Employees pay attention to how the CEO communicates and supports them in this crisis. It speaks volumes to their core ethics! Any company story for the next decade is going to include how they handled this crisis.

If you haven’t had a chance to watch Marriott CEO Arne Sorenson deliver a powerful message to staff during this challenging crisis yet, it’s highly recommended you take the time now. It’s a masterful display of authentic leadership during an unprecedented event for the hospitality industry. The video message is included below and you should keep reading for our breakdown. Learn how you can incorporate strong leadership communication into your own organization during a crisis.


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The Power of Face-to-Face
(even when we can’t meet face-to-face)

Video can’t replace the intimacy of face-to-face meetings, or the more traditional company town hall format, but it’s still a powerful alternative. Many companies are handling CEO-communications in the form of generic company-wide emails or blog posts. While this message might be easier to disseminate, it can’t replace the connections employees feel while looking into the eyes of their leader.

This video production is polished, but it doesn’t need to be

There’s high production value in this specific example, with the CEO dressed in suit and tie – which you don’t really need either. With the majority of employees working from home these days, it’s perfectly acceptable for the CEO to deliver such a video message right from their own living room. Lose the tie and even let the house cat stroll around in the background. It’s better to be authentic and let the employees see that their CEO is at home and with them in solidarity.

Don’t sugarcoat the reality of the business today

The Marriott CEO quickly gets to the reality of their business today. Revenue is down 90% in markets like China, and it’s down 75% globally. He reveals in terms of impact to the business that COVID-19 is worse for their industry than both 9/11 and the 2008 financial crisis *combined*. There is no sugar coating going on here. We have seen other CEOs communicate less directly, implying that things are not so bad. This can become a communication challenge later if tough decisions are required, such as a staff reduction. You want your employees to get a realistic picture of the health of the business so that the question “I thought they said everything was OK?” does not occur. Those tough situations and decisions need to be communicated.

Nailing the action points

We get a very clear and almost bullet-point breakdown about what Marriott is doing to navigate the crisis as a business:

  • Controlling business costs such as non-essential travel
  • Pausing all hiring
  • All new hotel development initiatives are stopped
  • Turned off all brand marketing and advertising
  • Temporary leaves are being put in place and those affected are informed directly

With an organization as large as Marriott it’s challenging to speak to the entire staff and not get bogged down in the nuances of every department or geography. However, Mr. Sorenson does incredibly well to succinctly share what universal actions that are taking place that the entire organization should know about.

On top of these key actions, he also reveals that he is forgoing his own salary for the remainder of the year while his executive staff is taking a 50% salary reduction. In such times, we’re all having to make sacrifices so it’s commendable to see the CEO and executives doing the same.

Closing with hope and emotion

As Mr. Sorenson finishes his message, he highlights some of the hopeful signals they are seeing. He sets clear expectations and cautions as these are still early signs, but he’s still giving his staff some much-needed optimism for the future. It’s fair to say the hospitality industry faces the most uncertainty right now due to this crisis. However, as you listen to this CEO message and even as a consumer of their services you can’t help but see some light at the end of the tunnel.

Finally, and perhaps the most important part of this communication is the emotion we see from the CEO. You can hear it in his voice, and you can see it in his eyes as they water up ever so slightly. This is not something we typically see from Fortune 500 CEOs and I think we can all agree it’s incredibly refreshing to see. If a CEO of a company as large as Marriott can show such emotion than you can as well in your own organization, big or small.


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