In our latest Horizons of Response webinar, we asked business leaders about the short- and long-term challenges they’ve faced from the COVID-19 pandemic as well what they are doing to re-invent business models for the future. The speakers discussed how they are innovating to meet shifting customer expectations, and what workforce and operational considerations they are working through in order to adapt.
The webinar’s speakers included:
Jay Caiafa, COO at InterContinental Hotels Group
Jill Wilson, SVP for HR and Talent Management at Carter's
David Del Val, Director of Core Innovation, Telefónica
Dr. Kelli Klindtworth, Transformation Leader, North Highland
For the hospitality industry, what are the long-term capital investments brands must make to transform guest experience?
Jay: There are a lot of ramifications from the pandemic, and a lot of guests’ concerns will survive beyond this period. We need to build trust around these areas of concerns. Cleanliness and safety, for example, have changed in the way they impact guest sentiment. Before the pandemic, guests used to look at cleanliness as table stakes – it only impacts guests if something is wrong. Now what we’re seeing is a tremendous amount of customer loyalty when hotels go above and beyond to ensure guests’ safety, with apparent cleanliness of space. This means shifting the culture of hotels to make cleanliness paramount, from contactless check-in/check-out to re-imagining food and beverage experiences, common spaces and more.
Looking to the future, people will resume travel only when they feel that all aspects of the journey, including transportation and hotels, are safe. We’re having conversations with airlines and other hotel brands to come up with industry-wide standards to ensure people feel safe traveling in a post-pandemic world.
Jill, as it relates to rebuilding your workforce, what are the challenges and learnings you have experienced linked to Carter’s employee culture?
Jill: Carter’s is known for our strong CEO-led culture and as a great place to work. Prior to the pandemic, one of the things we were struggling with was how to move faster – some would say we were not making decisions or taking risks fast enough. We have to move faster in today’s world. COVID-19 changed our viewpoints and taught us to be comfortable with the 80% and move forward knowing it might not be perfect, instead of waiting for the 100% and being late.
We learned from working remotely that our people have become much more prepared for meetings, like creating agendas and decks for discussion. This transition made us more innovative, intentional and comfortable with embracing change. We don’t want to go back to how things were before the pandemic and if we do, then shame on us. We imagine a future world with significantly less travel and increased use of technology. This is not a year where people are focused on profitability. We’re using this time to focus on redefining out culture. We’re pivoting to become agile and fast in decision making, while still creating that culture of engagement.
David, what can you share about starting innovation at an organization from scratch? How do you get an existing team to change the way they think about innovation – and how can you do that while remote?
David: Do not start an innovation function that is under budgeted or only used to show off externally. One of the most challenging aspects of innovation is that you have to imagine the problems of the future and find solutions to the problems, so by the time you build these solutions you’re ready. With the pandemic, the future was here. We’re seeing an amazing number of ideas that four months ago would be considered crazy, but now seem reasonable.
If your innovation team is not reacting well, help them and take a look into their lives and the challenges the face in business. The future is happening as we speak. With the change to working remotely, use digital crowd sourcing to find innovation. Put a problem statement out there and get responses from folks on the front lines. You need to empower employees by asking them for ideas. You’ll be amazed by the ideas coming from people who work day-to-day in your company.
How do you retain a workforce when facing furloughs?
Kelli: What’s top of mind is how do you balance trust and what it does to brands when you’re facing potential furloughs. Anyone in a leadership position knows that transparency and authenticity are key, but leaders must also make sure they’re monitoring employee engagement and know where their people are.
Leaders must use engagement to understand employees’ sentiments in what the organization is doing. There’s a lot about how people are responding and behaving within companies that leaders must pay attention to, including: concerns around burnout and productivity, understanding what innovation looks like and levels of trust. During these unprecedented times, companies must show that they deeply care about their workforce, serving both customers and employees. Employees need to know that you care about them as much as the bottom line.