Serving Up Culture and Communications to Frontline Employees
Welcome back to the Culture, Comms & Cocktails podcast, where we discuss the latest in company culture, employee engagement, and the best internal communications stirred, but not shaken.
In this episode, we follow up on our previous episode featuring Rey Bouknight, Executive Director of Internal Brand and Engagement Strategy at MGM Resorts International. Rey told us about their new workforce communications platform; the launch of LEO, their branded company app (powered by SocialChorus); and the best place to get a drink on the Vegas Strip. For this podcast, our guest is Kelley Tucky, Corporate VP of Events and Communication at MGM. We discuss creating a great corporate culture, giving employees the tools to share their success stories as part of their communications evolution, and of course finding your favorite cocktail in Vegas.
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“It’s really fascinating what happens to a culture when both the frontline employee and the manager get information at the same time. And it provides an opportunity for dialogue… And it gives the employee an opportunity to be more engaged because we’re putting the information in their hands as well.”
– Kelley Tucky, Corporate VP of Events and Communication at MGM
Chuck Gose: It was so great having Rey Bouknight on the previous episode. But the MGM Resorts story is too big, in my opinion, for just one podcast episode, so I want to thank you guys for taking the time twice to be on the show. As I mentioned, you are the corporate VP of events and communication at MGM, but you’ve also spent your entire career with the company. So I’m curious, how has the culture evolved at MGM resorts over time?
Kelley Tucky: Well Chuck, that is such a great question. When you’ve spent almost your entire career in one place, you’d like to say that you started at a very, very young age. I have been part of MGM Resort since 1990. And I moved to Las Vegas just as the integrated resort model was taking off. At that point in time, the Mirage was the first Las Vegas Strip resort casino built on the Strip since Caesar’s back in the 1960s. So, I’ve been fortunate to watch the city evolve. And I’ve also been fortunate to have a front row seat to our company’s culture. As we stand today, MGM Resorts is the result of various mergers and acquisitions. It’s the combination, first of all of MGM Resorts and Mirage Resorts International. Secondly, we brought on board the Mandalay Resort Group. And then over the course of the last 10 to 12 years, we’ve also acquired other properties. So now we’re 81,000 employees strong.
Kelley Tucky: And I would say that the most fascinating part of my job working in the … Prior I worked in the public affairs arena in internal marketing, and also in human resources, has been watching these cultures come together. Because of the acquisition of a company means you’re also acquiring the culture. And I think one of the best things you can do right upfront is to find those opportunities to look for similarities in your culture, and also bring the best to the table as the acquiring company.
Chuck Gose: And one of the reasons we’re talking today is a bit of a communication evolution there at MGM Resorts, is the launch of LEO. Which is a brand new communications program there at MGM Resorts. Which includes an app as part of it. But I want you to take off your communicators hat for just a second here, and talk about, as an MGM Resorts employee, how has LEO helped you? It’s been around now for about 90 days, about a quarter. I’m curious, how has LEO helped you as an employee? Not as a communicator, but just as an MGM Resorts employee.
Kelley Tucky: I love what we did with LEO, Chuck. Our team was really thoughtful about creating LEO as the personification of a platform. So LEO has a very separate personality from all of our other business related communications. Through LEO, you really get a sense, and the flavor of our culture. So our company is one that celebrates inclusion, diversity, and recognition. And through LEO we’re able to do that very successfully. LEO has a couple of channels that are a little more celebratory. We recognize the employee experience. We give leaders an opportunity to recognize and acknowledge the accomplishments of their team.
Kelley Tucky: In a very service driven culture like MGM Resorts, it’s important that employees are acknowledged for serving our guests. We have an internal brand platform called SHOW, and S-H-O-W is an acronym for how we address our guests and each other. And it starts with seeing and acknowledging the guests, and hearing the story, owning the experience, and providing a wow opportunity. And one of the best reasons for launching LEO is that you couldn’t get that through any other platform. I don’t think email, I don’t care how many back of house monitors you have. Unless you’re doing a celebration live with your employees and your leaders, you can’t demonstrate that. But LEO gives us the chance to share those stories through very short video snippets, through leader lead communication. And it’s just been awesome to click on LEO, and look at your feed, and see a leader acknowledging and celebrating an employee who has done something really special for one of our guests. And that’s when we know that we are doing our job in events and communications, and driving the service profit chain is when we see those stories come to life.
