,Australia

What it takes to create an inclusive and engaging company culture, as told by Guzman y Gomez, Roll'd, Huxtaburger and Mad Mex

Executives argue that a good human resources strategy should be aligned with their respective brand strategies.

In the QSR space, there is growing emphasis in creating an engaging company culture as part of their core values. The culture of Guzman y Gomez (GYG), for instance, is so appealing that their own customers often express a desire to become part of it.

“I like to think we have a really funky environment. We crave singing, dancing, enjoying being here. I think it's appealing. So quite often we do get customers who want to come in and be our crew,” Kathy Wood, Chief People Officer at GYG, said at a panel discussion at the QSR Media Sandhurst Fine Foods Conference & Awards 2019.

But Wood pointed out that to create an engaging culture that can go beyond one’s brand to reach out to customers, the brand must first be mindful of keeping a kind of environment that welcomes and fosters that engagement.

“It goes back to values and values should be part of everything you do the whole way through the cycle. You can always teach a skill, you can't teach values,” she said.

“If you think people are important to your business, you’re in the right place. Because people are the determining factor is whether you're going to succeed. There's plenty of research out there that shows you that if people are engaged in your business it will drive business outcomes.”

Jason Geriesi, Chief Operating Officer of Huxtaburger, noted that a good human resources strategy is one that is aligned with that of the brand strategy itself. When customers walk inside a store, that company culture should be easily detected.

“If you think about culture, in general, it's a group of people; the way they act, their values, their beliefs. And then you can take that and look internally, it's what your brand values, it's beliefs, and the way it acts,” he said.

A good company culture is more than giving employees benefits or incentives, or having a table tennis table to improve their performance, but also promoting a strategy that takes employee experience first, alongside customer experience.

“How can you alter your approach to them and help them grow as a person, professionally and personally, to achieve their ultimate life goals that may have nothing to do with the business that you're at? I think that all adds to culture so much more than, you know, giving them free burgers and chips or all year round,” Geriesi said.

For Kelly Tracey, General Manager of Human Resources at Roll'd, their HR strategy is rooted in the family values that are a core part of their brand, which entails that they help develop within their employees precisely the life values that form the identity of Roll’d.

“We teach them things that even though we understand that they might not always end up with us in the long term, that we're still looking after them, and they are valued as an employee today,” she said.

The diverse backgrounds of Roll’d’s team means that management has to be inclusive and supportive with their training programs, especially for employees who are not yet fluent in English. Yet Tracey believes that so long as they are proactive in improving employee experience and are constantly on the lookout for issues in the workplace, it will translate into a better customer experience overall.

“Without the employee experience, we're not going to have a great customer experience,” she added.

Keeping your values as you scale
Wood said that as a brand expands into a franchise, it becomes necessary to be more deliberate with hiring franchisees to maintain a company’s values as it grows in size.

“The reality is the first step is how you hire your franchisees because if you hire franchisees that have the values of the brand, they would want to hire the same people,” she said.

As franchisees can come from a diverse background, sometimes a brand might need to translate certain aspects of its identity to ensure that everyone is on board a unified vision. Educating franchisees on the core brand values, Wood said, would give them the needed skills and insight to recruit a valuable team fit for expansion.

Moreover, offering existing employees with the opportunity to transition into becoming franchisees themselves or pursue leadership positions within the company can entice them to stay for the long haul.

Geriesi said that Huxtaburger operations managers actually join new franchisees in their recruitment sessions in the first three months to guide them on the values to look for in new recruits.

“Ideally after the three months, they take over recruitment themselves end-to-end and we're on the same page,” he said.

“Our brand strategy partners with our HR strategy. So in our interviews, there are three or four questions at a minimum that the interviewers must ask, and a lot of it is values-oriented. So behavioural questions for instances, just basic things like what did you find? What did you do on the weekend? Tell me about your last holiday? What do you get up to? Just to see what they do, who they hang out with, who they are, and what they value as a person.”

A thorough assessment of recruits can not only ensure the strength of the culture the brand is trying to create, but it could also protect the brand from potential people troubles in the future, he added.

Clovis Young, Managing Director and CEO of Mad Mex, said that they use psychometric testing to raise the chances of his company hiring the right people for the right job.

“It makes a big difference to the people coming in, because they understand that they've been through a process and they've been selected for a reason. And that reason is clear to them and to the manager. And it's also it makes it a lot easier for the manager to get it right,” he said.

Ultimately, it comes down to trust. In fostering an engaging and inclusive environment, management must trust that the people within the company share the same values and goals and act accordingly.

“It comes down to when you pick the right franchisees to join your family and the community that you've already got there, they're going to make the right hiring decisions. And we need to have faith that they're going to be able to make those hiring decisions. But we've got to have belief that they're going to have people that are going to uphold our values, but also sustain their business long term,” Tracey said.

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