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Hilton's Brand VP: Enterprise Engagement is Happening

“Enterprise Engagement is not only going to happen, it’s already happening,” says Gina Valenti, Vice President, Brand Hospitality – Focused Service Brands, Hilton, and a member of the Enterprise Engagement Alliance and its Corporate Advisory Board. “I have no doubt now it will evolve into a formal field.” 
Valenti became involved as an advisor to the Enterprise Engagement Alliance’s curriculum and certification program nearly six years ago, focusing primarily on content related to implementing engagement across the enterprise. As the person in charge of the Hampton Inns brand at that time, she had already discovered on her own the importance of delivering the “brand personality” through employees, and a case study of her work at Hampton Inns is featured in the latest edition of Enterprise Engagement: The Roadmap
Progress on All Fronts
Valenti says that the field of engagement has come a long way since the EEA was founded. “I do believe that if you scan industries across the horizon, more companies aren’t just paying lip service to engagement,” she notes. “More companies are understanding the impact of engagement on the bottom line. While companies have always said that people are their greatest assets, a greater number are standing behind those principles and understanding the value of human capital.”
While Valenti says she cannot speak to the influence of the growing number of pension funds asking questions of public companies about human capital and employee engagement, she says of her own publicly-held company, “Hilton is very committed to engagement, and it is being driven by our CEO and CHRO. We are all measured on our ability to engage; these scores are very visible and we’re held accountable for them through our annual performance reviews. We are committed to engagement from the very top.” 
She says she has also noticed a change in the mentality of the company’s franchise owners over the years, who are independent businesspeople who don’t have to embrace all of Hilton’s tools to foster engagement. “Owners are getting it more than ever,” Valenti adds. All the worlds are colliding to help our franchise community understand that their biggest asset is their people. The cost of customer and employee turnover is expensive. They understand the need to get everyone engaged and deliver the brand promise.” 
Creating Formal Standards
As for developing an agreed-upon nomenclature and implementation framework for the engagement field, Valenti believes that the more we can standardize definitions and the framework and create a discipline that is taught to businesspeople, the more we can have an impact on organizations and results. “More needs to be done to give this subject street credibility and to provide professional development so that we have leaders capable of implementing formal strategies,” she says. “Having a framework and standardizing processes helps us scale it. Without a framework and some standardization, it’s more difficult.”
As for Valenti’s task at Hilton, her challenge starts with the fact that she is dealing with independent owners who aren’t obligated to take advantage of the engagement tools her group develops. They have the contractual liberty to have their own compensation and benefits packages and approach to engagement. “It’s important for us to paint a picture to our franchise owners to help them understand the impact of engagement,” she says. “We can’t force franchise owners to engage; we have to inspire them, and that’s part of the fun.” 
ESM asked Valenti how the company manages this enormous effort across so many properties. “It starts with us internally,” she says, “with our enterprise brand, which is our shared purpose to fill the earth with the light and the warmth of hospitality. That has been our purpose and our vision from the days of Conrad Hilton. That means creating an exceptional and heart-felt experience for our guests. Each brand has its own personality, but all of them need to deliver heart-felt and exceptional experiences. The endgame is to provide the guest the best place to stay. We like to our treat our guests like friends coming to our home…that experience of coming for a visit. We want our guests to feel cared for.” 
She adds: “We know the key to engagement is through helping team members come to work and feel inspired to contribute the best of themselves. We’re founded on a strengths-based approach. It’s about hiring the right people and then supporting them along the way.”
Engagement Management 
Valenti says she has taken a lot of cues from what happens in marketing and consumer engagement to manage her engagement efforts. While no single agency manages all her work, she draws upon multiple companies for different viewpoints, including Root Inc., for training and communications; the Marcus Buckingham Company for assessment tools and high level guidance to help match talent with the right jobs and more; Gallup for surveys; and even the comedy theater group Brave New Workshop to help employees visualize and understand how their actions affect the customer experience. 
“A key lever to engagement is helping team-members bring their full selves to work,” Valenti explains. “We do a lot of work to create processes to help team members understand what helps them to stand out in the work they do every day. We have continued to evolve an ecosystem that helps us create brand hospitality where it starts – with our people.” The key, sums up Valenti, is to “surround yourself with the right variety of expertise to help address all these key elements.”
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