SHRM ’15: Global Shift, High Performers and More

Blistering temperatures hovering around 115 degrees apparently didn’t keep folks away from this week’s SHRM 2015 Annual Conference and Exposition in Las Vegas. Under the theme “It’s Time to Thrive,” the event attracted a record 15,500 attendees from around the globe. (Vegas seems to be a draw, no matter what the time of the year.)

SHRM photoCrowds and the heat index aside, I did notice at least one refreshing change at this year’s event: a lot more practitioner speakers.

Though I didn’t do a thorough analysis, a quick scan of the program book suggested there were definitely more HR leaders on the program than in prior years—a development I would certainly put under the category of a good thing.

Case in point: a Monday morning session by Steve Fussell, executive vice president of human resources for Abbott Laboratories in Abbott Park, Ill.  Titled “Managing a Global Workforce During Times of Change: M&A, Organic Growth and Spin Offs,” Fussell’s talk recounted Abbott’s dramatic and impressive transformation in the aftermath of spinning off its research-based pharma arm, AbbVie, in 2012. (Fussell, BTW, was named to HRE’s Honor Roll in 2010.)

As Fussell explained to the packed room, the spin off left Abbott with a much more global business and workforce. (Today, he said, less than one-third of the firms’ revenue now comes from the United States and 70 percent of employees are outside of the country.)

On top of that, he added, Abbott became, almost overnight, a much more customer-facing business.

These changes, Fussell said, will inevitably lead a very different leadership mix in the coming years.

“Three to five years out,” he said, “I can tell you that we will probably double the number of people in senior leadership roles … who do not carry a U.S. passport.”

As a part of the transformation, HR focused on three specific buckets: core, critical and unique.

“Core,” he explained, is having people who feel and behave like owners and are able to make hard decisions. “We don’t want GMs saying this doesn’t matter in this market,” he said. To that end, he continued, Abbott built business advisory committees in every one of its markets around the globe and requires leaders in those markets to talk about those areas they consider to be core.

“Critical,” he said, “are the [issues] we have to get right together to build the market presence that allows us to [successfully] compete.”

And then there are those issues that are “unique”:

Don’t call me up and ask me about the summer bonus somewhere … . If I’m getting those calls … I need to question the people we have in those jobs.

Fussell also shared what he looks for in leaders. First and foremost, he said, leaders need to be able to analyze a situation. “Do they have an analytical ability to notice the things that are happening in the markets in which they serve?” he asked. “Can they see things our competitors can’t see?”

Second, he continued, are they leaders who can diagnose the things that ultimately will determine outcomes?

Third, are they able to describe a direct course of action? “Do they have a sustainable record of taking what they’ve seen and diagnosed, and then put together an outcomes-based approach … ?”

And fourth, can they execute? With a tone of sarcasm, he said “I’m sure none of you have seen a business that noticeably missed its plan for the year, perhaps by a mile, and then, after looking at all your performance ratings, found that 36 percent [of the employees]exceeded performance.”

Performance—and rewarding those employees who excel at it—was certainly at the heart of a presentation delivered Tuesday afternoon by Michelle DiTondo, senior vice president of human resources for MGM Resorts in Las Vegas.

In the session title “MGM Resorts: What is it Worth to You to Keep Your Top Performers?” DiTondo shared the talent-retention challenges facing the gaming giant and detailed an approach currently being piloted to help address them.

Envision having 50,000 of your 62,000 workers all located on a single street—and then having the vast majority of biggest competitors located on that same street as well. (In this case, the street is the “Las Vegas Strip.”)

That’s the reality facing MGM Resorts, DiTondo said.

To tackle this challenge, DiTondo said she put a unique twist on question business leaders at MGM Resorts were more than familiar with: What are your very best customers worth to you?  She asked them to think about what their very best-performing employees were worth to them?

“It’s an easy analogy for us,” she said. “As business leaders, we understand the value of treating our best customers [known as ‘whales’] differently from all of our other customers. We understand why an airline has a first-class lounge for customers who pay more …  .”

By making sure all of this is done in a very public way, she said, you’re able to drive “aspirational behavior.”

Every industry has “whales,” not just gaming,  she added.

At MGM Resorts, DiTondo said, the highest level of its loyalty program is called “NOIR.”

These “whales” represent less than 1 percent of the company’s total customers and are treated very differently, she explained. “They get exclusive awards such as being picked up in a private plane [or] staying in “The Mansion,” [exclusive quarters] just behind the MGM Grand. Why are they treated differently? Because while they represent just 1 percent of MGM Resorts’ database, they drive 600x more revenue compared to the average customer.”

Building off of this model, DiTondo, with her CEO’s blessing, began to rethink the way MGM Resorts’ approached its top talent. “If we have high-performing employee, do we apply the same sort of things to them that we give to our high-performing customers?” she asked. “Do we give them access to the chairman? Are they given access to senior leaders? Are they given exclusive benefits that are only for high performers? Do we have personal relationships with them? Do we know about their family, their interests, their personal milestones? Do we understand the impact on the business were they to leave? Do we treat them like VIPs? From my standpoint … the answer is no.”

In the pilot, DiTondo said, MGM Resorts partly copied an approach taken by Chipotle Mexican Grill to groom more restaurant managers internally. Under the initiative, she said, general managers at the chain were given a $10,000 bonus for each individual who was promoted into Chipotle’s management program.

To hold onto and incent its top talent, DiTondo said, MGM created, as a part of the pilot, a tiered bonus program for general managers and executive chefs who met certain benchmarks that included a “super incentive” of 1 percent of both the restaurant’s top and bottom lines.  (At one of the highest performing buffets, she said, these high-performing individuals could now receive a $30,000 bonus, compared to $3,000 under the prior arrangement.)

On top of that, she said, they also now have the potential of reaping a bonus of 10 percent of a person’s base pay if that individual is promoted to a GM and executive chef job. (To receive the bonus, the individual needs to put in a place a plan, as well as coach and mentor the candidate.)

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In other news: SHRM continued its tradition of releasing its latest Employee Benefits Survey at the annual conference.

According to Evren Esen, director of SHRM’s survey programs, the big headline this year was employers’ continuing commitment to wellness. Of the 463 respondents, employers with wellness programs jumped between 2011 and 2015 by 10 percent, from 60 percent to 70 percent.

Esen suggested that employers were investing in wellness as a way to counter the financial strain resulting from healthcare.

In line with this increase, the study revealed significant increases over the past five years in the use of healthcare premium discounts for participating in wellness programs (from 11 percent to 20 percent) and healthcare premium discounts for those not using tobacco products (from 12 percent to 19 percent).

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