I still remember my first conversation with a resort general manager, shortly after joining Hilton. We discussed a self-proclaimed celebrity with a large social media following who was demanding a heavy discount in return for some positive posts. The resort was promised a campaign of falsehoods if it declined.
As we discussed next steps, the general manager said something that I’ve heard, and said myself, many times since: “We can take the path of least resistance, but the ‘I’ in Hilton stands for integrity.”
Having just completed new-hire training, I knew that each letter of our company name (H-I-L-T-O-N) represents one of our core values. The memory of this conversation has stayed with me, as an early example of Hilton’s values being used by our team members in open conversation and everyday decision-making.
As our CEO recently said, the first of those values — hospitality — is the virtuous combination of kindness and empathy. It is the act of doing something special for a person standing in front of you. Our team members have an enormous ability to influence the guest experience, and we expect them to demonstrate the highest standards of hospitality and ethical behavior.
On some matters, there is no discretion. It is a universal truth in our industry that guest privacy comes first. Even the most extroverted employee knows that you don’t request and post a selfie with a celebrity guest.
On other matters, a hotel employee has significant latitude. They are encouraged to find moments that can surprise and delight a guest — an unexpected room upgrade, a free cocktail at the bar or the thoughtful delivery of a favorite topping for breakfast waffles. And if a guest’s stay isn’t perfect, hotel employees have the responsibility and the autonomy to make it right.
At Hilton, we take pride in our entrepreneurial spirit — our team members are empowered to make quick decisions, which makes an ethical foundation essential. Our communication team, like those in all companies, has an important role reinforcing that foundation.
We are the storytellers, sharing the company policies and the positive examples of related actions, often through internal channels that we manage. We are the advisors to executives as they impress the importance of ethical behavior on our global workforce. We are key partners to legal and HR teams, who champion the code of conduct. And we represent the voices of guests, team members and the press at the table when big decisions are made.
That is why I have always believed that promoting ethical behavior is a unique responsibility of professional communicators. And why the alignment of personal and company ethics is so important.
So, what happened with our celebrity guest? He uploaded a video and a number of posts making false claims but soon withdrew when the resort remained silent and his followers tired of the topic. I take pleasure knowing that the resort team worked hard to ensure he enjoyed the rest of his stay. He remains welcome at our properties, where he will always be shown the very best of our company —integrity and hospitality.
Nigel Glennie is a past member of the IABC Ethics Committee and VP, Global Corporate Communications, at Hilton. You can find him on LinkedIn and Twitter.