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Please Help: What Is Our "Ethos"?

Matt Landau

Ambassador
Staff member
I love receiving notes from VRMB Community members and yesterday I got this one from long-time member and colleague, @JVozel:
It's getting more difficult as the industry grows to incorporate more facets (to our businesses).
Including bad actors who are not a net-positive to their environments.
The challenge is to keep up our ethos in the face of these sea-changes...I'm really working to figure out how to do that.


The challenge for all vacation rental pros in the face of these sea-changes is to keep up our ethos.

But how?

This felt like such a poignant dilemma that I brainstormed and shared with Jess some of the ways I think we can do that...
  1. Zig big where everyone else zags: go the radical opposite from what’s trendy or flashy or short sighted or cliche.
  2. Once we know it, Write down our ethos (including our big zig from #1) and brandish it proudly, everywhere. Every place we don't proudly share this "ethos" is an opportunity lost.
  3. Amplify the people who get our ethos, especially the new voices, and allow them to speak for all of us. Use good apples to overwhelm bad apples.
  4. Draw boundaries on things we refuse to compromise on and distance yourself hard from anyone who crosses those lines.
  5. Speak truth and hold people accountable privately, so they have the chance to right wrongs while saving face to their constituents.
Jess responded:

Each seems to hold a quiet power, which just feels right.
Also, some others, which are more in the direction of establishing what the ethos is:

- Recognize oneself (and one's vacation rental business) as a node in a big, complex system of people and environments. Make choices that contribute to the overall health, well-being, and longevity of that system.
- There's magic in the face-to-face. For the VR industry in particular, I hope that meeting guests as they arrive isn't dead yet. (The "individual interactions" you mentioned. So much is exchanged in that brief slice of time!)
- Avoid framing other nearby rentals as "competition." I've been training younger copywriters away from this mentality.
- Assume good intent (ties into your #5, which I love). Many people are misguided, not evil.
- Go slow to go fast. Be deliberate in decision-making.


QUESTION

This felt like one of those email threads that needed air to oxygenate: so I am sharing this the open-ended discussion up to our esteemed Community members for unvarnished thoughts, ideas, or next steps...
- How do we establish an ethos?
- How do we keep up our ethos in the face of sea-change?
- What are some signs your ethos is doing it's job?
- Are there any examples of ethos' that you admire?

Tagging a few people I have spoken with lately who are examples of ethos within their own organizations big and small: @Alex @Robin @Christina @HeleenaSideris @BobG @Rocio @Jed @LindaS @Stuart @SScurlock @Sherry @StaySavvy @Craig @Bruce @StacyW @JulieDoyle @CJ @Eric Thibodeaux
 
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Debi

Ambassador
Inner Circle
Wing Fighter
I read this when I came in from arranging a flower bouquet and leaving a welcome note for our arriving guests. Ethos means "custom" or "character' and refers to a balance of passion and caution. I love Jess's comment of "quiet power".

My focus lately for myself and our host community, as the world begins to waken again, has been on our individuality. As individuals we are unique, our homes are unique and each of us does business in a slightly different way. I feel we need to continue to embrace that uniqueness. Matt's phrase of 'help don't sell' has been pivotal to me in my business and in my networking with our host community. It's the example that gets passed along, welcoming and enveloping hosts and guests. As our industry grows, it's great to remember that it is made up of individuals and we all carry our own worth. This kind of integrity is noticed.
 

