"What we do is way more complicated than rocket science."

In this article, we'll hear from Craig Cochrane, Chief People Officer at Minor Hotels, on the crucial role that company culture plays in driving the success of an organization. As an expert in human resources, Craig will share his insights on how a strong company culture can be built and sustained to support the growth and prosperity of a business.

What inspired you to become a Chief People Officer, and what do you enjoy most about this role?  

I have always enjoyed business and I love working with people so the opportunity to combine delivering business results through leading, inspiring and challenging people is what put me on the path to become Chief People Officer.  I enjoy the fact that no two days are the same in this role and in an industry that I love, which is an industry that is all about people.  I feel we are sometimes too humble about our beautiful hospitality business; ‘It’s not rocket science’ is something we say to ourselves often – it’s true, what we do is way more complicated than rocket science. Getting a team of people together to run a hotel with physically demanding jobs, in front of customer expectations every day, in an ultra-competitive landscape, with thin profit margins, with a product that expires every evening, with partners who make money by taking commission from us, on brand, safely, in remote or dangerous locations, consistently, every day, for year after year, with the minimum impact to the environment as possible...the list goes on.  I don’t know any rocket scientists who could do that.

How do you approach the process of building and maintaining a strong company culture in the hospitality industry, and what methods have you found to be effective?  

A culture is really just the expression of ‘how we do things around here’ and works on many different levels.  You will have a global or ‘corporate’ culture in any organization, you will then have regional or local cultures of the country of operation, beneath that you will have the hotel culture that is in large part a reflection of how the General Manager and leadership team of the hotel do things outside of the scope of the company guidelines and then you will have the departmental and other micro cultures in the property.  Typically, when we talk about ‘company culture’ we are referring to the global culture as I call it and that is usually around 10% - 20% of the culture experienced on property.  But it is a disproportionately important 10% - 20% as the rest of the culture is impacted by it, even derived from it, but not the other way around.  It takes time to build a culture and no time to dismantle one; this is because you must show the consistency of decision making, the things you value, ‘how things are done’.  A culture is not what you say you are, it is what you do.  Repeatedly.

Can you provide an example of a successful diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) initiative that you have led in the hospitality industry, and what were the key factors that contributed to its success?  

I have always found that dealing with people as individuals is the best way to ensure inclusion rather than viewing them as part of a group.  We are all members of many groups, that can be carved up almost infinitely, I try to avoid that.  We are fortunate to work in an industry that gives jobs, training and career growth to people from every part of society, its one of the attributes that makes me love it so much.  I aim to bring people together, not separate them.

How do you measure the success of your HR initiatives in the hospitality industry, and what metrics do you use to evaluate their effectiveness?  

We have a number of Key Performance Indicators that are useful to measure HR initiatives but I still like the tried and trusted: time to hire, employee turnover, revenue per employee, engagement data, internal promotions.  These show you if you are doing the basics well -  a good Employee Value Proposition, employee wellbeing initiatives, efficiency of the team, how strong the development approach is.  Having said that, I also think that HR, as a support function, contributes greatly to the overall success of the business and so guest satisfaction, GOP or EBITDA, RGI are the great barometers of the health of your business.

What methods do you use to promote employee engagement and satisfaction in the hospitality industry, and how do you address common HR challenges such as burnout and turnover?  

For me the way to combat burnout is by helping people identify what sources of stress they have in their life, giving them tools to keep balance and helping them get stronger.  In my case, exercise really helps me keep my level of stress manageable.  On top of that I believe that in my work I am having a positive impact on those around me and the level of responsibility I have (not just at work but in my life in general) is sufficient to give me purpose and a strong sense of self-worth.  Everyone needs that, maybe we don’t talk about it enough, but responsibility is a sure-fire way to give life meaning; once you have that purpose and meaning in life it is easier to keep stress in perspective and be able to handle a tough time in one part of life – a sick relative, financial challenges, difficult relationship with your boss, a new baby – we all inevitably go through different ups and downs.  Meaning, purpose and balance seem to be the best ways to come out of these experiences stronger and free of resentment.

What challenges do you see facing HR departments in the hospitality industry in the coming years, and how do you plan to address them?  

So many to mention but if I had to choose one I think it would be retaining focus on the right things.  With the technology advancements being made and political turmoil in many parts of the world there are so many ‘distractions’ out there and, for me, its important that we don’t lose sight of what makes this industry tick – the people.  We need to promote our industry with pride to job-seekers, we need to keep training people and building capability, we need to keep our guests at the centre of what we do and we need to make decisions that are well balanced between short term profit and long term viability.  To address this, communication will be the main driver.  Ensuring that we are aligned towards what type of company we are today, what we want to be in the future and how to get there.  This comes back to having competent, confident leadership who communicate the culture, ‘the way we do things around here’ and why, to the rest of the company, consistently.  

As I write this to you here it sounds so simple; but that will be several years of work, from many hundreds of people, with many ups and downs along the way.  I look forward to being an integral part of shaping and communicating the culture here at Minor Hotels.

Meet Craig Cochrane, Chief People Office at Minor Hotels here