- Hyatt CCO Mark Vondrasek says the best leaders know they don’t have all the answers.
- Fostering technology innovation throughout a business is about listening and learning, he told Insider.
- This article is part of the “Innovation C-Suite” series about business growth and technology shifts.
The COVID-19 pandemic might have upended the travel industry in 2020, but it also made it crystal-clear that business leaders do not always have all the answers, Mark Vondrasek, chief commercial officer at Hyatt Hotels Corporation, told Insider.
“It really invited the best sense of humility as a leader,” he said. “We’re in these jobs because we have some of the answers or know where to find them, but we had to be very transparent with our constituents that we didn’t know what was in front of us but we would do it together.”
That sense of humility, with an emphasis on listening and learning, is also essential to foster a culture of technology innovation across the organization, Vondrasek explained. For example, one of the most successful technologies Hyatt deployed over the past year was an expansion of the chat button and functionality on its website.
“We realized we need to meet people where they are,” Vondrasek said. “We get a lot of guests going to our website who are ready to travel but might have new questions, like whether the pool is open, what restaurants there are, what’s changed over the last few months.”
Making it easy for customers to interact with live customer contact center associates has taken off, Vondrasek added. “Opening up that technology landscape and architecture has been extremely valuable,” he said. “You have to be careful not to miss things like that.”
According to Vondrasek, C-suite leaders in any industry should take these four steps to help foster a culture of technology innovation:
1. Listen and learn.
“As much as digital technology and using iPhones is extremely relevant to many of our guests, it’s also true that my father will never use the smartphone to feel comfortable bypassing check-in and opening a door lock,” Vondrasek said. “Technology that connects with and offers people choice, regardless of where they are on the comfort level, is one key insight we learned.”
2. Get constituents involved early.
Vondrasek said that when Hyatt makes plans to launch a new website or capability, guests and hotel owners are now brought into ideation plans earlier than ever, even at the wireframe stage.
“Bringing those constituents into the same room with our technology and business leaders and co-creating together has become essential,” he said. Regardless of the function, “Your assumptions around your end customer can be flawed, and you need to take that extra step by inviting them into the architecture and the building of these technology capabilities.”
3. Keep your purpose in mind.
“At Hyatt, our purpose is to care for people so that they are at their best,” Vondrasek said. That includes understanding that customers may have very different profiles from trip to trip, whether they are taking one trip with their spouse and the next one with their child’s soccer team. “Making sure that our technology architecture respects that is very important,” he said.
4. Open up opportunities for technology education and inspiration.
Staying close to the technology organization is important, as is opening up technology learning beyond the four walls of the business. “We spend a lot of time with partners who have developed technology capabilities in different industries,” Vondrasek said. “For example, some of our leaders have talked to Peloton about the social experience and connectivity of getting people together and that works from a technology standpoint.”
Forging better products and solutions
As Hyatt continues to recover from the industry effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, Vondrasek emphasized that the organization is constantly thinking about the right initiatives and technology to put in front of guests who might be returning to travel after 18 months. What would really resonate with them?
“One of the first things I saw was a bunch of the big consultancy firms putting together spreadsheets about when exactly business would recover,” he said. “I always shook my head at that because I think in those moments you have to be very transparent about what you don’t know and open up a dialogue that leads to better products and solutions.”