Recently we did a workshop centering on the work of Gina Valenti. Gina is in charge of culture for Hampton Inns. She shared her journey and her impressive successes. A key moment in her story was a personal challenge from her CEO. Hampton had introduced many positive practices. The CEO said, “We cannot afford to keep introducing practices that our competition simply copies.”
After pondering this challenge, Gina came to a personal epiphany: “The one thing others cannot copy is our people; they cannot copy our culture.” She eventually concluded that the success is about engagement, and engagement is not about compensation and benefits. It is about culture and climate. From then on, Gina became what I call a positive deviant.
Gina began to lead culture change. This always requires real leadership which is not about position and authority. She said, “We have general managers. We cannot command them. We have to inspire them.”
Gina does not see herself as being exceptionally smart (fixed mindset), but she does see herself as someone exceptionally committed to learning in real time (growth mindset). She surrounds herself with wise people and she listens, she moves into uncertainty, and she experiments. Gina says, “When I am crafting the culture, I do not have a plan. I just keep doing what makes sense and the path just opens up. Everything I do is with others. We co-create each aspect.”
Gina reports, “I try to focus on little things that make a big difference.” Leaders who seek to transform culture look for small acts that provide high leverage. Gina, for example, built the onboarding process around the behaviors of the very best GMs in the organization. Her new employees were thus learning from practical excellence. This strategy invites them to create their own excellence.
Gina’s ability to influence without authority is what differentiates leaders from managers. She knows solutions will come through the process of learning in the midst of ongoing experience.
How do I know Gina really has this kind of unconditional confidence? At the end of the session, she made a statement of quiet strength. I am not sure how many even heard it. She declared, “This year is a challenge. They just cut my budget by several million dollars. I do not see this as a problem. I will just find another way. I will do it differently.”
- Do you believe culture and engagement are the essence of competitive advantage?
- What happens to a professional who values learning over knowing?
- What does it mean to craft and co-create a culture without a plan?
- How could we use this passage to create a more positive organization?