Leading With Culture: Building a Great Place to Work
Building a strong culture is not only crucial to company success, it helps you through good times and bad, stabilizes employment and boosts customer satisfaction… not to mention making the enterprise a great place to work.
By Harry Rose
Culture is the backbone of your organization. Without it, you are likely to be just another restaurant on the strip. A strong company culture will sustain your organization through the good times and bad, and will likely drive metrics such as employee and manager retention rates and customer satisfaction. While it’s essential to consider the business case, it’s also important to consider the humanistic side of the story. A company with a thriving supportive culture will be, plainly and simply, a great place to work.
Over the past 30 years, The Rose Group has grown to 56 Applebee’s Grill and Bar Restaurants throughout Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Maryland and Delaware, as well as nine Corner Bakery Cafe locations in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Culture is one of the most essential aspects that contributed to our growth. Here are a few of the items that are not only important, but wholly within your control as a leader:
Hiring the Right Folks
A strong company culture begins with the interview process. While many hiring managers focus solely on experience, leadership, communication and time management traits, prioritizing integrity and character will lead to the creation of a winning staff. Technical skills can be taught, but the foundational work ethic and motivation that supports a positive environment cannot.
Every individual involved in the hiring process should understand how important personality is to the company’s culture. While making decisions on positive personality traits of a candidate can feel risky, even one bad hire can be extremely detrimental. With a supportive group of employees, any skill can be taught if the individual is motivated to learn, so focus on the intangibles.
While your hiring managers are doing their best, staffing mistakes are inevitable. Misaligned employees will inevitably make their way into the organization, and decisive action is the only defense. Tolerating a bad hire can cause a downward spiral and significantly impact company culture. Acting swiftly not only redefines what the company stands for (or doesn’t), but also sends the message that management will work to defend the culture that the employees have worked so hard to define.
Professional Development and Investment
Strive to become a career-minded organization. Culture is built over the long-term, so a high employee turnover won’t allow it to grow. If you come in as a dishwasher, you can move up to whatever you are capable of with hard work and dedication. About 25 percent of The Rose Group’s managers came from within, primarily because we invested in finding the right people during the initial hiring process. I believe that many of our future managers are currently employed with us in some capacity.
To build this environment, identify the individuals who are focused, eager to help their teammates, have the patience to mentor and who have already shown dedication to your brand and its initiatives. Those people will be the leaders of tomorrow. Placing growth as a reward for self-improvement will create a winning culture of employees who are continually striving to improve and be the best they can be.
The current economy has forced many companies to get creative with how they invest in their people — not everyone can afford to increase payroll to keep their most valuable employees. Developing mentorship programs or projects that stretch their skill sets help not only satisfy your most motivated employees’ need for growth, but will also increase your workforce’s capacity.
The Rose Group has developed a mentorship mentality through a position called a Managing Partner. This position is located between an area manager and a general manager and serves not only as an educational and supportive experience, but also as proving grounds for those motivated to grow into a higher leadership position. Creating this opportunity has proved to serve as a conduit of talent, funneling the right folks directly into any open leadership-level positions.
The value an employee’s life outside of work is important to consider. Someone on your team will inevitably be challenged with a family illness or an injury that creates financial turmoil, and this is an opportunity to “walk the walk” when it comes to support and caring. Building a safety net fund will help show you are as invested in your employees as they are in your company. As an example of one of these programs, The Rose Fund, is a collection of voluntary paycheck donations from participating associates that go toward supporting coworkers in need.
Developing a Supportive Mindset
Fostering a culture in which your employees want to help the community starts from the top down, and we’ve found that making the impact of our philanthropic efforts visible helps foster employee participation. Showing the cause and effect through company announcements and public relations efforts in the news brings reality to the overall fundraising effort. Success is contagious.
Another opportunity is to structure your philanthropic program in a way that each location and employee is part owner of the decisions and effort. We’ve decentralized much of the giving process, which affords each store the autonomy to respond to their communities need in ways they know to be impactful. Challenging your people to think critically as an individual, a team member and community member will help build leadership skills.
This ownership and community support mindset will resonate throughout the ranks and can be seen everywhere from the restaurant floor to the executive office. We have one of the lowest turnover rates and some of the highest customer satisfaction rates in the industry, and believe our community minded dedication helps to drive those numbers.
Don’t wait to start making an impact; all it takes is a vision. Identifying core tenets, properly and consistently communicating them and taking care of your people will begin to create a defined and self-sufficient culture.
In order to be as impactful as possible, focus on aligning your campaigns with your product or service to maximize your impact; using the tools or skills already at your disposal will minimize the implementation time and maximize the impact right away. Being in the food-service industry, we mobilize our capacity to donate food and our restaurant space for fundraisers.
Finally, holding regular roundtable discussions where every member of your organization can join and contribute is something we found to facilitate bottom-up communication, and have helped to identify where the company is currently, and where it is headed.
I’ve always said that if you stand still in this business, you will move backward. These are some of the components that have helped us initiate and maintain progression and success throughout a variety of economies, and I hope they help create a thriving culture within your organization and with your community as well.
Harry Rose is Chairman of The Rose Group, a restaurant management company established in 1985 under which he affiliated active restaurant concepts including Applebee’s Neighborhood Grill & Bar, Boston Market, Corner Bakery Cafe, The Shannon Rose, Einstein Bros Bagels, Johnny Carino’s Country Italian, and Roy Rogers. He has expanded the company by building or acquiring and operating 56 Applebee’s units in four states and becoming the first to franchise Corner Bakery Café.