This article has been inspired by the Hospitality Resilience Series‘ first session, held on November 5th 2020, hosted by Jonathan Humphries, Chairman HoCoSo, Chris Mumford, Founder Cervus Leadership Consulting, Jon Hazan, Executive Coach Atlas Coaching, with special guest Sean Worker, Managing Director T5 Strategies and author of the book THE ADAPTERS.

Hospitality Resilience Series - with Sean Worker


What are we talking about?

The hospitality sector is currently witnessing unprecedented change. The rulebook no longer applies, in many instances it is being torn up and organisations are embarking on new journeys using fresh perspectives and taking bold steps towards a successful future.

We recognise the need for inspiration. For ideas and solutions, for leadership, conversation and investment in people, society, and community. It is unrealistic to expect leaders facing fast moving, everchanging market conditions to provide all the solutions. By focussing this series on the topic, ‘building personal resilience and inner immunity’ it is our hope that by sharing ideas, challenging existing mindsets and promoting collaboration, leaders in the hospitality sector can overcome existing threats, make the most of potential opportunities and prepare themselves and their organisations for future growth.

THE ADAPTERS - cover page - by Sean Worker and Glenn HaussmanIn the first of a series of discussions Sean Worker, founder of T5 Strategies a business transformation advisory firm, shares the results of the extensive research for his forthcoming book ‘The Adapters’ written with Glenn Haussman. The book examines the importance of adaptability and leadership best practice in the hospitality industry.  Sean is one of the more progressive thinkers in the sector, challenging and pushing existing boundaries and helping organisations adapt to the new business environment. When listening to comments and advice from the ‘Gutsy Genius Thinkers’ Sean interviewed for the book it is important to remember that these are stories from real people. This isn’t about reading ‘big business’ books from thought leaders, this is about real people doing real things and capturing their energy and drive.

Who moved the cheese factory?

Resilience is very much about having a conversation. It is more important than ever that we learn from each other. Hopefully, we can bring everyone together to make sense of the adaption that is going on around us in this fast, furious, and somewhat overwhelming environment. When it comes to building personal immunity and strength it is about recognising that we have entered a very unusual phase. In recalling the book by Dr. Spencer Johnson, it’s no longer just the cheese that’s moved but the factory, the goats, the cows and everything in between. We face uncertainty in business and uncertainty causes stress. Add to this the new “Working From Home (WFH) and Working From Work (WFW)” conditions, the ever changing travel restrictions and the velocity of technological change and the pressure upon us can feel overwhelming on a very personal level. “We should not underestimate the damage done both physically and psychologically by this. The desire to curl up on the couch and surf Netflix for days on end can seem like a tempting proposition. Adapting is what humans do, we are good at it, as such we can see a dependency on community and resilience throughout our history”. Sean refers to resilience as a connected term where “it is both the ability to adapt to really difficult situations and to find solutions”. Resilience is about stamina, plumbing the depths of character to get out of bed, to reject days on the couch channel surfing and to face the challenges and find the solutions.

Learning to change      

Everybody has got a story. People are adapting all the time to the conditions they find themselves and their organisations in. Our behaviour is changing, be it the way we work at home or from our place of work, what we do when we get home and how we conduct ourselves with others. For example, according to an ongoing study by the National Institute of Research, Zoom meetings are getting shorter and are better attended because people are learning to have more focused, quality conversations. Furthermore, managers are beginning to consider meetings from the perspective of both the organiser and the attendee. Being considerate of the conditions for the attendees means minimising disruption, recognising the pressure on parents WFH and recognising the need to think differently about how connections are made and maintained.

Resilient Mindset

In conversation with Sean, Daniel del Olmo, President& COO at Sage Hotel Management suggested that “you shouldn’t be defined by the conventional norms of the industry anymore. The current critical challenge to leaders of managing cashflow, restructuring and redundancies, whilst horrendous, remains core to their role”. Daniel also emphasised the need to recognise that ‘this will pass’ and in so doing to look to the future and reshape the business accordingly. Ask yourself the question “what can I turn my business into with the people I have?” It is about having perspective and maintaining a tenacious, resilient mindset that focuses on getting past the challenges and supporting the team with positive leadership.

Adjusting expectations

Sean’s research also highlighted the ability of leaders to adjust their expectations as a way of building resilience. To Vanessa de Souza Largo at Rentals United current conditions are just another challenge for a start-up leader. She emphasises the difference in thinking between start up founders and large institution board members as well as the difference for those preparing for a short, sharp shock and those preparing for long cycle change. In both camps there was a tenacity to get through it whether they were running teams of 5000 or teams of 5. Interviewees accepted that there was a need to be flexible in their approach, but they were all fighting for the outcome.

