Treat your best-performing employees like your best-performing customers

Incentivize Internal High Performers

The SHRM (Society for Human Resources Management) conference is going on/potentially ending right now in Las Vegas, and I’m insanely bitter because I’ve been writing about human resources and organizational development topics for about 18 months now and I was hoping that someday, somebody would pick up my tab to go out there and chop it up with some “thought leaders,” but of course … ain’t nobody reading this blog and offering me airfare. So, I had to settle for a little Twitter and Google News search work to get some recaps of the action. I found one pretty interesting thing.

Here’s the article. Here’s the quote:

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.”

Amazing and true. I’ve written about this before. Here’s but one example.

For context, this is the SVP of HR and people operations at MGM speaking … she’s basically saying that they have a customer category called “whales,” who get a ton of perks but it’s OK, because they drive 600 percent higher revenue than regular customers. (Give us money = we give you perks. That’s how the game works, baby!) But then … when high-performing employees do great things, it’s treated as, “Well, that’s the expectation…” as if the salary is all they’re entitled to for going above and beyond. This is very indicative of how it all goes down, you know? Products and processes tend to matter to people; people tend to not. You see the same issues around “talent strategy,” for the most part.

Here’s what MGM started to do:

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.)

Just as long as it’s not “stretch assignments,” you know?

I had a project in grad school that Microsoft “sponsored” (but then probably roundly ignored) about retaining high-potential talent. Most of the things people came up were lukewarm (“incentivize them!”) and I tried to think a little out of the box, but most of my team was more concerned with potentially getting an “A” (we did) than actually doing anything notable. (That’s the American way, right there.) In reality, this series of ideas is how you incentivize high-performers, but only a few companies “get” that.

Le sigh … but remember, just like you have “whales” who drive revenue, you also have “internal whales,” and they should be given perks and reap benefits as well.


Ted Bauer

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