MGM bets its recognition program on a tech-driven approach—and is winning.
By Debbie Bolla
In the high stakes business of gaming and hospitality, for MGM Resorts International, one gamble that isn’t worth the risk is its workforce. The multi-resort empire understands that in the highly competitive guest services industry, an organization is only as successful as its employees: They are the ones delivering the customer experience. With this knowledge in hand, MGM was implementing recognition initiatives across its multiple properties to honor its employees for exemplary work. But not without its challenges: Each resort had its own budget and approach—some were using employee-of-the-month awards, others delivering on-the-spot rewards. This inconsistency was preventing recognition from making the biggest possible impact on employee engagement, retention, and productivity. It was time for a change.
“As we were looking at creating one company culture and one philosophy around engagement, recognition was something we had to do more consistently across the company,” explains Michelle DiTondo, MGM Resorts International’s senior vice president of human resources. “We had an inability to track recognition across all the properties to know the effectiveness of the tools that we were using.”
MGM was also lacking transparency around program compliance and budgets. Rather than create another in- house process, MGM sought a partner that could provide a platform that would enable them to align recognition initiatives to their business mission and vision as well as deliver reporting tools to track employee use and ROI.
“We chose Achievers because of the ability to engage employees,” says DiTondo.
A well-developed and branded recognition program is key to engaging employees. In fact, research from Brandon Hall Group shows that a rewards and incentives program is the most important strategy to improve employee engagement. And engaged employees go a long way for organizations in terms of retention (The Corporate Leadership Council finds 87 percent of highly engaged employees are less likely to leave organizations) and productivity (Hay Group reports that companies with engaged employees earn 2.5 times more revenue).
With 60,000 total employees—50,000 located in different properties throughout the Las Vegas Strip—MGM opted to roll out a pilot program for corporate headquarters and Mandalay Bay’s 10,000 employees this past May. “It’s pretty typical with how we implement most things within our company because of the number of employees,” says DiTondo. “We do a pilot and learn from it.”
The platform’s online, intuitive interface, designed similarly to Facebook, allows employees to share peer-to- peer recognition. A central location to share accolades among staff was a significant missing piece to the previous rewards program.
“Right before we launched, we did a culture survey,” explains Nicole LaFlamme, director of HR initiatives for Mandalay Bay. “(Being recognized) by peers and the team far outweighed any other form of recognition. It’s important to people.”
Recent research from SHRM/Globoforce cites peer-to- peer effectiveness: 41 percent of companies that use this type of recognition have seen positive increases in customer satisfaction, and peer-to-peer recognition is 35 percent more likely to have a positive impact on financial results than manager-only recognition. “Peer-to-peer recognition sparks engagement at all levels of the organization resulting in a more collaborative environment, regardless of job title or work responsibility,” explains Rodney Mason, GVP of marketing for Achievers. “Peer-to-peer empowers colleagues to celebrate each other’s successes in the moment, providing immediate recognition and feedback.”
Plus it provides a broad picture for managers to see which employees across departments are going above and beyond for the organization. “Before, with the employee of the month program, only the people of managers who noticed doing great things were nominated,” says DiTondo. “With the Achievers platform, I get to see peer- to-peer recognition, and as I manager I get to reward good things that colleagues are seeing.”
Supervisors and managers have the opportunity to award points to high-performing employees, which can essentially be cashed in for rewards. Distribution of points among supervisors is bottom heavy; meaning that the more employees on your team, the more points you have to distribute. “If I am a manager with 300 people reporting to me, I should have the bulk of the points so I can be engaging people,” says LaFlamme.
As for the types of rewards, the MGM team wanted to provide staff with personalized experiences, not just merchandise. Here is where the Achievers’ platform made a big difference. “Achievers had the flexibility to create a program the way we wanted to create it,” says DiTondo.
For example, DiTondo says MGM wanted to be able to offer a reward of a dinner for two at a resort property, like the Mirage, instead of something generic like a gift certificate. And Achievers could easily accommodate that request—and encouraged it. The bottom line: For a points-based system to work effectively, employees want to have a wide-range of options for their rewards. “A reward will fall flat if it isn’t personal, timely, and meaningful,” says Achievers’ Mason. “Each company culture is different and the rewards need to not only reflect corporate culture, but also individual employee needs. MGM has done a fantastic job of marrying their culture with the individual rewards needs of their employees. They learned from employee feedback that dinners at their properties were a meaningful reward, so we helped them include dinners in their reward marketplace.”
