Marriott recently rolled out a leadership training program to 733 managed hotels in 23 countries in the Americas. Created and customized in partnership with FranklinCovey, a global consulting and training firm, the training program was branded inside Marriott as “Breakthrough Leadership Training.” It was based on the ideas expressed in The 4 Disciplines of Execution, which is a recently published business book that references Marriott.
The training program aimed at aligning goals from the top of the organization and cascading them down to the line associates. It provided a consistent set of effective leadership behaviors around areas such as guest satisfaction and helping to boost the performance of managers throughout hundreds of hotels. Participants needed to complete the training in order to become certified. The virtual learning environment (VLE) system had some multilingual capability, including the ability to “toggle” the names and titles between multiple languages.
When the program was first rolled out, it had three different elements, and it was entirely through live, location-based instruction. Trainers were flown into different markets, and managers of hotels were brought together to engage in the training. The program ran into challenges related to executing the training in secondary and tertiary markets, which often meant that associates had to fly or drive for hours in order to participate. It became difficult logistically and very costly. As a result, Marriott’s leaders looked for more efficient ways of implementing the program.
In response, Marriott searched for a platform that had all of the functionality needed to carry out such virtual distance learning. Eventually, it developed a virtual learning environment solution in partnership with ON24. The hotel chain was then able to provide its leadership training via this virtual learning portal. Participants could engage in real-time learning, including live webcasts and question-and-answer periods; they could also watch on-demand recordings after the fact. In other words, the virtual environment allowed for both synchronous and asynchronous learning.
For example, Marriott could have a facilitator who was in Atlanta but who used the virtual environment to engage with learners in multiple states or even countries throughout the Americas. Marriott’s vice president of talent acquisition, who was deeply involved with the program at the time, explained:
“We had participants enter the virtual environment and navigate through to a virtual booth for their particular market. They would enter the booth; they would then have all the materials that they needed for the training program.”
Live events were scheduled and posted. Participants could enter the virtual classrooms through the booth. Marriott’s vice president of talent acquisition noted:
“They’d click on it, it would open up the environment, and then they would participate in the training and have the ability to ask questions by being able to type them in or by calling in to a phone line during portions of the training.”
Participants learned how to select goals, how to make commitments, how to hold each other accountable for those goals and how to track the progress of the goals.
Networking and Sharing Best Practices
Another aspect of the virtual environment was a “networking lounge.” This virtual location promoted interaction in several different ways. For example, Marriott used it to enhance communications with top management via scheduled chat sessions. In one case, it sent out invitations for managers who had been through the leadership development program to
join the president of the Americas in the networking lounge. The president would then chat live and respond to manager questions, even as they shared their experiences in regard to the program. The president would engage in a series of these events throughout the year.
In another use of the networking lounge, managers would message each other to chat about best practices and form relationships by swapping “e-cards.” That is, as part of setting up their profiles for the virtual learning environment, participants created a kind of virtual business card that they can give to others. On the card, they include their picture or a representation known as an avatar.
In the process of setting up their profiles, participants were also given a “briefcase.” As they found documents and other resources within the environment, they put those in the virtual briefcases, so that they did not need to search for those items the next time they returned to the virtual environment. The goal was to improve the personalization and ease of use of the learning portal.
Efficient and Effective Alignment
In the end, according to Marriott’s vice president of talent acquisition, the leadership program involved hundreds of hotels in many different countries and yet was accomplished in 18 months. Marriott was able to certify more than 5,000 managers in a short period of time, allowing them to train others in their hotels. It also hosted overview and “big picture” training for approximately another 10,000 managers via the virtual platform.
Without the program, Marriott reports that it would have incurred much more expense and travel, both for participants and facilitators; it could not have accomplished the task nearly as quickly and effectively without the virtual approach.
Aside from cost savings, however, Marriott also benefited from a greater ability to engage managers in an experience that was “cool and cutting edge.” The VLE was able to boost productivity. Managers could participate from the hotel from which they worked by going to a ballroom and participating in a group with their colleagues. Conversations gave participants the ability to network with people in the virtual environment whom they would not have met otherwise.
Although the initial phase of the “Breakthrough Leadership Training” program was a one-time event, the virtual learning environment will, in the future, be used to host “virtual summits” at which managers from hotels come together to share their goals and results and report back to their peers and senior leadership with regard to how well they have performed on those goals. This is part of the accountability mechanism. There is a recognition element to it as well, which happens on an ongoing basis.
One of the virtues of a virtual learning environment is that it can become a stand-in for a physical location or variety of locations, which help to form a common sense of purpose among widely dispersed groups of employees. Just as real-world annual meetings or conferences can be a time for colleagues and others to renew acquaintances, as well as engage in new learning opportunities, VLEs can serve the same purpose – often in a more accessible, cost-effective and cohesive way. For this reason, VLEs are sometimes seen not just as a learning tool, but as a culture-building opportunity.