April 19

How To Become The Best Place To Work In The World


Sale Leadership Awakening
Sale Leadership Awakening
How To Become The Best Place To Work In The World

In this Sales Leadership Awakening podcast, Gerilyn Horan, Hilton’s VP of Group Sales, shares insights on creating a supportive environment and the importance of feedback, coaching, and company culture for employee engagement and retention. They also touch on Hilton’s top global workplace ranking and successful coaching programs for high employee retention and satisfaction.

“I think the general piece is just to give them a place of safety to talk about whatever they want. Listen to what they have to say, be transparent in your thinking and communication with them, and hopefully provide some guidance or direction.” – Gerilyn Horan

Key Takeaways:

  • Creating a safe and supportive environment for team members is crucial for their motivation and growth.
  • Regular one-on-one coaching calls with team members help foster a coaching culture and provide guidance and support.
  • Scrimmaging, rather than role-playing, before important meetings or presentations can improve performance and ensure team members’ alignment.
  • Hilton’s focus on employee engagement and growth makes it the number one great place to work globally.
  • A strong bench and succession plan is essential for maintaining continuity and filling gaps when team members leave.

Follow Gerilyn Horan on LinkedIn

Follow Colleen Stanley on LinkedIn

Follow Steven Rosen on LinkedIn



[00:00:05] Colleen Stanley: Hi, everyone! Welcome to the Sales Leadership Awakening podcast. I’m Colleen Stanley and joining me today is my favorite co-host, Steven Rosen. Steven, good to see you!

[00:00:20] Steven Rosen: Great to be here with you again, Colleen. Today, I get to welcome our wonderful guest, Gerilyn Horan.

[00:00:27] Steven Rosen: Thank you for joining us and sharing your exciting story. Please tell our audience about yourself, your industry, the company you work with, and the type of salespeople you lead into battle. 

[00:00:40] Gerilyn Horan: Absolutely. Well, thank you for having me. It’s my pleasure. So, my role today is vice president of group sales and strategic accounts for Hilton. I am a 30-plus-year sales leader in the hospitality industry, primarily in the hotel sector. It’s funny. When I say I’m in hotel sales, I’ve had people say that they think I sell the building, but we sell the bedrooms, meetings, and event spaces in the buildings.

[00:01:05] Gerilyn Horan: Some people do that individually for their single-hotel property, so they’re called the on-property sales teams. Then, there are the above-property sales teams or global sales organizations, which you’re all familiar with, who sell all the hotels in the brand to our B2B customers and B2C customers in some cases.

[00:01:22] Gerilyn Horan: These teams are usually broken down by segments. So, you think about why someone would use a hotel. For example, for leisure, you’re taking a trip to Hawaii, a corporate transient. So, you’re traveling individually for business, corporate meetings, and events. You’re attending a meeting your company’s putting on or a conference at a hotel you work for. 

[00:01:42] Gerilyn Horan: There’s association business. So, think about you, a professional or trade association member, and they have their annual convention that you’re attending. There are specialty markets like sports and entertainment.

[00:01:54] Gerilyn Horan: All the leagues and teams, when they travel to the games, they need to stay somewhere. For instance, Beyonce’s on tour; she, her dancers, bands, and crews need to say somewhere. All those different types of movements are the customers our teams work with. We manage those accounts daily. Then, even by those segments, we break them down further into the vertical markets you’re familiar with: pharma or the corporate side. We break it down by vertical, like pharma, professional services, insurance, and financial technology. Over a hundred sales professionals manage these segments and verticals on my teams. There are more on other teams; I don’t have them all, and they are subject matter experts in their space, and they’re the bridge between our hotels and our enterprise customers. 

[00:02:44] Steven Rosen: This is very interesting. It’s quite a segmented and thought-out approach to servicing customer needs. 

[00:02:49] Colleen Stanley: Yeah. I don’t know why, but for some reason, I went to a group of junior high kids’ first time in a hotel, having a great time on a band trip. 

[00:02:58] Gerilyn Horan: Well, you think about that and then all these dance contests. Just think about any reason there would be a need for a hotel, bed, and a space to do something and social events, of course, or another big area. So, yeah, it’s a complex field. 

Fostering a Coaching Culture

[00:03:11] Colleen Stanley: Gerilyn, you’ve been in sales leadership for a long time, 30 years. One of the signature questions we always like to ask, and it’s really what we named the podcast, is: For you, what was one of your awakening moments as a sales leader, an aha moment or an epiphany? Can you recall when you went, ‘Hmm, I gotta do something different’?

