“Let’s flip it on its head”: Leanne Harwood talks rebuilding better at Travel DAZE

Ali Coulton

Ali Coulton

Faced with the complex problem of rebuilding a workforce that was decimated by the global pandemic, IHG’s JAPAC managing director, Leanne Harwood had a simple solution.

She asked her employees.

Speaking at Travel DAZE last week, Harwood said IHG needed to have a moment of vulnerability to help rebuild itself in a more sustainable way.

“It was an opportunity to learn things,” she said.

“We had to learn how to look after our people during that time and try to keep them engaged.”

In 2021 Harwood and her team set out to tackle hospitality’s shrinking workforce issue head-on by creating Linked; a committee of employees tasked with providing consultation and feedback to ensure IHG hotels remain grounded and connected with team members.

“The feedback was this: we want a life. We want more of a balance. So we turned around and went, Yeah, okay, let’s do things a little bit differently,” Harwood explained.

“Let’s flip it on its head. And that’s exactly what we did. We turned around and we created a programme called MyFlex.”

Introduced in September 2021, MyFlex offers IHG employees full flexibility to choose where and when they work across the IHG Hotels and Resorts brands.

From February, the company allowed its employees to ‘bid’ for the shifts they wanted to work, providing the opportunity to work around prior commitments such as parenting, studying or anything, really.

We’re creating an environment which is all about our people and their health and wellbeing,” Harwood continued.

“We learned that we need to listen. We need to listen to guests, we need to listen to the consumers and we need to listen to our people. And we really need to come together and work together as an industry.”

Ultimately, Harwood believes that coming together as an industry is what has and will continue to keep us afloat.

“There was a point in time where all of the heads of the large accommodation chains were actually on a call weekly at the beginning of the pandemic, just trying to work out what the bloody hell was going on and what we were going to do to respond to it,” she said.

“I’ve never ever, ever seen us coming together like this before. And it’s been absolutely amazing.

“And I’m delighted to see that we haven’t fallen back in our old ways.

“We’re all bleeding and desperate for people to come to work in our industry. But I know that if we continue to keep working together across our industry, and we keep working for the greater good, we will take our industry to the next level.”