Mounties: holding on to an empire

by 20 Mar 2007

High turnover is an issue commonly faced by most organisations. Melissa Yen speaks with Jodi Dickson from Mounties about their award-winning approach to sourcing talent

Previously known as the Mt Pritchard and District Community Club, the rebranded Mounties group of South Western Sydney has successfully evolved from being a cornerstone in the local Fairfield and Liverpool community to become a financially and operationally successful group of registered clubs in New South Wales. The group has also acquired Harbord Diggers, Manly Bowling Club and Fairfield Bowling Club, comprising an employee base of 550 direct staff and 400 contractors.

As winners of The Ross Human Directions Award for Innovation in Recruitment and Retention at the 2006 Australian HR Awards, the group attributes part of its success to its commitment to employment and people management practices.

Assessing the situation

Focusing on attracting, recruiting, developing and retaining the best and most suitable talent has proved pivotal in helping Mounties achieve business outcomes. However, as employment relations manager, Jodi Dickson, explains, the group’s recruitment strategy was not always so succinct. “We recruited on a needs basis. In other words, we primarily looked at what the person could do right then and there without really considering succession. Our recruitment plan did not tie in with the overall business strategy.”

As a result, turnover was high due to a lack of focus on who the organisation was recruiting, their long- and short-term goals, values and cultural fit. Relationship issues with contractors also occurred with the eventual discovery that some of their staff and policies were not being properly checked. There were problems associated with injury as contractors would not have insurance and staff being under-trained.

As a result, safety considerations formed a major aspect of the Mounties’ people management strategy. “Obviously, being hospitality, people and relations are very important from staff all the way through to patrons. So the first thing we needed to address was the safety implications of what we were doing. We had a huge amount of injuries and a fair amount of workers’ compensation going on,”she explains. “It was like anything without a plan – we didn’t know we were in trouble until we were actually in trouble.”

Strategies of preservation

Mounties focused on consistently attracting the highest calibre applicants available while further developing them into more senior and diverse positions as the business changed and grew.

“We knew where the business wanted to go and obviously had identified people as one of the major contributors to the success of that,” says Dickson.

Three attraction and retention programs that run concurrently and separately throughout the year were put in place. The programs, aimed at managing attraction, development and retention in an integrated way, are known as newstart, fasttrack and professional employment processes.

Newstart is for frontline and junior positions and comes with comprehensive accredited training and is delivered on site by in-house accredited TAFE teachers on a monthly basis. These recruitment programs are aimed at those people who have never worked in clubs or hospitality before, with little or no training.

A formal focus on internal staff also formed a major part of the organisation’s retention strategy. FastTrack is used in conjunction with Mounties’ formal succession planning. Here, internal candidates are targeted for recruitment, with the aim of promoting them or commencing succession planning for their promotion. Cycles begin approximately every quarter or when a position within the target category arises. Accredited training serves as a prerequisite for most of this recruitment but is also incorporated into the training plans that follow the appointment of candidates. The program is also run with the Mounties coaching and mentoring programs.

Furthermore, professional employment practices are used when the club requires specialist or senior recruits. All positions within this category are firstly advertised internally, with all efforts made to develop a pool of candidates through FastTrack and succession planning for when the need arises.

This method of ongoing sourcing and development of talent enabled Mounties to begin building the stability required in terms of their strategy. “We entered down the path to becoming an employer of choice,” says Dickson. “We knew that to be an employer of choice the good stuff had to start right at the beginning of the relationship with candidates.”

The organisation sponsors the Parramatta Eels NRL team, which allows Mounties to distribute literature at home football games, as well as play the Mounties promotional video at each home game, which contains a “hiring now” flash message with relevant contact details.

Other branding exercises are executed through the Mounties website which provides online applications and information on all vacant positions. Internal plasma screens also feature clips of Mounties staff talking about their training opportunities, flexible work patterns and so on.

Further exposure is gained through various advertisements, which as well as featuring in the local paper and in the Mounties’ quarterly magazine, also appear in training materials given to students who attend the accredited TAFE training and hospitality courses, providing access to more than 400 potential recruits per month.

Identifying the obstacles

One of the main challenges identified by Mounties in attracting and retaining staff was the highly regulated industry the organisation operated in, with trading hours that demand shift work.

The diversity of their employment base also proved a problem including positions across the whole employment spectrum. One of the major lessons for Dickson was in figuring out the capacity to which their systems had to change. “Sometimes you can save yourself a lot of time and effort long term if you’re a bit slower and get some automation happening at the front end,” she says.

As a result, Dickson recommends better utilisation of technology as opposed to using a paper-based induction system.

This was especially noted in terms of contractor relations of which the organisation has more than 300 to deal with at any one time. “Getting them used to an induction process that was largely paper-based then having to say, ‘We’ve changed our mind, now we want you to do it online’, was not realistic.”

Dickson says that if she were to do anything differently she would have consulted the IT manager to ensure effective explanations of what was wanted and to decipher the easiest way to automate their system.

The results

Improvement in the profitability of the business as a whole occurred as a result of their recruitment and retention strategy.

Turnover for the organisation also reduced significantly against an industry average of 32 per cent. “It’s currently at 4 per cent for the year which is extremely low in hospitality,” she says. “Our patron satisfaction indicators have risen and that’s because of the familiarity with the staff and obviously we’re retaining our intellectual property a lot longer. The staff we have here are more experienced, more skilled and they’re happier to be here because the workforce is so consistent.”

In addition, records of low absenteeism and injury rates with no litigation were reported.

Retention of staff hired over the past two financial years sits at 100 and 99 per cent respectively, with an average length of service at Mounties currently at 9.71 years, against an industry average of 1.7 years.

Last financial year, Mounties screened more than 3,000 potential candidates for new start positions, and over 250 potential candidates for fasttrack and professional positions. There was minimal spend on external advertising over the same period.

“Obviously there’s been some lowering in the cost of our employment. Also, there’s been a gain in actual real-time earnings of our people. This is because, with a stable workforce, what we’ve been able to do is introduce some flexibility to rostering and AWAs. In other words, we’ve been able to move on to the good stuff rather than worrying about consistently having to fill jobs,” says Dickson.

The number of days taken to fill vacant clerical, management and professional positions from the date of vacancy was four working days across the board against an industry benchmark of 48 days.

Speaking from experience

Along with ensuring alignment with the overall business strategy, Dickson suggests that all businesses familiarise themselves with the employment market they are working in. In order to achieve this, she recommends businesses conduct research into the wants and needs of employment markets. “You need to know what’s going to drive the market into an employment relationship,” she says. “We did lots of surveying to find out what people were looking for in a job – what kind of things would keep them in an organisation. From that, we were able to create a culture that was unique to us and create a good value proposition against our competitors within a five-kilometre radius.”

Finally, the value of revisiting strategies was recognised. “Strategies cannot last forever. We don’t expect for this strategy in its firm form to last forever, and we review it every six months. We have measures in place to make sure that what we’re doing is still giving us the results we need.”

Jodi Dickson will be speaking at Human Resources 2007: Best practice and strategies for addressing the skills shortage. Organised by LexisNexis Professional Development, the conference will be held across Australia from 14 May to 27 June. For more information call 1800 772 772.