Greg Hill, SVP & CHRO, shares how walking in the shoes of his frontline has been instrumental to building the HR Function of 13,000 employee fitness-club leader Equinox.
Greg Hill is a firm believer in teamwork and having each team member understand the role he/she plays in order to for the collective team to win. As the Senior Vice President and Chief Human Resources Officer (CHRO) of Equinox, he incorporates this ideology into every aspect of his leadership philosophy.
“The more people are comfortable with each other, the more we can talk about how we are helping each other build a relationship of trust and winning.”
To achieve this, Equinox employees participate in many team building events in and out of the office including group fitness classes together, as well as quarterly all-employee HR sessions, where team members discuss what within the organization is working well and where there is room for improvement.
“HR has to be the role model in demonstrating that your team is aligned and coordinating with one another,” he said.
Hill began his HR career in the hospitality industry, working for Hyatt Hotels & Resorts. After graduating from Niagara University, he participated in Hyatt’s management training program, an 18-month HR and Operations Program in which he rotated through different hotels throughout the country and worked in various operations and human resources positions.
After ten years with Hyatt, Hill went on to work for Starwood Hotels and Resorts and then Wyndham Hotel Group where he was the Executive Vice President of HR for the Hotel Division. With 20 years of experience in the hospitality industry under his belt, Hill joined Frontier Communications, a telecommunications company that had recently made an acquisition from Verizon. Hill led the cultural, systems and labor relations matters involved with acquiring over 10,000 new employees. Upon finishing that assignment, he joined Equinox as the head of HR.
When Hill joined the company, there had not been a head of HR before – the function was led by a recruiting executive and other non-HR executives. The HR function was departmentalized between benefits, HR administration, and recruiting, and there were approximately 6,500 employees in the organization.
“The CEO was looking for someone to come in and be strategic about what is needed not just in HR but organizationally in order to grow quickly and effectively in the U.S and internationally” he said. “Thankfully, we’ve been able to do all of those things the past four years.”
In the four years Hill has been with Equinox, the company has grown to just over 13,000 employees, it has entered internationally with locations now open in Toronto and London, and acquired three companies.
Understanding Your DNA
But Equinox’s success was not something new—it has been a strong and successful organization for more than 21 years. Hill quickly realized the challenges of encouraging change within an organization that has been so successful for so long.
“The executive team and I have been focused on how to grow the company strategically – not just opportunistically, we are not forgetting what has made us successful and what makes us unique,” he explained. “That gets harder as you grow and hire more people who might not have the experience or history of what made us successful in the past.”
Hill has found one of the most effective tool to inspire change within the leadership team has been leveraging relevant examples other companies have set. The leadership team shares relevant case studies of reputable companies of all industries that have reinvented themselves over time to continue their success. They also share stories of great companies that did not reinvent themselves and how that affected their business.
Furthermore, Hill said they focus a lot of time on what they value as an organization and what they call their “code.”
“That is, what we are passionate about, what do we believe in, and what we reward others for as a team collectively?” Every company, regardless of the industry, has its own identity or DNA, according to Hill.
“For us, our frontline talent is really the core of our business— they are what make us special and successful. Without that high level talent in the clubs, gyms and studios, we really don’t have a sustainable business.”
In fact, the Equinox frontline is so important to the organization that when new employees join the organization, regardless of the role they were hired for, from executive to back office support, they start in the frontline.
“Our President spent two months sitting in uniform behind each of the positions and understood the importance of her success to learn the role, our team and our members,” Hill explained. “This way, we hear from the employees directly regarding what they think is working well and what can be improved. We also want our executives to have direct access to our members so they understand how our business is delivering in various areas of the business.”
It all comes back to the idea teamwork: Understanding the individual pieces that make up the collective whole helps make the organization better work together to succeed. ♦
Walk a Mile
Having served in HR roles for various industries, Greg Hill has found the best way to prepare for a leadership role is to walk in the shoes of the frontline.
“You have to walk in the shoes of your frontline to understand what their role is, what their challenges are, and what they need to keep them engaged and motivated,” he said.
While working in the hospitality industry, Hill had the opportunity to serve in the various roles that made up the organization, including housekeeping, dishwashing, bussing, and room service.
“You have to understand firsthand what it feels like for the frontline in uniform so that you not only have an understanding of it, but so you also get credibility from that group,” Hill explained. “That way, when you can address immediate and long-term organizational needs with credibility and first hand knowledge.”
One of the most important lessons Hill has learned throughout his career is that you cannot manage from an office. “You really have to be out in the frontline. That has been big part of my philosophy to be successful and it continues to play a huge part in our team’s ability to get things done from an HR perspective.”
Since joining Equinox in 2010, Hill has seen the company grow substantially. And with a company that has seen annual growth rates as high as 20% and 30% in some of its last 21 years, it can be difficult to push change within such a fast moving organization. But that is exactly the feat Hill is tasked with.
“We need to be thinking about how we’re going to grow, and grow thoughtfully without losing our DNA or what’s made us special and successful in the past,” Hill said. As part of this effort, Hill and his team have been focused on project called “The Employee Experience 2.0,” which they began three years.
“We took representatives from every part of the company to help us think through—what do we need to provide our employees in 5, 10, 15, years? We are a company of 13,000 employees, double what we were 5 years ago—what are the things that we want to offer our employees as an employer and as a team?”
One idea that has been born from this effort is that the company’s noble purpose is still the driving force of their culture – improving the lives of their members. Why not do the same for the employees?
“We want to capitalize on the fact that we have such a unique and powerful overall purpose as a company, so we want to make sure that as an employee of Equinox, you have unique access to the world’s best fitness experts and enjoy personal training, group fitness, spa, and new programs before they are launched to our members.”
The program is called “Life Maximization” and Hill said it aims to empower individuals to live a better life in and out of the workplace. Equinox employees are given access to same health and fitness programs as its members, including personal trainers, group fitness classes, and nutritionists.
“We make sure our employees have those same opportunities to maximize their own lives and to inspire their achievement,” Hill explained. “Our employee value proposition is that we want an build a work environment that inspires individual and team achievement. We attract, hire and cultivate employees who are inspired to maximize their life and of those around them.”
Greg's Key Partners:TMP Worldwide (Global Recruitment Advertising) | Ultimate Software (Cloud-Based HR Solutions)
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