[00:03:36] Gerilyn Horan: Well, I’ll tell you what I first thought when you posed that question. I recalled a defining moment regarding my leadership approach, particularly when I was starting. Back then, some still adhered to the management by intimidation school of thought. You remember that, right? It was about trying to either intimidate or scare people into performing. I just remember thinking, “This is so demotivating. It doesn’t work for me or inspire me to get up and make those sales calls.”

[00:04:08] Gerilyn Horan: I had the good fortune of my next boss, who was just the opposite. He was inclusive, motivating, supportive, and fun, and I would hang up the phone with him and say, ‘I’ve got to sell something. ‘So, that had a big impact on me at the time about the kind of leader I’ve wanted to be. Of course, along the way, we tweak and move based on the teams we’re working with.

[00:04:29] Gerilyn Horan: Even as you progress and gain more insights into the business, the leaders you work with and your growth pace remain significant. Good leaders consistently evolve, adapt, and alter their perspectives based on the prevailing circumstances.

[00:04:45] Colleen Stanley: Is there anything you say or do to motivate your team? Because you use that word, that early leader, you’d hang up the phone and feel inspired and motivated anything, or is it just how you let the conversation flow person by person, salesperson by salesperson? 

Creating a Safe Space for Feedback

[00:05:00] Gerilyn Horan: You know, I think some of it, you really have to take a page from what they need, right? Every person you deal with will need different things and respond differently to different kinds of feedback. Still, I think that the general piece is just to give them a place of safety to talk about whatever they want.

[00:05:19] Gerilyn Horan: Listen to what they say, be transparent in your thinking and communication with them, and hopefully provide some guidance or direction. The best way is not always to give the answer but to ask the questions to help people get to that place on their own, guiding the conversation and making them feel good about that engagement.

[00:05:44] Gerilyn Horan: Yeah, I do know this. I do have this, and I can do this. I’m just excited about our purpose and why we’re here doing what we do.

[00:05:53] Steven Rosen: That’s phenomenal coaching. Many leaders will jump into feedback before they ask the individual what they believe, and it disempowers them because your feedback is indeed a gift. However, understanding and self-evaluating are great ways to learn. 

[00:06:08] Steven Rosen: We have a meeting to discuss feedback about difficult conversations. Over 50% of sales leaders go out of their way to avoid difficult conversations.

[00:06:21] Steven Rosen: You can share because you’ve learned from your good bosses and your bad bosses what not to do. What have you done to create the right culture open to feedback that people will embrace rather than be afraid of?

[00:06:37] Gerilyn Horan: Yeah, the biggest thing is you have to create an environment where people feel safe. They feel like I can receive this feedback and it doesn’t mean I’m in trouble or my job’s at risk. We have several very robust programs to evaluate team members’ performance and their gaps because we all have them. Everybody has gaps. How can we get better if we don’t get feedback? No one gets it right all the time. We all have the opportunity to grow, and if I know something about a team member that needs improvement or could do better, I will keep them from progressing in their career. I’m negligent as a leader if I don’t share that with them. How do you talk about it? How do you come to it without criticism? Here’s our opportunity to ensure that you’re ready for that next role when you have the chance because we’re going to fill in those gaps before you get to someplace you’re not prepared for. 

[00:07:21] Gerilyn Horan: Again, having to look at it like an opportunity to perform and to do better and to contribute to the greater goal of what we’re all trying to do, as opposed to you’re doing something wrong or not well. It can be through the one-on-one coaching we do every week with our team members. Sometimes, it’s saying, ‘Here’s a gap that we have a learning and development tool or product that you could avail yourself of that will help you to fill that gap.’

[00:07:54] Gerilyn Horan: It could be outside training or coaching, and we wrap this all in their CDP and career development plan. Each team member has a career development plan, which includes what they’re doing well and where they have opportunities to improve. So, how will we fill those so you’re all you can be? 

[00:08:12] Steven Rosen: You know what? It is incredibly well-structured and built around an IDP or a coaching plan. For folks who have trouble and avoid giving feedback, do you have any tips you can provide to open the conversation?

[00:08:25] Steven Rosen: I know I’ve taught some tricks to folks, but I’d love to get your perspective because the hardest part is just opening up the conversation, opening up the individual to accept the feedback. Do you have any tricks, tips, or gems that you use to do that? 

[00:08:38] Gerilyn Horan: Yeah, I don’t know if they’re gems, but I just went through the process of my leadership team’s annual reviews. We finished not too long ago, and I did a couple of things in the beginning. I told them we would review their review because they self-assess. I will then give my feedback and want them to provide me with my review.

