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Why Hilton Prioritizes Hospitality Within Their Company Culture

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On this episode of Culture, Comms, & Cocktails, we have Erica Cary, Senior Director of Digital Product Management at Hilton.

Culture, Comms, & Cocktails is internal comms served straight up, so settle in, drink in the knowledge. Some shaken, some stirred, and maybe even some with a twist, and enjoy the top shelf guest I have lined up for you. I’m your host, Chuck Gose, Strategic Advisor at SocialChorus. On this episode of Culture, Comms, & Cocktails, we have Erica Cary, Senior Director of Digital Product Management at Hilton.

Hilton is a leading global hospitality company with a portfolio of 17 world-class brands comprising more than 5,700 properties in 113 countries and territories. Hilton earned a spot on the 2018 and 2019 world’s best workplaces list, and has welcomed more than 3 billion guests in its nearly 100 year history.

“I’m all about trying to push the limits of enterprise communication and collaboration. At Hilton, we realize there’s no one-size-fits-all solutions, but we are excited to have the SocialChorus platform as an essential part of the holistic communication collaboration engagement platform that we are architecting. It seamlessly integrates with our other enterprise solutions.” —Erica Cary

We feature communications leaders every second and fourth Tuesday of the month. Don’t miss an episode of Culture, Comms, & Cocktails, brought to you by SocialChorus. Subscribe now wherever you listen to podcasts (Apple, Google Play, Stitcher, etc.)

Culture, Comms, & Cocktails Episode #25 Transcript

Chuck Gose: Culture, Comms & Cocktails is internal comms served straight up, so settle in, drink in the knowledge, some shaken, some stirred, and maybe even some with a twist, and enjoy the top shelf guests I have lined up for you. I’m your host, Chuck Gose, Strategic Adviser at SocialChorus, and on this episode of Culture, Comms & Cocktails we have Erica Cary, Senior Director of Digital Product Management.

Chuck Gose: I have so many things to talk to you about. I’m going to do my best to keep this focused, but one of my bigger challenges here is obviously you have a very interesting story, but I’m also a huge fan of Hilton. I am a Boyle Hilton honors member and a longtime diamond member. I like to throw that in there for people. So I like my perks and all the good things that come with being a diamond member and I go out of my way to stay at Hilton brand hotels. So I probably get into it a little bit too much looking at reviews and what other people say about where should I stay when I go to cities. So I’m curious though Erica, as someone who works at Hilton, do you have a favorite Hilton brand hotel or even a specific hotel somewhere out there?

Erica Cary: First and foremost, thank you again times again for being a loyal diamond member. I have to admit, this is one of my favorite questions. I absolutely love the Curio brand. So this is one of our more boutique hotel offerings. It’s in our full service category. So that means that we have a restaurant and a bar on site most of the time when we talk about full service categories. But each Curio property is unique in its own way. It’s full of character and charm. So I love visiting Curio hotels in different cities. And seeing what they have to offer and bring?

Chuck Gose: Now, when I think through some of mine, I think to the specific hotels for me. So the Palmer House in Chicago is my favorite. The Hilton Netherland in Downtown Cincinnati new where I grew up. I always liked the hotel, the Seelbach in Louisville. I love the old art deco, old downtown style hotels. But a new favorite brand that I’ve come across that is relatively new to the Hilton family is Canopy. Which I think is a really cool way of still being nice and new and urban, but not sterile and it just seems to fit me really

Erica Cary: That’s great. A lot of people love the Canopies because where they are situated. They have these mini- communities or micro-communities that are around them and so the hotel has plenty to offer. I’m a fan of the breakfast at the Canopies, but also when you step out of the hotel, there’s like a world that’s your oasis. So you can go to many things, many different restaurants. Many different retailers and just experiences that come along with that property and that site itself.

Chuck Gose: Well I’ll take a step back from my Hilton fandom, just for a second. As a traveler, let’s say as a traveler. Because it’s also very impressive that recently Hilton was named to the Fortune 100 Best Places to Work and not in somewhere in the middle of the list or even top 10 on that list, but number one. Fortune 100 Best Places to Work. What does this mean to the people at Hilton? And then also what does this mean to the leaders at Hilton?

Erica Cary: So being number one, not once, but twice is really a huge moment of pride for all of our team members at Hilton. The one thing that sets us truly apart is our culture. So we exude hospitality. I’m sure you’ve experienced this in your multiple stays as a diamond member. Hospitality is in everything that we do. There’s definitely a single thread of being hospitable and creating meaningful relationships that’s reflected in our team members across the globe. You can’t beat that and you can’t buy it. It’s what
makes us us.

Chuck Gose: And then what about the leaders? Is this celebrated? Is this expected? How did leaders feel about this?

