Starwood is a place staff feel special

28 June 2007
Starwood is a place staff feel special

The winners of our 2007 Best Places to Work in Hospitality Awards will be profiled every month. Here, Emma Allen takes a look at Starwood Hotels UK

It's a serious business, attracting top skills and talent in today's competitive job market. For firms keen to recruit and retain the best, developing a reputation as an employer of choice is as valuable these days as a winning CV is for jobseekers.

That's where the Best Places to Work Awards come in. The awards, now in their second year, are all about highlighting and rewarding employment best practice in the hospitality industry, shining a celebratory light on those employers that go the extra mile.

It was Starwood Hotels UK that scooped the top prize in the category of hotels with one to 10 sites. It's part of Starwood Hotels & Resorts, one of the world's biggest hotel groups, with more than 850 properties worldwide made up of brands including Sheraton, Westin and The Luxury Collection.

Training initiatives

Starwood Hotels UK employs about 1,600 people across its nine hotels, which include the Sheraton Grand Hotel & Spa in Edinburgh, Westin Turnberry Resort, Ayrshire and Le Méridien Piccadilly.

So what was it that particularly wowed the judging panel? The impressive variety of training initiatives and the group's low staff turnover - about 22% - were singled out for praise, as was the company's clear focus on promoting staff from within, backed with impressive career development opportunities available to all staff.

Also highlighted for attention was Starwood's seamless approach to appraising its employees. Starwood uses a set of core competencies, including "wow your customer" and "embrace what's new", to measure performance, while all staff, regardless of whether they're in Paris, London or Addis Ababa, are assessed in the same way thanks to a set of online performance management and 360-degree feedback tools available to managers worldwide.

For Jane Wright, Starwood's director of human resources for North-west Europe, the benefits of having this type of centralised system are considerable. "It's a fantastic tool," she says. "We can not only track and monitor performance globally but we're aligned as a group. That means if people move throughout the business, they know exactly what's expected of them."

Employees can also use the online Talent Management system for their own career development, listing their CV, career goals and aspirations, and any preferred locations for transfers - effectively creating an enormous internal talent pool for HR managers. "If I'm looking for an executive housekeeper or an F&B manager who's ready to move now, I get a report of all the potential talent out there, with a detailed summary of their background," explains Wright. "We're also able to identify any retention risks if people want to move. We might not be able to keep them in the same hotel but we can try to relocate them within the group."

The group's focus on succession planning is further supported by the company's Grow Global programme, which flags up the top high potential, or "star associates" in every hotel, so managers can spot those on the way up the career ladder. The system is clearly working - turnover for star associates is just 5% across the UK. "So that people can continue to climb and stay with the company, we take great care to identify people's development needs and provide opportunities," Wright explains.

That applies to learning and development, too. Each property has a training manager, and to support them, a group of departmental trainers who keep track of individual training needs, reviewed in a monthly meeting. Six-week online courses are open to all, including sales management, communication skills and English language, while a new e-mentoring pilot scheme, which matches senior personnel with high-potential managers and associates, is working well and is now being rolled out worldwide at all levels.

Specifically for graduates is the fast-track Vita Futura programme, which drew more than 900 applications last year, gradually whittled down to just 25 successful candidates via a series of tough tests and interviews. Applicants need to have graduated in hospitality, have one year's relevant experience and speak a second language but in return, once they've completed the 18-month programme, they go on to a head of department role.

"Graduates can pick and choose exactly what's right for them", says Wright. "That might be a tailored programme focusing on F&B or, if they want a broader experience, they can opt to work in each department across the business."

Cream of the crop

As well as attracting the cream of the graduate crop, Starwood has another reason for wanting to bring in talented future managers, as the group has ambitious expansion plans, aiming to double the number of hotels it's opening globally across all nine brands over the next three to five years. For Wright, it means raising the profile of Starwood by working with training organisations such as Springboard, and assessing recruitment techniques.

A key message to potential recruits is the diversity of jobs available. "Hospitality isn't just about hot kitchens and cleaning rooms," Wright points out. "We've got jobs in online marketing, revenue management, finance and IT, the list goes on. There are lots of exciting opportunities and we have to get that across."

One recent initiative proving a success is Back to the Floor, where managers swap their day job with one of their more junior staff. While some staff undoubtedly relish the prospect of seeing their manager sweeping floors for the day, Wright feels that there's a genuine benefit. "It's a way for managers to stay in touch by seeing the challenges their staff face," she explains. "They can resolve any issues quickly too, whether it's something like simply ordering more teaspoons for the restaurant or something more serious."

Regular internal awards such as Long Service and Star of the Month recognise loyal staff, while external awards like the Acorn Awards which recognise young achievers in hospitality have seen a winning candidate from Starwood every year since 2000. All employees, regardless of length of service or level, are entitled to discount accommodation at all Starwood properties as well as lifestyle perks like shopping discounts and cut-price CDs and holidays.

Of course, no amount of training and career development will make any difference if employees don't feel positive about the company they work for, or are unhappy about any aspect of their job. The proof, as they say, is in the pudding - or rather in this case, Starwood's annual engagement survey, Starvoice, which most recently revealed overall satisfaction levels of 85%.

For Wright, it comes down to creating opportunities for people to succeed and rewarding them when they achieve their goals. She says: "We do whatever we can to allow all associates to grow and reach their potential, in a culture where people genuinely feel valued and involved."

How to enter the Best Places to Work in Hospitality Awards

Do you run a successful business and treat your staff well? Then why not get greater recognition for your achievements? Get your entry in for the Caterer and Hotelkeeper Best Places to Work in Hospitality Awards 2008, sponsored by Corecruitment. Go to and complete the application form.

2008 Award Categories

  • Hotel chains with one to 10 sites
  • Hotel chains with 11 or more sites
  • Restaurant or bar chains with one to 10 sites
  • Restaurant or bar chains with 11 or more sites
  • Contract catering companies
  • Public sector
  • Individual unit
  • Hospitality supplier company

The closing date for entries is 31 October. The winners will be announced at a glittering awards ceremony on 18 February 2008.

If you have any queries about the awards, please contact Lisa Goold on 020 8652 4200, or e-mail

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