Royce Chwin of Destination Vancouver On Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During…

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Royce Chwin of Destination Vancouver On Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Uncertain & Turbulent Times

Forgetting that people are the number-one asset any organization has, big or small. Spreadsheets don’t create themselves. People do it. Lack of a clear plan, that is constantly communicated and, followed up on. The plan needs to become a part of the organizations communication structure. Fear of change; see relevancy and value.

As part of our series about the “Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Turbulent Times”, we had the pleasure of interviewing Royce Chwin.

Royce Chwin is the CEO of Destination Vancouver, a destination marketing organization that is part of the BestCities Global Alliance. Destination Vancouver and BestCities share a commitment to furthering the positive impact of the meetings and tourism industry while leaving a lasting legacy that benefits communities. Royce has worked in automotive, retail, restaurants, wholesale, an angel-funded startup, and global corporate and franchise business models. For the past 16 years, Royce worked in tourism at destination marketing organizations. He started working for the Canadian Tourism Commission, then went to Travel Alberta, the provincial DMO, and now Royce is at Destination Vancouver, at the civic level.

Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?

My career trajectory has been anything but direct. I’ve worked in automotive, retail, restaurants, wholesale, an angel-funded startup, and global corporate and franchise business models.

For the past 16 years, I’ve worked in tourism at destination marketing organizations. I started working for the Canadian Tourism Commission, then went to Travel Alberta, the provincial DMO, and now I’m at Destination Vancouver, at the civic level. I’m grateful for that unintended career experience because it has given me great insights into the challenges and opportunities of all three levels of destination marketing organizations.

I went where the work was interesting and rewarding; I didn’t have a specific plan to become a CEO. However, I learned along the way the importance of culture, leadership, contribution and teamwork. That framed how I showed up, not only on the job, but through interactions with people. I learned that “we” was infinitely more powerful than “I”.

It has been said that our mistakes can be our greatest teachers. Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

As a rookie at Boston Pizza corporate office, I was in charge of writing corporate update memos that would go out to all franchises. I wrote one that included words like “tickety-boo” and “up to snuff” — completely off-brand and not professional. My boss saw the memo and brought me into their office. We went through the memo line by line with a red pen just like in high school English class. It was painful, and I was utterly embarrassed because my boss was right — it was poorly done and I hadn’t considered the audience I was sending it to and how it might reflect on the head office brand. After dusting myself off, I knew I had to regain the trust of my boss. So, I turned it into a game — I reframed the setback. From then on, every memo that went to my boss for proofing needed to come back to me without a single red pen markup. The first few times there were red pen marks, and every time was a learning. Eventually, my memos came back completely clean and I was no longer sending them to my boss for proofing. Trust had been rebuilt; now other memos were coming to me for proofing before release. I had won.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

I fully believe in the power of mentorship, and I’m grateful to have had fantastic people in my life who came along at various times in my career. Their timing was impeccable — the right person, with the right guidance, at the right time:

My very first mentor, Doug, taught me about the mentor/mentee relationship without me even realizing what it was. Call it “taking me under your wing”. My first corporate office job, I had just come from working as a restaurant manager to working as a corporate trainer responsible for training new restaurant franchisees, training restaurant staff and getting a franchisee’s multimillion-dollar store open and running successfully. It was a stratospheric jump in my career and responsibilities. Doug helped me navigate the ins and outs of corporate professionalism, reputation, communication and brand responsibility.

Another person that helped me was Michele at the Canadian Tourism Commission. We had a conversation about brand, strategy and mandate — how these pieces need to fit together and the complexities involved. At the end of the conversation, she summed it up with words that have stuck with me and grounded me ever since: “No matter what we do, we need to answer two questions: how do we stay relevant and show value? If we can’t answer those two questions, our strategy is worthless.” That has stuck with me and shaped my thinking ever since.

Extensive research suggests that “purpose-driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. When your organization started, what was its vision, what was its purpose?

Destination Vancouver (formerly the Vancouver Tourist Association, and then Tourism Vancouver) was created in 1902. Its intent was to market the natural beauty of Vancouver to attract investors. As the decades came and went, the organization focused more on bringing business conferences and leisure travelers to the city — a focus that remained right up the pandemic.

However, there was pressure for the organization to evolve because the operating landscape was changing. The pandemic was the catalyst for organizational transformation, which ultimately led to asking the following question: What does the future need? There are two fundamental questions that we need to answer: How do we stay relevant, and how do we show value?