Christina

Counselor
Inner Circle
Vintory
So @ChristianThoreson and I started accidentally (as many of us did) in this industry. We have so much come to love it and the people. One of the things that drew us in was that the professionals (even with one property) we have met have a strong ethic around doing the right thing, which resonates with us. Last year at the beginning of the Pandemic, we shut down for six weeks to allow our team to stay home and be safe (and we paid them their average income during that time through a non-profit - difficult for us, but the right thing). Thor and I also looked around and said we can either give up the business or double down, so we doubled down - new software, get real with professionalizing our practices (and, crazy, even putting processes in writing). We leaned in to a book called TRACTION by Gino Wickman after recommendations about the Entrepreneurial Operating System (EOS) from several folks including @BrookeP Pfautz at Vintory and Steve Trover at Laveer. We also read/listened to a number of other books about hospitality and management/business operation in general. We hired Sharon Keefe to come in person and do three days of training and setting up to operate in that system from Traction (GAME CHANGER). All these steps led us to really writing down our company Values, communicating them to our team (ongoing), and getting focused on moving the ball forward in a way that matters for us. Our company values - determined by leadership are as follows:
  • Be a Duck
  • Have Fun
  • Always do the right thing
  • Be positive and Authentically Kind
  • Locally focused
  • Always work as a team

These values drive our decision-making! We filter decisions through this lens over and over. Also, the EOS system, and weekly leadership meetings and accountability move us forward. I have much appreciated @Matt Landau and the VRMB crowd for helping us do all that!
 

JVozel

Envoy
Inner Circle
I read this when I came in from arranging a flower bouquet and leaving a welcome note for our arriving guests. Ethos means "custom" or "character' and refers to a balance of passion and caution. I love Jess's comment of "quiet power".

My focus lately for myself and our host community, as the world begins to waken again, has been on our individuality. As individuals we are unique, our homes are unique and each of us does business in a slightly different way. I feel we need to continue to embrace that uniqueness. Matt's phrase of 'help don't sell' has been pivotal to me in my business and in my networking with our host community. It's the example that gets passed along, welcoming and enveloping hosts and guests. As our industry grows, it's great to remember that it is made up of individuals and we all carry our own worth. This kind of integrity is noticed.
I love this Debi! And having stayed in the Owl Forest Studio, I can attest to this. One of my favorite vacation rental experiences ever!
 

AlexW

Counselor
Inner Circle
This is a magnificent thread for myriad reasons, but the most evident of which is its total relevance and resonance with where we are as a company. In other words...I think about this ALL THE FREAKIN' TIME!
- How do we establish an ethos? By what feels right. We so often take the verbal mind highway and it's ever changing tides as a compass, when in fact, it's nothing more than arbitrary commentary. Everyone always had an original feeling behind what they create. Some refer to that as a pipe dream, I would refer to that as a philosophy. The impetus for starting the company in the first place. Always place the most value on your intuition and passion. What makes you feel AMAZING when it comes to your business? That's your ethos.
- How do we keep up our ethos in the face of sea-change? By living it. Sounds cliche as hell, but the fact of the matter is - people WANT to be led. Even leaders. Live it and the others will live it with you. If not, it's time for them to go. "it's not personal Santino, it's business"
- What are some signs your ethos is doing it's job? Passion in the workplace. Celebrating victories and...dare I say it? Celebrating failures. There are no missteps. Takes an awful lot of courage and trust in the process, but it's a very powerful way to interact in the world. Fall on your damn face and get up with an ear to ear grin on that there mug of yours. Then wipe the mud off and do the next thing. Rinse. Repeat.
- Are there any examples of ethos' that you admire? My wife. She is a private yoga instructor and during COVID her business was shook to its core. But her ethos never changed. She firmly believes with every fiber of her being that Asanas and Yoga are the elixir to cure all ills - physically, but more importantly in the real of consciousness.....while others around her pivoted in order to cater to those who just sought exercise, she stuck firmly to her beliefs that there was more to yoga than a firm bum. When most teachers started speeding up their classes, she slowed her's down. When most teachers started adding thrusts and jump squats, she emphasized Yin and meditation. She doubled down on her ethos when things got tough in the face of adversity. And now she's the lone wolf in the San Francisco yoga scene teaching what she's teaching...now the others are trying to catch up to her. It's quite satisfying to watch. I couldn't be more proud.
 