[00:08:56] Gerilyn Horan: I want to know from them what I could do better, how to support them better, or how to serve them better. We’re on an even playing field there. Also, to start with, ‘Tell me how you feel about how the year went or your performance?’ It’s funny, but I upped their mark in several of the reviews I did that people self-assessed. I was like, ‘I disagree with that. You’re better than that, you think.’ 

Scrimmaging for Success

[00:09:12] Gerilyn Horan: Those are many things, and as a company, we do these coaching calls for all of our leaders every month. There was one today, and one of them we recently did. We tend to do this towards the end of the year, and we will do one coaching session by giving feedback.

[00:09:31] Gerilyn Horan: It’s where two leaders scrimmage what a review would look like to someone that you have to provide what might be seen as difficult feedback and how do you do that in a caring, conscious way that the team member will hear it and you can move through it.

[00:09:45] Steven Rosen: That’s a great way to do it.

[00:09:46] Colleen Stanley: You have a coaching culture, and there are a couple of words I’ve picked up. You’ve used the word safety twice, making it safe, and then you just use the word scrimmage. I know Steven and I loved that word when we first met with you. In psychology, they call it reframing because how many sales leaders use the word role-play? 

[00:10:04] Colleen Stanley: They’ve all heard perfect practice makes perfect, yet we’re not doing it. Can you talk about the scrimmaging and what that looks like? But I love the word and the reaction and response you’ve gotten from your teams on it. 

[00:10:17] Gerilyn Horan: It’s been great. It’s been really, really great.

[00:10:19] Gerilyn Horan: It’s funny how repurposing a word somehow changes that because I remember we first started talking about it. Isn’t this role-playing? But somehow, it just felt different. One of the ways it was teed up was that our global head of sales, Frank Passanante, you know, brought this coaching culture into our organization before I got here, and I’ve been here since 2018. 

[00:10:39] Gerilyn Horan: The notion was that you wouldn’t go out on a field for any game or tournament or anything without scrimmaging. Why would you walk into a million-dollar or 10-million-dollar meeting without scrimmaging? I know some people in consulting, and they talk about how you should have as many hours rehearsing and scrimmaging a meeting before you go into it.

[00:11:02] Gerilyn Horan: So, the notion is correct. When you put it that way, it’s like, why would I do that? You know, and then creating a safe space again to say, all right, we’re going to go through this. It feels different.

[00:11:12] Gerilyn Horan: We started with the leadership team doing this, and then we would coach each other on that scrimmage. We’d be like, ‘I had just thought about this.’ It’s like the team getting together in the locker room at the end and saying, ‘That was a great pass, but you could have X.’

[00:11:25] Gerilyn Horan: You want your team members to do well, and it also creates real support and connectivity with the team. We started working with our teams. I have a one-on-one coaching call with every one of my leaders every week.

[00:11:38] Colleen Stanley: Repeat that for everyone listening. For everyone listening, please hear this from a very busy person. 

[00:11:47] Gerilyn Horan: Yeah, I have a one-on-one coaching call with my leaders weekly. Then, I have a monthly meeting for my one skip leader and a quarterly meeting for my two skip leaders.

[00:11:58] Gerilyn Horan: We still get to connect and have a coaching call. But then those leaders have one-on-one meetings with each of their direct reports every week. So this happens; it’s a real commitment. 

[00:12:07] Steven Rosen: Well, it’s also a real connection to the company because I was speaking to a leader who was leaving his organization, and some of it was a lack of connection to their boss.

[00:12:18] Steven Rosen: I mean, there are wonderful things that can be accomplished, but just the connection factor of meeting regularly, of caring about them, of them having input, or of you having input to your boss is a very powerful way to lead people. If there isn’t a connection, people just don’t feel attached to the organization. 

[00:12:35] Gerilyn Horan: That’s right. It’s also a way to ensure we’re all singing from the same prayer book. There’s always some sort of messaging. This past week, it came out that we bought graduate hotels. It’s a great way to talk about whatever topical we want to ensure we get out to our teams. You can send emails, etc., but there’s something about the nuances; people can ask questions on a call. We can make sure that we’re aligned. 

[00:12:58] Colleen Stanley: There’s a really interesting statistic I wrote down for both of you. It comes from the book Tomorrowmind. Dr. Martin Seligman and Kellerman authored it in 2018. They did a meaningful research study because everybody wants to matter. What’s interesting, Gerilyn, is that your work is meaningful. When you feel like your work has a purpose and you have social support in the workplace, it boosts resilience and positively impacts various aspects. Steven, you mentioned the connection factor, and indeed, it contributes to retention and longevity. Remarkably, you’re committed to running these coaching sessions with discipline.

