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The Gallup Workplace Awards: 2020 Manager of the Year

The Gallup Workplace Awards: 2020 Manager of the Year

by Sarah Kosch

Story Highlights

  • Daniel Chambers of White Lodging is the 2020 Manager of the Year
  • COVID-19 in the hospitality industry reinforces engagement basics
  • Chambers' approach to management centers on genuine care

Gallup recognizes the most engaged workplaces in the world with the Gallup Exceptional Workplace Award. Each winner nominates an extraordinary manager to be named Manager of the Year by a Gallup panel of workplace experts.

Congratulations to the 2020 winner: Daniel Chambers from White Lodging!

Daniel's CliftonStrengths: Competition, Futuristic, Maximizer, Strategic, Command

It's not a stretch to say White Lodging manager Daniel Chambers was nominated and named Manager of the Year by Gallup in two very different worlds.

Separating the two is the COVID-19 pandemic, which has had devastating effects across the hospitality industry.

White Lodging -- a U.S.-based hotel ownership, development and management company that was awarded a 2020 Gallup Exceptional Workplace Award -- is navigating challenges that could make recognition for employee engagement feel frivolous or untimely.

Yet, conversing with Chambers underscores how crucial engagement is for leading through this crisis. In reflecting on his career journey, management approach and lessons learned from COVID-19, Chambers offers an important reminder about the basics of great management: Genuine care, connecting with associates as individuals and celebrating wins as a team keep people performing at their best -- even in tough times.

The People Aspect

Chambers knew from a young age that he wanted to be in the hospitality industry. He grew up working in his family's retail store in Laguna Beach, California, and credits that experience for the work ethic, drive and persistence that shaped his career trajectory.

Taking a "pound the pavement" approach he learned from his mother, he dropped off resumes up and down the coast to get his first valet job at 17, and then moved to Las Vegas to study hotel management at UNLV.

When the Great Recession hit and left him without work, he again went out looking to make connections -- and got his first leadership role (in the guest services department at Trump International Hotel Las Vegas) after meeting the manager as he was passing through the lobby.

Chambers' experience in that role positioned him to then make the move to become housekeeping manager at White Lodging in Austin, Texas, after attending a UNLV career mixer and being drawn to the organization's commitment to its associates' development.

He's now the dual general manager for two properties: The Courtyard and Hilton Garden Inn.

"It's the people aspect of the business that drew me in and keeps me engaged in the hotel industry," Chambers said. "As I've progressed into various leadership roles, my focus is more so on my engagement with my associates -- that's what drives me every day. Seeing them succeed, being able to share those wins and accomplishments, and watching them grow and develop."

Managing With Genuine Care

Chambers centers his management approach on forming relationships and building trust early on: "Starting from the interview process, I try to get to know associates personally -- what are their hobbies, what drives them, what are their career aspirations, how can I help them along the way?"

He knows that employees who sincerely feel valued and connected to their leaders bring their best to work and reach higher performance levels.

"It's really just genuine care," Chambers said. "I preach to our entire leadership team to never start the day in the office. The emails and the voicemails are still going to be there in an hour. Instead, start the day walking the property -- from the top floor of the hotel, down -- and say hello to every single associate that's on shift at the time."

He credits those brief interactions as key opportunities to get to know associates better and give them a chance to ask questions and voice concerns. And he says it's a great way to make sure they have the tools they need and to capture suggestions for how to keep improving the organization.

He adds that even though it sounds simple, it's easy to overlook the importance of building these authentic connections. "When you stop by to say hello, are you on your phone? Are you disengaged? Are you thinking about something else, or do you just say hi and walk away? It's taking that extra couple minutes to really stop and be in the moment to have a genuine conversation with your associates."

Building a Culture of Growth and Development

Chambers is passionate about development. His own experience with working his way up has helped him understand the desire to learn and grow -- and what it takes for associates to set themselves apart.

"A big focus of mine is really maximizing performance and getting people ready for the next step by making sure they get the technical training they need," he explained.

"Training is Part 1, but setting clear and achievable expectations is Part 1A. As focused as I am on the personal and emotional side of associate engagement, my team needs to know there's a high level of accountability to execute our mission."

"Training is Part 1, but setting clear and achievable expectations is Part 1A."

Like many things, learning and development look different during a pandemic -- especially in hospitality.

"For our industry, this is our 'we walked to school in the snow, uphill both ways, while being chased by murder hornets' moment," Chambers said. "This is the time we'll look back on, years from now, when we're speaking to new managers and associates and sharing successes and failures. Our managers and associates are truly learning far more about themselves and their personal fortitude right now than I could ever attempt to duplicate or put on paper."

As a manager, Chambers sees his role as preventing tunnel vision and reminding his team that even though there's a rough road ahead, there are still goals to reach and their work is making a huge impact.

"They might not see it now, but as they get further along in their career, they'll look back and value this time because it showed them what they were made of," Chambers said.

Leading Through Disruption

Of course, there's no one-size-fits-all approach to leading through this crisis.

"Everyone copes with challenges and uncertainty differently," Chambers said. "A manager needs to know how to tailor an approach that gets the best out of each individual. I can provide stability and confidence -- with a healthy dash of humility -- to reassure them I may not have all the answers, but we're in this mess together and we're going to figure it out."

Chambers emphasizes how crucial the communal effort has been to lead by example through these challenging times. All leaders at White Lodging are doing everything in their power to get through this unprecedented time together, whether it's covering shifts or supporting associates' wellbeing.

"Our inherent purpose as an industry is to serve others," Chambers said. "Our associates sacrifice their personal lives working overnight shifts and weekends and holidays away from their families just to provide an experience for others. Those incredible individuals are the ones that need to be cared for and looked after the most right now. They need to feel that all is not lost, and we as leaders need to be someone that they can lean on."

"I can provide stability and confidence -- with a healthy dash of humility -- to reassure them I may not have all the answers, but we're in this mess together and we're going to figure it out."

At Chambers' local level, the leadership team is actively reaching out to all associates who are at home to give them updates or just check in to see how they're doing. When hotel restaurants had to close, they created a "mini grocery store" in the hotel to hand out extra food to associates and distribute toilet paper and other resources on hand.

As an organization, White Lodging Chairman and founder Bruce White and his wife Beth created a White Lodging Associate Fund and donated $6 million to provide relief checks to furloughed associates.

"The high engagement at the properties I oversee is certainly not all on me," Chambers said. "All the leaders help craft the culture and truly live it and breathe it with every one of our associates."

Even so, being able to share a Manager of the Year trophy with his team and put smiles on their faces during this difficult time certainly fits with Chambers' approach to recognition: Celebrate wins, acknowledge a job well done, and continue to strive for perfection.

Learn more about the extraordinary organizations recognized by The Gallup Workplace Awards:

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