I recently attended the Great Places to Work Conference in San Francisco​ and, unsurprisingly, found similarities among the companies honored. While people are different, we're fundamentally the same: We want respect, and we want to work at places where we feel respected.

But a question gnawed at me: What sets the No. 1 great place to work apart? How did it become the best and improve employee loyalty?   

This year's No. 1, Hilton, was previously No. 33. I spoke to Matt Schuyler, Hilton's chief human resources officer, about the efforts that earned the brand the No. 1 slot. Schuyler, who's been in his role for 10 years, said one big reason Hilton's become known as a great place to work is its focus on turnover.

He said attrition is a "really, really expensive endeavor." Losing a team member at any level within the organization can cost Hilton tens of thousands of dollars--just to backfill the position. "That doesn't count the cost to get them fully ramped up be able to provide the same service as when the incumbent left us," Schuyler points out.

Saving People, Saving Money

Losing people results in losing money, and Hilton has shifted its focus to serving the company's people. "If we can reduce that attrition number across our enterprise, you can imagine that is tens of millions of dollars of savings just for one percentage point," Schuyler explained. "For us, increasing retention and lowering unwanted attrition is the biggest savings we can possibly drive."

Schuyler said Hilton's HR analytics show exactly why employees leave and why they stay. All of the brand's evidence reveals that reduced turnover can be attributed to its programs. "But it's an impact beyond money," he explains. "It's our culture."

That culture bleeds into the guest experience at Hilton. "Reduced turnover means a more engaged group of team members serving our guests," Schuyler says. "They're happy, they provide better service in the moment, they got a bounce in their step when walking around the property. It is an incredibly engaged workforce, and that makes a massive difference when it comes to guest satisfaction."

Loyal Employees Produce Loyal Customers

Because loyal employees create loyal customers, it makes sense that Hilton serves, first and foremost, its employees. There are four key ways the brand does this:

1. Find your true north.

What does your brand stand for? If it's not clear, there's nothing for employees to hold on to when times get tough. "We don't want to be an employer that just has jobs--we want to be an employer that has meaning and a purpose," Schuyler says. "Something bigger than just a job."

The brand's vision and mission is to be the most hospitable company in the world. This mission isn't about being the "best" or most well-known--it's about something employees can impact, day in and day out.

2. Align your values.

Hospitality, integrity, leadership, teamwork, ownership, now: Hilton is adamant about operating with these values. For example, Hilton believes in empowering employees to make decisions. The brand wants team members to take ownership of their work. With pride in their work, they serve guests with a focus on delighting them.

I work with companies on creating alignment with their values across the organization. Employees need to be part of the process. Straightforward training doesn't work if you want people to take ownership of the results. The best way is through facilitated workshops where they participate, not just listen.

3. Ask and listen.

Employees want to feel heard; many companies think an annual employee survey or an on-site focus group checks that box. But Schuyler points out that listening helps leaders learn. Without employee insights, companies stagnate.

Listening should be viewed as business immersion for leaders--they can witness the work being done. If you don't engage in the process--and the resulting feelings--yourself, you can't expect employees to.

4. Take action.

Hilton invested in new communication mechanisms and mobile technology to boost employee performance. It took action to improve the employee experience beyond daily work through a variety of programs: parental leave, GED paid training, back operations enhancements, uniform changes.

Many believe these programs are expensive, but Schuyler says it's more about time and less about money. It costs nothing to respect and empower people. And changes can result in savings: After employees said their clothes weren't flexible or breathable, Hilton partnered with Under Armour for more comfortable, modern-looking uniforms. The result? Better product and reduced expenses.

Hilton's transition from No. 33 to No. 1 may seem big. But its leaders' dedication to serving employees so they, in turn, can serve guests makes it clear why it's a great place to work. And it gives the rest of us food for thought on how we can serve our own teams.

Published on: Mar 19, 2019