When Barry Sternlicht founded Starwood Hotels in the 1990’s, no one could have predicted its future status as a premier worldwide hotel brand. Last year, Starwood was acquired by Marriott for $13 billion, and its hospitality innovation was largely to thank.
Starwood was successful because the team took risks, embraced collaboration, and dared to stand out. Its unique culture was most apparent in its W Hotel brand. “Starwood’s legacy is really heavily shaped by W. It took a real disruptive, startup mentality. It used to be a separate business from the rest of the company, so it could flourish with its own culture and push the boundaries of hospitality,” said Anthony Ingham, a global brand leader for W Hotels.
Here are three ways to instill an innovative culture and startup mentality into your hospitality company culture:
1. Incentivize Employee Innovation
Your biggest source of ideas won’t come from data or management, but rather from your coworkers on the frontlines. Every day, hotel staff interacts with guests in a multitude of ways, providing employees with valuable experience to recognize opportunities for improvements.
That’s why innovative culture companies like Carlson Hotels build innovation into its corporate bonus plan. When staff members are encouraged to not only share their transformative ideas, but also have a hand in implementing them, it gives them a sense of purpose and influences workplace culture. As former Two Roads Hospitality CEO Niki Leondakis said, “Creativity happens when our employees are empowered and they are not feeling any fear.”
2. Diverse Employees Bring Diverse Ideas to Innovative Culture Companies
Offering a varied set of hotel locations is often the goal for many hospitality companies. However, those locations are only as impressive as the diversity of workers that occupy them. International business travelers and tourists now expect the hotels they visit to have an inclusive and diverse workplace culture.
Employers are also able to acquire the best talent by considering candidates from the largest pool possible. Bjorn Hanson, clinical professor with the NYU Preston Robert Tisch Center for Hospitality and Tourism, claims one of W Hotel’s key advantages was the new “caliber of hospitality employees” they hired.
3. Communicate Management Buy-in and Support
Submitting a new idea to your manager can be intimidating. Many employees worry their ideas will fall on deaf ears or be rejected on the spot.
For any hospitality organization looking to incorporate innovation into its culture, it must be made abundantly clear that failure will not only be tolerated, but accepted. Managers must shift the risk from the employee to management, allowing for a free flow of ideas and feedback. This buy-in from management must be regularly communicated to the staff. For example, Bill Marriott Jr., Executive Chairman of Marriott International, is known for randomly dropping in to Marriott locations and talking to employees. This kind of personal touch is the best way to encourage your colleagues to communicate their suggestions.
Knowing Marriott’s commitment to its staff, it’s clear Starwood’s hospitality innovation culture is in good hands. If you want to make innovation a part of your company’s cultural DNA, start by communicating that to your employees and proving you mean it.