Workday Podcast: Building A Culture for the Greater Good at Motel 6

Motel 6’s hospitality doesn’t end with their hotel guests. Sherry Vidal-Brown, CHRO at G6 Hospitality, shares how the company is extending hospitality to its employees and communities as well.

This podcast was recorded before the global pandemic. While the world looks a lot different today, we believe this content remains valuable for helping organizations move forward and emerge stronger.

"We'll leave the light on for you." While Motel 6 may be known for its iconic slogan, the company is also gaining attention for its corporate social responsibility (CSR) efforts. 

In this episode of the Workday Podcast, I chat with Sherry Vidal-Brown, chief human resources officer at G6 Hospitality, about how the hotel chain is building a culture that's focused on the greater good by investing in their employees and the community. 

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If you’re more of a reader, below you’ll find our conversation, edited for clarity. You can also find our other Workday Podcasts here.

Ghadeer Redler: Before we get started, can you tell me a little bit about your background and your current role at G6 hospitality?

Sherry Vidal-Brown: I've worked for over 20 years in business and I've had the opportunity to work with some great brands including FedEx, American Airlines, Accor, and now Motel 6. It's been great to see how I can really help make an impact to carry those brands going forward. In addition to the work experience I've had, I also have a PhD in psychology. When people learn that about me they ask, "Oh, are you analyzing me now?," and I jokingly say, "No, you're not paying me for it so no, I'm not." But, it has helped me understand people and how I can really get the best out of people's potential.

Redler: Before we jump into the CSR efforts that your company is focused on, let’s paint a picture of what the hospitality landscape looks like now. How different is it today than10 years ago?

Vidal-Brown: It's really interesting; there are a lot of things that are still really basic in how hospitality delivers. Fundamentally, we're about delivering guest service and guest experience. I think how hospitality has changed . . . people want to spend more of their money on experiences, so we need to deliver more of that. That also means, in the economy lodging segment, that people want to stay with us and get what they pay for, but they also want to be able to spend their money on those experiences. That's where we feel like we have a really special place in the marketplace today. When people want to take that Instagram photo over the Grand Canyon or somewhere else, we can help them on their path to have those experiences.

Redler: Speaking of experiences, I want to talk a little bit about the employee experience  as well. How important is the employee experience to today's hospitality business?

Vidal-Brown: The employee experience is really important. If you think about how that has changed over the last 10 years, you have to continue to reinvent the employee experience. It shouldn't be the same as it was 10 years ago—I sure hope it's not the same. We have to make that experience similar to how their experience is as a customer with other businesses and brands. We have to make it easy for them to come on board, and we need to communicate in a more direct and immediate way versus this very heavy, bureaucratic way of communicating. There are a variety of things that we've done to help create that kind of experience with our employees.

Redler: You’re also investing a lot in your employees’ skills, even though the hospitality industry is known to have a high attrition rate. What's the strategy behind investing in your employees knowing there is a good possibility that they're going to go elsewhere?

Vidal-Brown: What I always get back to is the purpose of our company. We believe everyone has the right to travel, so we create a welcoming place for people wherever their journey is. 

We believe in the same thing with regards to our team members’ experience and career journey. We may be the first stop on many stops in their career. Why shouldn't we invest in them? Don't you feel great about investing and helping people develop? And if [other companies] want to  recruit our people, what does that say about us as a company? That says that either we've developed them, hired the right people, or they have great skills to help bring that forward somewhere else. We just want them to continue to be advocates for what we've brought to them along their path.

Redler: That's great. How are you helping your employees, especially the frontline workers, feel connected to the company and to its mission?

Vidal-Brown: There are a variety of ways, but 'll talk about three specifically. One is connecting people to our brand and purpose. You have to give people that purpose and value so they can be a part of it, and they can feel connected to it. The second is what we're doing around a communication tool. And the third is recognition, people want to be recognized. 

How we've helped to facilitate that to go much quicker is by having a tool that [allows] almost immediate interaction and discussion; it's kind of like our internal communications’ social media portal. People get so excited to post about things they're doing at their property or about how they're working in the community, it's a way for them to communicate internally with us and to recognize each other.

For example, we had a big push for fire [and] life safety because it’s really important to us. We have an entire month where we focus on that, and people post things like, "I'm the first one to finish, I'm so excited!" The whole team is engaged around something that's really simple, but also really important for our guests. It’s great to see our team members get excited and communicating their successes along the way. It's not just about what leadership wants to communicate to them.

Redler: Do you find that employees talk to each other in the context of, "Oh, I ran into this problem and I need help." Do people from another location chime in and give their ideas?

