Starwood Trains 86,000 Employees with On-demand System

When it comes to talent at Starwood (, the overriding philosophy is “hire for attitude, train for skill.” After all, we’re in the people business, so people skills are absolutely critical for creating exceptional guest experiences.

Of course, following that dictum can be easier said than done. Finding the right attitude is tough enough, but training for skills without an effective technology-based learning process is doubly difficult with a growing global organization.

With that in mind, about five years ago Starwood looked to replace an unsuccessful learning management system (LMS). Using a multi-team approach, Starwood conducted a thorough software vendor search and, at the same time, began an internal change management process that has revitalized the company’s overall talent effort and contributed tremendously to Starwood’s success during the past several years.

Starwood has been growing despite the worldwide economic downturn and, between 2009 and 2010, created 24,000 new jobs globally. To meet that challenge from a learning standpoint, Starwood takes a unique approach to maintaining a balance between core global processes and local or divisional ones. It’s not about trying to control the development and the movement of all 145,000 associates centrally. It’s more about building a common integrated platform across Starwood so that everyone shares a common language and a common approach, and then allowing for regional flexibility.

Apart from being buggy and ineffective, Starwood’s previous LMS also required much effort and overhead to maintain. The situation cried out for an innovative, inexpensive, effective LMS; one with technology that was scalable to meet growth demands, and at the same time, relatively easy to implement. Software functionality and support were critical. At the same time, the switch represented an opportunity to update related Starwood business processes the LMS implementation team felt were inconsistent. The team wanted the right vendor partner to establish processes and configure the LMS software accordingly.

After an extensive search and a tremendous amount of internal feedback, Starwood chose Cornerstone OnDemand (, a California-based company. In 2008, we lau-nched the new LMS, which we call the Development Center, for 75,000 users, at the time representing nearly half of the company’s workforce. Since then, we have extended use to over 86,000 employees in more than 100 countries.

From a technology standpoint, Cornerstone offers a true Software-as-a-Service (SaaS), on-demand solution, making it a faster and more efficient way for Starwood to deploy, manage and maintain the LMS system. It also means the company does not have to deal with the hassles of version upgrades, maintenance and hardware/IT costs. By taking advantage of the SaaS delivery model (a first for Starwood) the company was able to roll out the new LMS system globally. In fact, all locations went live on the same day, with the result being a more immediate impact on business.

By using a SaaS solution, Starwood today is able be more strategic in configuring the LMS to support overall business goals and create efficiencies within the organization. For the first time, all compliance training has been launched and tracked through the Development Center. The blend of different course styles, as well as the on-demand access, also allows Starwood to target learners more specifically, avoiding an inflexible, ineffective “once size fits all” approach. Instead, Starwood offers targeted, fully blended programs such as e-learning, virtual class rooms, instructor-led training and learning content management systems.

Naturally, there are lessons learned for other employers looking to upgrade their LMS. For one, watch the releases. Keep an open line of communication with the vendor partner to find out which functionality is coming up that might help to improve existing processes or support new ones.

Next, create a thorough implementation plan with stakeholders playing key roles throughout the process. Having a specific plan in place helped us to align our processes, keep everyone on track, and manage expectations. It also ensured that the solution was truly a global one. We are proud to say that we launched on-time, on budget, and in-scope.
Finally, there is no such thing as over-communicating with stakeholders. We’re a large, global organization. As much as you think you’ve been repeating yourself over and over again, don’t assume that everyone has heard the message. Communication doesn’t end when you launch the new system. In many ways, it just begins.

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