Leadership Development and Employee Engagement with Susan Steinbrecher and Terry Byrnes

Hosted by Chris Dyer, the CEO of PeopleG2 – TalentTalk Radio features engaging conversation with CEOs, thought leaders and HR executives.  TalentTalk connects professionals who care about talent-related issues and having the cultural mindset to embrace the needed diversity of the workplace.

Today’s guests are Susan Steinbrecher, CEO and Founder of Steinbrecher and Associates and Terry Byrnes, VP of Total Service for Caesars Entertainment. To hear the entire show, click here.

On the show today, an executive coach talks about leadership development and a seasoned hospitality industry executive talks about customer satisfaction and rewarding employees the right way through a successful employee engagement strategy.

Susan Steinbrecher engagement

Susan Steinbrecher founded her company Steinbrecher and Associates 23 years ago. Prior to that, she was in the hospitality industry where she started off on the operations side and then moved on to organizational development. Her current company offers leadership development and executive coaching services.

Steinbrecher has co-written several books on leadership. Her book “Heart-Centered Leadership: Lead Well, Live Well” talks about how a leader’s self-care – physical, mental and emotional – has a great impact on his or her leadership style which in turn has a great impact on the well-being of the workforce. Steinbrecher says that leaders today undergo a lot of stress irrespective of the industry or the kind of organization they work in. In order to work at their fullest capacity, they need a lot of energy and focus on four major quadrants – physical, mental, emotional and spiritual.

Being Real

Steinbrecher believes it’s very important for leaders to be transparent but it’s also good to show some vulnerability. It’s not always easy to show but she thinks that there’s power in vulnerability. All generations like it but she feels that millennials in particular want their leaders to be real. They can connect with their leaders better and relate to their struggles. When a leader can tell his people with ease that he is having a bad day, it’s easier for employees to understand that level of vulnerability, says Steinbrecher. In her coaching experience, she often comes across leaders who feel that since they’re supposed to be the role models they need to pretend that everything is okay and that they have answers to everything. Steinbrecher coaches them and reminds them that people know that they’re not perfect and that we all make mistakes too. So instead of trying to carry on a pretense it’s better to open up and be transparent with your people.

2016 Predictions

Steinbrecher says that in the New Year leaders will need to be really good at dealing with ambiguity, rapid change and the fact that technology is going to get more and more infiltrated into every business. Thus, it’ll be important for leaders to focus on these areas. But one thing she is really excited about in 2016 is something called “vertical learning.” She explains that horizontal learning is the competency and skill-based leadership development where the leader needs to pick up and be good at certain skills. But vertical learning is more about mindset transformation. “It’s really about shifting the mind and focusing on how you think and how you interpret a situation. It’s not just competencies and skills but how you address complex problems and cultivate higher risk relationships and to be able to navigate them carefully. It takes a lot of emotional intelligence to do that. Thus, emotional intelligence will become increasingly important,” she explains. Being able to have the right relationship is crucial as one moves higher up in an organization because you have to constantly count on your ability to influence, persuade, negotiate and inspire. To make an overall impact on the business, leaders need to be able to convince their peers why the course of action they’re suggesting is the best.

In the recruitment and talent space, she sees a lot of simulations taking place where the candidate actually comes in and becomes a part of the team and experiences the job role in the actual office environment. This helps test their collaboration skills, team building skills, leadership skills and the ability to think through a situation. This trend is the way of the future, according to her. No interview can show what a person in like in action the way a simulation can show. This is another trend she’s seeing gain popularity with executive-level hiring.

Multi-Generation Workforce

Steinbrecher says that there are three generations at work in the current workforce. The baby boomers have always had the mindset of “pay your dues work your way up.” It’s all about climbing the organizational ladder. According to her, generation X started the whole movement around work-life balance. Since technology became a big part of their work, they insisted on focusing on productivity with the whole work-from-home culture. They also were the ones that pushed flexible timing and job sharing. Then came the millennials who further challenged the earlier mindset. Steinbrecher strongly feels that millennials are much more mindful and conscious of what the company stands for and what its values are. They want to feel proud about the company they work for.

What Are You Reading?

Steinbrecher is currently reading Daring Greatlyby Dr. Brené Brown that talks about the power of nobility and being authentic.

How Can People Connect With You?