Chuck Gose: No, that’s really great to hear. And your team has really done a great job with creating content for LEO. Both just, I would say, traditional content, as well as some great videos, even teaching people how to use LEO. But what we hear sometimes from communicators is that they struggle with getting leadership buy in. Getting leaders on board with launching a new program, either because of the fear of costs, or the fear of opening up the organization, having people sort of see inside a bit more. How did you and your team there at MGM Resorts get leadership buy in on LEO, and going mobile more with internal communications?
Kelley Tucky: Well, we have a strong philosophy and the methodology that is, any change lead from the top down? When we launched LEO, we launched at two of our entities to start with, one within our corporate entity which serves all of our properties, and then within one property. And both property and corporate leaders at the highest levels embraced LEO and jumped on board, welcomed it with open arms, they produced some of the first posts that we put on LEO. We had welcome messages from leaders. We asked that our leaders regularly contribute, not just in providing direction and guidance from a leader perspective, but really giving employees a chance to see them a little bit more relaxed. We did a Q and A for example, with one of our general managers, where one of our managers was asking questions of the general manager about what they like to do on their day off, and how did they spend their free time, and how do they decompress?
Kelley Tucky: And I think questions like that really help our team, as big as it is, see that we’re all men and women. We have lives outside of our organization. But it really humanizes that experience. And the other thing we did was that we tapped individual influencers within the leadership circle, to be what we call change champions. And those change champions were tasked with learning the ins and outs of LEO, understanding how the platform is to be used as an effective tool, and then be ready to demonstrate that to their individual teams. So I think it was a combination of having demonstrations from the highest levels of the company all the way down through the management ranks with our change champions that really helped us embrace and have great activation scores with LEO.
Chuck Gose: And I’m glad you talked about the change champions, because this was a very structured group. We have a lot of customers, and rightly so, will do soft launches, and target some key groups to see how the program’s going to work, and get feedback. And that certainly was a big part of MGM’s change champions. But I think the bigger message around them was the representation across the organization that if anybody hasn’t been to a large resort, which Mandalay Bay was one of the ones that we’d launched to, you’ve well employees have all types, of all skill sets, working in all different parts of the business. So the change champions represented that diversity, but also the change champion job did not end at launch. They are champions of LEO. And I think that was a great approach for the organization to bring, to not just say, you’re here to give us feedback and then you sort of disappear, but the change champions still have a role long after launch as they continue to help LEO grow.
Kelley Tucky: Right. I think that’s really important to do. You can’t just assume that one launch, and one wave of communication, and activation events are enough. You have to find other opportunities to revisit the platform, and unveil the next layer of benefits. And we’ve been very mindful of that, that you don’t put all of your best features and benefits out as one mass communication. You have to find opportunities to re-engage people and bring them back in. User generated content is another strategy that we’ve used very selectively. I will say that we’re learning over the course of this 90 days that in some cases perhaps, we let user generated content takeover some of our channels, and we were so excited to get people engaged that maybe we didn’t provide the right guard rails there. So our change champions are helping us re-approach user generated content, and define what is appropriate and what we’re looking for. We didn’t want LEO to become another Instagram or a version of Facebook.
Kelley Tucky: There’s a very deliberate strategy behind the type of communication that we have on LEO. So we’ve reactivated that changed champion group, and I’ve given them the tools, we’ve provided them with talking points. We allow them to ask questions and to get the full context of what we see LEO doing, so that they can be the best representatives when they go out in the field and meet with their teams.
Chuck Gose: Well, earlier I asked you to take your communicator hat off. Now I’m going to have you put your executive leader hat on. And I’m curious, looking at it at that level of the organization, what do you think, if you can get it down to one biggest benefit, what do you think that biggest benefit LEO brings to MGM Resorts?
