How Marriott invests in company culture

Marriott International’s recent acquisition of Starwood Hotels could have been a headache for employees, but executives say the merging of two corporate cultures presented a great opportunity for new and longtime workers alike to take a fresh look at what Marriott is all about.

Following the deal — which was completed last September — Arne Sorenson, president and CEO of Marriott, says the first task was to bring all the hotel general managers together. It allowed for workers to “touch and feel the culture of the company and celebrating what is there.”

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Palm trees stand in front of the Marina Del Rey Marriott hotel in Marina Del Rey, California, U.S., on Monday, March 21, 2016. Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide Inc. accepted an improved takeover offer from Marriott International Inc. valued at $13.6 billion, proceeding with plans to form the world's largest hotel operator after investors led by China's Anbang Insurance Group Co. sought to thwart the deal. Photographer: Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg

“There is nothing that builds culture like success,” he added Thursday at the Great Place to Work Conference in Chicago. “When the team thinks they’re accomplishing something, that gives them pride in their work.”

The merger wasn’t the only hurdle Marriott has faced in its ongoing strategy to maintain a high culture of respect and integrity.

“The challenge we have is how are we getting the right general managers and training them, and celebrating the cultural successes,” he said.

The more you’re at the hotel level, the more the culture is similar, he added. “A GM that doesn’t know his or her people, or treat them as they should, be treated won’t last for long. No matter what culture level is above corporate.”

But he noted the hotel chain has in place a slew of programs to highlight the importance of a strong workplace culture within the organization.

For example, the company recently held its Marriott Awards of Excellence in Washington, D.C.

“We bring in a dozen or so associates from around the world,” he said of the event. “Overwhelmingly, they’re hourly associates; many who have never been do Washington before, or even out of their own countries. They’ll come and tell us their exceptional story.”

One award winner, a woman who grew up in Tukey and then Russia, moved to the U.S. and has worked for Marriott nearly 20 years now. “The photo she shared with us when she accepted her award, you see her standing outside her own home with her three kids wearing an Apple watch,” showcasing the stability she feels having a strong workplace culture behind her, he added.

The culture successes, he says, are in the company’s DNA. Marriott has long been an operating culture, deep in the details of its people.

“It’s a 90-year consistent message we’re putting out,” added Bill Marriott, executive chairman and chairman of the board of Marriott International. “We have to continue you walk the talk. That means we really have to provide opportunity for associates to grow and take advantage of these opportunities.”

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