Creating world-class human policies at the San Diego Zoo

When San Diego Zoo Global CHRO Tim Mulligan arrived at the organization, its HR policies were outdated and virtually nonexistent.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

Creating world-class human policies at the San Diego Zoo
n a company has a meager 5% turnover rate and hundreds of resumes arriving at the door daily, it’s hard to imagine anyone seeking a change in human capital policies.
But San Diego Zoo Global, consisting of the world-famous zoo, safari park, and Institute for Conservation Research, realized it was relying on its reputation to recruit new individuals, and that many of its current workers weren’t realizing 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 a talent management system called Z-Max, an online system created in partnership with Halogen Software. This facilitates an ongoing dialogue about performance, and allows for supervisors and employees to create mutually agreed upon long-term goals.
“It’s now a huge part of the culture here. When folks say, ‘It’s time for reviews, recognition, or employee counseling meetings,’ they know they need to log into Z-Max.
In addition to these embedded processes, Mulligan also introduced the following:
  • Lynx – a 3-5 year strategic plan that connects (“links”) employees to organizational goals
  • Educational initiatives such as tuition reimbursement, an online academy with over 1,000 courses, and on-site developmental opportunities through “Zoo U”
  • Zooper Market – an online shopping center 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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