How Starwood Hotels is Making Process Improvement Part of its DNA

Sep 28, 2016
10 Min Read
How Starwood Hotels is Making Process Improvement Part of its DNA

How Starwood Hotels is Making Process Improvement Part of its DNA

Brian McGuire, VP Operations at Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide, Inc., which was recently acquired by Marriott International, Inc. is responsible for rooms, food and beverage and engineering operations. He's also responsible for new builds and transitions, sustainability and oversight of a Six Sigma continuous improvement program for the North America Division. A tall order for sure, especially now that the acquisition creates the world's largest hotel company, bringing together 30 leading brands and over 5,700 properties.

I had the pleasure of speaking to Brian about how Starwood Hotels has made process improvement part of their cultural DNA and how he's looking forward to the possibilities with the newly combined organization. Brian is also delivering a presentation today on process and performance improvement as a speaker at the Business Performance Excellence USA conference in San Francisco, part of the PEX Process Excellence Network.

Forbes: How do you effectively bring about sustainable business transformation, and can you share examples from Starwood Hotels & Resorts?

McGuire: Once we really had momentum, and the company began relying on us to develop and deploy operational innovation to our hotels, we fell into a trap where we began to lead with the long lists of various initiatives we were working on, rather than how many initiatives had become the new way we do business. Granted, we were pushing our thinking and constantly looking at new ways to approach the operations, but we were inundating the hotel teams with too many new initiatives, without giving them time to breathe and let the change sink in. Without this “soak period,” the hotel teams would simply move on to the new initiative, without truly implementing the new process. We consciously had to make a decision to roll out fewer initiatives and put more emphasis on how we managed behaviors and reactions to the new initiatives so the line associates would embrace the change. Thanks to our mistakes, we spent more time up front with the project sponsors to ensure the new process was something they would truly champion in the future, and not just be some flavor of the month.

Forbes: What have been your biggest hurdles in driving performance and process improvement across the organization from the people, processes or a tools perspective?

McGuire: At a hotel company, it’s all about the people, and turnover is certainly one of the biggest challenges. If you don’t establish the new process on property so it becomes muscle memory for the team, you could risk losing the whole new approach if one or two people leave, especially if they happen to be the project champion. Additionally, standardizing change across over 600 hotels in North America is a challenge in and of itself. When you think about the different locations, labor pools, associate cultures, languages, education, guest demographics, brands, owners, etc. we have to accommodate for several factors which make rolling out one, uniform, company-wide initiative virtually impossible.

Forbes: How is digital transformation changing the face of Operations, its role and how it aligns with the business?

McGuire: When we think about hospitality, we typically think about offering human, high-touch service for a guest. With the rapid development and deployment of digital technology for our guests, and our associates, we have constantly had to remind ourselves to prioritize our service whenever we evaluate whether we should invest in some of the innovative advances in this space. Maintaining this balance becomes ever more difficult as competing hotel brands are always looking for new ways to differentiate themselves with the latest offerings. To illustrate this, I had friends and family members tell me they stayed at some competing hotel brands, and they told me they thought the new technology which allowed guests to text directly to their staff was a great idea. When I dug in and asked if they felt it improved the service levels during their stay, the results were mixed. This specific type of technology is a great win for hotel operators, if they use it to enable themselves to deliver better service. However, if the technology does its job, and facilitates communication of guest requests and defects to the guest service team, but the hotel team does nothing to alter their procedures to respond more quickly to those inquiries, then what have you gained? The technology should really only be helping to automate or accelerate steps to make the guest experience more seamless. The onus is still on the people and the processes to act on the information.

Forbes: How do you ensure you’re measuring the right things and the right people have access to the right data to make timely business decisions?

McGuire: No one is perfect in this area, and you have to constantly strive to re-evaluate how to be better. We have typically defaulted to giving our teams more data than they need to try and answer every possible question which may be asked. Gaining consensus around the most vital, few metrics to run the business will always be and on-going conversation. After dabbling with extensive dashboards and lengthy reports, our organization has learned to appreciate the importance of prioritizing our key metrics, since it truly is the foundation for establishing accountability and measuring performance across multiple business units.

Forbes: Mark Driver of Gartner indicated by 2020, at least 70% of large enterprises will have established successful citizen development policies, up from 20% in 2010. What are your thoughts on “Citizen Development” and how it can support Operations with proper tools and governance?

McGuire: I am a big fan of anything that can help speed up our development efforts with technology. Additionally, I have often been frustrated that I had to sit and wait for others to transform my requirements into code. Although I think we already have a pretty strong relationship with our IT team, if we can leverage new ways to help IT and Operations better partner on initiatives and more rapidly deploy solutions to the line associates I think it would go a long way. With all of the positives this new approach will bring, I’m certain this will also spawn significant challenges for the data compliance teams. However, I think there is too much momentum behind this movement, and there are a lot of smart people who can figure it out.

Business Performance Excellence USA - San Francisco

If you're attending the Business Performance Excellence USA event in San Francisco this week, you can learn more about how Starwood Hotels has made process and performance improvement part of their cultural DNA today at 4:30 p.m. Also, if you missed the Monday workshop, "The Making of a QuickBase Hero at Tesla," with David Maskasky Software Developer, IT Applications, you may contact us for more details. (Comment in the social share bar to the left.)

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