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StacyW

Counselor
Inner Circle
Accelerator
So @ChristianThoreson and I started accidentally (as many of us did) in this industry. We have so much come to love it and the people. One of the things that drew us in was that the professionals (even with one property) we have met have a strong ethic around doing the right thing, which resonates with us. Last year at the beginning of the Pandemic, we shut down for six weeks to allow our team to stay home and be safe (and we paid them their average income during that time through a non-profit - difficult for us, but the right thing). Thor and I also looked around and said we can either give up the business or double down, so we doubled down - new software, get real with professionalizing our practices (and, crazy, even putting processes in writing). We leaned in to a book called TRACTION by Gino Wickman after recommendations about the Entrepreneurial Operating System (EOS) from several folks including @BrookeP Pfautz at Vintory and Steve Trover at Laveer. We also read/listened to a number of other books about hospitality and management/business operation in general. We hired Sharon Keefe to come in person and do three days of training and setting up to operate in that system from Traction (GAME CHANGER). All these steps led us to really writing down our company Values, communicating them to our team (ongoing), and getting focused on moving the ball forward in a way that matters for us. Our company values - determined by leadership are as follows:
  • Be a Duck
  • Have Fun
  • Always do the right thing
  • Be positive and Authentically Kind
  • Locally focused
  • Always work as a team

These values drive our decision-making! We filter decisions through this lens over and over. Also, the EOS system, and weekly leadership meetings and accountability move us forward. I have much appreciated @Matt Landau and the VRMB crowd for helping us do all that!
I am currently reading Traction and LOVE IT!!! Can't wait to start implementing it all!
 

StacyW

Counselor
Inner Circle
Accelerator
I am at a crossroads because we want to grow our business (which in today's world feels like it is all about quantity) but feel a boutique mindset and growth is where we want to be. We feel staying at the 70-80 mark but getting the best, so grow to dump properties that don't work in our system and exchange with those that fit our system. Even that many homes is hard to have an Ethos. We are working on strategies to bring people to our office as we finally look to move completely over to door locks, yes we have still been doing old school keys, lol.

1. Stay true to you and your dream, don't let others dictate how you do business
2. If you want to meet guests, make it happen, how does it look with 80 homes, if it doesn't how can you get the same relationship in other ways
3. Continue the search for like minded people, I have so many in my area that aren't wanting to connect, so I have looked outside and have found my people, so don't give up, because having a connection in this business is huge
4. Laugh, because sometimes this business makes you cry :) Enjoy your clients, learn about their stories, why they are traveling it makes the business so worthwhile
 

Robin

Counselor
Inner Circle
Vintory
This is a great discussion of culture. @Matt Landau - your 1 - 5 are perfect!

  1. We are certainly not reinventing the wheel - but we have rarely followed the crowd
  2. Our culture wall is seen by all employees, guests, and owners visiting our office
  3. We work on this all the time - internal spotlights and spiffs ($25) to anyone called out for excellence
  4. We talk more these days about what we are not and what we will not do
  5. Truth matters - we made a mistake or when we have a success

In my way of looking at this, your mission and vision statements give a framework to what you and your team are doing and can guide them in the right direction Your Ethos is about what actually happens when the rubber meets the road. Your mission is like a good compass, but your ethos - everything we do and everything we say - is about how your values, and in our case also our "code", shows up in your organization's pursuit of your mission.

When you see it succeeding you celebrate it. This is the spark that inspires a passion for hospitality. It's powerful to remind your team that they are going in the right direction and it validates hard work and creative thinking in tricky situations when we can bring it back to what we do and what we say as proof that this is who we are in hospitality. The same goes for when you make mistakes. Call it out, fix the problem with no uncertainty, and reclaim your mission as the most important objective.

Ethos to me is the living, breathing representation of your culture and how it shows up in what you do. Ethos without a formalized mission might be hard to identify, and might be different from one person to another. So I like tying them together to unify the ethos of our entire organization.

