Human Resources | December 2012 | By Mary Avant

All Hail the Crew

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Quick service employee programs invest in critical component to business.
Pinkberry believes its employees add to the customer experience. pinkberry
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“It’s key to the experience, it’s key to our customer satisfaction, it’s key to frequency and the experience they have,” he says. “And it’s one of the reasons they want to come back.”

Yum! Brands’ Barrier Buster

With demographics rapidly shifting both at home and abroad, connecting with various consumer segments is becoming increasingly vital to brands’ survival. And Yum! Brands, which owns Taco Bell, Pizza Hut, and KFC, has found a unique way to do so, all while attracting and developing employees around the world—and getting a hefty return on investment, to boot.

Two years ago, the company embarked on a partnership with language-learning brand Rosetta Stone to offer its employees across the globe a chance to learn one of more than 20 languages at a significantly reduced price.

“We know that language can be a barrier for individuals to move up within our organization or our franchises’ organizations,” says Rob Lauber, vice president of Yum! University, the global learning and development center for Yum! Brands.

He says that not only is the program helpful to international employees who want to learn English, but it’s also beneficial to those stateside crewmembers who speak English as a second language. “This provides them with an opportunity to improve and/or refine their English-speaking skills,”
Lauber says.

Conversely, the program is also paying off for U.S. employees who don’t speak Spanish, as it helps them better communicate with staff and customers in the restaurants.

“We saw it as a win-win opportunity for people who have a need … to take advantage of the opportunity to get pretty easy access and affordable access to language learning in a way that wasn’t available before,” Lauber says.

And because the program is an offer rather than a requirement, crewmembers are more likely to see it as an investment in their careers instead of a time-consuming burden. “It’s attractive for individuals who are trying to advance their career in the organization, or who need a language skill as part of a role they might be going into,” he says.

Lencioni says offering the program as a way to help employees better serve customers and communicate within the store, as well as to improve their own careers, is a plus for both the company and the staff.

“If you’re doing it because you’re interested in your employees’ growth, then they’re going to see this as a great investment in them,” Lencioni says of the language-learning program. “If you’re doing it just because you want them to have another skill to help their customers, it’s good, but they don’t necessarily see it as investing in them.”

Lencioni adds that the program is a demonstration of Yum! Brands’ interest in its associates, as the additional language skills make them more marketable in their own careers.

But it’s also one way Yum! Brands can differentiate itself and attract hard-working, driven potential employees, Lauber says.

“It’s a, ‘The company cares about me as a person’ message in the context of, ‘They provide me with access to language learning that would cost me a lot more in the marketplace,’” he says. He adds that the program is just one component of Yum! Brands’ overarching focus on attracting stellar employees.

“We see this as one piece in the big pie of the overall employee value proposition about why they would want to work in our restaurants,” he says.

Chick-fil-A’s Gift Back

Since its launch in 1967, Chick-fil-A has consistently set out to provide employees with opportunities to improve their lives. And in 1973, founder Truett Cathy found the perfect avenue through which to do so: education.

As part of the Leadership Scholarship program, the company gives $1,000 scholarships to employees who demonstrate exceptional community service and leadership abilities. Since 1996, the program has awarded almost $30 million to help more than 28,000 staff members attend college.

And though offering its staff the funds to attend college may mean employees ultimately leave the store, Chick-fil-A knows providing these opportunities to its team members is the right thing to do, says Tiffany Greenway of Chick-fil-A corporate public relations.

However, Greenway says the company does receive tangible benefits from the program. Namely, it helps Chick-fil-A attract the high-quality team members it’s recognized for in the industry.

“Chick-fil-A is known for its service, and one of the reasons we’re able to attract that caliber of employee is that we’re giving them opportunities and they know that Chick-fil-A will help them,” she says. “The benefit for the brand is that we’ve got these great team members who are community-minded, who are leadership-minded, who are being developed for further leadership opportunities, even if that’s not at Chick-fil-A.”

Because the program has a work requirement—employees must work a certain amount of time in a restaurant before applying—and requires a letter of recommendation from the operator, it creates a highly motivated staff.

It also results in crewmembers who want to stick around for the future, or at least associates who will return to the company once their education is complete.

“I know people who are lawyers that have owned a [Chick-fil-A] store or people that started there, went to college on a scholarship, and came back to Chick-fil-A because they’re like, ‘Why would I leave this place?’” Lencioni says regarding the loyalty a program like Chick-fil-A’s instills in employees.

He says this brand allegiance is only heightened by the company’s and managers’ genuine commitment to the employees, whether through interest in their education or simply their everyday lives.

When you combine the scholarship program with that really active interest in their lives,” Lencioni says, “it’s a huge benefit.”

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