[00:13:44] Gerilyn Horan: It’s all in line with our purpose, which we continue to discuss. Conrad Hilton laid out many years ago that our purpose is to spread the light and warmth of hospitality. We believe that, and we talk a lot about customer impact. For example, each of our large team calls starts with a customer impact story.

[00:14:01] Gerilyn Horan: How did someone shed light on this, and what was the impact on the customer? Feeling connected to your work and recognizing your effect is incredibly meaningful.

[00:14:11] Steven Rosen: That’s fantastic. Now, our audience listening to all this must think, wow, what a great place to work, right? You’re doing a really good job selling the company, but the proof is in the pudding. I’m happy to share this, and I know you will, but Hilton was ranked as the number one great place to work in the world.

[00:14:29] Steven Rosen: That’s pretty phenomenal. Maybe you want to share a little bit about that and then I’d love to ask you a few other questions about what you’re doing specifically around that. 

[00:14:37] Gerilyn Horan: Yeah, well, how long do you have? I could talk about that all day. 

[00:14:41] Steven Rosen: Well, that’s something to be proud of. We always have time if we’re talking about wonderful things. We have plenty of time. So, why do you think you are ranked number one? 

[00:14:50] Gerilyn Horan: Yeah. So, Fortune Magazine and Great Place To Work have their annual rankings. We have had the good fortune to be number one in the US before and to be high-ranking and number one in various countries worldwide, but we have not had total world domination until this year. 

[00:15:05] Gerilyn Horan: What struck me about it is that many of the companies on there are more professional services or tech companies with smaller numbers of employees and probably more similar professional-type employees. We have 450,000 employees worldwide—people from all levels and job scopes. With that being the comparison, getting that award was even more meaningful to know that the work that our people do in our hotels every day to serve our guests is really something.

The Impact of Organization’s Coaching Culture

[00:15:36] Gerilyn Horan: It starts with our CEO having just created a fantastic culture at Hilton. Again, we’re all very clear about our purpose, why we’re here, and what we’re doing. But there are so many great things that we are privy to, so we talk about leadership that is some of the most committed leadership I’ve seen and really invested in team members’ growth, success, and happiness.

[00:15:57] Gerilyn Horan: We take things like our global team member survey very seriously every year and look at the things that people are the common themes that are not working for people. We work really hard to do what we can to improve them—giving people the opportunity to grow in their roles, even if it’s not like the next role or promotion, and giving them stretch assignments. Hence, they continue to learn like this ever-growing learning mindset, whether it’s a stretch assignment or a cross-functional team project with which I can get involved. We’ve mentoring programs, we have all kinds of recognition that we do from just on our team calls to annual recognition.

[00:16:39] Gerilyn Horan: We’ve got lots of ways to let people try to understand other parts of the business because one of the things we talk about our teams with is Hilton’s a big company, and we’re Hilton worldwide sales. Even if you’re there now, you might still want to go to brands, finance, or some other part of the business.

[00:16:56] Gerilyn Horan: We have ways for people to learn about other parts of the business that they might not know well, so they feel like they’re part of something larger with lots of opportunity. It’s always really important to people that they feel like they have the opportunity and there’s an opportunity for growth.

[00:17:13] Steven Rosen: That’s amazing, and being able to scale that, I believe you said it was 450,000 employees—scaling that culture, it takes certainly a lot of work and some great leadership. From an impact perspective, I’m sure you track various components. I don’t know if there’s one more important than the other, but with all the wonderful things you do, can you relate it back to retention or employee engagement? I’m sure you must survey that.

[00:17:37] Gerilyn Horan: We conduct a yearly global team member survey. Our engagement score, which we look at first, is very high. I’m very proud of that. We take it very seriously, and there are always areas where we’re not as good as we want to be.

[00:17:52] Gerilyn Horan: We have very robust plans to try to do what we can to fix that area regarding retention. I think I have the longest tenured team in the world. We just had two retirements on one team last year. I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, people were jumping all over these jobs because people just don’t leave.’

[00:18:08] Gerilyn Horan: Honestly, that’s a good thing. It’s the opposite of what you hear out there. 

[00:18:11] Colleen Stanley: Isn’t that fascinating? 

[00:18:13] Steven Rosen: This is especially true in some industries, where people stay two years, become veterans after two years, and then hop on the next. 

[00:18:20] Gerilyn Horan: Never. I need help with how I continue to keep motivated and engaged people who want to grow. We’re trying to create opportunities internally with things we can do, and again, you know, giving them these stretch opportunities and things like that because these are great team members. We’re also looking for across-the-aisle roles in other places that we don’t want to lose, but they’re coveted roles. When people get in and they’re doing good work, they want to stay.

