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Hyatt CEO: The pandemic taught us that experimentation is good for business

May 30, 2021, 12:00 PM UTC
Experimentation has been crucial for many companies struggling during COVID-19.
Thomas Barwick—Getty Images

As the COVID-19 pandemic evolves into a chronic yet more manageable state, business leaders might be tempted to return to the comfort of business as usual. That would be a mistake.

While some organizations were stopped in their tracks by the onset of the pandemic, those that welcomed experimentation were a step ahead in their ability to manage through it. Accustomed to being agile and listening to their stakeholders, they had a kind of strategic muscle memory that allowed them to smoothly embrace new ideas, behaviors, and practices.

But here’s the tricky thing about experimentation: It means being comfortable with some experiments not working out. Continuously learning and modifying is a critical piece of the puzzle.

It’s no secret that the pandemic brought the travel and hospitality industries to a screeching halt, and it’s my firm belief that Hyatt’s focus on listening, testing, learning, and adapting is what led us through the pandemic and put us on a clear path to recovery.

When the pandemic hit us and demand in our hotels essentially went to zero overnight, we first asked ourselves how we could continue to live our purpose—to care for people so they can be their best—when everyone was under significantly more stress than usual. 

Hyatt’s leadership team started its journey with listening—crucial to practicing empathy and delivering authentic care. In response to what we heard, we began to experiment with several new initiatives for both our guests and our colleagues. 

So we asked a simple but profound question to our workforce: “How are you?” 

The answer, from many of our colleagues, was that they weren’t sure. Everything had changed so quickly, so dramatically that it was hard for them to keep track of their feelings. We quickly came to understand that we needed to do more to connect with our employees and to provide them with better tools to support their mental health.

Our leadership team decided to develop Hyatt Well-Check, an anonymous online mental well-being assessment tool. Well-Check gives our colleagues around the world a quick, easy way to track how they’re feeling at the moment and over time. 

Encouraged to “check in” with themselves via the app every one to two weeks, colleagues answer a few simple questions that can help evaluate their mental well-being. When appropriate, colleagues are pointed to resources based on their level of risk. Well-Check went live in late February, and within weeks attracted almost 10,000 users.

Hyatt wasn’t the only organization experimenting with new ideas since the pandemic’s onset, of course. Black Tomato, a leading luxury travel company that provides innovative and inspiring experiences, tested out bespoke travel itineraries inspired by popular children’s stories. For example, it offered a trip to Oxfordshire, England, that resembled the narrative of Lewis Carroll’s classic, Alice in Wonderland. American Airlines, a partner of Hyatt’s loyalty program, tested new things, too, including new electronic wallet technology that allows customers to easily find flight information and travel credit.   

Practicing experimentation also means evolving and dealing with challenges. Last year, in the wake of George Floyd’s death and subsequent protests, Hyatt’s leadership team urgently developed enhanced diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts, but some of our colleagues were not confident that we had fully appreciated their experiences.

Our leaders decided to take the time to listen to these employees’ perspectives before we took any new actions. We had to be uncomfortable for a bit, acknowledging our own ignorance, biases, and questions. This was an important reminder for us that empathy is the essential first step in designing change—there are no shortcuts.

What ultimately grew out of these discussions was Change Starts Here, a series of commitments from Hyatt to factor diversity into who we employ, which organizations and causes we support, who we buy from, and who we partner with. But these commitments are not one-and-done and must continue to evolve. Our colleagues will continue to pay close attention to whether we achieve the goals we’ve set. 

Ultimately, experimenting is about trying new things that have the potential to positively impact your colleagues, your customers, and society. It’s helped us get through the toughest year in our history, and I am convinced it can help other organizations facing similar challenges.

Mark Hoplamazian is president and CEO of Hyatt.

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