by Diane Frank

Candid Talk Trumps the Blame Game

Nov 02, 20113 mins
Business IT Alignment

How Hilton’s CIO uses honest communications to work through difficult times—and avoid finger-pointing

Relationships between the CIO and business executives will inevitably become strained, with broken promises and eroding trust. So how do you keep them from going completely off the rails?

“That’s the time that is actually the true test of leadership,” says Robert Webb, CIO of Hilton Worldwide. “It’s the ability to know when that’s happening—to sense it and see it—but also to be proactively communicating when you know that’s starting to occur.”

Webb and his team have helped develop a new Expanded Rewards loyalty program, which allows guests to use points and cash for a wider range of perks at Hilton properties. It’s a complex system that’s already in place at several thousand hotels. When Webb started working with the business sponsor of the project, he admits that neither of them thought they would succeed. In fact, the project didn’t really begin to click, he admits, until people from IT, marketing, HR, finance and other departments on the steering committee worked through the change management and business process issues in 85 countries and 10 brands. Now the program is close to full deployment.

But not every effort has gone so smoothly. Two years ago, Hilton decided to outsource the hotel help desk to a large global outsourcer—a fairly standard move for a large company. However, no one had recognized that this wasn’t a traditional break-fix support group; it handled intricate, business-specific processes for some of Hilton’s most sensitive partners. “And some of these people were not happy about the communications challenge of explaining to somebody who’s not worked in the inside of a hotel what it means to, for example, do the night audits,” Webb says.

When he got together with the brand leaders involved in that partnership, instead of spreading blame, they examined the IT and business metrics of the contract. It quickly became clear that not only did the metrics need to be redefined, but that the business goal was no longer the one they had identified at the outset. They talked openly about how the criteria for success had changed. (For more on how Hilton improved business relationships, see “How CIOs Build Bridges With Other C-Level Execs.”)

“We’re only able to solve this with truthful, honest communication,” Webb says. “When people say ‘This is hard, I’m not sure I’m with you anymore,’ you need to get everyone to remember it’s about one team, one vision, and let’s get grounded on why we did this.”

Contact CIO Executive Council Editorial Manager Diane Frank at Follow her on Twitter: @dtwfrank.