Step by Step to Success: Implementing Incremental Change in Hospitality OJT

April 18, 2024 | 728 Views

Step by Step to Success: Implementing Incremental Change in Hospitality OJT

Patrick Yearout, FMP, CHT

Director of Innovation, Recruiting, and Training | Ivar's & Kidd Valley Restaurants

At the March CHART conference in Charlotte, Kelly McCutcheon of Whataburger led a breakout session showcasing personal and professional growth strategies titled "Living Fully: 5 Mini Lessons for a Fresh Approach." Among the invaluable lessons she shared was the power of incremental change – a concept rooted in the idea that significant progress in our lives often comes from the accumulation of small, manageable improvements over time. As Kelly aptly described it, it's about "evolution, not revolution."

Incremental change works so well because it aligns perfectly with how people naturally learn and adapt. By making gradual adjustments, we can assimilate new information and skills without becoming overwhelmed. In contrast, attempting monumental changes, especially in a short time span, results in a higher risk of resistance or failure due to the sheer scale of the proposals. In a hospitality setting, attempted “revolutions” can lead to operational chaos, impacted service, and heightened stress levels for team members (not to mention frustrated guests). 

As the facilitator of the on-the-job training (OJT) competency offered the very next day at this same CHART conference, I was struck by how seamlessly the concept of incremental change complements effective OJT practices. On-the-job training should never be a hasty, haphazard endeavor where the trainer attempts to cram a vast amount of information into a single, rushed session. It shouldn’t be the result of a manager grabbing the closest employee and demanding, “Hey, Steve, I forgot we have a new hire here today. Since there’s three minutes before the lunch crowd arrives, go show Sally everything about cutting all the different kinds of fish we serve.” 

Instead, it requires meticulous planning, preparation, and a systematic approach to ensure trainees can absorb and apply new knowledge and skills at a pace that suits their individual needs. If you would like to create a truly effective OJT program at your hotel or restaurant, you should consider adopting these 7 incremental change strategies: 

  1. Microlearning – You’ve probably read about this trend with video and online training, and it applies to OJT as well. Short, targeted training segments significantly boost memory retention and trainee involvement, so consider breaking longer sessions into focused modules. An example might be teaching a housekeeping employee the cleaning standards for various room types one at a time and ensuring a thorough grasp of each before moving on. 
  2. Adapt your speed – Recognize that different employees will take in information at different rates, so move at a rate your learners can follow. It may be your 1000th time demonstrating how to properly clock in for a shift, and you can probably zip through the process as if you were competing for the world record in a 40-yard dash, but…just don’t do that. Dip into the vast reservoirs of patience you have developed as a trainer, go through the process step-by-step, and tailor the session speed so that no one is left behind. 
  3. Regular feedback – Continuous, real-time feedback is critical for successful OJT. Imagine a cook learning to prepare a signature dish; immediate feedback from the chef on their technique will be more effective than a comprehensive review done weeks later. This feedback should be specific, constructive, and focused on both strengths and areas for improvement. For instance, the chef might say, "You did a great job seasoning the dish, but let's work on your knife skills to ensure more consistent cuts." 
  4. Knowledge checks – Regularly testing trainee knowledge with brief pop quizzes can help reinforce learning and identify areas that need more attention. During a fast casual restaurant training session, the trainer might ask a cashier to describe a signature menu item or the front counter person to demonstrate how to properly place food on a delivery tray. These mini-assessments provide real-time insights into the trainee's progress and help the trainer adjust the session accordingly. 
  5. Elevating difficulty – Gradually increasing the complexity of tasks helps build confidence and competence. A new bartender might start their training program preparing basic drinks, for example, before moving on to complex cocktail recipes. This measured escalation challenges employees within their capacity to grow. 
  6. Celebrate wins – Recognize and celebrate trainees' achievements, no matter how small. You don’t have to wait until they finish all their training and create a fancy certificate of completion; you could just offer a high five after your front desk person successfully checks in their first guest, or a quick mention in a pre-shift meeting when your new host handles their first reservation. This positive reinforcement encourages them to continue making incremental progress and fosters a culture of continuous learning and improvement. 
  7. Peer mentoring and shadowing – Once past their initial OJT session, you can set up peer mentoring and job shadowing opportunities as part of the trainee’s overall learning roadmap. Pairing them with more experienced team members will allow them to observe best practices in action and learn from real-world examples at a comfortable pace and without a deadline looming. 

Is there a cost associated with employing incremental change techniques in your on-the-job training? Most definitely, because any time you add more structure to a program and slow down a process there’s going to be an added expense. But you shouldn’t think of it strictly as a cost, and you should definitely not utter that dreaded word within earshot of any of the executives in your company. It’s an investment, and that’s how it should always be labeled. It’s an investment that will pay off with better training, greater understanding, and longer-retained employees who won’t abandon their jobs because they feel confused or overwhelmed. It’s going to result in safer workplaces with less accidents and lower L&I rates, and it’s going to lead to better-served guests who will want to return more often and generate more revenue for your operations. 

By embracing incremental change in OJT, hotel and restaurant companies can cultivate a workforce of skilled, adaptable, and motivated professionals. This commitment to nurturing the growth of every team member not only enhances the guest experience but also contributes to the overall success and resilience of the hospitality industry. Remember, it's about evolution, not revolution – one small victory at a time.

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Comments (2)

  1. Keith Strew:
    Apr 23, 2024 at 10:03 AM

    Very insightful! Breaking it down into bite size chunks of material while providing positive reinforcement allows for development of the team members and further engages them over a longer period leading to higher engagement rates, more consistent service and products, and lower turnover while producing measurable results in guest intent to return. Love it!

  2. Jim Sullivan:
    Apr 23, 2024 at 01:01 PM

    Once again Patrick lays it out a clear and concise process for any trainer to restage and re-energize their OJT. Good job.