Corporate Cultures

Universal Truths

by Ray Knight and Rob Sanders

While casino cultures differ widely, they’re more alike than you may think.  Employees throughout the industry share common concerns.  If you address these concerns effectively, you successfully elevate your culture above the crowd.

We conducted comparative analysis of research involving more than 30,000 employees at two dozen gaming operations of varying size and structure.  The sample included major Las Vegas properties, emerging markets, and tribal gaming locations.

Four root concerns appear to plague all gaming cultures to some degree, greater in some than others.  These same four challenges appear persistently at the top of the list.  They signify big obstacles to developing a strong unified culture unless you do something to improve them.

Poor Communication The single greatest weakness in virtually every casino culture is that employees feel they don’t know what’s going on most of the time.  It’s significant that most employees say they rely on the company grapevine to get the real scoop.

The most common form of “communication” in casinos is the memo.  It’s also probably the worst way to transmit information.  Managers tend to feel they have “communicated” because they mentioned something once in Line 4 of Paragraph 6 on Page 3 of a memo last month.

There are two problems with this.  First, you can’t assume that everybody even reads a memo all the way through (or at all).  Second, people are inundated with bits of information, so much so that little of it actually registers in their memories; there’s too much competition.

The first step to improving your connection is to recognize that communication only happens when an idea actually completes the journey from your mind to an employee’s mind.  A memo is only a delivery device.  It doesn’t become communication until the employee absorbs and grasps its meaning.

Be creative in the way you deliver information.  Try unexpected and surprising ways to communicate.  Produce videos to run on the TV monitor in the employee cafeteria.  Create your own closed-circuit TV news network (you can tie units together via satellite links).  Hang posters in high-traffic employee areas.  Make message frames for bathroom mirrors.  Make your company
newsletter strategic and useful instead of a boring, outdated puff that nobody reads.

Repeat yourself.  Tell them what you’re going to tell them, tell them, then tell them what you told them.  For a message to stick, it must be repeated with enough frequency to make an impression that will last.  Once is never enough...ever.

Be open.  Hush-hush secrecy tells employees you don’t trust them.  It also divides the Ins from the Outs, splitting the culture.  When you take employees into your confidence, you make them partners in your vision, allies in your purpose.

Communication should be a two-way channel.  Talk with your employees, not at them.  You can’t learn anything about the culture with your mouth open and your ears closed.

Poorly Trained Middle Management.  Next to poor communication, the lack of people management skills among supervisors is the largest contributor to cultural dysfunction.  In casinos, supervisors typically get promoted from the rank and file because they have been there longest or have the best functional skills.  Neither are qualifications by themselves to be a good

Consequently, people become supervisors who have neither the temperament nor the training for coping with the challenges of leadership.  The fault lies with top management.

Examine your criteria for selecting managers.  Make sure you’re picking the people who can lead.  Make sure they have adequate training for the job.  You can’t expect someone who was a great blackjack dealer automatically to be a great floor supervisor.  More than likely, the person will simply behave with the same bad habits learned from previous supervisors.

As a group, middle managers are more often than not a barrier that blocks your vision from reaching the lower levels of your organization.  Your best intentions can’t get past the department heads if your middle managers are incompetent.

Lack of Respect.  The computer world’s axiom “garbage in – garbage out” applies to the issue of how employees are treated in casinos.  You get out of them what you put into them.   Respect flows from the very top and trickles down to the line level.  The research scores on this issue are proportional to rank; the lowest level employees feel the least respect.  If there is little respect at the top, none gets to the bottom –  the part of your organization the customer sees and experiences.

When employees feel they are treated with respect, they are more likely to treat each other and customers respectfully.  Make it clear to your employees that you value them and the job they do.  Live up to your promises to them.  Don’t con them.  They know when you’re insincere.

Look at your employees as individuals who each have something to contribute to your success.  They aren’t just components of the column called “Labor Expense.”  In truth, respect reduces labor expense.  Employees who feel valued are more productive and stay on the job longer, cutting turnover costs.

Favoritism.  In the gaming industry, this trait goes by the distasteful name of “juice.”  When juice is the primary lubricant that greases a culture, the result is slime.  It breeds organizational incest, rewards brown-nosers, and undermines quality.  When you allow cliques to develop in a culture, you lose control of it.  Cliques mean fragmentation into factions.  Cultural unity is a threat to them.

Promotions, raises, special favors, the best shifts, etc., should be awarded on merit, not on personal relationships.  Rewards should be earned based on superior effort, not “who you know.” A culture built on quality performance and dedication to the company owns a powerful advantage over one made slippery with “juice.”

You may be inclined to dismiss these challenges, thinking they don’t apply to your casino.  Think again.  Not a single casino in the research analysis sample was exempt from these problems.  It’s a good bet that yours is affected, too.  It’s also a good bet that you don’t really know for sure.

(This article appeared in the February 1999 issue.)