Meet Kirk Kinsell, President & CEO of Loews Hotels & Resorts:
Kirk, in your leadership experience, how important is the notion of collaboration in organizations – and how do you define it?
I define collaboration as people – better yet, different groups of people – that work together on a common task or provide significant insight to a challenge. Collaboration amplifies the strength of the organization. It gives a more informed view and broader perspective to make better decisions. Morten Hansen writes in his book Collaboration about ‘T’ shaped management. This is working across the organization – not just within your own function. This is a mantra at Loews Hotels, as we want to leverage the collective intelligence.
One mindset about collaboration is that it slows things down – or seems inefficient. How do you answer that objection?
Good collaboration evaluates first the opportunities for collaboration. Not all actions need to be led through a group; one needs to be clear on when you are driving for enhanced results. Certainly, an individual can make a decision more quickly, but that doesn’t build buy-in, empowerment, shared values, and diverse or alternate ways to achieve success. Many of the failures I have observed in execution of a strategy are because the business thought speed rather than shared alignment of purpose and achievement would win. I am not sure who said it, but I live by, “a problem shared, is a problem half solved.”
At Loews, have you seen the benefit of collaboration in delivering results? Can you give an example?
We did an extensive upgrade of our property management system, the hardware and software that weaves all of our operations together. This included replacing seven servers, moving to a larger database and upgrading to a newer software version – all in an effort to increase system stability, improve functionality and advance our PCI compliance. Understanding that this system is the epicenter of our front desk, housekeeping and Food & Beverage, it was essential that our teams are prepared and guest impact kept to a minimum. After nine months of researching, testing, troubleshooting and coordinating countless departments and other systems that interface with our software provider, our preparation – and collaboration – paid off.
Even when we ran into a critical issue just before cutover and had to postpone the upgrade, we did so with the best intentions in mind. We were smart about what we knew we could do (and not do) at that particular time and extremely mindful of what our team members needed to best perform their jobs. During the rollout we communicated regularly – even using our version of a “Pizza Tracker” (think online delivery status) – and worked (and continue to work) together to quickly address any issues and kinks.
We learned a good lesson for all of us: don’t rush into something without thinking it all the way through. Set goals and keep to-do lists. Communicate progress and always take time to reflect. Be flexible and patient. ‘Work the T.’ It truly does makes all the difference.
In your career, can you tell us about a time where collaboration was lacking – and how it impacted the outcomes?
I spent a long part of my career in franchise systems. The relationship between the franchisee and the franchisor is critical for success. I witnessed too many initiatives being launched without the input of the franchisee. There is always ‘our’ side of the story; then there is also ‘their’ side of the story. Poor collaboration stops there. The key is to put these two sides together to create a ‘third story’ and that is how to avoid pitfalls and reap huge success. Both results and, importantly, trust are strengthened when we work this way.
What values are expressed in collaboration – and why are they important?
I would say the most important value in collaboration is active listening. Also, it is important to lift up all the voices around the table, be open to all ideas, bringing together a group of participants with diverse and expert perspective, and remove any physical or emotional barriers to a healthy exchange.
When you see a team struggling to collaborate, what advice do you give them?
When a team is struggling to work together, it is often because the leader or the team hasn’t created a unified purpose or alignment for them. By so doing, we not only focus on the goal at hand, but it also creates a filter or lens by which to keep out extraneous and distracting options. Being achievement-oriented, we can also get really busy and we tend to toss aside those parts of working together that are the hardest to do, or the ones that require the most thought. But that just means we have to work even harder at keeping to good collaboration and do what we know has worked. When you get off plan, just get back on. Don’t feel guilty about it. Just start again.
Any closing thoughts?
I am fond of saying, “the hardest work we do is on ourselves.” Therefore we tend to want to work on others. Great collaboration starts with you. Being aware of your own behavior and how you support the team is critical when working with others. The most valuable player on the team is the one that helps the team perform better.
Like everything in life, getting good at collaboration takes some practice and time. We end meetings with a simple exercise called ‘happy, sad.’ We go around the room and write down under either a happy face or sad face what we did well and what we could have done better. We bring this to the next meeting to remind us and therefore we continue to improve our work together. Because in the end . . . we are better together.
Kirk Kinsell brings more than 35 years of experience to his role as President & CEO of Loews Hotels & Resorts, a leading brand in the upper-upscale and luxury segment, with The Loews Regency and The OE Collection hotels. Prior to joining Loews, Kinsell spent 19 years with InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG), serving most recently as President, The Americas, overseeing more than 3,700 hotels. Kinsell serves on the Board of Directors for the American Hotel & Lodging Association and the Cornell University School of Hotel Administration’s Dean’s Advisory Committee. He also serves on the board of Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen, Inc.
Kinsell has received numerous recognitions and accolades including: Industry Leader of the Year, Michigan State University, School of Hospitality Business; 2014 Honoree, UJA-Federation of New York, Hospitality Division; The Good Scout Award, Boy Scouts of America, Philadelphia; and the 2011 MMH Outstanding Alumnus of the Year, presented by the Master of Management in Hospitality (MMH) program at the Cornell University School of Hotel Administration.