The Talent Management Challenge for Casino Operators

Karen Walker
October 2000


    People management and development is as challenging for the casino industry as for any organization working towards the goal of having the right people in the right place at the right time. Good business knows that organisational capability and competency is directly linked to the capability of itsí leaders and staff to support its strategic aspirations. The casino industry finds itself in an increasingly competitive environment with internet gaming and other forms of entertainment and leisure making a play for the disposable gaming dollar. The casino industry must continue to crown their customers through customer service programmes and incentives, but also better manage the talent within their organization as a competitive advantage.

    We have all met professionals within the casino industry whom after many years of working on the gaming floor, are promoted to a management role which includes the trappings of an office, a computer and the reporting, administrative, financial management and strategic planning responsibilities that go with the role. How well have these people, experts in floor operation and doing business with gamblers, been equipped by their organizations to take on management roles and responsibilities? And how many talented individuals have we seen leave the casino industry early in their tenure, for other industries that do not require the demands of shift work and stepping up through the ranks, whilst offering superior career development opportunities and incentives?

    Casino industry operators are also tempted as with many successful businesses, to measure success as only equating to the performance of the bottom line.  The implementation of best practice, the continual process of renewal and improvement within an organization, and the focus on attrition rates, all tend to be measured by non-profit organizations and lean organizations hungry for financial success. For the financially successful casino industry operator with traditional structures and approaches to career advancement, the key to maintaining a competitive advantage through the wealth of the skills and talent of their people is to align and measure people management with the operational and strategic requirements of the business. This focus must be build into the recruitment, induction, performance management, succession planning and career management strategies within the organization.

    So what would performance management look like at a best practice organization?  Key components would include relative rankings for staff, using pay to reward performance, penalising poor performance, assessing results against a balanced scorecard, using 360/180 degree or peer feedback, and assessing both leadership/team membership and technical/functional expertise. Nothing new or startling in that list, but whilst organizations often recognise these key components of performance management, the implementation of them can be lacking. Examples of this is insufficient and ineffective use of performance management, reluctance to identify and acknowledge under performance, politics overriding merit, and lack of differentiation between high performers and low performers. These last two examples are often characterised by soft practices addressing performance such as lateral moves, second chances and counselling, and merit not always being a major determinant of career advancement. 

    Casino industry operators can reinforce the importance of people management through a number of ways, in addition to their performance management processes.  People managers must be measured and held accountable for people management decisions.  Managers must be rewarded or penalised according to the retention of key people, completion of performance appraisals, and the exit of non performers.  Monthly "scorecards" for business units should report on attrition rates and reason for leaving, training and development measures, and employee satisfaction, in addition to external customer value management and financial performance. Casino operators must also provide their people managers with a methodology to identify talent and poor performers, and be able to move on them.

    A talent management methodology involves an audit of leadership capability for the top 20% of staff in a business. It is demanding on time and administration, but when implemented, enables comparison of people for business unit managers and quickly identifies any gaps in the skill set required by the organization. It is a powerful tool for casino operators to ensure that the required balance between functional/technical expertise, and strategic and leadership capability is maintained.

    Other human resource practices support a talent management methodology, such as succession planning. To maintain the operation of their business and by nature of the regulation of the industry, casino operators have always been proactive in terms of replacement planning. However progression planning and retention of key knowledge holders should also be part of a succession planning model, through talent tracking, innovative methods for development e.g. external secondment, rotation, shadow cabinets, P&L experience etc. and placing a value on those who have institutional knowledge. Where a talent audit identifies a gap in a skill set within their leadership team, casino operators should also consider being innovative when sourcing skills and not be afraid of learning from the experience and best practice of other industries, the use of specialist consultants and contractors, executive leasing and other options when reviewing their recruitment strategy.

    So in summary, the challenge for casino industry operators to manage the talent within their organization, is firstly to ensure that a performance culture has been built as a core business competency. Implement a talent review methodology to assess capability and use it explicitly for that purpose, i.e. leadership audit or technical/functional audit, to support organisational change for acquisition or divestment, or to build an area of organisational capability. 

    Any casino industry operator that knows where its best people are and what to do with them to retain and utilise their talent, skills and loyalty, have an important sustainable advantage over their competitors.

Karen Walker
Managing Director
Clever Cookie Consultancy Limited
PO Box 28
Oneroa   Waiheke Island
New Zealand

Ph:    +64 9 372 8723

Authorís Profile
    Karen Walker, Managing Director of Clever Cookie Consultancy Limited delivers her experience of over 10 years in the gaming industry in Australasia as a competitive advantage to your gaming venue. This experience encompasses Hotel and Club gaming machine venues, casinos and regulatory environments, in senior management, audit and inspection, and training and technical support roles.

    Typically Karen has been involved with the operation of new organizations, their successful opening/implementation, and continued business growth and improvements, including developing the best people. Karen brings management experience, empathy with people and a practical background in coaching, mentoring, adult education and support roles to her work.

    Karen enjoys the challenge of working with individuals and organizations committed to continued growth, learning and striving for excellence