Starwood and Six Sigma

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Starwood Hotels is one the largest hotel companies in the world. At the end or 2010, their chain comprised 1,027 hotels with approximately 302,000 rooms in nearly 100 countries. The hotels were either owned or leased (62 properties), managed on a hotel management contract (463) or franchised hotels (502 properties). Over half their hotels are in North America and the Caribbean and one quarter in Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA). Most of their brands are in the upper end of the market, and include St. Regis, W, Westin, Le Meridien, and Sheraton. This market position means that the chain has focused on quality and was an early adopter of six sigma amongst service firms in 2001. Between 2001 and 2006 the company reported that it had delivered $100 million of extra profit from its Six Sigma initiative and that this explained why its net margin was 15% higher than its two main rivals - Hilton and Marriott.

Managers and employees trained in Six Sigma work at all levels of the organisation – in hotels, area management, divisions and corporate head office. Green Belts have full-time job positions, but spend a proportion of their time working on Six Sigma projects. They will mostly be engaged in collecting and analysing data for projects and monitoring improvements. By 2010, over 50% of all Starwood’s managers had been trained to this level at least. At the next level up, Black Belts work only on Six Sigma projects. When Starwood first began the programme, it sent Black belts to every one of its hotels with the specific task of introducing the initiative to the workforce, training some employees to be Green belts, and identify improvement projects. By 2010, all hotels had a Six Sigma Council lead by a Black Belt. Master Black Belts are the next level up the Six Sigma Hierarchy. They are fully trained in all the principles and tools of Six Sigma, and have the specific role of ensuring consistent practices across Six Sigma projects. In Starwood, they work full time overseeing a portfolio of different projects in an area, region or division. In 2009 Starwood was named the No. 1 best place to work for Six Sigma practitioners by iSix Sigma magazine.

One example of a Six Sigma project is one conducted in 2004 to improve employee safety and reduce claims for compensation. A Six Sigma team analysed the incidence of accidents and conducted root cause analysis to identify why these occurred. It was found that slips and falls were the main type of accident, whilst housekeeping staff had especial problems with back strains due to lifting. A number of improvement were made in order to address these issues, including equipping housekeeping staff with longer handled cleaning tools and requiring them to do a stretching routine before commencing work. As a result the accident rate went from 12 to 2 for every 200,000 work hours.

“Six Sigma is an internationally recognized approach that enables associates to develop innovative customer focused solutions and transfer those innovations rapidly across an organization. Starwood’s Six Sigma program is unique to the hospitality industry. Six Sigma at Starwood has helped increase our financial performance by improving the quality and consistency of our guests’ experiences as well as those of our internal customers. It provides the framework and tools we need to create a consistently superior guest experience at all properties while dramatically improving the bottom line. The Six Sigma organization reports to divisional leadership and is aligned with the division’s goals and priorities.

Candidates for this function are accountable for accomplishing innovative business process improvements resulting in measurable financial and/or customer loyalty gains by applying the Six Sigma methodology in his/her assigned area of responsibility (hotel/area/division/corporate). He/she is a Project Team leader who receives specialized training in the methodology and tools, and then...
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