Weaving magic: Interview with Tea Colaianni, group HR director at Merlin Entertainments

Written by
Changeboard Team

07 Oct 2013

07 Oct 2013 • by Changeboard Team

Culture & ethics

How would you define the culture & ethics of your business?

Merlin has 100 attractions in 22 countries and we operate at an incredible pace, in a fun, creative and innovative environment. The customer and the creation of memorable experiences are at the heart of everything we do.

Our corporate values play a very important role in stakeholders’ management. We care about our people, our customers and the creatures in our aquariums. Our suppliers, customers and employees know that if we promise to do something, we will do it.

How do you support the delivery of the business strategy through the people agenda?

As we’ll have 120 attractions by 2015, I’m focused on finding leaders of the future. We have implemented a succession planning mechanism that gives us a healthy talent pipeline across 75% of our senior leadership roles.

We launched our ‘Merlin Way’ values structure in 2010. This year we are running the third annual Merlin Way film competition, in which employees make videos showing how they demonstrate these values and what they mean to them – on average we receive around 100 entries from individual employees and teams.

Our engagement score currently stands at 88% and 96% of our employees say they enjoy working with us. We’re taking steps to harmonise our terms and conditions, having grown organically and through acquisitions. We have achieved this with our contractual and non-contractual terms in the UK and have made significant progress in the rest of the world.

Our final aim is to ensure we have consistent and professional processes and systems to open new attractions and integrate acquisitions such as hotels, midway attractions or parks.

Our KPIs are monitored and reported to the board each month. From a people perspective, we focus on employee retention and engagement, the percentage of viable successors for the top 300 roles and organisational capability as well as other HR measures.

We study the correlation between employee turnover, engagement and customer satisfaction. If these three metrics score consistently low, we know we have a management and leadership issue to address.

Engagement & high performance

How do you use engagement to encourage consistent high performance among your employees?

In 2011, in line with our harmonisation strategy, we acknowledged that there were various recognition programmes at our sites that were inconsistent. In line with the Merlin Way we launched a global online platform, STAR, which allows employees to mark outstanding achievement and thank their colleagues for good work – it’s available in 14 languages. There’s an employee of the month and year award at each site and so far over 150,000 STARs have been sent. The success of STAR is down to the public recognition and the opportunity to recognise anyone in the business, be it a colleague or senior manager.

Nick Varney, our CEO, launched a CEO Awards scheme, where employeesearn shares in the company in return for long service, outstanding performance, excellent customer service or for their contribution to charitable causes. We now have almost 2,000 employees in this scheme (one in three of our permanent staff) and each year we invite 10 of these to a celebration event in Poole, Dorset.


What are your corporate responsibility initiatives to foster employee engagement?

Our children’s charity, Merlin’s Magic Wand, arranges days out for seriously ill, disabled and disadvantaged children. Each of our sites around the world has a charity champion leading fundraising and engagement that include activities such as fun runs and mountain climbs. To date, Merlin’s Magic Wand has helped 132,123 children.

We have a strong focus on conservation, with the goal of breeding, rescuing and protecting marine creatures. The Sea Life brand is designed to inspire and educate our guests in all areas of conservation and it’s important that this message is understood by all of our 22,000 employees, not just those that work in a Sea Life attraction.

In the last 12 months we have rescued more than 150 seals and turtles and bred over 4,100 animals.

Last year my team created a film featuring our CEO, Nick Varney, sharing the importance of conservation at Merlin. This initiative allowed employees to get involved and act locally on various conservation initiatives. The success of this project was clear – our 2012 employee opinion results showed a 14% increase in awareness of conservation.