Our Values are:
Every challenge is an opportunity
Deliver WOW whenever possible
Mistakes are inevitable. Dissatisfied customers are not.
It's the little things that mean so much

Our Code - how we should act
P - Don’t take it Personally
L - Leverage our collective genius
A - Don’t make Assumptions
I - Act with Integrity
T – Trust your team
 

StaySavvy

Counselor
Inner Circle
Accelerator
We're all a product of our culture... We don't have a choice in matters of where we start but we do have some influence over how the VRM journey unfolds for each of us. I'd say that ethos is more or less bequeathed to each of us and molds according to our unique influences before being passed on—intentionally or unintentionally—to the next generation of VRMs.

It's a cycle of cultural iteration and adaptation that's an inherent part of any business, so in my mind, it's not so much 'establishing' an ethos as much as it is 'evolving' an ethos. To keep it strong is a matter of developing a habit of embodiment...

Culture is a function of individual character on a collective scale. Who are you when no one's looking? How do you act and make decisions behind closed doors?

Developing and maintaining ethos is not about what we say, it's about what we do. An organization's values are not reflected in the About Us section of a website, or the mission statement posted to the office wall, but instead in the decisions and behaviors that come from our business and our team on a daily basis.

As for examples, there's not a particular VR brand that comes to mind when I think about ethos, but Patagonia stands out to me as an organization with a strong ethos where intention and action appear to be outwardly aligned with a 'net-positive' effect for all.
 

JVozel

Envoy
Inner Circle
This thread is excellent!

Two awesome quotes I want to tie together:

"Your Ethos is about what actually happens when the rubber meets the road..." @Robin

And,

"To keep [ethos] strong is a matter of developing a habit of embodiment..." @StaySavvy

Spot on! Being present in the real, meaty, material world (and doing your best to do right by that world) is where the magic happens!
 

AlexC

Envoy
Inner Circle
This is a great topic that I think is particularly important for this community, because this community has always felt to me as the one STR community that actually had the same core thinking as I do and that my company tries to execute against…and I’m not corporate, or perhaps mentally organized ,enough to have come up with a true mission statement or company ethos that I think reflects that, but there’s something there on how people communicate and talk with one another about ideas and perspectives they have in common with one another, and even on ideas/perspectives they disagree on, where we know we are fundamentally aimed the same direction. What direction is that, I think is the fundamental question here.



For this community, I think there is an ethos or moral compass or whatever we want to call it that revolves around something pretty fundamental, and puts this community above others in my perspective. That common framework is that we actually care about providing an exceptional experience to our guests and that we care if guests have a bad time in a way that’s not just related to “how will this hurt my reviews?!”….rather a bad guest experience is sort of like a gut punch that you can’t really explain to others that aren’t in this industry in the same way we feel it, but I suspect those who share the same ethos feel that same gut punch when they think a guest has had a bad experience at their property…there’s no stats or anything that can be quantified here, it’s a feeling that I think traditional VRMs really get in the same way and I am pretty sure the quantity over quality based model runners absolutely do not get.



I think the folks who think this way about guests are the ones who deserve to serve the guests who really need good hosts and want more than a place to crash. When it comes to ethos, a defining quality by definition is based on “what makes you different” and the companies and hosts I want to see win this next stage of industry development are the ones who are different because its NOT just about money, and while making money is important, they actually care about the end result to the customer (guests and owners), and that they make money as a result of holding those results as sacred and not the other way around. Those companies SHOULD win against companies who just are looking for short term gains over the long term, so I really think this is a good topic on how to preserve and expand the ethos that should win here, and not let the numbers of those just looking to get rich quick overwhelm us.
 

BobG

Ambassador
Inner Circle
Wing Fighter
If anyone wants to read a great book: Let My People Go Surfing by the founder of Patagonia.
Superb and because of his ethos I always buy such products from Patagonia rather than any of his competitors. Doing the right thing for the employees and the environment IS good for business too!

Find your ethos, develop it, think about it - let it marinade until you have it just at the right consistency.

Also talk about it all the time. You will find the more you communicate your ethos, the clearer it will be to you and the better and more eloquent will be your explanation of it to others. For me it is the environment. I have talked about it so so much that I feel I could almost repeat it to someone backwards:LOL::LOL:
 
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