Before I joined the entertainment team at MGM Resorts, I spent several years leading our financed shared services. I have been thinking of that time lately, and realizing the most impactful thing about my time there was the people. That’s probably true about any season of our lives, actually; but it’s been really special to reflect on it in the past weeks and realize how true it is for myself relative to those years. Actually sitting down to write this post was inspired by one of my former teammates, who now works for me in entertainment; he was reminiscing about some of the things we used to do as a team.
When I joined the team in 2009, we only had three departments acting as some form of corporate or shared services, and two of them had formerly reported elsewhere in the organization and one was very newly formed after a few years of project work to transform the function and re-organize the teams. About 150 people total.
When I left the team formally in 2015-ish (it was sort of a phased transition), there were six functional departments and a host of supporting areas and individuals. About 400 folks. We still had lots of things to work on, but we had proven that the model works, and become a leader in our industry in shared services. The team that made that happen is a bunch of all-stars, many of them still there. It was a privilege to lead them and work with them.
I learned a ton with them: I had never really managed a large team, I had never led an “operation” before, and I had never worked on such large complex projects. I screwed up a lot with them and with my colleagues, but I tried to make sure I learned from my mistakes, and help the team learn from our collective mistakes, and help them be continuous learners, and help them grow as leaders. We built practices and processes that I still use today – strategic planning, leadership development, team building. These were critical areas of focus for a growing organization having to manage through some difficult change. Here’s a few things they taught me while I was there:
- People will pretty much do anything to have fun. The workplace generally is devoid of fun for a lot of folks. It can be particularly challenging with an area like accounting and finance – not nearly as “sexy” as y current job. Soon after I started, we started an internship program. It’s been a big source of talent – we had no interns when we started, by the time I left we had about seven interns each semester (UNLV) and 3-5 summer interns (other schools). One of the summer projects for the interns was to plan a fundraiser, and the first group started a trend that was built upon. They threw basically a carnival party. Dunk tanks, face painting, music, food, eating contest. It was a blast. And everyone put their muscle behind it, helping plan the event, leveraging resources to get décor, the list goes on. I used to joke that if we put that much energy into closing the books faster, we’d be done in a day. But the lesson was to give people some fun; our employees got more motivated, our turnover went down as we went along, as we incorporated fun into our routine (like cube decorating contests, wine and canvas events, participating in corporate sports competitions, and the list goes on). I am lucky now that entertainment has some built in fun, but I have slipped in ensuring organized fun to help the team build relationships within the team itself. I’m going to work on that.
- People will do pretty much anything for charity. I have told countless leaders who are working in new or growing teams the power of philanthropy to build teams. If you are cynical, it’s a bait-type situation, hook people in for the good feelings of helping others, and “voila” the team builds stronger bonds. But I’m not cynical, so I call it a win-win. The point of both the first item and this item revolves around finding common goals. It proves how challenging it is for leaders to articulate a vision that is both clear and inspiring: the team should rally together to help us grow revenues, or implement a new system, or whatever. But what often motivates them is some other common goal – in the first case, trying to beat the pants off the other corporate groups in softball; in this case, volunteering together to feed the hungry or read to kids. While they are at it, they learn about each other, realize that each of them has a “soft” side, and suddenly work seems to go smoother, there is less office drama, and we all are more satisfied with our jobs.
- We have to help each other. I learned so much from my leadership team in shared services. We gave each other regular feedback, based on the trust we built. We stepped in to help each other out in times of crisis. We all pitched in to work on projects, or train our staff, or help an employee struggling with something at home. I never realized how little one person can do, how it really takes a village. I learned how to build the village, and grow the village. And the things we accomplished were only a result of how well we did those things. I still get a lot of help from some of these folks even today. Today I say “leadership is a contact sport, but it is also a team sport.”
So to everyone who worked in our finance shared services center, who used to stop by my cube and say hi, or pay the extra money to dunk me at the intern event, or spend the extra hours trying to make our operation better – thank you. And to the leaders who worked and still work – and continue to lead fearlessly and expertly – thank you! I can never repay you for the life lessons and fond memories I have reflected on since then (and many more while writing this post!).
And to the person that inspired this post, look forward to some chicken nuggets, or costume bowling, or something similar soon. And thanks for forcing me to reflect and appreciate an important and irreplaceable part of my life.