How zoo chief brought HR to 'the modern world'

When San Diego Zoo Global CHRO Tim Mulligan arrived at the company, its HR policies were outdated and virtually non-existent. Here’s how he transformed the entire operation.

How zoo chief brought HR to 'the modern world'
When a company has a meager 5% turnover rate and hundreds of resumes arriving at the door daily, you could be forgiven for thinking it had perfect human resource policies in place.
But San Diego Zoo Global, consisting of the world-famous zoo, safari park, and Institute for Conservation Research, realised it was relying on its reputation to recruit new individuals, and that many of its current workers weren’t achieving their full potential since they hadn’t received a performance evaluation in years... if ever.
A transformation was sorely needed.
“We are a non-profit, so I wanted us to ease into it,” said Tim Mulligan, CHRO. “It represents a big culture shift for us; not just pay for performance and having goals, reviews and deadlines, but driving folks to computers more.”
Mulligan’s first step was implementing an online talent management system that facilitates an ongoing dialogue about performance, and allows for supervisors and employees to set long-term goals.
“It’s now a huge part of the culture here. When folks say, ‘It’s time for reviews, recognition or employee counselling meetings,’ they know they need to log into the [system].
In addition to these embedded processes, Mulligan also introduced the following:
  • Lynx – a 3 to 5-year strategic plan that connects (“links”) employees to organisational goals
  • Educational initiatives such as tuition reimbursement, an online academy with more than 1,000 courses, and on-site developmental opportunities through “Zoo U”
  • Zooper Market – an online shopping centre where high performers can spend money as allotted by managers
  • Zooper Bowl – an awards ceremony for exceptional managers and staff
“We had to ask ourselves, how can we become leaders in HR without a significant budget?  And that’s where we’ve had the most fun – being innovative and creative in creating core programs that will be around for a long time,” said Mulligan.

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