Taco Bell puts a brake on restaurant industry's revolving door

 
Jan. 16, 2017 | by S.A. Whitehead

Would you be interested in a product that could help your brand:

  • halve your employee turnover rate;
  • boost customer service indicators;
  • grow employee engagement and performance; and
  • allow you to fill nearly 80 percent of leadership needs in-house?

Of course you would. That's what makes the story of Taco Bell's Start with Us, Stay with Us initiative is so important — and instructive — for the food service industry. The Yum-owned brand kicked off its system-wide employee recruitment and retention initiative more than four years ago, instigating a slew of cultural changes in conjunction with the launch of the Taco Bell its "Live Mas" (literally, "Live More") logo.

Now, signs are starting to emerge that all the effort — and sometimes pain — of change, is paying off. In fact, the Stay with Us, Stay with Us initiative is proving so successful that Taco Bell recently announced that it will open 8,000 new locations and hire 100,000 new employees within the next five years. 

This is the kind of systemic progress seldom experienced by large food service brands. And there could hardly be a better illustration of this progress than the case of 26-year-old Charlie Husk.

In the 10 years since hiring Charlie for her very first job at a Taco Bell near Canton, Ohio, the company has managed not only to retain this motivated young woman, but also to engage her to such a degree that this one-time would-be nurse is now jumping into a food service career with both feet. 

"We believe  the customer experience will never exceed the employee experience. By helping our employees do well, we're also helping the company do well." 
– Taco Bell Chief People Officer Frank Tucker

Asked about her career goals when, as a 16-year-old, she started working at the drive-thru window of a Taco Bell near her home, Husk told QSRWeb.com, "I actually wanted to be a neonatal nurse. That was my goal until I learned I could not deal with blood or babies. … 

"Then, I finished (high) school when my boss promoted me to shift lead when I was 18. I remember I sat down with the GM at the time and he asked me what my plan was. I told him I thought I was going to stay with Taco Bell, so I was promoted again at 20. … It all happened in about four years and I really think it was the people here giving me a push."

Now a restaurant general manager in Jackson Township, Ohio, Husk is thinking about her next move — perhaps to corporate.

Charlie Husk's success story is representative of the hard work put in by Taco Bell leadership  to build a better workforce by focusing first and foremost on employees' career and personal interests.

"Because we believe  the customer experience will never exceed the employee experience, by helping our employees do well, we're also helping the company do well. …" Taco Bell Chief People Officer Frank Tucker told QSRweb.com. 

"We’ve made substantive changes over the past few years to ensure we’re hiring for culture and providing a clear path for career growth with increasing pay, benefits, advancement and education assistance. Taco Bell is now No. 2 in hospitality in the QSR industry, and we don’t think it’s a coincidence that our team members are happier and more engaged than ever before. … We hire individuals who are passionate about feeding people’s lives with Más and set them up for success from day one. Our emphasis on autonomy and creative thinking is rare in the industry — and what I think ultimately sets Taco Bell apart."

Taco Bell's fact-finding mission to take employees' "pulse"

The funny thing though, is that although making that cultural shift has been and continues to be a huge effort by a ton of people, the whole Taco Bell program is, at its core, based on some very basic principles of human behavior. The trick for this brand was in first, uncovering what really drives  their employees and then figuring out how best to provide that. 
"In 2015, we introduced The Pulse, an (ongoing regular) survey that helps us understand culture at the restaurant level and measure engagement among our employees. …" Tucker said. 

"The insights gained have led to important initiatives such as our Customer Recovery program, and enhancements to our education offerings. For example, two-thirds of employees say their goal is to complete a four-year degree, and 40 percent have already completed some college, but lack of money, time and support often stand in the way of these goals. … 

"We’ve responded with programs that remove barriers to help employees achieve their education goals. … We’ve also worked with two research firms on additional primary research studies to help us better understand what employees value in a job, what they are looking for in an employer and benchmark how we’re perceived by potential employees within the marketplace."

The overall program to attract, engage and professionally grow Taco Bell employees is far-ranging with lots of moving parts, including everything from college scholarship money and opportunities, to on-the-job training and support. Additionally, there are ample leadership- and team-building programs and partnerships with organizations, like Get Schooled and 100,000 Opportunities, that can help employees interested  in specific areas of restaurant or corporate operations gain training and experience. 

"I think if I sat down with a group of restaurant leaders, I would honestly say that if [they're] ... willing to invest in us — even just a little bit — and give someone an opportunity to take an ownership mentality with their work, it's going to end up being reflected in their customer service skills and the way they do their jobs."
 
– Taco Bell RGM Charlie Husk

"We know the value of a first job," said Tucker. "And because we know Taco Bell is a first job for many people, we are working with community partners across the U.S. to make it easier to get that all-important first break — and make it count." 

"Charlie Husk … is a great example of what's possible at Taco Bell. Charlie has experienced firsthand the career growth opportunities that Taco Bell can provide, moving from her first job in the drive-through at age 16 to RGM in less than 10 years. Her success has been an inspiration to everyone who’s had the joy of working with her, and has given the employees at her restaurant hope for a similar path."

As this brand moves forward toward filling those 100,000 new positions in 8,000 new locations, it's quite possible that managers like Charlie Husk will be there guiding the process, in one role or another.

For her part, Husk hopes to earn a human resources degree at Excelsior College, an institution that Taco Bell contracts with to provide higher education for employees. But she can teach as well as learn, since she is eager to share her valuable experience with her fellow employees and the restaurant industry at large. 

For instance, when asked what she would share about her experience with leaders across the food service industry, she did not hesitate. 

"I think if I sat down with a group of restaurant leaders, I would honestly say that if [they] continued to do what [Taco Bell] is doing in supporting us how they are and building us up, then if they're willing to invest in us, even just a little bit, and give someone an opportunity to take an ownership mentality with their work, it's going to end up being reflected in their customer service skills and the way they do their jobs."


Topics: Business Strategy and Profitability, Human Resources, Operations Management


S.A. Whitehead / Award-winning veteran print and broadcast journalist, Shelly Whitehead, has spent most of the last 30 years reporting for TV and newspapers, including the former Kentucky and Cincinnati Post and a number of network news affiliates nationally. She brings her cumulative experience as a multimedia storyteller and video producer to the web-based pages of Pizzamarketplace.com and QSRweb.com after a lifelong “love affair” with reporting the stories behind the businesses that make our world go ‘round. Ms. Whitehead is driven to find and share news of the many professional passions people take to work with them every day in the pizza and quick-service restaurant industry. She is particularly interested in the growing role of sustainable agriculture and nutrition in food service worldwide and is always ready to move on great story ideas and news tips.

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