How One HR Officer Tackled the Task of Staffing Milwaukee’s Fiserv Forum

‘Greatest success’ was asking employees to help screen, interview candidates

Roy Maurer By Roy Maurer March 22, 2019
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​Milwaukee Bucks Chief Human Capital Officer Kelly Kauffman.

​Milwaukee's Fiserv Forum—home court for the National Basketball Association's (NBA's) Milwaukee Bucks and site of the 2020 Democratic National Convention—opened in August 2018.  

But when plans for the new arena were hatched four years earlier, the Bucks organization, which owns and staffs the sports and entertainment venue, didn't even have an HR department. 

Chief Human Capital Officer Kelly Kauffman was hired in 2014 and tasked with not only establishing a professional human resources function for the organization, but hiring for the grand opening of the team's new complex—tripling full-time staff and increasing the part-time workforce nearly fivefold. Kauffman shared how she did it with SHRM Online.

SHRM Online: How did you get started?

Kauffman: I spent the first couple of years hiring for administration and front-office roles in anticipation of the arena's opening. We built up every department, going from 90 people to about 200 full-time positions in HR, operations, ticket sales, marketing. We hired even more when you consider the turnover we dealt with during those years.

I knew that getting the right people in place on my own staff would be critical. I hired an HR director—someone I worked with previously and trusted with my life—about a year before the building's opening. We also wanted someone specific for talent acquisition, because we knew we would be doing consistent recruiting. The talent acquisition manager started in February 2018 in preparation for job fairs to be held that summer. That gave her a little bit of time to get her feet wet with some full-time admin roles before the mass hiring of part-timers got underway. Her experience in managing large-scale recruitment events was key as we began our hiring for the building.

I also spent that time doing research and visiting other NBA teams to see what they did in similar situations, reviewing what worked and what didn't. The Sacramento Kings were building and opening a new complex before [we were], and the Golden State Warriors were scheduled to open their new arena after [we opened ours]. I spent a lot of time with those two teams talking about HR, recruiting, getting job descriptions together, figuring out how best to run massive job fairs.

SHRM Online: Tell me about the job fairs.

Kauffman: We held two big job fairs. The first one in May was specifically for Bradley Center [the Bucks' previous arena] staff, as that site was going to be closing. We wanted to make sure they had the chance to come in and interview first. We knew some staff would move on or retire when the building closed—some had been there since it opened in 1988—and others were excited to try something new. We had about 200 people at that job fair, for 600 open positions. It was the perfect trial run for us, to go through the hiring-event process at a smaller scale and figure out the workflow.

Most of our part-time employees were hired at the larger job fair held in June. We interviewed about 1,000 people at that time and hired about 400 from that event. Overall, we hired about 650 part-time staff in anticipation of the arena's opening.

We partnered with a recruiting firm in Milwaukee [that] did most of the prescreening based on what we told them we were looking for in candidates. But our greatest success came when we asked our employees if they would be interested in serving as recruiters for the day. We knew we would need a lot of help at the fair to conduct screens, interview and assess applicants and just process people. We told them, "No one knows what it's like to work at this company better than you do, so we'll teach you how to be recruiters and evaluate resumes."

The buy-in was huge. About 60 [employees] came out and helped. They felt empowered to help select the people we were bringing into the building. And it makes sense—if you're a ticket sales rep, you want the ushers escorting guests to their seats to be delivering the best possible experience so [ticket holders] renew their subscriptions, right?

SHRM Online: How were assessment and selection done?

Kauffman: We trained our staff on the do's and the don'ts, what you can ask and cannot ask in an interview. Everyone was given standard questions based on each role the candidates were interested in. We did a lot of training with our staff on what each of the roles were. Guest services is easier to understand than a stagehand job or what's required for an electrician. In those cases, we had people who specialized in those areas, and we tried to match them with the candidates for those positions. In general, we told our newly minted recruiters to think about the customers. Soft skills are 100 percent most important for us. These [part-time guest services] jobs require being kind, being able to pivot, thinking on your feet and the ability to answer guests' questions. We told them that if they think the candidate will be a great front face for the Milwaukee Bucks and will be warm and welcoming—we call it "Wisconsin nice"—we'll train on the rest.

SHRM Online: What are a couple of your biggest takeaways from the experience?

Kauffman: Our biggest asset is our brand. Recruiting for a professional sports team is the opposite of what I experienced earlier in my career—thousands of people will show up for jobs at Fiserv Forum. But they have to know about the opportunities. We used social media, and our public-relations team promoted the job fair on local TV and radio stations.

Having our staff assist us with the job fair was the best idea we had. It was also a great team-building experience.

We also learned that our biggest area of future improvement is onboarding. Our applicant tracking technology was limited, especially when onboarding people. Each person had to sit down and handwrite the paperwork before someone on my team manually entered it. After reviewing and debriefing on our experiences, we have decided to make a change in how we onboard and are in the process of upgrading to a completely electronic, paperless system. We want the best possible experience for our team as they are welcomed into the organization.

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