Connect with Susan via her website www.steinbrecher.com.

Terry Byrnes

Terry Byrnes is the VP of Total Service at Caesars Entertainment. When talking of the vast empire that entails Caesars Entertainment, Byrnes says that people generally think of Caesar’s Palace when they hear the company’s name. But he says that they’re much more then that. The company owns 40 resorts across United States operating under different brand names such as Caesars, Horseshow, Harrah’s, Flamingo, Paris, Rio and others in Las Vegas. They also own the World Series of Poker. The company operates in 20 states and employs around 75,000 people.

Customer Satisfaction

Caesars Entertainment has a unique employee rewards program that is based on the customer-centric data that they collect. Based on their guest surveys they analyze the customer behavior in terms of loyalty and spend. This way, they find out the collective organizational achievements that have the most value to them. In a cluttered market like theirs, customer loyalty and advocacy are extremely valuable because customers are always choosing based on pricing and the marketing offers thrown their way. But Byrnes says that they strive to give their customers a reason to choose them based on the service or the relationships they’ve established with the staff. Thus, they set service targets every quarter and if properties surpass those targets, every employee that works there is rewarded in bankable points which they call Total Return Credits. The company heavily invests in that. This year, the company will be spending eight million dollars among 40,000 employees who have been achieving these targets. These short-term quarterly targets work well with frontline staff members because it keeps them engaged. In spite of a lull in the hospitality industry between 2008 and 2015, Caesars properties have continued to grow in terms of customer satisfaction.  

Customer Service Data

Byrnes says that the company collects massive customer data every week and that data is processed and distributed among the frontline staff. Thus, every week they get to know whether the customer satisfaction is going up or down and how their services are being rated rather than getting a massive blow at the end of the year. “This is a weekly rhythm that never stops. It’s one of the strengths that I like to call the sit ups and pushups for us to continue to inch forward. It’s an inch by inch progress but over the years it has added up to some pretty amazing accomplishments at the company, property and department levels that we are very proud of,” he explains.

Employee Rewards Program

On surpassing targets, staff members receive bankable points that they can be redeemed at one of the big rewards vendors. For instance, in the fourth quarter of 2015, Caesar’s Palace is exceeding its targets. Thus, all the 4000 employees there will earn $150-175 worth of bankable points. The staff members have the option of redeeming them at once or saving them up for a rainy day or spending a sizeable chunk during the Holidays or some other time. Since 2009, the company has spent 100 million dollars in rewards as bankable points. Byrnes narrates the story of a person in Illinois who accumulated bankable points worth almost $10,000 in over six years which shows the effectiveness of the program. “We could have paid the $100 million in cash but I think we got more value by paying it in bankable points. The idea there is that people attach accomplishment to the reward and when they redeem it for an iPad or something for the kids or a barbeque grill – that becomes a memory they connect to their achievement at work and also extends it to the family experience,” he explains.

Employee Engagement

Byrnes believes that engagement is an inexpensive and efficient way to compete. It’s hard to find the right talent for particular jobs. He says that in Las Vegas, the company is swimming with sharks. Wynn, Venetian, Bellagio and the likes are heavy hitters who are all competing for the same folks. Thus, the people you already have on your team today are important. It is easier to get a better performance from them by engaging them and providing them with an environment that optimizes skill and commitment. “That’s a way to poke at and compete with folks like Steve Wynn and Bellagio who have beautiful resorts and nice facilities and they know what they’re doing as well. For me, engagement is about what you’re getting from your staff today,” says Byrnes. A company needs to figure out what business outcomes it’s trying to get from engaging people which is very different from comparing numbers on annual employee survey. In their business, some jobs can be pretty lucrative. For instance, beverage servers in the right area on the right day with generous gratuities can earn enough in two or three days to live pretty handsomely. However, it’s pretty easy for someone who’s had a big week to not want to come in to work if the weather’s not good or the traffic is going to be bad. But when that employee feels that he or she is on a schedule and is a part of a team and can contribute to the business, that’s the highest level of engagement Byrnes is seeking from his people. Thus, for him, engagement can be survey scores and results but it’s also about business outcomes such as how people perform and whether they show up on an iffy day.

What Are You Reading?

Byrnes recently read Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Lessby Greg McKeown. It’s about how to simplify and organize your personal or work life to a way that helps you focus on the most important things.