Estimated Reading Time: 3 minutes
“You will never forget this time in your life.” He was right, although not for the reasons he was thinking.
Our guide was giving us a tour of our new home, a brand new casino resort featuring a new golf course. There was a lot of excitement over the potential, a potential which was soon realized. At the end of our grand-opening year, our casino would be the third-highest revenue producing casino west of the Mississippi.
Yet, it almost didn’t happen.
Casinos have their own culture like any other business, and that culture includes tips. With a few exceptions, everyone working in the casino works for tips. However, unlike other tipping professions, there are no guidelines for how much to tip: each person tips what they believe is fair. For many, tips correlate to winnings and how much they gamble. This also means that “whales” (patrons who gamble big) were coveted by employees over all others.
I was the vanguard of a new wave of employees, all hired to keep pace with the explosion of Native American gaming. The old guard of employees resented these interlopers: they didn’t know the unwritten rules of squatter’s rights regarding wealthy guests. We were an unwelcome invasion to the established employees.
A feud emerged, one that threatened the core service offering of the casino. Lines were drawn, as one side eyed the other. Open arguments erupted on the gaming floor, directly in front of the guests. Supervisors and managers were caught in the cross-fire as they tried to keep the peace. Teams were shuffled in an attempt to break alliances, only for employees to war with each other on the same team, all under the direction of ring-leaders. The rift caught the attention of senior management, much to the embarrassment of the department’s leadership.
I’ll never forget her. She was a supervisor in our department, admired for her charisma and beauty. I would come to admire her intelligence and people skills. She began talking to her employees, identifying those who were frustrated and dismayed by the internal fighting. She shuffled the teams again, this time placing her allies on the same teams. We began to talk to each other, relieved to find others who saw the terrible tragedy for what it was.
With her support and encouragement, we became a new alliance between the two warring factions. We refocused on the patrons instead of the money, devising ways to peacefully coexist with each other while sharing the proceeds. When our alliances were cemented, she shuffled the teams once again, this time placing one or two of us strategically within each team. We began to evangelize the others, modeling our focus on people over profits while serving all patrons in our assigned section, regardless of how much they gambled or tipped.
Although our simple goal was to stop the conflict, our scope and focus began to grow. We began to serve in all of the little ways outside of our official roles, whether pushing a wheelchair, walking a guest to a location, or going the extra mile to help another department. We began to model that key word so often forgotten in many organizations: service. Other departments took notice, and began to copy our example.
Although much of this extra effort did not result in a tip, we believed and trusted in the old adage that what goes around, comes around. Our tips began to speak volumes. At the end of the day, we simply earned more than the warring factions, even though we were not chasing after the big tippers.
Management upheld our example. Many were converted, the servants multiplied, and the warring factions dwindled, until they were vastly outnumbered by the new culture. In the end, a scant few (out of a department of hundreds) sat on their lunch breaks together, smoking cigarettes while scheming their return to power. It never happened – everyone was too busy enjoying the new culture and their new earnings. The feud died.
The lesson? You can’t fuse a new culture from the old by holding meetings, attending workshops, or by listening to someone lecture about it.
It can only be done by finding those already in your organization, building a new culture from their efforts, and using them as models for others to follow.
This means you can’t be on the outside looking in (like so many failed consultancy efforts). You have to roll up your sleeves and jump in with both feet, working alongside your newfound allies in the trenches while modeling what you preach.
Time to get to work.