Human Resources | December 2012 | By Mary Avant

All Hail the Crew

How four brands best maximize their employees’ potential.

Quick service employee programs invest in critical component to business.
Pinkberry believes its employees add to the customer experience. pinkberry
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They open and close the store and keep it running in the time between. They cook and serve your food, operate your drive thru, and even empty the trash and clean the bathrooms.

But most importantly, your crewmembers are the ones who represent your brand to the customer, and they can single-handedly make or break the guest experience.

“The crewmembers are a visible sign of the brand for the customers,” says Patrick Lencioni, a management consultant who’s worked with executives at brands such as Sonic and In-N-Out. “They are the people who either deliver on the promise of the brand or don’t, so people judge the brand … based on their experience with those employees.”

When used to their fullest extent, a brand’s employees can yield a sizeable return on investment, with results like stronger customer loyalty, increased return visits, and an improved guest experience. But this can only happen if they’re given the right tools.

The following four brands go out of their way to make sure they’re maximizing their employees’ potential and reaping the many rewards.

McDonald’s Turnover Solution

Turnover may be one of the biggest battles quick serves face, but McDonald’s does more than the average brand to keep its employees in the system. In fact, the company places a major emphasis on not just keeping employees around, but also on promoting from within to help them rise to the position of manager, operator, owner, or even corporate executive.

Steve Russell, senior vice president of U.S. human resources for McDonald’s, says more than 75 percent of managers, 60 percent of owner-operators, and 40 percent of corporate-level executives at the brand began their careers behind the counter at a McDonald’s.

Take Jan Fields, for example. Since joining the brand in 1978 as an hourly crewmember, Fields has gone on to become Pittsburgh’s regional vice president, then chief operations officer, and now her current position as president of McDonald’s USA.

“We really look at our restaurants as classrooms, if you will, for future owner-operators, future managers that run our multimillion-dollar restaurants, as well as a classroom for future corporate leaders,” Russell says.

Keeping employees around for the long haul ensures better results for the individual, the guest, and the company, he adds. “The more you learn, the more of a foundation that you build in the business, the more powerful you can be in supporting and advocating for our business,” he says. “When you promote from within, you have individuals that have the ability and the luxury of developing a foundation of knowledge, experience, and skills. The more knowledgeable, experienced, and skillful an individual is, the better they’ll actually serve our customers.”

Lencioni says giving employees opportunities to climb the proverbial company ladder creates associates who think about the brand’s long-term success and their role in it. “You create people who know that they’re going to be there for the long haul, so they have an interest in making things better,” he says. “They’re thinking about the long-term impact of their behavior and their actions, and they feel like an owner. They feel like they’re really invested in the success of the business.”

Knowing there’s a path laid out for advancement—thanks largely to shining examples like Fields—means McDonald’s employees are motivated to perform to the best of their ability in the store, Russell says. “If they feel like they’re set up for success, they’re performing well, and they can grow, there’s a larger percentage of people that want to do that,” he says.

He also acknowledges that McDonald’s has a responsibility in priming its employees for the type of career growth it hopes to promote. “If we do the job that we should, as well as we should, in developing them and training them, we’re setting them up for success,” Russell says.

[Editor’s note: This article originally published before Jan Fields announced her resignation from McDonald's.]

Pinkberry’s Competitive Edge

With such fierce competition brewing in the frozen yogurt market, brands are fighting for ways to stand out among the rest. Los Angeles–based Pinkberry, a fro-yo brand with more than 200 locations in the U.S. and abroad, chooses to do so with its staff.

“Our model relies on our people,” says CEO Ron Graves. “They represent our brand every day, and we believe in service, so they’re integral to our experience.”

He says it’s the company’s ability to find, train, and retain top-notch employees that allows it to deliver an unparalleled customer experience.

“Because we think so much of our experience is about service and connecting with our customers, what we do is we look to hire people who have the right DNA, the right attitude, the right perspective,” Graves says. “Because at the end of the day, our experience is representative of what we value.”

Pinkberry’s strong core values—including human connection and service, as well as an inspiring store experience—help the brand determine the specific type of employee it wants to hire, creating a company with universally high-performing associates.

Lencioni says Pinkberry’s innovative hiring process is one reason it can develop a staff that delivers such a distinct customer service experience. “If you’re looking for people with extraordinary skills, you have to have an extraordinary process for doing that,” he says.

At Pinkberry, a group of 15–20 applicants might be paired up and asked to present a 30-second commercial about the brand. “There’s no right or wrong answers in these exercises,” Graves says. “It’s how people interact with a team. It’s how the people in the audience who are vying for the same job are supporting those that are up there presenting.”

Graves says the brand looks for individuals who believe in uncompromising quality, possess an entrepreneurial spirit, connect with the customers, and are willing to take risks, solve problems, and continuously improve themselves and the customer’s experience.

“We need people who can make decisions,” he says. “There are a lot of gray areas when it comes to in-store experience, and we need people who won’t compromise on that customer experience. We look for ways to create small, powerful moments, and we look for people who serve with humility and gratitude.”

Whether it’s helping customers pick flavors or toppings or learn more about the products, or simply engaging in conversation, Graves says Pinkberry’s staff creates a customer experience that gets rave reviews from guests all over the world and keeps them coming back for more.