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How Companies Can Build a Winning Culture

Fortune magazine recently ranked Hilton the best company to work for in the United States, making it the first hospitality company to achieve that honor. Chris Nassetta, Hilton’s President & CEO, talks about the work he’s done to build the hotel chain’s culture and the effect it’s had on business.

Chris Nassetta

CEO and President, Hilton

As CEO of the best company to work for in the United States, how do you create an environment in which employees want to work?

Culture is something I obsess over — I am always thinking about how our team members feel about their experiences with us and what that means for our business. It was a tremendous honor to be named No. 1 on Fortune’s list of the Best Companies to Work For in the U.S. — and to be the first hospitality company to achieve that ranking in the list’s 21-year history. 

Building this culture over the last decade or so was a challenge, and the ranking was an incredible validation of the hard work our entire Hilton family contributed to bring our culture to life. For us, exceptional workplace culture means each of our team members feels Hilton is a place where they can be at their best every day, and where they have access to tools and experiences that can help them reach their full potential. 

That means having a “True North” or a higher purpose that our teams can rally around, and being intensely focused on keeping that purpose at the heart of everything we do. We don’t just say that we are deeply committed to filling the earth with the light and warmth of hospitality — we make every decision through that lens.  

Why is it important for businesses in the hospitality industry to focus on improving the employee experience?

How team members feel at work will always show up in what they deliver to guests — that’s true in every industry, but it’s especially important in hospitality. Above anything else, our business is one of people serving people, and we know that when we take care of our team members, they are even more inspired to create exceptional experiences for our guests, owners, partners, and communities. 

What advice would you give to companies struggling to gain and retain the right employees because of culture?

It’s an old saying, but it’s true, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” The best business strategy will never be achieved if the culture isn’t there. 

When I joined Hilton 12 years ago, I saw a big opportunity to reinvest in the company’s culture and the results have been inspiring. By focusing on truly serving and investing in our team members, we were able to instill pride, excitement, and passion like we had never seen before. 

Over the years, I’ve met many team members who have dedicated decades to hospitality and to Hilton, and even some who have been part of our Hilton family for generations. Our team members show up to work every day committed to do their absolute best and as a leader, you couldn’t ask for anything more. 

What are some ways companies can focus on investing in their employees?

The first step is a real commitment to listening, gathering, analyzing, and responding to employees’ feedback. Our hotel and corporate teams are committed to ongoing, real-time feedback — from job performance to what our leaders could be doing better, and team members’ point of view on our benefits and programs. 

Then the most important next step is to genuinely act on what we hear; it’s what our team members are looking for when they share their opinions with us, and it’s how we ensure we remain a great place to work for all. 

In addition to the informal ways we continuously collect and act on our team members’ feedback, every year we ask our team members around the world to complete an anonymous survey about the culture we have created — what benefits or programs are working for them, how they feel at work, what kinds of initiatives they’d like us to introduce, and more. 

We take our team members’ feedback to heart and have actually introduced new benefits, refined our existing programs, and created solutions and resources in direct response to their feedback. From expanding our industry-leading global team member travel program, Go Hilton; to partnering with Under Armour to provide more comfortable and functional uniforms; to updating our Heart of House spaces to be as comfortable as our guest spaces, we’re dedicated to offering our team members what they’ve told us they need to bring their authentic selves to work each day.

There can be a direct correlation between company culture and business success. What was the most positive impact you noticed when building up your culture?

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that our global portfolio has grown tremendously over the years as we’ve invested in our culture. People want to do business with companies that prioritize their employees’ growth, well-being, and professional development, and support their personal goals. 

We’ve certainly seen that play out in our own business; investing in our culture drives higher engagement and reduces employee turnover, which has been key to our global growth. Our owners and partners appreciate that our strong culture is what drives our business results, and they want to be part of that virtuous circle.

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