Adaption and Innovation

Sean cited an example of how Peter Strebel, President of Omni Hotels & Resorts, came up with an innovative way to connect with their community, their customers, and their team in the most authentic way; meeting them in-person. In doing so he brought an element of transparency and sense of touch to their environment. They hired several food trucks and drove 5,110 miles to 10 cities across America in 10 days. They hosted socially distanced gatherings to help de-stress and listen to their customers and teams. Omni donated 10 meals per mile totalling 51,000 to Feed America. They re-examined their purpose as a business and delivered on it, with authenticity to the communities they serve whilst building their brand for the future. In this instance resilience, tenacity, empathy, and compassion can be seen as the fuel driving adaption and innovation.

Dump the labels

Its about connection. Covid recognises no borders, obeys no laws of society and cares little for how and who it touches. This gives us the opportunity to break down the pre-existing labels. Cultural norms are changing, leaders are recognising the need to communicate differently and the need to ‘go the extra mile’ as Sean sees it to connect with their teams. “For some that means getting coffee and doughnuts delivered to the homes of their team for the Monday morning call. For others that means being more understanding of WFH conditions and allowing pets to make a regular appearance on team calls or simply taking the time to speak individually to their team members about their mental and physical wellbeing.” Modern leaders face the challenge of balancing the need to get the work done whilst at the same time allowing for the mental and physical stress on their teams. The added complication around the mix of WFH and WFW groups in the workforce means the modern leader must adapt to meet the new challenges and likely lasting effects on the modern workplace. Never has empathy, emotional awareness and compassion played such a critical part in the leadership role.

How do I find a new direction? 

As we mentioned at the start of this discussion leaders should not see themselves as ‘guardians of the solution’. With modern leadership comes modern thinking. Shifting mindset from the ‘Command and Control’ philosophy of leadership to the more collaborative forms of leadership is a vital move for the survival of modern leaders. As a result there is an increasingly important role for Mentors and the need to reach out and ask for help. Not only could shared learning and experience help clarify solutions but drawing on the energy and positive thinking of those around you can boost resilience. Sean recalled his own experience starting out in America. Arriving with an Amstrad and three suitcases his need to reach out, find mentors, seek advice, and learn to ask for help was essential to his ability to adapt and survive in a new environment. As Sean says, ‘the more you do it, the easier it becomes’. Before you know it there is a supportive network or community that you can draw energy and ideas from.

To reshape and move forward is hard work. Many people in business at present are facing up to new opportunities and directions of travel because of the current situation rather than as part of a premeditated plan. Rather than getting lost in change Sean suggests the need to recognise the difference between the macro environment that you cannot change or control and instead to focus on the elements in your environment that you can control and influence. The importance of channelling your energy into reshaping at a more personal level. Concentrate on self-awareness (realisation), what works for you and then accelerating recovery with focus and clarity. Accept the situation, it will get worse before it gets better. When government fiscal support ends there will be shockwaves throughout the industry, we need to be aware of that and not dig our heads into the sand. Put energy into saving or creating jobs instead, that is a great way to give back.


Let’s recap >> the key takeaways

    • Resilience is about a conversation, learning from each other.
    • Resilience is a connected term. It is both the ability to adapt to difficult situations and to finding solutions.
    • Consider meetings from the perspective of both the organiser and the attendee. Be considerate of their conditions.
    • Don’t be defined by the conventional norms of the industry.
    • Ask yourself “what can I turn my business into with the people I have”?
    • Building resilience means adjusting your expectations.
    • Accept the situation. It will get worse before it gets better.
    • Resilience, tenacity, empathy, and compassion is the fuel that drives adaption and innovation.
    • This is the opportunity to break down pre-existing labels.
    • Shift your mindset from conventional forms of ‘Command & Control’ leadership to more open collaborative forms of leadership.
    • Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Build a supportive network or community that you can draw energy and ideas from.
    • Focus on the small stuff. Concentrate on the elements of your environment that you can control not those you can’t.
    • Start with self. Become self-aware then move forward with clarity and focus.


> To view Sean Worker’s slides, click here.

> To view the recording of the Hospitality Resilience Series’ first session, click here.

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


Our thanks to Sean for his time, his thoughts, and his excellent turn of phrase.

Sean’s book The Adapters is available in the middle of January online and from bookshops internationally.


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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: