Small Business

How Travelocity's CEO Stays In Touch


Do you trust top management to always communicate honestly? If so, you're in the minority, according to a survey by Mercer Human Resource Consulting that found that only 40% of employees said they trusted top management to communicate openly and honestly. Studies continue to show that the majority of employees feel disconnected from senior leadership. Travelocity's president and chief executive officer, Michelle Peluso, is determined to avoid that perception at her company.

In the last 10 years, Travelocity has gone from being a simple discount travel Web site to the fifth-largest travel agency in the U.S., offering flights, hotels, car rentals, vacation packages, show tickets, and more. I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Peluso. We discussed the topic of leadership communications—specifically, how she stays connected to a team of 5,000 professionals around the world.

"If you're genuine, passionate, and have a clear vision, it resonates with your employees," says Peluso. She believes that when your employees know you care about them, their interests, and their growth, they will be far more energized, efficient, and willing to put in the extra effort to make sure your customers have the best experience possible. And for Travelocity, customer experience is everything.

But how does she communicate the company's mission to thousands of people around the world while appearing passionate and genuine? Peluso cannot build a relationship with each and every employee in person, but she does stay remarkably connected. Here's how:

1. Be visionary

Employees at Travelocity know that their goal—their mission—is to champion great travel experiences for all of their customers. Peluso believes a mission must be both emotional and tangible. But it's not enough to have a strong mission like being a "traveler's champion." Employees need to be excited about the roles they play in making that mission a reality.

Peluso's job is to make sure all employees understand how their work advances the mission. For example, if a staffer is working on flight algorithms, she knows that to champion a great travel experience is to help customers find the best rates on flights. For someone loading hotel data onto the site, she knows that to champion a great travel experience means to use the most accurate, up-to-date information about that particular hotel.

During contract talks with suppliers, Peluso will "champion the traveler" by making sure those contracts include fair terms and assurances from suppliers that customers are going to be treated well. It's up to the leader to craft a compelling mission and to communicate the importance of everyone's role in fulfilling that mission.

2. Be genuine

Peluso is not afraid of being compassionate, yet aggressive and open. Travelocity's New York office was just two blocks from Ground Zero on Sept. 11, 2001. A few days after the attack, a traumatized staff met in temporary offices to hear from their leader. "I remember being very genuine and raw," says Peluso. "I was profoundly affected and not afraid to show it."

But as a leader, she also had to reassure her staff that they would make it through the event and that they would continue to do a great job for customers and suppliers. She focused on the company's unique strengths—its small size, agility, and speed. She explained how these qualities would allow the company to innovate and rebound quickly, which it did. Peluso is not one to sugarcoat events and employees knew that. By trusting herself enough to communicate the facts as she knew them and to craft a positive, energizing, and inspiring vision of the future, Peluso was able to rally her staff.

3. Be present

According to Peluso, great leaders are "present," or available. "If I get an e-mail from an employee, I will get back to them within 24 hours," says Peluso. "Employees come first, and they know that." Even if she doesn't have an answer, Peluso will acknowledge the e-mail to tell them she'll find the answer. If she agrees, she'll say so. If she doesn't, she'll say why. But every correspondence is acknowledged.

Peluso believes that by being responsive and showing appreciation, everyone wins—staff, customers, and investors. Peluso acts as a role model. If she can get back to an employee immediately, employees, in turn, should be able to quickly respond to customers, colleagues, and vendors.

In addition, Peluso sends weekly e-mail newsletters to her entire staff that show how well the company is delivering against their guarantee to customers. She also uses the newsletters as a platform to single out and praise employees who reflect the company's core values. Peluso holds brown-bag lunches for anyone who wishes to attend, and she frequently spends time in various company locations discussing quarterly results. She's available, present, and connected.

Senior leaders need to demonstrate concern for their staff through their communications. Take a cue from Travelocity's CEO and start making a connection today.


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