How is it that some restaurant brands can build and sustain culture while others struggle to maintain it?
There are external factors, for sure. Culture tends to fall to the wayside when traffic wanes and bankruptcy becomes an inevitable future. There’s also size, segment, concept type, and employee count. The bigger and more spread out the brand’s footprint, the harder it is for corporate teams to keep the culture alive and managers accountable to fostering it regularly.
Spark attendees were given a look into this spectrum of people and culture challenges during a presentation on Wednesday, Sept. 26, 2018: Good to Great: A Panel Discussion with the Industry’s Top Engagement Leaders.
Moderated by Results Thru Strategy Co-Founder Fred LeFranc, the panel featured Gini Quiroz, Director of Team Member Engagement at K&N Management, and Bill Streitberger, Chief People Officer at Logan’s Roadhouse.
Culture ‘Fit’ and a Comeback Story in the Making
K&N Management is an Austin-based group and licensed area developer of Rudy’s Country Store and Bar-B-Q and the creator and operator of Mighty Fine Burgers, Fries & Shakes. In 2010, the K&N Management won the prestigious Malcolm Baldrige Award for Operational Excellence – an award given by the President of the United States.Gini Quiroz has been with the company for 12 years and counting and has played a critical role in helping the group achieve and maintain Malcolm Baldrige-level performance and operational standards.
Logan’s Roadhouse is a casual dining comeback story in the making. That turnaround is one of the main reasons Bill Streitberger joined the company, in fact. He’s also held leadership roles at Brinker International, Cheesecake Factory, BJ’s Brewhouse, Ruby Tuesday and American Blue Ribbon. “Turnarounds seem to be my specialty,” he laughed. “We are on a mission to revitalize the culture to accomplish our goals together as a brand.”
Everyone’s Favorite Station is WIIFM
In true Fred LeFranc style, he turned a soft topic like employee engagement into hard-hitting aha moments for the audience.
“Everyone’s favorite station is WIIFM. What’s In It For Me. As a brand, you have to align the company’s interest to the employees’ interests,” he said. “Regardless of where your brand is on its success journey, you must put your employee journey’s first.”
Quiroz and Streitberger provided concrete examples of this approach and the results in action.
Quiroz: “When we saw another restaurant win the Malcolm Baldrige award, we said, ‘Well, why can’t we do this … what would it take?’ So we used the award’s standards – which measure how you treat your people, your customers, your operations and how you measure performance – as our benchmarks. It has been the framework for how we approach people and performance and continues to guide who we are and how we make decisions.”
Streitberger: “For Logan’s, it’s been about re-establishing those core values, communicating those values and upholding those values. We also have to be crystal clear about the things we have to go out and get done as a brand. All of this trickles down to the guests. We’ve created a Culture Crew to help us accomplish that. We’ve also established a 501(c)(3) called Logan’s Love and employee assistance program that our employees can contribute to and give back to employees in need – which is already being used today. It’s that giving back first within that is our focus.”
We’re All Hiring from the Same Talent Pool
The discussion around recruiting is no longer a complainers-game. Restaurants have accepted the labor shortage as a fact and are turning their attention to a problem we can collectively solve: if we’re all hiring from the same talent pool, how do we approach our recruiting, hiring and most importantly on-boarding strategy differently?
Quiroz: “We approach that challenge with a question … ‘What is the embodiment of Texas Hospitality?’ We know we can’t teach you to smile authentically, but we are looking for happy people who have positive energy. In fact, we don’t typically ask our candidates about job experience. We make sure our systems and tools can train them and support them from a skills-level and technical perspective.”
Additional Reading: How Businesses can Retain Talent in the Gig Economy
Streitberger: “We are all absolutely hiring from the same talent pool. Logan’s also hires for personality. We can teach you how to do this job but we can’t teach you how to smile. [something here about emotional connection] We have technology like Clarifi Talent Development in place to help us track the delivery of those technical skills. That was the first piece of technology we put in place as we embarked on this rebranding journey as a company and as an employer.
How Do You Measure Culture & Engagement?
“None of us can read the label from inside the jar,” LeFranc said as he transitioned to his next big question: “How do you measure culture when you’re on the inside?”
Streitberger: “We do engagement studies once a year. From the CEO to dishwashers, everyone is asked to engage in the survey and to answer the question, ‘How are we doing?’ We also measure in turnover. And because we are a business, we monitor and measure productivity and sales growth.”
Quiroz: “At K&N, we do several things. First, we have an Annual Survey. We have also added Quarterly Energy Surveys as a way to keep our finger on the pulse of the culture and to listen to our employees. The surveys measure on different areas of the business like cleanliness, food quality, accuracy, speed of service, and the employees’ energy. Our Annual Town Hall Meetings are also an opportunity for our managers to share their ideas, their thoughts, new concepts, questions that they have, and hear straight from senior leaders whether that can be taken into consideration during our upcoming strategic planning and goal-setting meetings.”
“None of us can read the label from inside the jar. How do you measure culture when you’re on the inside?” – Fred LeFranc, Results Thru Strategy
Streitberger: “We’re also measuring the effectiveness of our leaders. We have roundtable discussions with our employees in a closed environment so that they feel like they can talk about their experience and their managers in an unfiltered way.”