CMH: It's about the people.
By Connie MacDonald, Director of People, CMH
When visiting with guests at the CMH Heli-Skiing lodges, I am often inundated with positive feedback about the quality of our staff and the strength of our culture. This usually launches me into a passionate discussion about our People strategy. I could blog for days about some of the things we do to attract, train and retain CMH's talented, hard-working staff but let’s face it, the caché of heli-skiing sure helps. How many people do you know who commute to work by helicopter and go heli-skiing on their breaks!
But despite the cool factor and our love of skiing, it takes more than good turns to keep our team engaged.
From the very first days at CMH, Hans Gmoser had a gift for attracting the right people to this team. He was able to instill this incredible sense of hard-work, value, quality, friendship and safety that still runs through our veins. It sounds easy -- like something you may read about in an employee manual, but what made Hans the real-deal, is that he walked his talk. He set a pace and a standard of excellence that was rigorous yet very appealing for those who aligned with his values and passion for guiding. Hans was a guru who created this experience called CMH and a following of people who wanted to be a part of it.
Hans’s people philosophy was simple: “Treat all co-workers as equals and as real people. I never felt that people were working for me but rather for themselves and with me.”
Today our focus on getting the right people on the bus…or heli…is still a priority. We are constantly looking for people who align with our values and culture. The pace is rigorous and we still work together -- CMH is more lifestyle than job.
Hire the right people
With 425 staff at peak operating season we put a lot of emphasis on hiring the right people from the very beginning. We don’t use a central hiring process. Lodge managers hire their teams and Rob Rohn and Erich Unterberger hire the guides.
We look for passionate mountain people who have the aptitude to engage in our style of guest service. This takes good energy, common sense, attention to detail, sincerity and hard work! We try to be very honest in our interviews about what it’s like to live in a remote lodge. Working and playing with the same people for 14 days isn’t always easy – we want team players. We also rely on word-of-mouth recruiting. 80% of our new staff (we hire between 50 – 75 every year) are referred by current employees.
Train and train again
New staff go through a series of trainings before they start work. All new Chefs, for example, start by attending Orientation day. This is when we present an overview of the company and our operations. The highlight is always heli-ski legend Kiwi Gallagher who tells a great story about his time at CMH.
Next, our Chefs move on to a F & B training session. This includes a day in the kitchen with our F & B manager and 4 additional days of culinary knowledge sharing with the entire Chef team.
Our new Chefs then move on to their lodges to help set up for opening day. This takes another 4 days with their lodge team. Set-up focuses on lodge specific training/familiarization including operations, emergency situations, guest service, and team expectations.
To round out the introduction to CMH, each new chef then receives a week of hands-on mentoring during the heli-skiing season, by a more experienced Chef.
Returning Chefs also attend Chefs training and set-up at the start of every winter. The same format goes for most returning staff – 4 days of group training and 4 days of training at their lodge.
My favourite retention story is always about our “Boomerangs”. A Boomerang is an employee who has worked for CMH; left to pursue new adventure; after time away they land back at a lodge or in the office to help out. Some work for one week per year, and others like Sherri at the Adamants or Russ in IT, stick around for awhile. We rely on our Boomerangs to round out our team, and relish the fact that we have a network of people who are happy to return to help out in a pinch and get their CMH fix.
And when people ask me about our culture I usually start by sharing a copy Bugaboo Dreams, which acts as our not-so-traditional staff handbook. Written by Topher Donahue in 2008, this book is a compilation of stories and experiences from the many people who helped to build CMH. For anyone who has any connection to CMH, it’s well worth the read.
If you missed out on getting a copy in 2009, send me a note and I’d be happy to send you a copy. You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org