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At Marriott and other firms, HR becomes increasingly strategic

Marriott International’s new gaming app, Xplor, sounds like a straightforward marketing initiative.

The free program, which launched in August, allows players to travel the world on the screens of their smartphones and tablets, solving puzzles and answering questions as they vie to win Marriott Rewards points. (Naturally, their avatars rest up at virtual Marriott hotels around the world.)

But the development of the game was a collaborative effort, led by not just the firm’s chief marketing officer, but also its chief human resources officer, David Rodriguez. And there’s a reason why the Bethesda-based hospitality giant found it made sense to bring the teams together for this project.

“Every customer is a potential employee, and every employee is a potential customer,” Rodriguez said.

Marriott’s move to bring its human resources department in closer collaboration with another area of the company, coupled with its mind-set about the crossover between marketing and recruitment, are examples of a trend that experts say is taking hold at many businesses. As the competition for top workers intensifies and as technology transforms the ways recruiters can reach them, some employers are trying to enhance their talent operations by more strategically aligning or entwining that team with other divisions of the business.

“There’s a really big trend for heads of HR and heads of recruiting to partner with marketing to make sure that the messaging — the story that’s being told about the company’s products, the company — is consistent,” said Josh Bersin, principal and founder of talent consulting firm Bersin by Deloitte.

The talent game

The idea for Marriott’s Xplor app was rooted in an earlier social media game dreamed up by the human resources division. My Marriott Hotel is a Facebook game they launched in 2011 that was meant to attract talent by showing players what it was like to work at the hotel chain. Over time, it drew players from 138 countries, some of which weren’t even home to a Marriott hotel.

The broad reach led Marriott to wonder: “What do we do with this?”

Soon, the marketing and human resources divisions were working as partners to figure out how gaming could be further leveraged to trumpet both the company’s consumer brand and employer brand.

As Marriott competes for talent and customers, especially in emerging markets, “You really don’t have the luxury of being clunky,” Rodriguez said. “You really have to move faster. And to do that you must have much better teamwork inside the organization.”

With that goal in mind, Marriott’s human resources team has aligned with many different divisions across the company. The company has a human resources staffer embedded in every department so they can better translate business needs into smart hires.

“They’re not guessing what the issues might be, they’re living the issues with the rest of the business,” Rodriguez said.

Social media skills

While Marriott is working to align human resources with virtually all of its other departments, experts say it seems especially common for employers to move to integrate their talent operation with marketing.

In today’s digital world, there are increasing similarities between what these departments do: Each is more frequently relying on analytics to understand its audience. And now that recruiters are constantly on the hunt for “passive job seekers,” they are often in outreach mode, much like their counterparts in marketing.

“It’s no longer enough to be a compensation expert or just to be a rewards expert,” said Paul Rubenstein, a leader in the talent practice at consulting firm Aon Hewitt. “You have to be able to really articulate the value proposition of working at your company.”

That marketer-style pitch has not always been an essential skill in the human resources staffer’s tool kit. And so to close that gap, some organizations are bringing those operations into closer cooperation.

Social media has been another key factor fueling the shift. Even a single tweet or Facebook update can become a powerful tool that can at once shape whether people want to buy something from you and whether they want to work for you.

For example, Sheryl Sandberg’s foundation,, learned this the hard way two weeks ago when one of its staffers posted on Facebook that the group was looking for an unpaid intern. A firestorm of criticism quickly ensued in the post’s comments section and in the blogosphere, where critics scoffed over the idea that an organization that promotes women’s advancement would ask them to work for no pay. After the dust-up, the organization said that it would compensate its interns going forward.

“There’s as much brand reputation to be protected through how we recruit as there is in delivering customer service,” Rubenstein said.

Sarah Halzack is The Washington Post's national retail reporter. She has previously covered the local job market and the business of talent and hiring. She has also served as a Web producer for business and economic news.



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