A strengths-based approach has been critical to driving increases in employee engagement, improving leadership capability and changing mindsets around talent management within The Star Entertainment Group, according to its CHRO Kim Lee.
With aggressive plans for growth and expansion, she explained that the group has a vision of being Australia’s leading integrated resort company – and enabling this vision through highly capable, agile leaders who cultivate and lead highly talented teams based on strengths.
“We recognised that we needed to reshape our thinking and act in new ways to respond to changes and meet the demands of the future,” she said.
“As we look for new opportunities to bring our strategy to life and shape our employee experience, creating simple yet effective ways to lead cultural transformation is a strategic imperative at The Star and for the HR community.”
The $5 billion ASX listed company currently employs around 9000 employees and boasts 7 hotels with more than 1600 rooms. By 2022 it plans to employ more than 16,000 people and will have around 12 hotels with more than 3200 rooms.
With major capital investments underway across three locations to achieve these expansion plans, Lee said this needs to be matched with highly capable leaders and teams which deliver superior customer service outcomes.
Lee, who joined The Star in 2015, successfully introduced strengths as a cultural lever to frontline leaders in a previous role and explained the benefits of integrating the concept of talent into a complex organisational environment.
“The strengths-based approach operates on the assumption that all people, even if they are experiencing challenges, have talents and resources from which they can draw on to make positive change and contributions,” she said.
“Whereas a deficit-based approach, which focuses on what is wrong, can overlook the valuable skills and experiences a leader or team member has to offer the organisation.”
Being strengths-based requires a different way of viewing the world, according to Lee, who said the strength-based approach The Star has adopted is solution-focused and engages leaders in providing a positive environment which drives stronger team performance.
“It does not ignore or minimise problems,” she said.
“It focuses on using personal strengths to inform strategies that support leaders and their teams.”
“Slowly a common language of strengths started to take shape and gain momentum within The Star’s HR community”
Lee explained that this was also key to the development of The Star’s employment value proposition, which is: “We believe our people are at their best when they are doing what they enjoy and are good at it. We encourage our people to be natural, to be their best selves and utilise their strengths every day.”
Strengths, HR and cultural transformation
When the Gallup StrengthsFinder was formally introduced at The Star, Lee said the initial conversations and interventions were purposely focused within the senior HR team.
The challenge here was to gain an understanding of the HR leaders’ talents and to change the language from weakness fixing, while using strengths as a lens to mobilise and increase self-awareness within the team.
“With those early conversations began a ripple and the ignition towards the acceptance of talent began,” she said.
“These conversations turned towards coaching and formal team strengths sessions, and slowly a common language of strengths started to take shape and gain momentum within The Star’s HR community.”
As the StrengthsFinder language emerged more broadly, so did the links to strategy and priorities, and it was at this time that the decision was made to invest more heavily in strengths.
“Since then, The Star has been purposely aligning the language of strengths and the use of strength coaching as a way to align culture with strategy and deliver on our priorities and communication of values,” she said.
However, cultural transformation is complex, and achieving appropriate levels of disruption to traditional approaches requires open minds and being “tuned into the possibilities” said Lee.
“We are clear in what our cultural aspirations are and what levers we have to reinforce and leverage from,” she said.
“We have positioned each of our cultural levers so that they work together to connect, integrate and reinforce our desired language and behaviours.
“Essentially, we are making significant progress towards embedding strengths into our systems, programs and organisation-wide practices.”
Lee said there are a number of examples of how The Star has embedded strengths and talents into its HR programs – the first of which is its diversity and inclusion program.
“To be your best self and make a difference we hire you to be you,” said Lee, who explained that there are four key diversity areas (gender, multiculturalism, LGBTQI and mature-aged) which promote inclusivity.
The Star also has a “Star Qualities” program which is designed to showcase its service commitments and introduce new and existing team members to the mindsets and practices that differentiate The Star from its competitors.
