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Building Influence at Times of Crisis

One of the best times to build up your Influence and Impact is during times of crisis. Under difficult situations, leadership will shine. Those who can keep their heads and address the challenges confronting the organization will be listened to and valued. Erica Spencer, the VP of Global Learning and Development at Marriott International, wrote an extended version of the following contribution for our book to bring leading in a crisis to life:


At the beginning of 2020, I set goals for the Learning and Development function. We emphasized the continued digitization of our fundamental training content, and the implementation of our learning technology roadmap. We cascaded these high-level goals to team members and defined specific initiatives and projects for each team. In March 2020, the coronavirus pandemic hit. This caused an unprecedented impact on the hospitality industry. We had to do more with less. We had to understand the constantly evolving recovery strategy and determine how learning and development could best support those efforts. At the same time, we needed to support the digitization and technology efforts that were critical moving forward. We quickly learned that COVID-19 had created a scenario in which we could accelerate and demonstrate the value of digital learning.

The Opportunity

We absolutely had to deliver training to associates on business-critical topics, such as the new cleanliness and safety protocols. We also needed to educate associates on how to work and manage teams in a virtual capacity. However, we no longer had the ability to deliver this training in-person. Through our focus on digitization, we created over 100 digital learning assets that supported our cleanliness efforts. Over 430,000 associates completed these trainings within two months of launch. We also curated over 150 resources to support associates during their furlough. More than 125,000 associates accessed these materials.

Solving Big Problems

Our support also went beyond the typical learning and development initiatives. We used our learning technology platform as the infrastructure to support work done by the broader HR organization. Our Work Opportunities Site, for example, showcased job opportunities for associates, as well as supported  the data needed to support our re-organization efforts. Finally, we used this technology  to create a health screening program for associates who needed to return to the office.

The Impact

As a result of the flexibility and commitment of our team, the learning and development organization delivered what the organization needed during an extremely challenging time. This work was completely different than what we had planned, but we were still able to advance our overarching goals of digitization and learning technology. These efforts also served to stimulate change in the organization, getting our leaders and associates comfortable with and accepting of learning in a virtual environment.

I have known Erica for many years, and wherever she goes, she builds up a level of respect and trust that gives her enormous influence across her organizations. Her impact has always been beyond her level, and leaders across the firms she has worked for pay attention to what she thinks.