MGM has seen strong adoption and participation rates since its pilot launch at the end of May. Reports show 80 percent activation of the corporation population within the first 30 days, and an average of one or two recognitions per week per employee. “The good news about that is we are seeing a broad touch instead of specific areas using it,” says Jonathan Tuzman, manager of corporate solutions at MGM Resorts International. “There has to be at least one person who went above and beyond that you can reward with points,” he says. “And we’re trying to get recognition to go viral since managers have the ability to see someone else’s recognition. That simple act of doing the right thing then becomes much larger.”
Mandalay Bay has a different type of workforce than the corporate offices, with only 30 percent of employees in front of a computer daily. HR understands they need to approach engagement differently. “A challenge is how do we engage them in the platform and use it on a consistent basis,” says LaFlamme. Two current strategies: The platform has anytime access via mobile devices and there are kiosks throughout the resort that encourage employees to engage.
Tuzman and LaFlamme have access to an array of reports that provide layers of actionable information. “Achievers does a great job setting up reports by leader and by department, showing who has been engaged, who is showing recognition, or not even logged in,” explains LaFlamme. “We can have real-time conversations. It’s about engagement, not just recognition—so sitting down and talking to those people and asking if they know about the platform, what could we do differently.”
“Real-time analytics allow for managers to have insight into employee trends and determine how to pivot their strategy,” says Mason. “Automatic reporting based on predetermined criteria allows managers to get a clear picture of employee performance and how well employees are aligned to business objectives. It allows managers to see the smoke before the fire, opening up the opportunity for a conversation with employees.”
MGM’s new platform has already encouraged a case for open dialogue over an employee concern. Tuzman explains that a worker anonymously posted a comment that questioned the drivers of the recognition initiative and a vice president saw the feedback and provided a thorough response. The line-level employee then emailed the vice president directly to let them know she appreciated the response and now had a broader understanding of the initiative. “It’s also a great communication tools,” says Tuzman. “Beyond recognition, this was a chance to engage directly with the employee.”
DiTondo says that before, this dissatisfaction would have likely gone unnoticed or have led to built-up resentment. “The only opportunity that we would have had to hear that anonymous feedback was the annual employee survey. And by then, its months old.”
While MGM is still in the infancy stages of the piloted launch, the HR team already has its eyes on the future of what this recognition platform can achieve.
“From a property perspective, one of things that we are going to be looking at long term is does consistent recognition and engagement drive better guest service scores,” says LaFlamme.
Being in the services industry, employees interact with guests and consumers more so than at a corporation. LaFlamme says they are taking a closer look at the service-profit chain and using a scorecard to correlate the recognition ratio with the guest services survey.
There are also plans to measures how—and if— recognition drives behaviors and engagement. The social sharing aspect of the platform is already helping MGM get a pulse on the employee population whereas before, recognizing one employee infrequently didn’t allow them to reinforce the right attitudes and high level of work.
“For the first time, we have the ability to engage and recognize people for the behaviors we want on a consistent basis,” says LaFlamme. “If we have better engaged employees, the end hope would be that they deliver better guest service and get a better business result because of it.”
And better business results are often driven by an engaged company culture. “We are looking at Achievers more as a culture platform,” says DiTondo. “Recognition is one part of our culture. We have a strong corporate social responsibility program that emphasizes being green, sustainability, philanthropy, and volunteerism. When we were vetting, we wanted someone that was more than points based and could support our culture.”
Recognition For MGM Resorts International
MGM takes great strives to create an incredible company culture—one that promotes sustainability, corporate responsibility, and philanthropy. And their efforts have received recognition worth noting. Some accolades include:
- 2015 marks the tenth consecutive year MGM Resorts has been recognized for its diversity and inclusion initiative by DiversityInc’s annual survey.
- The company was honored by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for its outstanding efforts in food recovery.
- In 2014, MGM was named to Newsweek Magazine’s Green Rankings.
- In 2014, PR News’ honored MGM as a finalist for CSR Professional of the Year for their CSR Awards.