Skift Take

Innovation is a buzzword thrown around by executives who want to sound open-minded, but actually fostering an environment where employees feel empowered to take risks and make mistakes is much harder to do.

Marriott International is hoping to becoming the go-to hotel brand of millennials and foreign travelers as it embarks on an ambitious growth plan and marketing agenda.

The hotel brand recently announced a new content studio, a virtual reality headset to woo millennials, and was listed among Forbes‘ most innovative public companies.

Although interesting and perhaps game-changing initiatives, building a truly innovative culture means that every employee feels the opportunity to suggest and try new ideas without being penalized.

Marriott CEO Arne Sorenson talked about building such a culture during an internal question-and-answer video segment last week. Below are four stand-out points we pulled from the session transcript obtained by Skift.

“One of the things that is great about the way [Marriott] is responding to this agenda is folks are feeling like they have got the courage and the permission to come out and say, ‘I’ve got an idea. It’s a better idea for something we have done in the past.’ Maybe it’s a new idea for something that we have never done before, but they’ve got this idea and they want to test it. They should feel empowered to test it; it should not require me or necessarily even their boss to greenlight it. The moment you start to say we’re going to have a process around greenlighting an individual idea then we are building a bureaucracy over the innovation, which ultimately has a risk of stifling the innovation.”

“To innovate really simply means alright, I am going to look at what I do and I am going to figure out what the ideas are that I can use, either brand new ideas that nobody has ever thought of before or more likely ideas that I see being used somewhere else. Maybe not in our industry, but someplace else in the neighborhood, in the family, in a restaurant. How do I use those ideas and bring them to my work so that I can take more responsibility and do better in what I need to try and accomplish to win in my space?”

“I think the innovation agenda is a constant. Five years from now we may use a different word. It will be interesting to see how the language changes. I think five years ago the word innovation would have been used much less frequently than it is used today, but fundamentally it’s a spirit about change.”

“Obviously, there is expertise about innovation, but it is not something that is owned only by somebody who has innovation on their business card. It has to be owned by all of us.”

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Photo credit: Marriott International CEO Arne Sorenson looks at a hotel prototype in the brand's innovation lab. Marriott International