LIVE From Your Peers: 5 Best Practice Strategies to Improve Retention

June 03, 2015 | 1847 Views

LIVE From Your Peers: 5 Best Practice Strategies to Improve Retention

Jason Lyon, FMP

According to statistics gathered by the National Restaurant Association, the hospitality industry experienced its fourth consecutive year of rising turnover in 2014. At 66.3%, we are 20% higher than other industries, and quick service is a nightmarish 140%. While the recent recession years saw an all-time low, associates are no longer hesitant to take flight if they are unhappy and unengaged.

It’s no secret that this scenario wreaks havoc on our businesses by escalating costs in recruitment and training while decreasing morale. That in turn lowers guest satisfaction which leads to decreasing sales. Mean while, we watch the bottom line plummets. It’s a devastating chain of events that will diminish your brand proposition if you are a large chain with deeper pockets, or may even put you out of business if you are an independent operator. While there is no silver bullet, through evaluation, perseverance, and persistence, there are proven best practices by which you can develop a strategy to prevent your star players from jumping ship.

During the February 2015 conference of the Council of Hotel and Restaurant Trainers (CHART), attendees identified specific practices that have helped their organizations combat the above cycle. After summarizing the notes from the Live Ask My Peers interactive discussion, it was clear that these five areas are key when it comes to improving retention:

Leadership:  Quite often leadership’s influence on retention is last to be assessed as it is often easier to blame issues on the hourly front-line. However, as a past employer used to quote "a fish always starts to rot at its head first.”  If you don't have the individuals leading your team who models the culture you desire on every shift, every day, the level of aggressiveness of your initiatives simply doesn't matter. Make sure your managers are not burnt out from continuous 60-plus hour work weeks as this is what your team members will see and feel.  In order for your leaders to inspire and motivate your team, make sure they have the skills that will not only make them successful in their position but also make those around them successful.  Look for leaders who are consistent in their approach and decision making, promote your culture, possess strong mediation skills, provide respectful constructive coaching, and above all, are dedicated to their team. When a manager takes interest in people as individuals, which can be as simple as asking about how a sick family member is doing, associates are more apt to be loyal to that leader (as opposed to the individual that blows right by them with a grunt and scowl during their first interaction of the shift).

Recruitment:   It all starts with the initial hire. If you don't have the right individual in the right position, both of you will become frustrated quickly. Don't get caught hiring a "warm body" because he or she has a pulse and you need the position filled. Nine times out of ten this approach will back fire, resulting in not only having to start all over again, but also decreasing the moral of those quality individuals that are already on your team. There really is something to be said about “hiring for will, not skill.” While you may end up having to spend more time training this person, you have already shown them that you are willing to invest in their success and have already begun the loyalty process. Need to strengthen your hiring practices?  Check out Patrick Yearout's shared wisdom on this subject, Interviewing For Hospitality, ###

On-Boarding: This is your chance to set your expectations. Studies show that the stronger your on-boarding process is the greater the tenure of your team. Make sure you consistently give each new team member the same information on your culture and processes so that you don't create conflicts that leave individuals questioning what is really important. Often it is prudent to have one individual delivering a consistent message as opposed to sharing the role between what ever manager happens to be available at the time.  A successful on-boarding process is not just about completing the necessary paperwork for HR; it is an opportunity to share your vision. If you are promoting a caring team environment, then introduce them to those team members that best model this part of your culture during their initial tour of your facility. If you want guest-centered service, have them work with an associate that receives dozens of gushing comments from guests as opposed to an associate who you just reprimanded for looking at text messages instead of greeting guests.

Scheduling:  Ever wonder why you keep getting negative feedback from your guests every Sunday night when your GM, AGM, chef, sous-chef, and tenured team members are all off?  "Aces in their places" goes much further than in making sure that you have the right person in the right position during the shift. You may have to incentivize those tenured staff members to work some of the less desirable shifts, but in the long run, you will benefit with a much happier team. When I first started out managing a dining room, I was told that my best players never worked certain shifts, which left other rookie shifts more chaotic and less successful. After sitting down with these key players to explain how the situation on Sunday nights affected the establishment's overall image, and their overall financial gain in the long run, we developed a system where several of them would rotate through this shift once a month until that evening's team became more highly-skilled and adept at their positions. Want your team members fresh, perky, and friendly?  Make sure you don't continuously schedule them on back-to-back doubles. Let them have that Saturday night or holiday off while you lean on another team member to cover outside of the normal weekly work schedule.  Also, make sure you are adequately staffed; too many and no one is making money, too few and the stress and diminished guest experience is palpable.

Recognition and Rewards: Even if an individual is self-motivated, we can all use some "pumping up" from time to time. One of the top three reasons individuals leave their jobs is because he or she doesn't feel appreciated. Let your team members know you like having them on your team.  Give them that pat on the back for handling a finicky guest or shipping that eight top off the line in quick fashion without error not only lets them know that the performance is appreciated, but when done in front of co-workers feels doubly good while also lets the rest of your team know what success looks like. We continually focus on guest loyalty programs while it is equally important to design and implement an internal employee loyalty program for your team. Establish the goals you want to see as well as the frequency it should occur and then reward your team for it. Consider bartering with other businesses in your neighborhood to keep your costs under control and to also provide your team with opportunities outside their norm, such as a free spa treatment or a night at the movies.

We all know that even with our best efforts retention is going to be a challenge given our diverse workforce. We might never be able to prevent the departure of those teens or college students earning some cash while studying for their future career outside the industry, the wanderlust  transient who craves continuous change, or those part-timers looking for a little extra income. Through some intentional diligence, practice and creativity, we certainly can keep a core high-performance team. If you want to learn more on how to keep those team members engaged, make sure you attend CHART's conference in New Orleans this July 2015 where among other practical sessions, Glen Armantrout of Cafe Reconcile will share insights on how his former team at Acme Oyster House enjoys a mind-boggling 75% retention rate!  Hope to see you in July!

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