Program: Leadership Development Experience (LDE)
Timeframe: 2010 - 2016
Program Partner: Organization Systems International (OSI)
As the leading global lifestyle hospitality brand, Starwood wanted to develop senior leaders capable of keeping up with the rapid pace of technological, social, environmental, and global change. Starwood's executives asked WholeWorks to create a challenging simulation that would build bench strength and support "The Journey" by promoting strategic and cultural alignment. The resulting program helped forge new ties between corporate and field leaders and across the company's nine brands.
- At the time of LDE's creation, two macro trends helped fuel Starwood's strategy: 1) a rising global middle class, and 2) greater connectivity through technology. The Senior Leadership Team (SLT) created "The Journey" as a transformational framework to align the Starwood's strategy and culture in response to these trends.
- Executing The Journey across nine brands, 1,100+ hotels in 100 countries, and 200,000 associates would be challenging. It would require better integration across brands and between corporate and field functions.
- The industry was also moving to an "asset light" business model where brand companies would sell owned properties in their portfolio to focus on managed and franchise hotels. How to strengthen the guest experience in this environment?
- Starwood had also recently set ambitious environmental goals including a pledge to cut global energy use by 30% and water use by 20% by 2020.
- Starwood executives wanted a deeply engaging leadership program that would prepare senior leaders for the many challenges of The Journey and to build a deeper bench strength.
To create a hands-on learning experience that would develop and reinforce strategic alignment across Starwood’s top leaders, build deeper “bench strength” at senior levels of the organization, and create a cultural experience that reinforced The Journey and participants' role in leading The Journey.
- In collaboration with Starwood and Organization Systems International (OSI), WholeWorks developed a five-day simulation-based leadership program to build competencies in: Alignment & Action, Critical Thinking, Change & Innovation, Collaboration, and Global Perspective.
- We created the Innoveren Hospitality simulation, a realistic total-immersion experience based on Starwood's asset-light business model. The simulation included three fictional brands (luxury, full service, specialty select), to represent the three tiers of service across Starwood's nine-brand portfolio.
- The simulation captured the personal and strategic challenges facing Starwood leaders. We recreated real-life tensions across roles through carefully designed memos, roles, strategic choices, input decisions, and output reports. Strategic decisions included brand-defining initiatives, technology investments, property/brand acquisitions, and sustainability initiatives.
- The simulation gave managers the experience of working with key metrics as they strengthened the branded guest experience. Key metrics along the service-profit chain included employee engagement, guest experience indicators, Revenue Per Available Room (RevPAR), and other financial metrics.
- Teams of 8 - 10 participants worked together as they implemented their strategies over multiple rounds of decision-making in pursuit of growth targets. Each team had an experienced facilitator to challenge their thinking without giving answers.
- The simulation served as a personal practice field where participants could experiment in a safe environment with new leadership behaviors. We formed learning trios within each team so participants could receive timely and direct feedback from their peers about their effectiveness.
- In advance of the program, WholeWorks and OSI provided individual coaching to each participant. During these sessions we reviewed participants' 360 multi-rater survey results and personality instruments, and helped managers identify their personal learning objectives for the program.
- The personal development track in LDE was also integrated with Starwood's talent development framework and competency model to support ongoing development.
- The LDE also provided opportunities for participants to engage with the Senior Leadership Team (SLT) at Starwood. These included interactive workshops led by SLT faculty (including the CEO, CFO, and CHRO), team presentations at the end of the program, and social functions.
- Over 250 senior-level managers and hotel GMs participated in the LDE program worldwide over a six-year period.
- Because the simulation accurately reproduced Starwood's culture and strategic challenges, participants reported they could immediately apply their decision-making training in their daily work.
- The program built leadership bench strength in several ways: building higher-level strategic competencies, helping leaders understand the overall business, creating new networks of leaders across the organization.
- The LDE program supported The Journey by helping to create one of the most innovative brand-focused cultures in the hospitality industry.
- Senior Leaders of Starwood's full-service and specialty select brands found the LDE simulation experience so valuable they hired WholeWorks to create custom hotel simulations based on their brands. These simulations were used to develop business acumen and brand-building skills of hundreds of property leaders in follow-up programs.
Valuable Learning Experience
The Innoveren simulation was rated as a high-value learning experience by participants: 4.8/5.0.
Representative responses to "Please share any overall comments about LDE":
- "Unequivocally, the best training I have been to in my tenure at Starwood."
- "Simulation was awesome"
- "Working in a new role (other than my day job) was a great experience. I would continue to take people out of their comfort zones, continue to provide surprises (acquisitions, economic slow down) to keep us thinking and changing our approach. Continue depth and complexity- it is very real!
- "It was a fantastic experience. It was great to understand in five days how the various components of Starwood worked together to drive value. Also enjoyed meeting other people outside my team."
- "Truly the best leadership/training experience I've had during my career. I now have a better understanding of how the company works, and a better understanding of myself."
- "Fantastic experience. Really gave me a better / well rounded appreciation for our entire business."