The CEO podcast is a monthly podcast with Washington Hospitality Association President and CEO Anthony Anton. This is a summary of the August edition about creating a great workplace culture. You can watch the full episode on our YouTube channel or register for the next episode about the delta variant on our website. If you have questions for the next episode or suggestions for a topic, email
Creating a great workplace culture: Start with these three things
Businesses continue to feel the negative effects of a labor shortage that has sent a strong message: people younger than 30 have a negative perception of the hospitality industry’s culture.
As a new generation of workers enters the labor force, businesses that succeed in attracting and retaining these employees will all have at least one characteristic in common — they’ll all have great workplace cultures.
Defining what makes a great workplace culture can be difficult. And you might be asking yourself, “What more can I do?” Washington Hospitality Association President and CEO Anthony Anton set out to answer that question in this edition of the CEO Podcast. He sat down with Chris Jenson of Table Group, a consulting firm led by Patrick Lencioni, to discuss Lencioni’s book “The Truth About Employee Engagement.”
Anthony prefaced the conversation by mentioning a prior podcast episode that explored methods businesses can use to find workers during the labor shortage. People found it helpful, but human resources professionals told him he had left out a big piece. The workplace culture in our industry gets a bad reputation. Simple things like being human, having a great communications system, and regularly letting employees know they have value are great places to start when building a workplace culture. “The Truth About Employee Engagement” covers those topics in depth, but Chris says you can have a huge impact on your business without extensive research. You just need to make sure your team doesn’t feel these three things at work:
The first sign people are feeling miserable at work is anonymity. If people come to work every day and they don’t feel known by their manager, they won’t want to come to work. If employees feel like nobody knows they’re there, then it makes it easy to leave or give minimal effort. But, as Ted Danson can attest to, if you work in an environment where everybody knows your name, it can be hard to leave.
What can you do?
It’s as simple as making sure everybody on your team feels known. Take the time to converse enough to really learn who they are, learn their priorities and challenges.
People in the back of the house struggle with this especially. Employees may struggle if they come to work and do a job that they think has no impact. You don’t need to be curing malaria or building rockets to engage in meaningful work, but you do have to understand why you are doing it to enjoy it. Miserable employees will struggle to tell you what makes their job important.
What can you do?
Make sure your employees know their role within the business. Talking with individuals about why their job matters and how it impacts the end product or customer experience is enough to convey the importance of someone’s job and that will make them more likely to do it well. Simply asking someone to tell you about one thing that went great from the day can help people realize that what they do at work matters. Another thing they mention in the book is that your employee should know who’s life they changed on a daily basis. Whether it’s the customer, other employees, or the boss approaching each day with this mindset helps build a positive and meaningful culture.
This is a word Table Group had to invent to get the point across. Employees who can’t measure their own success are sure to feel inadequate. Employees need to know that their manager isn’t subjecting them to secret or unfair criteria when evaluating their performance. It’s very difficult to succeed at something when you don’t have a clear picture of success.
What can you do?
Clarify what success looks like. Chris told an example of his children’s work at a senior care facility. They were told very early how to tell if they were doing a good job. Things like making sure all of the jam jars on the table were full or ensuring that you smile and say a resident’s name when you see them. It’s important to define what success looks like in seemingly trivial areas like this because without that benchmark, people have no control over their own success. For many in the hospitality industry, asking how many times you made someone smile in a day can be a great measure of success.
So, what is culture? It’s not the fancy perks or events or retreats that a company offers. It’s the normalized behaviors within the working environment. The best thing a manager can do to institutionalize these behaviors and make it part of your culture is to be mindful about who you promote and hire as your team leads. Make sure you explain their role and responsibilities as a lead as they relate to the other staff and the guests. The job of the manager is to facilitate this.
Implementing these three things costs operators nothing, but it can make all the difference in the world. Almost every new hire will be taught their technical responsibilities when they get hired, but the way to build a great culture is to teach them behavioral responsibilities as well. Next time you’re interacting with your supervisor, crew or team member, keep in mind the issues that may be dragging them down and what you can do to help eliminate those feelings. Once again, to drive the point home, those three signs of a miserable worker are anonymity, irrelevance and immeasurement.