Building a Strong Workforce in Culturally Conscience Hotels Worldwide

with Robb Webb of Hyatt Hotels

Chief HR officer Robb Webb is the point man for Hyatt’s 90,000 employees that span the globe. It’s a crucial role, as Hyatt’s culture begins and ends with its staff on the ground.

The core of Hyatt Hotels Corporation’s business philosophy is to provide authentic hospitality. But great hospitality is more than just superb room service, high-end facilities, and a smooth checkout process. “I think the ability to build and sustain a culture that serves as a bond for our colleagues all around the world is really important,” says Robb Webb, Hyatt’s chief  human resources officer. So how does a global company like Hyatt empower its 90,000 employees to deliver consistent, excellent service in about 480 hotels? Hyatt does it by ensuring that its evolving culture is protected as it expands to new countries. “We’re not driven to be the largest hotel company on earth; we’re driven to be the preferred hotel company in the markets where we have a presence,” Webb says. “We believe that to become the preferred brand begins with our workforce.”

1. Honor the Local Culture

Whether it’s through the decor or the dining options, Hyatt embraces the surrounding culture and the local marketplace of its properties in order to be culturally relevant. “If you are in a hotel in South America or the Middle East, that hotel has to be very much a part of the community and the culture,” Webb says. “A guest should not walk into a Hyatt [hotel] and not know what country they’re in.”

Webb, who grew up outside of Toronto, recalls how some American-owned companies ignored the significance of being culturally relevant when they conducted business in Canada. He explains that Hyatt’s decentralized structure allows its hotel chains to take on a local “personality” within its international properties located in about 45 countries. “We honor the culture wherever we are because it’s important to our guests and our workforce,” he says. “Even though the world is becoming much more global, it doesn’t mean that people are not proud of their heritage and culture.”

2. Enhance The Employee Experience

Webb and his team introduced the People Brand, an employee-relationship initiative to underscore the company’s values and to shape [employees’] experiences while working at Hyatt. “It helps people understand the expectations that we have and acknowledges the expectations that an individual has when they come to work for us,” he says. The Hyatt People Brand is a global framework that is implemented locally, so as to incorporate the personality and the cultural norms of the hotel. It provides Hyatt associates with a personal touch in the way it approaches orientation, recognition, and development from the first point of contact.

3. Measure Staff Engagement

Attracting guests to a hotel is one part of the business, but staffing a property with actively engaged associates is another facet. In 2008, Hyatt began to measure associate engagement using short, 12-question surveys from Gallup. “Engagement is something that is achieved, or not, every day of the year,” Webb says. He describes engaged associates as people who have an emotional attachment to their work. “It conjures up the idea of a person who personally delivers the brand every time they come in contact with a guest or a coworker,” he says. “Finding those people and providing them with an environment where they love what they do—providing them with great career opportunities—will be the difficult thing for other companies to replicate.”

4. Share Success Stories

Last year, Hyatt’s HR office was asked to produce a short video to on-board new employees about the Hyatt culture and its values. One of Webb’s colleagues scanned through entries featured on Hyatt Stories, a site on an internal portal where guest feedback is shared globally with Hyatt associates. Webb and his team invited guests and those associates who were involved in the stories, and flew them out to New York City to share their stories on camera. Webb sat in on the unscripted interviews and walked away inspired by the real-life accounts as to how Hyatt had an impact in their lives. “It was a really great experience to hear these stories and to see folks from our hotels telling their stories from their hearts about what they believe,” Webb says.

5. Give Back to the Community

In addition to Hyatt’s commitment to its workforce, it also invests into the community of that workforce. “A hotel is a community within a community,” Webb says. “We believe that, by putting a hotel in a community, there is an immediate economic benefit in terms of jobs and supply chain.” Hyatt Thrive, the company’s global corporate-responsibility program, provides resources for social causes—such as environmental sustainability, education, health, and economic development—to strengthen communities worldwide, offering grants and philanthropic contributions. In 2011, the Hyatt Regency New Orleans donated $300,000 to the Make It Right Foundation, founded by actor Brad Pitt, to build new homes in the city’s Lower Ninth Ward, an area ravished by Hurricane Katrina. Hyatt employees also served as disaster-relief volunteers after the tsunamis in Japan and Thailand. These are a few examples of how associates engage outside of their work, one that ladders up to a greater social consciousness. “We want to make the community better and stronger,” Webb says. “It’s a fascinating chance for us to also make a difference in the communities that we’re operating in.”