Erica Cary: Oh, we celebrate and we encourage this and we remind people this is what we’re here for. And so as you can imagine, there’s ups and downs and ebbs and flows in our business. But we always come back to like, are we being hospitable or how are we displaying hospitality in this moment? Are we invoking that sense of light and warm, that hospitality brings to people across the world? And so this is number one, it’s always talked about, it’s talked about and in how we thrive. Within our culture internally, we extend it to our own to manage, our corporate and even our franchise team members at properties that fought that fire under all of our brands and flags. So this is extremely important to us and a huge mantra for our leadership team. It’s something that we all can get behind.

Chuck Gose: And then what is this; again I’m not 100% sure I know how they picked you guys number one. I’m not going to argue with being picked number one, because I’m on board as you know. We can go back to that conversation, but how does this represent itself in the culture? What does it feel like to work at Hilton?

Erica Cary: I think it feels like a huge responsibility. And so I think number one was something that we were striving to get to. This is not an easy task to be named number one. There’s tons of things that go into it, but we have to tell the story and the fabric and the history and the legacy and the impact, socially within the community that we’ve made to even get considered for such an honor as being number one. And then they come in and they do all these surveys of team members and all of this is just really random and selected by outside company and they take and tabulate all that information. And so we knew that this was happening and we crafted that story that we were so excited to tell. And all the things that make up that fabric of what we do.

Erica Cary: So I think even just pulling together those artifacts lends to some moments of pride because you set a goal, you tackle it and then you get in the business of doing the work for the next goal and you forget all the wins along the way or the things that you had to overcome and do to get there. But we celebrated all those moments and bringing those stories together and having those reflective times where we can really like, oh we really are number one. And these are the reasons why. And this is how our team members played a huge role in that. And I think that is a huge testament to our team members, but also a huge responsibility because we were like, well, what do we do next? And so it was even more exciting and exhilarating to be named number one twice because I think that’s even a bigger hurdle to jump over. But now we have that accountability there and that bar’s been set. And so we always have to operate at that level of excellence.

Chuck Gose: Yeah. You’ve got 99 companies chasing after you now on that list. If you need anybody help filling out surveys, Erica just let me know. I’ll put in the words. I want to spend a little bit of time talking about the work that you do at Hilton. Because usually on this podcast we have internal comms directors or heads of corp comm, but you are the senior director of digital product management. So explain to the listeners what does that mean at Hilton?

Erica Cary: Very simply put, I say I’m in the business or reimagining technology for our team members. So in my current role, I’ve been in this role for about four years now. I am solely responsible and passionate about creating exceptional workplace technology experiences, for our team members and for our guests. So I consider myself that conduit between the business, the technology and the process. But then I have to utilize all of my technical fluency. Some of my social and digital engagement, a lot of data and analytics and all of the business acumen to actually drive organizational change, enhance our business value that we deliver in form of innovative technology solutions. And this is with a heavy emphasis on drive. I feel like I am strapping on people on my back and taking them to the promised land all the time in terms of technology and all the wonderful things that it can do to enhance the way we present ourselves in the marketplace and in the workplace here at Hilton.

Chuck Gose: And one of those products is SocialChorus platform and Hilton’s been a customer. The SocialChorus for several years with Lobby Buzz. It’s a very clever name for the platform. How has this evolved over the years at Hilton.

Erica Cary: Yeah, I like to think that we have grown up with SocialChorus. Early on, we were very keen on an employee advocacy platform, and quickly realized that team members would share their personal networks out to their personal networks but not as consistently and frequently as we expected or liked them to share out all the wonderful news about Hilton. And then around that same time SocialChorus shifted its focus to a more robust communications and engagement platform, which solely aligns and is well centered to all the cross functional work that I’m personally driving with my communication and property leaders at Hilton.

Chuck Gose: So I like that you use the word you’ve grown up, Lobby Buzz has grown up with SocialChorus. If we continue on that path, as Lobby Buzz grows up, what do you think it’s going to be? Where is Lobby Buzz headed for employers? You mentioned in your role it’s all about the technology and the employee experience and driving that for employees. Where is Lobby Buzz headed inside Hilton?

Erica Cary: That’s a great question. So I’m all about trying to push the limits of enterprise communication and collaboration. At Hilton we realize there’s no one-size-fits-all solution, but we are excited to have Lobby Buzz as an essential part of the holistic communication collaboration engagement platform that we are architecting. So it’s seamlessly integrates with our other enterprise solutions. For example, like a Microsoft Office 365 and how they’re going to the cloud. But we use this connection and this integration to really hone in and drive that connection to team members so they can get access to information, tools and resources globally for all of our team members.

Chuck Gose: And we kicked off the podcast, mentioned we talked about being on this podcast about a year ago. And I congratulated you earlier about Hilton being number one on The Best Places to Work. But a personal congratulations for you for being named a keynote speaker at FutureComms 2020 in New York. It was at 2019 FutureComms that we talked about having you on the podcast, but without giving away your talk or maybe tease people a little bit, entice them to come to FutureComms. What is your topic and what
are you going to talk about at FutureComms 2020?