Kelley Tucky: Well, we launched LEO mainly because we saw a gap in the communication getting to the front line. I mentioned previously that MGM Resorts is a very service driven company, only 20,000 of our 81,000 employees have desktop access. The vast majority of our population consists of housekeepers, and guest service agents, and dealers, and food servers, and security officers, and on and on. And those groups, they get their information from their boss. We thought that one of the best benefits of LEO was helping us increase a strategic measure that we saw in our annual employee survey, which is, how well employees feel that their leaders do in keeping them engaged, and keeping them involved and communicated with.
Kelley Tucky: It’s really fascinating what happens to a culture when both the frontline employee and the manager get information at the same time. And it provides an opportunity for dialogue. So even in a company as big as ours, with as many layers as we have, we find it’s important for the frontline employee to be given the information at the same time as the manager so they can have that dialogue. There can be more give and take. There could be clarity provided by the leader in what the employee’s reading. And it gives the employee an opportunity to be more engaged, because we’re putting the information in their hands as well. So, to sum it all up, LEO has been our answer in getting information out quickly, efficiently to the front line.
Chuck Gose: And this might sound a bit repetitive, but I’m going to ask it anyway, because I’m curious if there’s a particular piece of content, or a story, or something that might have surprised you, but what has impressed you most here in the early goings of LEO’s launch, that maybe you either hoped for and then saw, or didn’t expect and you’re like, wow, that’s kind of amazing?
Kelley Tucky: I think the biggest benefit to LEO that we didn’t really anticipate until we got access to the front line was how much of a promotional tool it can be for our other amenities here at MGM Resorts. As you know, and as the rest of the world knows, Las Vegas welcomed it’s very first hockey team, NHL team last year, the Las Vegas Golden Knights. And we were fortunate to get such tremendous talent that we ended up in the Stanley Cup playoffs in the first year, which to us was just unheard of. When we began looking at ways that we could entice usership of LEO, and making promotions available for hockey tickets on the LEO platform, we were blown away at what it is a for our usership. LEO has been a great tool for us to cross promote one of our greatest amenities, and give employees an opportunity to be an ambassador. If we can give you two free hockey tickets, and you can go to the Las Vegas Golden Knights game, and enjoy the amenities of T Mobile Arena, and the amenities that surround T Mobile Arena, which is the Park. Which is our suburban park setting on the Las Vegas Strip. I think it just makes our employees even better ambassadors of the brand as a whole.
Chuck Gose: Yeah, it was interesting. When I went on site with your team, I will admit, it took me a little while, because I kept hearing your team refer to VGK, VGK, and I was trying to process that in my head.
Kelley Tucky: Right.
Chuck Gose: And then I learned. And for those that either aren’t hockey fans, or haven’t been to Las Vegas, it’s pretty amazing, even outside of the MGM Resorts family, how that city has embraced that team. And you can always tell, if you happen to be there on game day, you can tell who the Golden Knights are playing based on the other team’s jerseys you see walking up and down the Strip. Because it becomes a bit of a destination. And if you’re a Black Hawks fan, which was one time I was there, the Black Hawks were playing the Golden Knights. There were a lot of Black Hawk fans rolling up and down the Strip. So it was really cool. I think for me, seeing the content that your team has created early on, both teaching people the platform.
Chuck Gose: One of my favorites was a video that was done to showcase what one of the chauffeurs does there at one of the properties, just so people get a sense for what the daily life is like for some of those employees you talked about. Also, the fact that you guys got Carrot Top to do a video for LEO was pretty amazing. And that came out of our onsite visit, where we were talking about, okay, MGM Resorts is about entertainment. How can we bring entertainment into LEO? And one of the communicators in the room raised his hand and said, what if we got Carrot Top to do a career tips video? And there it is, a few weeks later there’s Carrot Top giving career advice, which I thought was just so amazing. Not everybody has that type of access.
Kelley Tucky: Right.
Chuck Gose: But there’s still those cultural components that are so easy to be pulled into the app to get people excited about what the program can become.
Kelley Tucky: Well, and Las Vegas is becoming a mecca for sports. It’s a great sports town. And we’ve expanded our footprint in sports in the past year. So now that we have VGK, we’ve also expanded. MGM Resorts has put out mobile sports betting platforms. And LEO is just such a great platform for showcasing great stories about sports, and as you mentioned, showcasing the personalities of our various celebrities.
