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Creating a culture fit to last at Hilton

Businesses will always need to generate economic value, but to create a culture that truly stands the test of time you have to look beyond profit

Attracting and retaining good people in an organisation is as important as attracting and retaining customers. No business is able to succeed without brilliant people at every level to keep it running successfully.

But what does it take to attract and retain talent? What makes a strong company culture? There may once have been a simple answer, but with a workforce spanning multiple generations, with complex and differing needs, it’s critical that HR leaders think differently about building company culture.

First and foremost, an organisation’s culture has to respond to the needs of the people within it. And with today’s pace of change these needs evolve rapidly. Throughout our 100-year history we’ve seen significant shifts in the make-up of our workforce and the needs of our team members. So we’ve always remained plugged into their feedback. Our people are our greatest asset and when they thrive so does our business.

Creating an open forum for discussion is therefore critical to futureproof your culture. It allows you to measure how employee needs change over time, which is why we conduct regular team member surveys. Our annual survey has a 90% participation rate because we make it clear that we will respond to what we learn. Responding with a clear strategy sends out an important message: we’ve listened and we’re acting upon what you told us.

But we’ve found that these pulse checks aren’t just important for building our HR strategy. Increasingly we use them to understand what matters most to our people in a broader context. Do they understand and believe in the company purpose? Do they think we believe in it? Are we doing enough to be a responsible business? All this is critical to build a strong culture.

Additionally, chances are that these responses will give you an idea of how external audiences perceive your business. Treating your teams as a sounding board is crucial in this respect – if they don’t understand or believe in your organisation’s purpose then it’s likely your customers won’t either.

In this respect employees can act as a powerful driving force to bring to life your company vision. Last year we committed to cutting our environmental footprint in half and doubling our social impact investment by 2030. We have a responsibility to support the communities in which we operate, but we can only do that if our people believe in our vision. Embedding purpose into our culture ensures that everyone gets right behind delivering this commitment.

Every hotel faces different sustainability challenges so we see our team members as enablers of our vision and purpose. We encourage them to deliver community projects that directly respond to the needs of their local area. This approach has a dual benefit: our team members’ local expertise means every initiative delivers the most significant impact possible, and in turn teams feel more engaged and positive about their jobs and the difference they’re able to make.

When it comes to the war for talent organisations are no longer only competing against similar businesses; we’re all competing with each other. With an increasing number of agile and innovative start-ups making a play for the brightest and the best, it’s more important than ever to keep abreast of the latest workplace trends, particularly when it comes to wellness initiatives.

Again your workforce can act as an enabler to help you shape your approach. If you give them the reins they’ll build initiatives that actually deliver what they need, bringing you ahead of the latest trends. We noted a significant uptick in team member engagement when we launched our adaptable workplace wellness framework, Thrive@Hilton. It puts the approach firmly in the hands of our people, encouraging them to create a programme that works for them – whether they work in a kitchen, an office or anywhere in between.

Businesses will always need to generate economic value, but to create a culture that truly stands the test of time you have to look beyond profit. Successful leadership means tapping into your people power, creating a two-way street for engagement, and building a clear sense of purpose that reflects your company’s mission. Then the economic value will come.

Ben Bengougam is SVP HR EMEA at Hilton