Erica Cary: I’m so excited. Can I say I’m so excited about this talk? I dug really deep for this FutureComms presentation that I’m going to give. I say the best way for me to describe it would be, this talk is a stormy, twisted, parallel, tell of personal and professional transformation. It’s sure to be informative and entertaining. So I hope everyone has a seat and is able to join me at FutureComms in New York in 2020.

Chuck Gose: Now for someone who attended and is now speaking, for somebody out there that’s listening to this and they’re like, I don’t really know if FutureComms is right or should I give up those couple of days from work to come to New York, as someone who attended, what would you say to them?

Erica Cary: I said, I must be there. 2019 was the first year that I joined FutureComms and prior to coming I had been to other organization’s kind of FutureComms or conferences that they have. I was really impressed about the format of FutureComms. It’s engaging the whole entire time. You have different formats throughout the day there. You have opportunities to network, to be informed, to learn from other organizations and really just build that sense of community amongst communicators. And I really found that it was an invigorating experience that you should not deny yourself. Join us.

Chuck Gose: Well, I will be there too Erica, so I will be cheering you on when you’re on stage. I’m looking forward to your talk. I’ll try to silence my Hilton fandom a little bit and raise my Erica fandom. And not confuse those two when you’re on stage. And the conference hotel is a Hilton? Which is awesome.

Erica Cary: Which is very awesome.

Chuck Gose: It’s the one right by Oculus, Hilton Millennium, right in New York City. So great location for the people staying there. The event is not there, but the hotel for the event is there. So we talked about the culture at Hilton in the comms activity you’re involved with Erica, but the podcast is called Culture, Comms and Cocktails, so I’m curious, and this is going back to the past guest on, Mike Gloekler, who was on from McKee Foods. And they make all the little Debbie Snacks amongst other things and I asked him around like what was his favorite drink, but also did he have a unique pairing with some kind of little Debbie Snacks and an adult beverage. But from your side Erica, I’m curious, what is your favorite cocktail and is it perhaps something at a favorite Hilton resort?

Erica Cary: So fun fact, the Hilton created the piña colada as we know it today. I don’t know if you knew that.

Chuck Gose: Stop.

Erica Cary: No.

Chuck Gose: You’re making things up now.

Erica Cary: No, this is a very real thing. We created the piña colada as you know it today. So you have Hilton to thank for the piña coladas that you enjoy by the poolside. That’s where it all happened and started. But I will have to say that my favorite cocktail is something in Texas we call a ranch water. It’s just a fancy way of saying tequila, soda water and lime. I’m a real simple girl with cocktails, more alcohol, less than anything else though.

Chuck Gose: I have heard of this ranch water before. I’ve never had this. So I feel like if you’re going to drink that, it should probably be in Texas. That only makes sense to me. But you kind of blew my mind with this piña colada thing Erica, because I didn’t know that.

Erica Cary: You’ll never be the same.

Chuck Gose: I didn’t know that. I feel like this is the time, and again, I don’t know if this is true or not, but I think there’s something around the Palmer House in Chicago inventing the brownie or something like that. So maybe Hilton is on this forefront of all this food creation and creativity. But no, I had absolutely no idea that the piña colada was created by Hilton.

Erica Cary: Yes sir.

Chuck Gose: Erica, thank you again so much for coming on the podcast. It’s going to be great having you in New York City at FutureComms, April 29th through 30th. I’m glad we finally got you on the podcast. I will take ownership for that delay. I did not forget about you, but I’m glad we waited because then we got to talk about you speaking at FutureComms, we got to talk about the communications activities you’re involved in there. And also again, about Hilton being named on number one, on Fortune 100 Best Places to Work list. So thank you again, Erica for coming on the podcast.

Erica Cary: Thank you for having me check in. I can’t wait to see you in New York.

Chuck Gose: Sounds great. Maybe with a piña colada.

Erica Cary: Yes. I’ll get us some.

Chuck Gose: If you enjoyed what you heard from this episode and want to check out others. Find Culture, Comms and Cocktails on Apple Podcast, Google Play, Spotify, or wherever you like to listen. And when you do, hit that subscribe button so you don’t miss any future episodes. This has been Culture, Comms & Cocktails, internal comms served straight up. Thanks for listening.


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Chuck Gose

Chuck Gose

I am a self-proclaimed Skyline Chili connoisseur and Duran Duran fan with nearly 20 years of experience in marketing, corporate communications, and internal communications. My passion and enthusiasm for the communications profession began early in my career at General Motors and Rolls-Royce, Since then, I have focused on weaving internal communications and technology in creative ways. I'm also the co-creator of The Periodic Table of Internal Communications and The Very Hungry Communicator. But most importantly, I got to fly in a blimp once.

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