It’s a fact. High talent turnover is inherent in the restaurant industry. It’s estimated that three out of four restaurant employees are planning to leave their job. Furthermore, the average restaurant loses $150,000 yearly in just staff turnover, while losing a front-line employee costs a restaurant on average $5,864.

Companies are introducing new incentives to attract employees, but hiring alone won’t address the situation. Instead, it is my experience that to build a stronger organization with lower turnover it’s imperative to do two things—create incentives for your existing employees to stay and grow future leaders from within your company.

This becomes more important in an economic downturn. When employees realize that even if times are tough, you are going to stick with your commitments to invest in their education and development, that drives even more engagement and motivation to perform.

As a former CEO of Darden Restaurants, I’ve found that a key starting point for investing in your people is to tap into their aspirations. When you believe everyone who walks through your doors has the capacity to rise to the level they aspire to, and you make it known that you are willing to help them advance by providing the development they need, that’s powerful.

The next steps involve acting. Below are some key strategies for turning those beliefs and aspirations into career progression within the company, in efforts to retain your people and expand your internal talent pipeline.

Build a strong culture: One where people want to be there At Darden we talk about nourishing and delighting everyone we serve. This refers to more than the food and service we provide guests, but also extends to our team’s professional and personal development. We saw opportunities to help our people grow personally, especially considering they were working in a diverse environment with an ability to connect with different types of people.

We also created a culture amongst our managers to encourage understanding what their employees’ professional aspirations were. This can be as simple as having a manager ask, “Where are you headed professionally?” A lot of young people don’t know. We spent a lot of time helping our employees understand what was possible, especially inside our organization.

All this works together to create a strong culture and make people feel your organization is a place where they belong and want to stay.

Recognize we all learn differently: There is no one-size-fits-all approach As we think about the workforce it’s important to understand that our public education system is geared primarily to one learning style—a traditional classroom learning style. I came from a background where education was very important. My parents’ educational attainment level was relatively low, but while they were in school, they were good students and so they stressed classroom learning to me. It was very important. I went to school with people who were great classroom learners and many of us went to college. However, I also went to school with a lot of people who were not great classroom learners. That was not their best learning style. Fortunately, many of them went into areas where apprenticeship learning was valued, and they did very well.

During the first 15 years of my professional career, I worked on Wall Street where almost everyone’s a great classroom learner. I had lost touch with that other part of the community, those that had a different learning style. Coming back into the restaurant business, I reconnected with that. I realized just how important it is to have a range of different learning experiences and education paths to match the diversity of learning styles out there in the population.

At Darden, a lot of our people are capable of more than they thought. So, it was incumbent on us as leaders to look deeply and understand our people and the diversity of their learning styles. That was the key to maximize everyone’s contribution and to ensure all employees in the organization had the opportunity to grow.

Reimagine workforce education and training: Beyond traditional tuition reimbursement A majority of employees say they are more likely to stay with a company that invests in their future. That includes education and development.

Many companies think about workforce education very narrowly. We thought about it more expansively. For example, any hourly employee could raise their hand and say they wanted to be in our restaurant manager training program. And several hundred people a year did just that.

The fact that the opportunity was available was something that resonated powerfully with those who didn’t choose to take advantage of it. Everyone understood that we were serious about their development. That drives engagement, the kind of engagement that motivates people to put in extra discretionary effort that goes above and beyond what they’re paid to do.

All of this leads to lower turnover, which results in significant financial savings and—even more importantly for a hospitality company like Darden—enables us to provide superior guest experiences. I’m convinced that thinking about investing in your people’s education more expansively, as something that is more than a simple tuition reimbursement program, is the path to creating a culture of lifelong learning and professional growth. With this mindset, you’ll begin to view workforce education programs as an investment which pays for itself many times over.

Grow talent throughout the organization: Support all career journeys Often you have people who are on a journey elsewhere, and working at a restaurant or at your company is a means of getting there. But then in that process some fall in love with the industry. So, it’s important for people to understand what others in the organization are doing, and sometimes that exposure to the range of options will trigger curiosity and ultimately passion. They will see an exciting future remaining with your organization.

Darden’s current CEO, Rick Cardenas, is a great example. Rick worked at Red Lobster while earning a degree from the University of Central Florida. He liked the industry and company, so decided to stay and become a salaried employee in Darden’s restaurant support center. Eventually he left to go to business school at Dartmouth University, and did a brief stint in consulting, but ultimately returned to Darden. Rick’s an example of a young person who we were able to convince that working with us could become a rewarding career, and he made it that.

Regardless of industry, all companies must look inward to find the talent they need to succeed in the short and long term. Education can help future-proof your business by investing in your people and inspiring them to build fulfilling careers.

Clarence Otis is the former CEO of Darden Restaurants. Under his leadership, the Darden restaurant portfolio grew from roughly 1,300 restaurants to over 2,200. – Source: fsr.





Leave a Reply