What came out of that was a completely reworked mandate that is anchored in destination management framed by two pillars: development and promotion. With the support of our Team and Board, we landed on a purpose “to transform people and communities through the power of travel”. That means tourism isn’t the end goal. Vancouver’s visitor economy must be a catalyst serving a greater need for our city, its communities, and visitors. Tourism is the transformation agent that helps to build a resilient and competitive destination. It’s more than heads in beds — it’s about delivering on a triple bottom line of people, planet, and prosperity.

Thank you for all that. Let’s now turn to the main focus of our discussion. Can you share with our readers a story from your own experience about how you lead your team during uncertain or difficult times?

The last eight years have been some of most rewarding and difficult years of my professional career. After being promoted to CEO at Travel Alberta in the fall of 2014, by mid-2015 the bottom fell out of the energy industry and Alberta’s economy was getting pummelled. Since our funding came from the Government of Alberta, successive governments kept cutting our budget every year because energy royalties weren’t coming like they used to. However, the visitor economy remained strong, at first. Originally our organization was funded by a performance funding model, 4% levy on hotel rooms. More overnight visitors would grow the budget allowing us to reinvest the gains into the tourism industry. But, no matter what our argument was, how we demonstrated the value of Alberta’s visitor economy, the work we did to drive business to our communities, I had to tell the team and tourism industry that our budget had been cut, again. For the team, it meant year after year of wage freezes. That went on the entire time I was CEO (over five years).

While the province claimed economic diversification was key, it was anything but that. And that was hard for people to understand; why was tourism being punished if the sector was a net positive contributor? We were in constant defense mode. I learned a lot about vulnerability, empathetic leadership, teamwork, trust, creativity and focusing on a positive mindset. As a leadership team, we worked really hard at making sure silos weren’t created, which resulted in a culture of contribution and grit. No matter what was thrown at us, we’d find a way to respond. Since we couldn’t give raises, we instead invested in as much professional development as possible — speakers, training courses, lateral promotions, team coaching and interesting work assignments. Just after I left, the last team engagement survey that I was a part of came in at an overall 88% engagement rate. I’m super proud of that.

I left Travel Alberta and started at Tourism Vancouver in July 2020, right in the deepest part of the pandemic. I agreed to come to Vancouver for an in-person interview with the Board. I walked through Vancouver airport’s international terminal to the interview. I was literally the only person in the entire terminal at 1pm — it was eerie, not something I thought I’d ever see. I got the job.

Meanwhile, the Board had made a very difficult decision to permanently reduce the staff count from 65 to 17 people. That was a gut punch to the culture. For several weeks, the only interaction I had with my team was virtual. From there, I went on a virtual listening tour with each team member and asked three questions: What accomplishment you are most proud of? What drove you crazy about Tourism Vancouver? If you could change one thing this instant, what would it be? These questions led to fascinating conversations. Ultimately, the number one trend — working in silos — emerged. So, I incorporated strategies to break down these silos. This, I believe, created trust in time when people felt demotivated. They could see their feedback showing up within our plan.

Six to eight months later, I set up a follow-up series of one-on-one discussions to check in and see if we were on track. The results speak for themselves: we achieved the highest-ever team engagement survey results the organization had ever seen. Out of the gate, 88%. We conducted two more pulse checks and landed at 90% and then, most recently, 93%. Almost completely unheard of when most organizational results were trending downward. We never rest on our laurels, and there are pieces of feedback we’re going to action, but we’re certainly headed in the right direction.

Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the motivation to continue through your challenges? What sustains your drive?

Earlier in my career, yes. The first time I was “packaged out” after a constant career ascent to that point, I was absolutely crushed. My identity was taken from me; I had no purpose. At least, I thought that at the time. I had no idea what was next. Who would want me? Clearly, I’m damaged goods. But that was the best thing that could have happened in my career. I untethered myself from work as my identity to something that I do. Reframing who I was and am, and how work connects into my life, gave me newfound confidence. It also taught me that it’s okay to be vulnerable with your struggles.

I’m an author and I believe that books have the power to change lives. Do you have a book in your life that impacted you and inspired you to be an effective leader? Can you share a story?

I’ve loved books for as long as I can remember. Recent books that standout for me like Overcoming the Fear of Success by Martha Friedman Ph.D. It’s 40 years old and still relevant today. Amy Cuddy’s Presence is one of the best books I’ve read in a long time; so many critical insights. But one that really stood out to me is Mindset by Carol S. Dweck, Ph. D. It’s powerful.

