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Cloning superstars

Salad Creations tosses in more training


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Salad Creations, the Miami-based fast-food franchise, isn't taking any chances with this unpredictable economy.

"We just upped our training budget for the coming year," Salad Creations COO Mick Owens says. "We need to be more efficient, more effective and we need to reduce turnover."

 

Hiring and training: The two-pronged HR strategy that will build stability in this shaky economy.

Salad Creations already has a robust training program for crewmembers, managers and higher ups. "We train them in a ridiculous amount of detail," Owens says, noting that employees go through weeks of rigorous classroom and on-the-job training in things like marketing, operations and food safety. So, why the increased investment in what they were already doing right?

"We can't take the chance of anybody in our organization having mediocre performance. That would be bad for business any time, but now, in this economy? We need to be the best we can be," Owens points out.

Owens isn't alone - many training-faithful companies like Dunkin' Donuts and Bruegger's Bagels are investing in additional training to be as competitive as possible in an economy in which consumer dollars are dwindling. When people are trimming the "extras" out of their budget excellence in the restaurant, retail and hospitality fields isn't optional. Delivering the best possible customer experience is mandatory. And that means training.

"Training shows up as a line item on a P&L sheet and it would be so easy to cut it when cutting budgets, but that couldn't be further from what needs to happen," Owens says. "In a rough economy, we have to step up our training, not reduce it."

The way Owen sees it: Training is one part of a two-pronged HR strategy that can help stabilize business in shaky economic times. The other prong? Hiring. The right people on the team in the first place is vital, says Owens.

"You've got to make the right hire and then train that hire in great detail," he says.

But hiring is a complex art form, one that many companies don't focus enough on. Salad Creations' team has put together a hiring system designed to help find the best people for each job.

"We thought a lot about what makes a good salad chef, a good manager and so on. We came up with page after page of characteristics specific to our concept and specific to each position," Owens says.

The process involves discovering what makes superstar employees tick - character traits, behavior, best practices - and then "cloning" those superstars when hiring new employees.

 

They do it through testing. Salad Creations has a rather rigorous set of tests for character traits, skills and the like, that determine whether applicants are right for the job.

"We also have a test that involves applicants putting together blocks in the right configurations while the interviewer is asking questions about mathematics," he says. "It's tough, but it tells us who can work well under pressure and who can't."

The testing itself tells Owens something else, as well. "It weeds out a lot of people who simply don't want to do the testing. It drives people away, and that's a good thing. If you're not committed enough to take these tests, we probably don't want you."

The testing process isn't perfect, Owens concedes, but it allows people doing the hiring to weed out applicants who simply aren't right for the job.

"You can come off well in an interview, have a great resume and be a very good person, but not be right for the restaurant industry," he says. "These tests help us see that and make the right decisions."

What can you do to help shore up your business during these tough times?

  • Invest in a hiring system, including technology to help weed out unqualified applicants before the interview process begins and testing to help you find the best of the best for each job.
  • Invest in more training. Get going on refresher courses for those already on the job and in-depth programs for those just starting.
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