Vidal-Brown: People will share ideas about the community and say, "Hey, I had this activity where I worked on the street with a local chamber of commerce and helped to drive some business." And someone else may say, "Oh, that's a great idea." So, they leverage off of that, and it just continues to grow and expand. That's another way that people are engaged, right? They're talking to one another. They're not all in the same place because we have so many properties across the country, but still they feel a part of a community and being together.

Redler: Before we talk about all the great work that Motel 6 is doing with its CSR efforts, let's start by defining it. What does corporate social responsibility, or CSR, mean?

Brown: Corporate social responsibility is really about how we as a business can focus on the things that are important to the individuals that we serve and support  in our communities with issues that are pertinent today. It's not just about what we feel is important, but issues that are facing our customers and communities. There are a variety of ways you can look at that, including community service. That could be fundraising or taking a more active role with the local government. We really want to take an effort in a couple of key areas associated with it.

Redler: Why is CSR important to Motel 6?

Vidal-Brown: We are a business that is about hospitality, so we don't want to just be about coming in, checking into our motel, and leaving. We're about creating a relationship within the community and within the broader domestic U.S. and Canada. It's really important that we create relationships and a connection, and we do that through the efforts that we stand for. People connect with us. 

We had a guest the other day who said, "You know what, we stayed at Motel 6 because of the work you do with veterans.” That made a connection for them, and that's what we're all about: creating a connection for people along their journey.

Redler: Now let's talk about some of the CSR efforts that Motel 6 is involved in. 

Vidal-Brown: When a company is looking to start a CSR effort, it should really focus on the fundamentals that are important to that industry or that business. For us, we have a couple of different things. One is hiring. We want to hire lots of different folks from different walks of life. 

One of our big focuses has been on veterans. There has been a lot of attention around veterans leaving their service and needing employment. Over the last five years, we've hired over 2,000 veterans, which is phenomenal. What's interesting, is that we have a higher rate of retention with our veterans than we do with some other groups. So why wouldn't we want to  continue to hire and focus on our veterans? We've also been recognized as a military-friendly employer and as a “Best for Vets” employer. It's just great that we've had that focus.

The second area that's really important in our industry is around human trafficking. This is an issue that faces the transportation and hospitality industry in particular. We signed the ECPAT code, which is about trying to prevent the exploitation of children and human trafficking. We have all of our team members take training to spot these issues, so that they can try to help when someone might be in need, and we have a variety of success stories of people who have saved lives. That's where people can come to work and feel like they're making a difference, and that's really important in our CSR efforts.

Redler: That's great. You talked a little bit about the amount of veterans you've hired and how Motel 6 has  been able to save lives with some of these CSR initiatives. What other impact have you seen?

Vidal-Brown: We also have our Care@6 program. I shared earlier what we're doing externally in the community, but there's an impact within what we're doing for our own team members as well. For example, when the hurricanes and the fires happened, we had team members who lost everything. We have a fund called Care@6, where team members can apply for relief funds to help get them back on their feet after incidents like that.

To me, it can just be about how you're making a difference in one person's life. It doesn't have to be the hiring of the thousands, but how are you making a difference each and every day in someone's life? Again, that's what hospitality is all about. When someone comes into a Motel 6, how do you greet them? How do you welcome them?  We don't know how someone has shown up and what kind of day they have had. It's just fun to be nice.

Redler: Absolutely, people forget it often, but it's something so small and it can make such an impact on anyone.

Vidal-Brown: Absolutely.

Redler: Do you have any other pieces of advice for companies that want to get started or maybe roll out new CSR initiatives?

Vidal-Brown: Yes, I think aligning with what the company's purpose is and having senior leadership on board is key. As we've developed our CSR program, we scanned the environment, saw which national and local organizations that we wanted to work with that align with our industry and our business, and then had discussions at the executive team level to say, "Where do we want to show our commitment?" Honestly, the team probably wanted to give to 40 or 50 charities, and all start at once. Our team said, "We really want to have an impact, but let's make sure we can be committed to the ones that we're picking out."

We all want to give in so many different ways, but it's really important to stay focused while also supporting team members’ ideas as they're going to generate great ideas about how to support the community. That's really our role as leadership, to cultivate and continue to support their ideas as well as supporting community efforts.

Redler: That's great. Well, this has been awesome. I would like to thank Sherry for joining me.

Vidal-Brown: Thank you so much for having me. It has been great to visit with you today.

Redler: If you'd like to hear more Workday Podcasts, please be sure to subscribe. Thanks for listening. 

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