoughts, and his excellent advice.

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About the author

Jon Hazan for the Hospitality Resilience SeriesJon Hazan

Jon started out as an officer in a tank regiment in the British Army, then he moved into events management, developing corporate teams globally. He switched to sports management and has worked on a number of national and international events over the past 15 years and has a wealth of experience in the planning and management of both mass-participation sporting events and smaller in-house and open multi-sports events, including team building and conference-style events. More recently, he has qualified as an executive coach, working with corporate clients and founded Atlas Events and Coaching.

About HoCoSo

HoCoSo are advisors with a difference.

We create tailor-made and innovative solutions for clients’ hospitality-led projects by bringing together the optimum team of sector specialists.

Jonathan Humphries, Chairman and Owner of HoCoSo, and his direct team specialize in the extended-stay, co-living, and hotel-alternatives hospitality market; luxury, lifestyle and boutique hotels; and resort developments in Europe, the Middle East and Africa (EMEA).

Our strengths lie in the following core services:

During the covid19 crisis, HoCoSo launched HoCoSo CONNECT, an initiative aimed at bringing the industry together to brainstorm and collaborate; HoCoSo CONVERSATION, a podcast channel encouraging the discussion with thought leaders from around the globe, for the hospitality industry; and, in collaboration with Atlas Coaching and Cervus Leadership Consulting, we also launched the Hospitality Resilience Series , a combination of online events, insights and discussions aimed at helping build your personal resilience and inner immunity.