Leadership styles

June 21, 2023 •

7 min reading

Reinventing leadership styles in the Hospitality Industry

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One of today's major challenges in our hospitality industry is coping with the pressure coming from Generation Z employees. Gen Z expects more engaging and meaningful jobs and is far less likely to adhere to the traditional, purely vertical, "chain-of-command" style of leadership that still characterizes many hospitality-related organizations (HROs), not to mention the dimensions of ethics and social responsibility that many people of this new generation want to find in the very nature of their work. Reinventing more employee-centric leadership styles is key to attracting a new generation of talents to our industry.

Best human-centric working practices: Cross-functional collaboration

These challenges are pushing leaders to rethink the siloed work model, still too prevalent in our industry, and reshape it into a more cross-functional, collaborative and human-centric way of working.

Horizontal working modes typically imply, for example, that employees from the department “A” be given regular opportunities to collaborate on cross-functional projects with employees from departments “B,” “C,” “D,” or “Z.” You name them. When these cross-functional collaborations multiply throughout/across the organization, here is what you get in the short term: sharing new ideas, knowledge and best practices.


Cultivating better relationships between management and employees

Managing and cultivating relationships between the employees of this larger system is critical and increasingly challenging for leaders, who must:

  • Actively listen to and understand the needs of each of these stakeholders;
  • Efficiently and transparently manage information flows that are both very dense and multi-directional;
  • Deconstruct silos to facilitate synergies within their organization and beyond;
  • Build trusting relationships, including aligning words to actions.

As a result, new issues are emerging. Or, to put it another way, old issues considered non-strategic, not sufficiently taken into account or ignored, are now coming to the fore through two paradoxes to solve.


The role of psychological safety in the workplace

How can HRO leaders take into account the individual needs of each employee while encouraging the mobilization of collective intelligence?

Internally, this paradox strongly relates to the decision-making process and delegation. Leaders must seek to involve their teams as much as possible in the decision-making process to ensure a high level of ownership, accountability, and ways forward that are appropriate and adapted to the realities of the field or industry. In this perspective, each person thus becomes an instrument of implementing the strategy and the associated objectives, and will seek to mobilize all of their resources (i.e., energy and skills).

Enabling employees to take more ownership in the decision-making process and doing more delegation will also enable all employees to increase their skills and autonomy. A mutual understanding of expectations will thus align individual capacity for action with the organization’s collective project.

However, to create the conditions for effective mobilization of collective intelligence within the team and beyond, the leader must create/develop a favorable working environment. This means allowing each person to feel safe and confident to express themselves (i.e., psychological safety), give their opinion, share their difficulties, dare to ask for help knowing that they will receive it, and give and receive feedback with an aim of continuous learning, respect, and appreciation.

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The benefits of an employee development plan

How can the leader allow each person to develop while ensuring performance? How do you achieve high performance while ensuring that the means employed are ethical and compatible with the sustainable development of society?

The aim here is to reconcile human and economic aspects in the context of performance management. Today, the success of organizations depends, above all, on their ability to mobilize every single employee. Motivation is like a multiplier that will lead people to use their skills to the maximum by committing themselves fully, ultimately significantly impacting the economic and financial indicators.

However, this optimum presupposes aligning the work activities with the needs, motivations, and capacities of employees and appropriate support, based in particular on constructive feedback. The latter will make it possible to value individual and collective successes and challenge inappropriate actions and behaviors to help each person develop.

HRO leaders must allow each employee to become a player in their career by complementing the projects offered by developing technical and behavioral skills. The new deal consists of offering each employee opportunities to increase their employability and, in so doing, outlining the next stage of their professional career, even if it is with another employer.

The resolution of this paradox also implies a transformation of the leader's posture: they must be a facilitator and no longer just a manager who is anchored to their sense of power within a hierarchical structure. It’s all the opposite. The leader must serve their team and no longer enslave each member to satisfy personal interests or those of a minority. They must embody the values of the organization and set an example to bring out the behaviors that will give life to the organizational culture in a real and profound way.

In the workplace, this means supporting each person in their development, whether in their position or through mobility or management of cross-functional projects, to increase their employability while providing the skills required to meet future challenges.


