By Hillary Richard
For Concord Hospitality Enterprises Company changing its mission statement was not seen as a top priority. After all, in its 35-year history Concord has grown from two hotel properties to more than 100 (with plans to expand further in the immediate future), thanks in part to its original ethos, The Employer and Manager of Choice.
Nevertheless, the Raleigh-based management, ownership and development group recently announced a change in its public-facing direction that will focus on its diversity and inclusion efforts. Concord has made several lists touting it as one of the “best places to work,” particularly for women and millennials.
Why fix what isn’t broken? In this social media era, companies are feeling a new type of pressure to create and publicize everything from their philanthropic commitments to their internal policies. For Concord Hospitality, that peer pressure and image management stress led to an unexpected realization. The company needed to toot its own horn, loudly. Thus, The Employer and Manager of Choice became A Great Place to Work For All.
“Diversity and inclusion have always been a part of our company DNA,” said Debra Punke, SVP of human capital and communications for Concord. “The reality now is if you don’t tell people what you’re doing, they won’t know. We didn’t have a diversity and inclusion council until two years ago because we didn’t think we had to formalize it. Now we’ve learned that it’s important and exciting to communicate what we’ve always done.”
The diversity council started a campaign called Our Biggest Differences Are Our Greatest Strengths. It began by uncovering all of the multi-cultural events Concord properties participate in, from ethnic pot lunches to diverse cultural celebrations. Now two years in, Punke noted that, “It drove engagement and satisfaction, which drove results.”
In an age where social media is what many would refer to as a necessary evil that needs to involve meticulously managed images and consistent brand behavior, Concord did something so organic it could be considered rogue. It gave its 4,600 associates a chance to get very personal, very publicly.
“The world is saying social media is the devil. We say it’s not. It’s a way to celebrate things we do to create inclusive work environment,” said Punke.
To achieve this, Concord turned to Yammer, an internal Facebook-style site the company had been using for about five years. Council members shared stories about overcoming obstacles in their personal lives and what differences make them unique. They invited all of Concord’s associates to start interacting by sharing their individual stories.
“We felt comfortable then that everyone was going to do the right thing in the social world, and they have. It’s cool because we’ve shown it’s a place to celebrate and share and be real,” Punke said. Associates from all walks of life jumped in, sharing stories of life challenges—from experiencing cultural hate crimes to struggling with sexuality.
Punke and Concord started by announcing and celebrating their existing inclusion and philanthropic efforts. Showing both their own associates and investors the things their colleagues at other properties were doing inspired them to either showcase or start their own efforts. This fed into a positive loop: proud associates delivered good service to guests, happy guests returned, business flourished.
The campaign achieved its initial goals of enriching day-to-day life of Concord associates and bringing them together by celebrating their individuality. After seeing its positive impact on associates, Concord decided to bring it public.
The most apparent example of this is Concord’s annual Share Day, a company-wide day of volunteering and giving back to Concord properties’ local communities. The idea was to make immediate change in local communities by picking partners that are similar to Concord business-wise (mainly food and shelter organizations) in order to help local community members in need.
When Share Day started 10 years ago, half of the hotels involved had to fund it through the home office. This year, Concord associates nationwide took it upon themselves to raise $130,000 for their food and shelter efforts. Momentum for Share Day has grown steadily, and in a decade (10 individual days), Punke estimates associates have distributed 2 million meals, rebuilt 36 homes for elderly or physically challenged people and donated about 24,000 volunteer hours.
This spirit of philanthropy began at the top, with CEO Mark Laport, who created Concord Hospitality 35 years ago. According to Punke, Laport “always knew that it took a great team to win, so he always had it in his head that he had to be a great employer, always had to provide a great work environment, always had to hire like-minded people to win.” At a recent conference, Laport took to the stage and underscored his belief that integrity is doing the right thing even when people aren’t looking, from being the best version of yourself to being charitable to thinking about all aspects of your surroundings.
“He’s so approachable and visible. He displays the behaviors he wants others to emulate,” Punke said, adding that the 10 senior company leaders similarly believe in this company culture, which allows for the freedom to do things like change the company motto and create new campaigns.
While Punke acknowledges Concord’s change in mission statement is huge, change doesn’t faze her in the least.
“We change every single day. That’s one of the things I love about the company—it’s a group of nimble, like-minded people who want to win in all that they do,” she said.
While businesses jump on every trend and hot-button issue in order to chase authenticity, Concord found a boon in publicizing what they’ve been doing for years instead of manufacturing something brand new. It turns out the key to achieving brand authenticity is as simple as… being authentic.
“People give millennials such a bad name, but in my opinion these young folks have brought more to this world in one generation than any other, like social causes, sustainability initiatives, a desire to bring harmony to work-life balance,” said Punke.
“When we present our company to potential owners and potential business partners, what they really want to hear about is what we do outside of the boardroom. What makes us a great partner to the world. What makes us unique,” she added.