The numbers tell the toll Covid-19 took on the spa industry. New research from ISPA shows hotel and resort spa revenues fell 46% from the end of 2019 to 2020, with overall spa visits declining over 35%.
At the outbreak of the pandemic, the 20 spas we managed experienced closures and layoffs across the board. Along with that came a lot of fear and uncertainly for all of us. It took vulnerability and courage to have difficult, uncomfortable conversations with our team.
Here is ISM’s “secret sauce” for creating a corporate culture that allows us to thrive in the post pandemic world, and tips you can implement for your own business.
ISM Spa is a certified Women’s Business Enterprise—100% of our corporate staff are female. As women, we are purpose-driven, nurturing, and promoters of a healthy work-life balance. Our business today has its roots in the relationship of our founding partners—Christina Stratton and me. Our deep respect for each other carries over to every employee who has joined us and has attracted talent from all over the country wanted to be part of our “vibe.”
In the words of ISM Spa Director Robyn Peacock, who recently joined to open our new spa at the Grand Bohemian Nashville, “I was aware of ISM Spa over the years, and the amazing women that run it and wanted to be part of a woman-owned company. I love Ilana and Christina’s ability to innovate and keep things fresh in the industry. When the opportunity came to work them, I jumped on it.”
Have you considered adding more “women power” to your business?
At ISM, we practice open communication and vulnerability. When we show vulnerability, it allows team members to feel more comfortable being open and honest with their concerns, questions, mistakes, and roadblocks, which ultimately allows for stronger team performance. Not shying away from hard conversations was especially important at the outset of the pandemic, when layoffs were inevitable.
According to Brené Brown, all transformational leaders had this one thing in common: the capacity to be vulnerable. “Vulnerability is the willingness to show up and be seen by others in the face of uncertain outcomes. There’s not a single act of courage that doesn’t involve vulnerability. Vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity, and change. You can’t really innovate without risk or uncertainty. If you’ve created a work culture where vulnerability isn’t okay, you’ve also created a culture where innovation and creativity aren’t okay.”
Vulnerability is a powerful way to support a trusting, positive team culture. When hiring, look for candidates who exhibit a willingness to be vulnerable. Your employees should be able to own up to past mistakes, take risks, and embrace hard conversations.
We are blessed to work with so many wonderful employees, developers and owners who trust us with their lives and businesses. We have earned that trust by being open and honest. Open communication is the foundation of building trust, and created “psychological safety” which is crucial to a team’s success, according to Amy Edmondson, professor of leadership and management at the Harvard Business School. Psychological safety describes “a workplace where one feels that one’s voice is welcome with bad news, questions, concerns, half-baked ideas and even mistakes.”
Seek out candidates and coworkers who exemplify trustworthiness. Look for reliability—people who do what you say you’ll do, and accountability—not over-promising at work, being clear about limitations, delivering on commitments, and owning up to mistakes.
Communicating our core values is a critical component of our business success. They are what we call on when we get knocked down, and they’re what gives us the strength to try again.
ISM Spas Values
- LOVE: Passionate about Wellness
- TRUST: Driven by integrity
- RESPECT: Dedicated to people
- DISCIPLINE: Committed to continuous improvement
Your values define your company at the deepest levels. Beyond stating your values, break them down into specific behaviors that are observable and measurable.
2021 Global Talent Trends study by Mercer, flexibility in the workplace is even more important than ever post pandemic. “Companies that fail to embrace flexibility will lose their appeal among talent. Given the experience of remote working and the need to adjust capacity swiftly, it’s no surprise that 2021 transformation plans are concentrated on reinventing flexibility in all its guises.
Long before anyone got wind of COVID-19, ISM’s culture was built on a flexible work environment. The ultimate example of flexibility and trust is our unlimited paid time off . Our salaried staff are free to take as much time off as they choose, as long as they get the job done. Following the example of Netflix, which lets its salaried employees take as much time off as they want—and nobody, including managers or employees, tracks it. "We should focus on what people get done, not how many hours or days worked,” the company touts in a slideshow called “Freedom & Responsibility Culture.”
How can you make your workplace more flexible? A good start is to focus on producing results, rather than just putting in the hours. Implementing a flexible vacation policy will help build an ownership mentality. It shows your employees your trust and respect them, which strengthens their commitment to the company.
Work at ISM is fast-paced and stressful, with a high expectation of productivity. To help our staff stay centers amid chaos, we regularly embark mindfulness training. We’ve used courses with PQ and Franklin Covey etc, a six-week mindfulness course by wellbeing experts Franklin Covey, with a full curriculum and lessons hosted by a facilitator. It was immensely helpful for all of us. The goal of any mindfulness technique is to achieve a state of alert, focused relaxation by deliberately paying attention to thoughts and sensations without judgment. This allows the mind to refocus on the present moment.
Adhering to Doctor Miguel Ruiz’ Four Agreements is also part of our culture building. Based on Toltec wisdom, the Four Agreements allow us to respect each other, be clear about our words and attention, and avoid blame and “ego-play.”
These are just a few of the resources available to increase mindfulness in your business. A great place to start is to get your staff involved. Perhaps a mindfulness task force?
Technology is not the first thing you would think of to create a nurturing corporate culture, but our switch to our new platform Spa Space has been a tremendous boost for morale. We built Spa Space to celebrate and feature wellness providers based on their specialties and certifications by matching them directly with guests whose needs and preferences would benefit from their service. This allowed us to provide highly specialized services by experts which would have never made a standard static treatment menu.
Therapists also have incredible flexibility in their schedule and are earning more since pre pandemic. Therapists have also been invited to be part of the focus groups and their input has helped determine the features found on spa space that make their life easier, like real time compensation.
At its best, technology frees up people to do what they do best. Think about ways you can use your software to be more creative, productive, and efficient.
We are proud that our company culture celebrates service, welcomes innovation, rewards smart solutions, and fosters wellness. On the flip side, our structure is lean, and expectations of productivity high. It’s fair to say that not every person makes it in this environment. Especially post Covid with reopening our entire portfolio at the same time as adding new properties and adopting a new technology platform requires both endurance and flexibility.
ISM is not the biggest management company, but are corporate culture stands the test of time. Because we’ve built a culture that embraces high performance and high trust, we’ve been able to retain our clients through the 2008-9 recession and the pandemic, while forging a path that allows each team member to be the best version of themself.