The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

December 15, 2013

Get mor trainin'

By Cody Neff
Register-Herald Reporter

— If you’ve ever started a new job that uses the “sink or swim” method of training, you’ll like the sound of Chick-fil-A’s new training program — a standalone center to make sure new hires are confident in their own work before sending them out into the workforce.

“We bring you in for an interview and once a week we do group interviews,” owner and operator Richard Jarrell said. “Everybody gets an interview and we go from there. You come in here and just say ‘Wow. This is different.’ There’s a ‘wow’ factor to when people walk in here.

“We hire them and we tell them how many hours of training they’d have. They say ‘What? I just figured you’d give me a uniform and send me out there.’ That’s not the way we do things. This is an investment. Not just this facility, but when you are paying someone that many hours to go through training, that’s an investment that other places don’t make.”

Jarrell said someone who walks into the store shouldn’t be able to sense that someone is new.

“When someone stands behind the register with a ‘deer-in-the-headlights’ look, you know they’re new,” he said. “We don’t have that problem.

“In fact, (when) we opened for Black Friday at midnight, we had a girl who had just gone through the training last week. She was out there on Black Friday. You would have never known that she was a first-week employee because she had all of this going in. She had confidence and that’s what we want to give our employees going in.”

So how do Jarrell and his team give employees that confidence? They train in a way that hits the three main styles of learning.

“Our training is both video-based and hands-on,” Director of Training and Development Angie Nesmith said. “In some instances we’ll watch a brief video on how to bread chicken. We talk about it and then we do it. It’s taking it in three steps.

“You do a demonstration, which would be the video or the hands-on demonstration; then you let them try it and correct any mistakes they might be making and coaching them on the right way. Then you let them repeat it until they become proficient at it. There’s a certain way to do everything. Chick-fil-A has very high standards.”

Jarrell said the team uses those high standards to set the standard throughout the company.

“We set the bar high and then we take them to the store and it’s up to my leadership to hold the bar high,” he said. “The worst boss I ever had taught me one thing: ‘The lowest accepted performance is the new accepted standard.’ I can tell you what the goal is all day, but if you don’t perform and I don’t say something, that is no longer the standard. That’s as good as it’s going to get.

“It also conditions you to know that I’m a negotiator. If I negotiate how you wear your uniform, I’ll negotiate what time you go to work, I’ll negotiate how long your employee meals are, how you treat my guests, how you clean and everything becomes a negotiation. What we’re doing here is saying ‘We have standards.’

“When businesses come and talk to me all the time, they ask ‘How do you do it?’ I tell them that it’s simple. It’s about standards and expectations.

“We’ve got a lot of momentum going,” he added. “I think that’s part of the reason we’ve caught the attention of the corporate office in Atlanta and why they’re scheduling a visit to come look at the facility and to possibly use our facility as a regional training facility.”

Jarrell said he and his team are using technology to make sure they keep that momentum and make sure new hires are ready to work.

“With this, we also wanted to bring in the elements of technology,” he said. “For instance, we have the big-screen TV with Apple TV capabilities. Being able to integrate technology is great because at the restaurant unit, it’s hard to do the training without it. You can have a little 10-inch screen to show videos, which we did for years.

“Now we can stream our training videos to the big screen. We also have training cash registers set up. They have every feature of the real thing though. People can practice taking orders and get comfortable with running the register.

“Just being thrown onto a cash register is intimidating,” Nesmith added. “Our goal for someone coming onto the line as a cashier is for them to practice here. They pretty much will know where all of the keys are and they’re only going to get better as they gain experience.

“We do role play. We do wonderful guest interactions. We do issues and challenges that might come up. They feel very comfortable with this part when they leave.”

Being a member of the Chick-fil-A team is about more than just serving food, Nesmith said.

“It’s about ‘how can I impact this person today?’” she said. “Maybe even if it’s just a smile. When we find these people, we make an investment in them. We want them to be with us for a long time. We don’t have a lot of turn-over. This facility allows us to show them that we value you and want to give you the best training we can so that you’ll be successful with us.

“We want you to understand what the standards are and how to do your job and how to do it well. We want you to understand how to be successful. By devoting that one-on-one time, you develop a relationship with the team member and show them the value of the standards.”

Jarrell said the company’s biggest source of turn-over is graduating high school seniors.

“They come back during their breaks, though,” he said. “Some of them are even working at Chick-fil-As at or near their college campus. That’s good turn-over though. I’m excited about that. We also just gave away a couple of the $1,000 Chick-fil-A Leadership scholarships.

“We value our employees and we show them that. Think about what’s happened within the last 13 or 14 months. Thirteen competing restaurants have opened in Beckley. Do you know how many people we’ve lost to go work at one of those places? Just one. I think that says a lot. Are we perfect? No, but at the end of the day, people understand the value they get from being a part of our team and our family.”

— E-mail: cneff@register-herald.com