A well-thought-out and reinforced company culture is likely to bolster the bottom line through lower turnover, higher guest satisfaction and other positive outcomes, a panel of training experts at last week’s National Restaurant Association Restaurant, Hotel-Motel Show agreed. But building a strong, positive culture takes a commitment and attention to many details, they added.
A good place to begin establishing a culture is by defining what it means to your company. “It’s too easy to say, ‘It’s everything,’” said Jim Knight, a managing partner with People Forward. “It’s not. It is 100 percent about the people.”
It’s also important to remember that some aspects of company culture that have been in place or years and become traditions might not still work. “It’s about the here and now, not the way it’s been forever,” Knight said.
Kate Shehan, v.p. of human resources at Cosi, agreed that any culture needs to adapt to the times. “You have to encourage people to constantly grow with you and prepare them for change,” she said.
White Castle, which has existed for nearly a century, retains cultural elements from its early days, but chief people officer John Kelley said the chain looks to much-admired employers like Zappos for inspiration in evolving its internal culture.
Shehan, Knight, Kelley and moderator Chip Romp, v.p. of training with Ovation Brands, all belong to The Council of Hotel and Restaurant Trainers and said training is essential to reinforcing any culture. And the type of training should reflect the individual operation. Knight, while working at Hard Rock Café, preferred manuals with illustrations demonstrating how to accomplish jobs such as clearing and resetting a table, rather than describing those tasks in narrative form.
Sometimes mentors are the answer. And “don’t ever underestimate the value of role play,” Romp advised.
Even with training, overnight results aren’t likely, the panelists noted.
“You can’t send out a memo on Monday morning saying, ‘Everybody have culture now,’” Knight said.
The panelists agreed that reinventing an entrenched culture—or a weak one—takes some effort, but it’s not impossible.
“One person with a great idea can start a revolution,” Knight said. “Somebody has to come in and say ‘we have to do things differently.’” And he had a response for anyone who is opposed to new thinking: “If you don’t like, change, you’re going to hate extinction,” he said.
The journey to a better corporate culture can take many paths, but Shehan said she admires the philosophy at Zingerman’s Ann Arbor, MI, food and foodservice facilities. The five-step process entails defining the culture, teaching it, modeling it, measuring it and rewarding it.
Rewards can take many forms: paid days off, gift cards, bonuses, pins and more. Regardless of the reward, though, management needs to buy in. Shehan said the Cosi Kudos recognition program was much more effective when managers embraced it. Locations with enthusiastic managers turned in consistently lower turnover and higher guest satisfaction scores as a result.
Knight suggested treating employees as if they were volunteers who could leave at any time. “The greatest thing is just saying ‘thank you’ more often,” he observed.