As I mentioned earlier, I’m a true believer in our personal mindset; how we set it and use it as a lens in our professional and personal life. At the core, a growth mindset is about believing people can develop their abilities. As I’ve gone through my professional journey, I’ve seen this over and over again. One of my greatest joys is seeing other people succeed in their craft. We support them by creating the conditions, and they in turn take responsibility for creating success.

What would you say is the most critical role of a leader during challenging times?

My lived experience is that successful leaders have more than one critical role during challenging times. That role depends on the situation we’re in and who we’re working with. We can be empathetic, driven, persuasive, thoughtful and a powerful listener, but fundamentally we take informed action. It’s never about perfection; it’s about moving forward and ensuring the people around you are supported. And humour. I can be self-deprecating at times, because I enjoy people’s laughter. Taking tension out of a tough situation can make all the difference.

When the future seems so uncertain, what is the best way to boost morale? What can a leader do to inspire, motivate and engage their team?

Listen. And then, where and when appropriate, act and communicate.

When I first started at Destination Vancouver, during the get-to-know-you part of my introductory meetings, I said to our little team, “I’ve got your back.” That apparently resonated, because I was told later that no one had ever said that to them. To me, that’s a core trait of building a strong team culture.

What is the best way to communicate difficult news to one’s team and customers?

When I was working at Travel Alberta, I had to tell people that our budget was cut, again, and that we weren’t allowed to give raises. I was empathic and direct and listened to the team’s questions and frustrations. Ultimately, the real work is to have that style of conversation as a behavioral constant — so, when it comes time to deliver tough news, a base of mutual understanding and trust already exists.

How can a leader make plans when the future is so unpredictable?

We asked ourselves the same question. So, let’s start with predictable business planning horizons and models: three-year, five-year and 10-year strategic plans. The pandemic could care less about planning and timelines, so why apply the same thinking? We had our collective foot on the gas and brake at the same time, while someone had taken away our steering wheel. We needed to be flexible to survive. So, we changed the horizon and how we thought about our mandate, mission, purpose, timeframes and strategies. We created a six-year plan and broke it down into three, two-year “business sprints”. Coupled with prioritization and accountability with a healthy dose of flexibility and creativity, we were able to change plans within days or hours based on whatever curveballs were thrown at us. The sprint created the conditions for our team to be nimble, to think differently about how we went to market, and to have a growth mindset that looked for opportunities. Our efforts resulted in being recognized as the AMABC (American Marketing Association British Columbia) chapter “Marketer of the Year” for 2021. We didn’t nominate ourselves. We were nominated more than once, and we still don’t know who! That, to me, is a massive compliment to our team and how we adapted and executed a new planning model.

Is there a “number one principle” that can help guide a company through the ups and downs of turbulent times?

Show up with integrity when you answer the core questions of relevance and value.

Can you share 3 or 4 of the most common mistakes you have seen other businesses make during difficult times? What should one keep in mind to avoid that?

Forgetting that people are the number-one asset any organization has, big or small. Spreadsheets don’t create themselves. People do it. Lack of a clear plan, that is constantly communicated and, followed up on. The plan needs to become a part of the organizations communication structure. Fear of change; see relevancy and value.

Here is the primary question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things a business leader should do to lead effectively during uncertain and turbulent times? Please share a story or an example for each.

I answered this question earlier in the examples.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

I don’t have just one. I really love quotes, ones that stop and make you think. However, there’s a couple that I use depending on the situation or conversation. “You can’t do today’s business with yesterday’s methods and expect to be in business tomorrow”. This is a constant reminder about the need for change and transformation. It’s been very relevant to set up the foundational change we needed to turn Tourism Vancouver into Destination Vancouver.

“If you’re the smartest person in the room, you’re in the wrong room” has been attributed to a few different people. I adapted it further: “If you think you’re the smartest person in the room, it’s probably empty.”

How can our readers further follow your work?

I’m on Instagram @roycevancouver or LinkedIn for my and Destination Vancouver’s profile. Also, a simple Google search will pull up articles and/or media I’ve been quoted in. I’m not big on “promoting Royce”. I’d much rather focus on sharing Destination Vancouver accomplishments and promoting Vancouver!

Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!

Royce Chwin of Destination Vancouver On Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.