The case of the Royal Savoy Hotel Lausanne

At the Royal Savoy Hotel Lausanne (Switzerland), general manager Alain Kropf - supported by his heads of departments (HoDs) - has set up a more horizontal way of collaborating throughout all the hierarchical levels of the organization. This encourages staff empowerment and a sense of ownership over their various functional areas.

The general manager has introduced five 'Quality Teams' to give staff the autonomy to make decisions and address issues. These are made up of volunteers from staff who look at operational process improvement in key areas of guest interaction:

  • BITE – the breakfast improvement team
  • Room Working Order – guest room issues
  • FL15 – the guest’s first and last 15 minutes in the hotel
  • Events
  • Wellness

The staff members exchange information, knowledge and good practices within each Quality Team. No manager sits in these teams; they are entirely led bottom-up, and the teams are empowered to make decisions and implement changes without asking the manager.

There are also cross-collaborations between these functional teams, ensuring staff gains experience in other key areas and functions, and that staff learn from each other’s experiences and are properly aligned. These cross-collaborations give them the means and skills to change function/department/key area one day, should they decide to broaden their job and develop their career within different hotel functions.


New technologies and digitalization: How to keep a human-centric organization?

Another fundamental question lies at the crossroads of these two paradoxes: how can we use the contributions of new technologies and digitalization to humanize the world of work? How can we ethically create a collective with humans and artificial intelligence to effectively manage change and make the most of technological advances in the short and long term?

First, we must consider the cooperation between humans, machines and robots. How can we ensure that HROs remain human in an increasingly technological world? Using machines and robots to serve humans is attractive and will likely lead to colossal complementarities. It requires mobilizing an organization's collective and diversified intelligence by connecting it to a common and mobilizing vision. This makes it possible to draw on the need to belong, which resonates in each of us, to create a tight-knit group capable of acting with situational intelligence. It is also a question of extending our perception of diversity to include artificial intelligence in all its forms and putting it at the service of the human teams that make up our organization.

The need for safety suggests that we look at the constant changes driven by technology not as a threat but as a great opportunity to reinvent ourselves, individually and collectively, to create a sustainable capacity to evolve based on our developmental potential. In other words, it is a question of learning to shift our comfort zone as we learn to navigate permanent change with ease and pleasure. It is about turning constraints into opportunities by looking differently at the world. This also implies perceiving uncertainty as an infinite source of opportunities.


Building resilient organizational cultures for long-term success

As an organization, one of the critical issues is being clear about the culture on which we want to build the value of "working together." This is based, in particular, on the expectations of the individuals responsible for serving a team.

Following the COVID-19 crisis, predicting how the economy will evolve in the medium term is difficult. The ability to react quickly and well is certainly important, but even more so is the need to reinvent oneself fully to increase organizations’ resilience in the future. Many HROs have had to take drastic measures to survive, and the less resilient ones have not had the opportunity to implement such actions. They disappeared. 

The balance between the actions to be deployed to stay alive and those to be invented to build tomorrow’s performance is difficult to find. In this context, there is a strong temptation to focus in the short term on purely economic indicators, leaving aside the human and ethical aspects.


The importance of building ecosystems

The ability to find effective solutions will also depend on the sharing of best practices and increased freedom of action and decision-making. The bureaucracy of highly-centralized and vertical HROs, already a powerful break before, is now a major risk for the survival of organizations as these can no longer afford to be mediocre.

HROs will likely benefit greatly from collaborating with others in their sector, or even other sectors, to create ecosystems that bring robustness and agility and facilitate innovation. To counter the macroeconomic impacts of the crisis, the networking of all parties will be decisive, and openness on each organization's social and societal role will be required. It is time to extend the raison d'être of HROs beyond mere financial criteria. Globalization now unites us all, and it is together that we will find the solutions. HROs will have to dare to create alliances that were previously considered unthinkable.

Written by

Associate Professor at EHL Hospitality Business School

Nicolas Quoëx
Written by
Nicolas Quoëx

Co-founder of Skillspotting

Isabelle Vernet
Written by
Isabelle Vernet

Head of Département de la Jeunesse