Chuck Gose: And you guys have the WNBA team out in Las Vegas as well. I’ve seen some of the content in the program about that too.
Kelley Tucky: Yes, the Las Vegas Aces. The women’s NBA team, that’s just happened in the past year also. We are really building up to become a sports mecca in the desert. And LEO is just such a great, accessible, easy platform to share those stories. We can put out notifications on game day for our employees. Where you should park, what to consider as you make your commute into work. How traffic patterns are changing. That’s something we haven’t been able to do before. We can put that in the hands of our employees and make sure that you remove the stress of getting to work on time, because LEO is there for you to tell you those kinds of messages too.
Chuck Gose: And let’s say we have this conversation a year from now. So let’s say it’s January 2020. And now I’m going to put it on my calendar to make sure we do, because I want to see if this holds up. I would like to know, where or what would you like to see LEO be in a year? We’ve already seen what it can become in a few months. Where or what would you like to see it become 12 months from now?
Kelley Tucky: When we launched LEO Chuck, we had a vision that LEO can really transform our communication strategy, and elevate our communications practice internally. I would love for LEO to become the number one tool for us to communicate to our employees. We have other channels, like many other companies. Our leadership teams of course still rely a lot on email. They use other versions of other platforms for communication and meeting management. But for us, I would love for LEO to replace what we’ve done traditionally in back of house resort casino environments with posters and displays, and let LEO really carry the message, and allow our back of house areas to be more engaging and inspiring in the form of the brand.
Kelley Tucky: We partner very closely with our corporate marketing team to make sure that as employees come onto their properties on a daily basis, they feel the sense of the brand of that property. Each of our properties have a separate culture. Even though we’re under the umbrella of MGM Resorts International, and we work as one company, one culture, there’s still that property personality that needs to come through. And I feel strongly that that back of house environment needs to reflect that. And then let LEO be the communications platform.
Chuck Gose: Well, I’m glad we got to spend some time talking about the culture and calms there at MGM Resorts. But now let’s move on to the cocktail portion of the podcast. Which fortunately with you being in Las Vegas, there are almost too many to count amazing cocktails, and many places that grab a drink. But I’m curious to you, Kelley, what is your favorite cocktail out there? Or where’s your favorite MGM spot to grab a drink?
Kelley Tucky: Wow. It just depends on day and time, and what kind of day I’ve had. So, I would say for any typical happy hour, one of my favorite places of all is Beer House. And Beer House is located in the Park, situated between Park MGM and New York New York. They have a wide selection of craft beers. They have lots of fun games that you can play with your friends. You can play Jenga, you can play Corn Hole, you can just sit back and watch the Vegas Golden Knights on the monitors if you like, when they’re playing. So that, for a casual after hours drink, Beer House is my choice. And then at Park MGM, which has just recently been transformed from the former Monte Carlo, Juniper Lounge is one of my favorite places for an expert craft cocktail. So, when I want to be in a quieter setting, more relaxed setting, Juniper Lounge at Park MGM.
Chuck Gose: And I’ll just say, for those that have not been to Las Vegas in a while, I think if you make your way down to the Park, which is the area Kelley’s talking about, it’s a feeling when you walk back in there, you don’t feel like you’re on the Strip. It’s a such a unique, relaxing experience. And the place is lined with great restaurants. So you hear Kelley’s recommendation of the Juniper Lounge inside the Park MGM, and then Beer House House if you’re more of the beer fan. So Kelley, great recommendations. I’m glad you promoted MGM Properties places to have people grab a great cocktail or a beer while they’re there in Las Vegas, and obviously encouraged them to check out all of the properties of MGM Resorts. So thank you Kelley for being on Culture,Comms, and Cocktails.
Kelley Tucky: Thanks Chuck. It’s been great to have a chance to catch up with you.
Chuck Gose: And we will have this conversation again January 2020, to see where LEO is then.
Kelley Tucky: Perfect.
Chuck Gose: All right, thank you, Kelley.
Kelley Tucky: Thank you.
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