Tonika Quick prioritizes team member experience and professional development to give Caesars Entertainment a winning hand.
In 2020, Eldorado Resorts joined forces with Caesars Entertainment to create the largest gaming company in the US. While each organization brought its own history to the union, they shared a common goal to bring unparalleled, family-style hospitality combined with exhilarating entertainment to the gaming industry.
Talent would be the key to ensuring the newly merged organization, branded as Caesars Entertainment Inc., achieved that goal. In February 2021, the company tapped Tonika Quick to become the new enterprise vice president of talent development. Having worked at Caesars for nearly two decades in both operational and TD leadership roles, Quick was uniquely positioned to select and develop a winning talent strategy.
“To succeed as a new organization, we needed to start by understanding who we now were. What kind of organization did we want to be and what actions would we need to take moving forward? What role would talent need to play to make all that happen?,” says Quick.
When to hold, when to raiseQuick notes that almost two years passed from the time of the initial announcement to the finalized purchase and merger. During that time, much of team member learning was on hold.
“Training for compliance requirements was ongoing, but we weren’t refreshing or creating new programs,” she states.
This was an intentional decision, asserts Quick. She describes resisting the urge to build fresh programming for new-hire orientations or leadership development that would reflect the new brand. Instead, she advised her team to wait for executive leadership to outline the company’s new direction and priorities.
Shortly before announcing the merger, Caesars introduced one such priority: an initiative to increase the number of women in management roles in both the midlevel and senior leadership populations to 50 percent by 2025. The merged business honored that goal, as well as the goal of increasing the percentage of team members from underrepresented communities in leadership roles to 50 percent and increasing representation of diverse groups in senior leadership roles by 50 percent.
According to Quick, when her team “understands the organization’s business goals and priorities, it’s easier to secure a few quick wins for team member learning.” Waiting for concrete direction ensured that the TD team had a clear guide for what it should consider when reviving existing content or assembling learning assets.
“To help the organization achieve the diversity and inclusion goals, my team knew we needed to intertwine diversity, equity, and inclusion into every new leadership, onboarding, or skills development program we developed,” Quick explains. “As we worked on new programs, we started asking: What does inclusion look like here? What does equity look like? What’s our real understanding of these issues as an organization?”
Double down on professional developmentDuring her years working in L&D on-site at various Caesars properties, Quick realized that she did not understand the corporate perspective. It became a personal goal to earn a corporate position in TD leadership so she could better understand the reasoning behind certain decisions.
What’s more, Quick made it her mission to bring the on-site team members’ perspectives to headquarters so she could make practical improvements to L&D.
“I used to dream about what I thought training should look like. I vividly remember talking with my peers about how I would change team member learning and development when I made it to corporate,” she says.
Due to the impending merger, Quick had the time, support, and positioning to bring her ideas for transforming TD to life—starting with building a corporate university.
Caesars University is comprised of three pillars: leadership development, a professional development library, and formal education.
Leadership development. Programming in this pillar isn’t solely focused on team members already in leadership positions but also those who aspire to move into leader roles.
“We began with creating leadership competencies that were framed out of the company’s mission, vision, and values. From there, we developed a leadership framework that defines our leadership expectations. This ensures that programs are aligned with the business goals and show team leaders specifically where they want to go and how to get there,” Quick says.
Professional development. The university’s library of professional development courses and offerings includes regulatory and compliance programs on topics such as safety, anti-harassment, and responsible gaming as well as professional courseware focused on interpersonal and communication skills.
Quick championed the inclusion of personal development content in the library catalog, which includes courses for team members on how to manage personal finances or how to save for and finance college expenses for their children.
Formal education. Quick is particularly proud of the All-In on Education initiative, which consists of a robust educational assistance program available to eligible full- and part-time team members. The initiative includes an expansion of tuition assistance and student loan debt repayment up to $5,250 annually, which can apply to programs unrelated to individuals' current job positions.
“It doesn't matter what someone’s course of study is because we’re looking at this as a tool for team member engagement,” Quick explains. “If you're going to school to become a nurse, that’s OK. If you stay for two years while you complete an associate program or four years for a bachelor's program, that’s a win for us.”
Team members can also use tuition assistance for certificate programs and trade schools. “There are lots of trades working within our business, but previously we didn’t offer any reimbursement or education partnerships with trade schools. Now we can sponsor programs for something like bartending or a certificate for a trade that can be linked to a maintenance role,” Quick says.
In addition, the workforce benefits from a 529 college savings plan and the Don Carano Legacy Scholarship, which is a competitive scholarship for dependents of team members offering up to $20,000 over four years to multiple recipients.
Quick shares that All-In on Education is personal for her, disclosing that she was a teen mother who started her career with little in the way of higher education.
“I actually used myself as one of the models for developing the program. When I did go back to college, I depended on that reimbursement check so I could pay for my next class and continue toward my career goals.”
Quick prioritized partnering with programs and institutions that offer little or no up-front costs. “I probably would have gone back to school sooner, but those starter costs were a barrier,” she states.
Since the program’s launch on July 1, 2022, the company has spent approximately $1 million on educational assistance and student loan debt repayment.
“My commitment is to our people. I want to ensure that they are able to grow their careers, not just work a job. I think these types of programs go a long way toward helping Caesars’s team members see those career options for themselves.”
Playing the long gameWhile working on developing learning programs to help the company achieve short-term wins, Quick has stayed focused on the long game, which, for her is all about internal talent mobility and retention.
“We strongly encourage internal mobility across all levels of responsibility, functions, and locations. Like my own experience, many of our senior leaders have risen through different positions at Caesars and serve as role models. We show that it’s possible to advance in your career at Caesars,” says Quick.
“Our real focus isn’t on any specific skill, it's on having the talent we need so we can meet the business needs of tomorrow,” she adds. “That might start with exploring how to fill skills and talent gaps with programs and tools. But we also need to ask: How do we move people into careers that we need when they might not even know those options exist? How do we develop our people so they’re able to get where we need them to go and they want to go?”
Quick believes any internal TD and talent mobility needs to start with comprehensive talent assessments and profiles.
“You have to know who you're working with first,” she states. Caesars has a two-pronged approach: The first prong is a talent assessment asking property leaders and HR leaders to evaluate and comment on factors such as the current skills, growth potential, and mobility of their team members. The second prong is a talent profile that team members complete themselves.
“Many organizations stop with the assessment completed by leaders and HR. They say, ‘This is what our leaders think about their talent, so that’s what we’re going to act on.’ But that doesn’t tell the whole story,” Quick notes. “What about the voice of the actual team member? What are their career aspirations and goals? What professional development do they want? Are they open to relocating? Are they open to getting more education?”
When Quick combines the assessments with the profiles, she has a “better sense of what the leaders’ perceptions are versus the reality of the people working on our properties.”
Armed with that information, the TD team can work with individual properties to upskill team members and funnel them into critical positions. Resources include leadership development or professional courses, formal education, job shadowing programs, or mentoring and coaching opportunities.
Many organizations focus solely on a role’s job description and develop succession plans from that perspective. But Quick thinks starting with the people is a smarter move.
“By having a better grasp on the potential of team members, the organization can determine what roles might be a good fit. From there, we just need to prepare them for and plug them into those positions,” she explains. “This approach helps my team develop more purposeful and structured development plans that take into account both of the needs of the business and the needs of team members. That’s a win from every perspective.”
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