A/E Leadership Letter

A/E Leadership Letter

Amid Crisis, Marriott CEO’s Leadership Shines Through

The crucible. True leadership qualities emerge in crises like the one currently confronting businesses around the world. One leader who earned rave reviews for his response at the outset of the coronavirus pandemic is Marriott International CEO Arne Sorenson, who demonstrated why in 2019 Chief Executive Magazine named him the CEO of the year.

Straight man. In a candid, emotional six-minute video to Marriott employees, shareholders, and customers, Sorenson displayed honesty, vulnerability, and empathy while communicating clearly and directly. He didn’t sugarcoat the pandemic’s devastating impact on the hotel chain: “COVID-19 is like nothing we’ve ever seen before. For a company that’s 92-years-old,” he said, “that’s saying something.” He warned that the effects on the company would be greater than those following the 9/11 attacks and 2008 Great Recession. Leaders don’t want to be the bearer of bad news, but by playing it straight, Sorenson earned trust.

In it together. Sorenson announced shortened employee workweeks and staff reductions but shared in the sacrifice by revealing that he would forego his salary for the remainder of the year and that the Marriott executive team would take a 50% salary cut. He also demonstrated compassion. “There is simply nothing worse than telling highly valued associates—people who are the very heart of this company—that their roles are being impacted by events completely outside of their control,” Sorenson said as his voice broke.

Rallying the troops.The Marriott CEO, who recorded the video in the midst of his own chemotherapy treatments, ended on a hopeful note: “I know we, as a global community, will come through the other side. And that when we do, our guests will be eager to travel this beautiful world again. When that great day comes, we will be there to welcome them with the warmth and care we are known for the world over,” he said. “Together we can—and we will—overcome this, and we’ll thrive once again.”

What Does the Future Hold for Business Travel?

Flights grounded. The coronavirus pandemic continues to have a severe effect on business travel. Bank of America reported that airline bookings for business travel were down nearly 90% year-over-year for the week ending August 23, compared with a 50% decline for leisure travel bookings.

The way back. Face-to-face contact will continue to be critical for client development and people are social creatures, so business travel will rebound once a vaccine or treatment becomes widely available. But will business travel ever return to pre-pandemic levels? Half of Fortune 500 CEOs surveyed by the magazine say it never will at their companies. “I don’t think we’ll ever get back entirely to where we were in 2019 on the volume of business traffic,” Delta Air Lines CEO Ed Bastian said in a July earnings call. Former American Airlines CEO Robert Crandall told the Wall Street Journal that he expects one-third to one-half of business travel will go away.

Déjà vu. There were, of course, similar doomsday predictions for business travel after the 9/11 attacks and the Great Recession that were proven wrong. Research from McKinsey showed that international business travel eventually rebounded after the Great Recession, although it took five years. What’s different this time is the global nature of the economic shutdown that has caused business travel to decline by orders of magnitude compared to 2001 and 2008 as well as advances in videoconferencing technology that have permitted face-to-face communication to continue—albeit from a distance.

Safety first. Until the availability of a vaccine or treatment, the “new normal” of business travel will include mandatory personal health screenings and use of personal protective equipment such as gloves or face masks. Major companies are revising travel policies to incorporate safety protocols for hotels, rental-car companies, and ride-share providers. Before hitting the road, business travelers need to consider not just the health risks of traveling during a pandemic but of the possibility that they might face quarantine upon their returns home.

Juggling Work and Homeschooling – Again

School’s in session? It’s back to school time, and many parents are finding themselves in the same difficult position as they were in the spring—working from home while their children attend school remotely. A study by Burbio found that only 19% of U.S. K-12 public school students will be starting the school year by attending school in person five days a week. According to a poll by employee survey platform Perceptyx, 51% of working parents expect they will be distracted to either a moderate or great extent with their children learning from home, and 60% say remote learning will place an extremely difficult burden on their family.

Split squad. For working parents for whom paid child care is unavailable or unaffordable, time management is critical for navigating a challenging situation. On her podcast The New Corner Office, time management expert Laura Vanderkam recommends a split schedule for working parents who have partners or relatives with whom they can share child care. As an example, one person works from 8 A.M. to 3 P.M. three days a week and 1 P.M. to 6 P.M. two days a week while the other person works 8 A.M. to 3 P.M. two days a week and 1 P.M. to 6 P.M. three days a week. Schedules would be swapped each week. Vanderkam’s suggestion is built on the premise that 1 P.M. to 3 P.M. can be a time when younger children nap or older kids have screen or quiet time, allowing both adults to do focused work for those two hours. In addition, if there’s work that can be done outside of conventional office hours, try quiet times on weekends, nights, or early mornings.

Avoiding derailments. Setting up rough schedules for everyone in the household at the start of the day will also help with time management. In order to have longer stretches of unbroken time for work, encourage older children to be self-starters. Provide them with lists of possible activities as well as choices for lunch and snacks that they can serve themselves in order to minimize interruptions, which can really derail workflow efficiencies. Using visual cues such as wearing noise-cancelling headphones or placing stop signs on doors or workstations can also help working parents establish boundaries.

About the Author

Morrissey Goodale
Morrissey Goodale is a management consulting and research firm specializing in the architecture, engineering, and environmental consulting industries; offering executive search, mergers & acquisitions, financial advisory, leadership training, and strategic planning services.

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