For many years, our organization struggled to create a solid, stable team. We were guilty of hiring to fill spots rather than thinking of our people as guardians of our brand. We stepped back and decided to create a system. We started from scratch and asked, "What does the ideal employee look like?" Then we found a tool that profiles the work style of the employee.
The tool is not a personality test per se; it is an assessment of work style. We applied it to all our employees and found a consistent profile of our best employees. We were able to determine that when we were outside that profile, in general we had employees who did not fit well for us. In a sense, we were asking people who were "off profile" to work in a way that was inconsistent with who they were. Those people, in turn, tended to be the ones we had problems with, and they struggled the most to live out the brand.
Today, the hiring profile is a big part of our talent management system. We rarely hire anyone who doesn't meet the profile. Now it is hard to hire: we go through dozens of applications to hire one employee. Our managers complain about that. The good news is that when we do find someone, they almost always work out great, which reminds the managers why they went to such trouble. A by-product of this process is that the in-store culture is now so strong that we lose fewer people.
We also rank our employees A, B, or C. This is not a ranking of their value as a person; rather, it is ranking of fit. Our A employees are fully trained, have fully bought into the vision, and live it. Our B employees have fully bought into the vision and live it, but lack training and experience. Our C employees may be fully trained, but they lack buy-in and do not live the vision. When we identify Cs, we make plans to help them find a job somewhere else because they just do not fit. When someone doesn't fit, it is often because their internal wiring doesn't work well in retail.
The ranking system and profiling have helped us to avoid mismatching people in their jobs. Those whom we helped to leave--and we did it appropriately, we did not just kick them out--had a chance to find a better job where they would be a good fit.
In addition, we have an online, systematic hiring and intake process. This is nitty-gritty, but you have to do it well. There are many federal regulations on the documentation of new employees, and you must have a robust system for that. Then, we have a scripted training schedule for the first year--we know what we are going to do the first week, the first month, and from there on out.
The next level is the 30-day action plan. This mini-review between employee and supervisor leads to improvements, month by month. The idea came from a store manager, not come from on high in some ivory tower. As a result, all employees, down to the newest hire, know where they stand and what is expected. When we applied the system company-wide, morale improved.
We expect all employees to buy into our mission, including our young people, still in school. We do not hire just for the summer. We expect any high school students to train and develop and buy in, or they do not stay with us. We also hire people twice that age for entry-level jobs and look at them as great opportunities. For whatever reason, they have not found their niche yet. We have known such people who really caught fire while working for us. For the first time they felt that an employer was investing in them. Helping to develop employees was always fun for me. That happens at the store level, so I am not immediately involved in it anymore, but it is quite fulfilling to see someone thriving under our guidance.
To further develop our talent, we purchased a training program for our store managers on the importance of a positive, success-oriented mindset. They get monthly installments of that program, in printed materials and a CD. We also have our continuing leadership development program. As new people come in, we develop their ability to think like a leader. In addition, we have the pet nutrition certification for our store managers and assistant managers, and a nine-month, online, pet care training program.
We feel that we have a vigorous and complete training program, and the payoff is a workforce who fit their roles and feel invested in their positions. They are growing and they want to be with us. We hold people accountable, but we do not try to motivate through external rewards or the fear of being hurt or suffering consequences for failing. We aim to create an environment where people are on fire and motivated from within.
When you engage people at the heart level and they are excited, they give you so much more. They contribute a lot of new, exciting things and unique approaches to the business, and that is really what we want. "We need all the brains in the game," Jack Welch, former chief executive of General Electric, once said, an expression we have borrowed. Our talent management system ensures that is what we have.
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