“We are clear in what our cultural aspirations are and what levers we have to reinforce and leverage from”
“Specifically, the training focuses on fostering positive deviance, providing skills and tools enabling our people to spot and harness their strengths and the strengths of others and show up as their best selves to transform the way we function and achieve results,” said Lee.
Embedding coaching across the business
With the adoption of strengths language within The Star’s cultural levers and development programs, it has also invested in the accreditation of internally positioned Gallup StrengthsFinder coaches, with 14 currently operating from within HR (three of which hold qualifications in the broader study of positive psychology).
The Star’s coaches act as both strengths ambassadors as well as partners to the business from their respective roles and areas of responsibilities.
“The introduction of internal coaches has seen The Star look at the existing coaching frameworks and re-evaluate the coaching approach,” said Lee.
Historically, the group has promoted the use of the GROW model as a simple and effective tool, however, to assist with increased change, Lee said conversations are a powerful connection point: “a way for our people to generate clarity through dialogue and as a foundation for effective communication and action”, she said.
“With the level of change, construction and complexity at play, and with the focus firmly on talented teams as one of the ways to achieve the demands of the future, the requests from within the business for coaching interventions is growing,” said Lee, who explained that this increased level of interest provides an opportunity for The Star to broaden its coaching capability and further enable the embedment of coaching as an essential leadership practice.
However, Lee said that it is important to manage risks associated with the coaching network and the quality management processes associated with the coach and coaching interventions, and pointed to five specific risks:
- The appetite for the business to use StrengthsFinder as a recruitment tool
- The orientation from some leaders to use the tool to label members of their teams
- Undefined measurement and data management strategies
- Undefined quality management processes for coaches and coaching
- Loosely defined coaching structures for leader and team coaching
The Star is currently measuring its baseline cultural attributes and behaviours a number of ways, and Lee said the results are “extremely promising” and a number of case studies have emerged where there is a direct link between strengths and outcomes in the business.
“The introduction of internal coaches has seen The Star look at the existing coaching frameworks and re-evaluate the coaching approach”
The leadership team in The Star’s Brisbane property, for example, has an engagement score of 80 per cent – which is consistently higher than other property leadership teams in driver questions.
- “I have the knowledge, skills and ability to effectively lead change across this organisation” (which is 100 per cent positive perception);
- “The way we manage performance here enables me to contribute as much as possible to our organisation’s success” (95 per cent positive perception);
- “My manager has clearly communicated what our team needs to do to be successful” (95 per cent positive perception).
Lee said the senior leader of the business has undertaken StrengthsFinder and 1-1 coaching and is a strengths advocate.
“A number of his direct reports are also enthusiastic strengths advocates and use strengths-based interventions to enhance their and the team’s performance,” she said.
“The Strengths coach (also part of the leadership team) works hard to ensure strengths are at the heart of all conversations within the leadership group, including identifying who in the senior team undertake additional opportunities to invest in their talents.”
Lee said the business result is also pleasing as the Treasury Brisbane proposition is “steady as she goes” and will not undergo any major transformation until Queens Wharf Brisbane opens in 2022.
“In the future we may want to consider, in addition to the current metrics, behavioural surveys and or expertly facilitated conversations with team members,” said Lee.
“We may also consider measuring our progress against our peers as part of an external benchmarking opportunity.”
The Star currently measures its baseline cultural attributes and behaviours via:
- Employee engagement and pulse surveys (AON Hewitt external benchmark – top quartile for general management and senior manager engagement results in 2018 i.e. between 68 to 100 per cent)
- Customer insight surveys (positive, exceeding targets)
- Internal customer experience surveys (positive, exceeding targets in most functions)
- Financial performance (positive, meeting targets)
- Retention of key senior leadership talent (voluntary turnover well below target)
- Goal attainment via new talent and SuccessFactors performance management system (900+ employees financially rewarded against achievement of goals, and drives greater transparency on how leaders can impact individual and group performance via targets).