[00:18:43] Steven Rosen: I’m sure many listeners are wondering how they can apply for a job at Hilton.

[00:18:48] Gerilyn Horan: Kidding aside, that’s another thing. We do a good job ensuring we’ve got a good bench. 

[00:18:54] Gerilyn Horan: So, the leaders on my team all know that for every person on their team, they’ve got ideas of who, if they decided to leave us tomorrow, what we do so we can fill that gap. Whether it’s people within our organization, people in our hotels, or people in other brands that we get to know. That is a critical piece to make sure of because we want the best person in every seat, which takes work. 

[00:19:21] Steven Rosen: That’s an incredible cultural playbook. I wonder if there’s anything that you don’t have to make the culture and the organization a great place to work.

[00:19:31] Steven Rosen: I’m going to ask you, Colleen. We may have chosen the same one, but we try to pick what we feel is what we walked away with and learned from each of our guests. Colleen, is there one area that you feel very strongly about? 

[00:19:45] Colleen Stanley: Well, you know what I’m hearing: there are so many great things, Gerilyn, so thank you for that. 


[00:19:49] Colleen Stanley: One of the things that just keeps popping out is you can’t replace the people connection. There are wonderful tech tools, but you must be careful to remember that efficiency doesn’t mean effectiveness. Think about everything that we’ve heard from Gerilyn and the one-on-one meetings, not only with their team. It’s fascinating that the leaders also coach one another because I know I’ve had to work with some sales leaders in general. They’re not with companies with a sophisticated learning and development program, but it didn’t even occur to them that they should role-play a difficult conversation or just role-play a coaching conversation with each other.

[00:20:28] Colleen Stanley: It’s just the people and the belief that taking the time makes difference. When you’re number one in the world, I hope everybody listening today walks away with it; it’s worth it. So, that’s a great takeaway. 

[00:20:39] Steven Rosen: We covered a lot of bases there. You mentioned it, and I love moving from the term role-playing to scrimmaging. It behooves me how many companies, when they’re going in for a big deal, spend less time to review: what’s your objective, how are you going to approach this? Where’s the customer at?

[00:20:57] Steven Rosen: Then, take the time before you get on the game on the field that you’ve worked through all of your potential issues. So, it’s great as leaders scrimmaging with each other for difficult conversations, but as sales leaders, scrimmaging on how are you going to present and then even coming back and looking at how we perform today in terms of a feedback mechanism, I think is what great companies do. 

[00:21:24] Gerilyn Horan: To me, it should be one-on-one. I’ve been in meetings with people I worked with, and you think we got our shot. We’re in here, our chance to do it. Then, you watch what happens in front of you, and you’re like, ‘Oh my gosh. Did we scrimmage enough?’ 

[00:21:39] Gerilyn Horan: I was recently out West with some team members. There’s this woman leading the account and two other people. Four of us were going in to see our very large enterprise account. We sat down, and this team member—she’s great. 

[00:21:53] Gerilyn Horan: She sat the four of us down and said, ‘Okay, I want to know what your agenda is today. What do you want to get out of this meeting today?’ The other people came from different parts of the business, and she laid out what she wanted but wanted to know what they wanted to know and how they would do it. We had a scrimmage over coffee before we went into this meeting, and I thought that was a great thing.

[00:22:12] Gerilyn Horan: She asked our objective, not just what we will say or why we’re there. She wanted to know everybody’s objective, what we were going to get out of this, and how we were going to move forward. 

[00:22:21] Steven Rosen: Part of what we do, and many people tell me this because it’s not rocket science: doing the basics incredibly well separates the average organization from the great organizations.

[00:22:32] Steven Rosen: So, on behalf of Colleen and myself, Gerilyn, I want to thank you for sharing. You’ve done a fantastic job highlighting what a great employer Hilton is and how you contribute to making your team great. To our audience, thank you for joining us today. I hope you’ve gained at least one valuable takeaway—I know I have gained many.

[00:22:49] It’s been great. Thank you, and I look forward to hearing more about what you’re doing at Hilton. 

[00:22:54] Gerilyn Horan: Awesome. Thank you so much. Thanks for having me!

[00:22:57] Steven Rosen: Pleasure!


Colleen Stanley, emotional intelligence for sales and sales leadership, executive sales leadership, knowing and doing gap, sales leadership, sales leadership coaching, sales leadership development, sales management training, Stanley, Steven Rosen, the sales leadership awakening podcast

You may also like

{"email":"Email address invalid","url":"Website address invalid","required":"Required field missing"}