I’ve spent the past few years watching the culture wave emerge and gain prominence in organizations. It started out as a great recruiting tool, grew into a buzz word, and has finally emerged as a key driver to organizational performance. I have loved watching this wave materialize because amidst other key drivers like data, technology, and strategy, it is one that focuses on the parts and pieces that make everything happen: the people.


There is another wave emerging that is also centered around the people. Organizational mindfulness began outside of the organization as something great leaders practiced to stay focused or high performing employees tapped into to relieve stress. Now this mindfulness is making its way to the inside. What if when mindfulness is taught and practiced inside the organization it could improve how we communicate and collaborate and produce better results? What if it could help us truly empathize and build connections with our co-workers, customers, and partners? What if it could help us to find meaning and satisfaction in our work again?


I recently met with Katherine Melchior Ray who has been on the front end of this wave and came to organizational mindfulness through developing brand differentiation for a high-end luxury hotel. Her story helped bring to life both the potential and the task at hand if we bring mindfulness into organizations. Here is an introduction into our conversation, which continues on today as we collaborate together on how organizations might reach new heights through practicing mindfulness.


What led you to organizational mindfulness?


I worked for Hyatt as the global head of their luxury hotel brands with about 100 high-end hotels in more than 30 countries. Park Hyatt competes against the best luxury hotels in the world, and we wanted to distinguish our brand. Research shows the most important quality for guests at high-end hotels is outstanding service. We spent a full year engaging in design thinking with our innovation team, interviewing more than 100 people in seven countries, trying to create some kind of extremely sensitive approach so our hotel staff might better “see and read our guests.”


In Japan, India, and Austria, where we operate hotels, we discovered distinct cultural approaches that engage intuitive skills. To really connect with someone else requires awareness and empathy, skills nurtured by investing in calming and centering one’s self. We realized there is a parallel to the benefits associated with mindfulness and set about to develop a mindfulness training program for our hotel colleagues. If our staff could feel calm and fully present, they might be better able to respond to each guest’s individual needs.


How did you go about executing this at Hyatt?


Under our working title “Project Namaste,” we developed a training program that taught mindfulness to our luxury hotel staff to improve the quality of their awareness and presence. We began by explaining the science of the brain and the body’s reactions to stress. Employees gained insight into their unconscious reactions facing a line of anxious guests waiting to check in, along with tools to overcome the hurried approach to completing necessary tasks. They learned, and later practiced, to calm their stress through meditation and apply that frame of mind towards others. Our staff discovered what experts like Steve Jobs and Michael Jordan used to become more intuitive and creative, gaining a wider frame of vision by being centered, calm, and aware.


Did the organization embrace your program? What internal challenges did you face from management or employees along the way? How did you overcome those?


Hyatt has a history of entrepreneurialism and embracing programs that value its employees. The company has been recognized in Fortune’s “100 Best Companies to Work For” list for a number of years. Group President Pete Sears is quoted in a recent announcement saying, “Members of the Hyatt family consistently use empathy to build deep relationships not only with our guests but also with each other…”


Nonetheless, there was skepticism, especially with a working title called Project Namaste, but as people learned of the project’s basis in research and science, they supported its evolution. Our CEO lauded the initiative as an ideal example of innovative collaboration between departments, drawing the synergies between the company and consumer needs.


We prototyped the program at several hotels where employees and managers embraced it.  The personal comments were very encouraging–employees appreciated the investment in their personal well-being and shifting from completing tasks to creating relationships with our guests.


What were the outcomes? Were you able to measure the impact of the program against customer satisfaction, employee satisfaction, or revenue?


We were midway through this initiative when we opened our most expensive hotel yet, a $1,000 per night hotel in New York, so with support from the general manager, we incorporated the program into the pre-opening training for the first time.  


The hotel received wide attention, rave reviews, and met its ambitious first-year goals.  Guests shared stories of extraordinary service, and the employees who opened the hotel talked about a special team connection and collaboration.  


The program was well received where it was launched, but such programs take time to reap their full benefits. While I was at Hyatt, we had not scaled the initiative to the other hotels worldwide.


What do you think are the biggest opportunities for organizations to incorporate mindfulness into their organizations? Are you incorporating that into the work you’re doing now? How?


Technology and globalization create many opportunities for us personally and professionally.  But the increased pace and complexity challenge us in achieving greater happiness and productivity and empathetically understanding our customers’ needs. Neuroscience combined with a mindfulness practice provides tools to enable us to help ourselves. The stress we feel in the workplace and in our daily lives and the tensions in our communities and in world politics can be mitigated by applying new awareness and skills.


Having spent more than 20 years working internationally in the competitive industries of luxury retail and hospitality, I recognize creating strong brands, like building effective management teams, requires empathy and building trust. Interpersonal mindfulness teaches us that such positive relationships grow our businesses and increase our health, happiness, and productivity. In my work marketing to consumers and managing intercultural teams, I incorporate mindfulness and interpersonal neurobiology to achieve qualitative and quantitative results.  At my consulting business Globe Ally, we believe people everywhere are motivated by emotional connections whether we are marketing a product, delivering services, or simply working together. We enable corporations to take advantage of this new learning and to build distinctive businesses and collaborative teams, which connect with customers to fulfill those opportunities.



About Katherine

Katherine Melchior Ray specializes in international business, global marketing, and organizational development in retail and hospitality. Fluent in Japanese and French, Katherine has held senior executive positions at Nike, Nordstrom, Louis Vuitton, Gucci, Tommy Hilfiger, and Hyatt Hotels in the US, Japan, and France. As a consultant, she helps companies succeed in the global marketplace and in organizational development. She recognizes global education increases empathy, inclusivity, and productivity. Katherine is a contributing spokesperson in the media regarding international trade issues between the US and Asia and has lectured on international business, leadership, and culture at Stanford, Wharton, Brown, and Portland State.

 Photo credit: Rebecca Greenfield for the Wall Street Journal