Education—To Be Continued: Investing in employee knowledge makes good business sense

Snack Corner

Not long ago, I asked a respected friend why he did not attend the NAC Convention. His answer was blunt and to the point: “NAC is nothing more than a social event.” While I must agree that it offers a number of social events, I wondered what I was seeing and he was not. I followed up with interest and asked, “Which conventions do you attend?” and he proudly responded with “CinemaCon, ShowEast, Show South and a few other regional shows.” Granted, these are high-profile events, but what makes them different or separates them from other conferences? I think we ended up agreeing to disagree. As I put it, every convention is only as good as how you partake in it. Should you immerse yourself in the meetings and participate, you will tend to gain knowledge. If you only attend the social functions, maybe the result will be not so much knowledge. Therein lies the debate: How does one continue the educational process?

Recent studies show that most foodservice operators spend less than one percent of their operating budget of payroll dollars on continuing education or training exercises, while the top-producing Fortune 500 companies spend three to five percent on training and continuing education. There is a correlation between success and continuing education for employees. Therefore, why isn’t every company activating continuing education? In nearly every case in my survey, the answer is cost versus payback. When revenues drop, the first items that get cut are the non-revenue line expenditures: training, seminars, conventions and conferences. It is this type of shortsightedness that creates the downward spiral of quality in service and innovative thinking. Sure, it is easy to cut two percent out of the budget for “social events,” but how else will the organization get better? Where will the stimuli come from? How can a company energize the team if the team does not get to practice the “right way” as opposed to “no way”?

I was once asked by a senior executive to explain why I was cutting staff on Friday nights. I explained that he in his own words had said, “Reduce payroll.” I wanted to get the labor cost percentage lower, as the company was not performing to expectations. His response was very interesting. He told me to “add two extra people on Friday nights,” when we were the busiest and when we had “the best chance to impact the customer’s perception.” We could offer better service on Fridays. Friday was more important than any other day of the week to excel—by adding staff, not cutting expenses.

Sure enough, more turned out to be less when it came to labor cost as a percentage. Better service increased sales! Higher sales made the percentages go down relative to the budgeted amount. I have taken this same thought pattern to training: When we spend dollars on training, the gains will outweigh the expenses exponentially. Categories we try to manage by incentives or fear, such as lower employee turnover rates, improved morale and better equipment maintenance, can be aided by continued education through seminars, either in-house or outside the company walls. Educational purposes add value and importance to the employee mindset.

What is continuing education? The extension of the learning curve, the progressive realization of company objectives, courses that allow you to develop the knowledge base or skills you have in a particular realm. Courses range in cost; some are higher and some are more economical, but all have the vital philosophy that getting better at what we do never ends.

Everyone is aware that Serve Safe is a nationally recognized certification for foodservice operations in the area of sanitation. High sanitation standards are one of the most important factors a foodservice operator can offer, and I question how many companies mandate all managers get Serve Safe Certified, since it is not required in all 50 states. Alcohol Beverage Commission certification is mandated in nearly every county for individuals selling alcohol, but how many companies would not complete this practice if not mandated by law? How many companies give similar training on alcohol awareness to non-servers such as cooks, hostesses and ware washers? Nurses must receive X number of continuing-education credits each year to maintain their license; lawyers and accountants must do the same to ensure they are up-to-date on current practices or improvements in their professions. Why do we not have a similar attitude in the cinema channel? NAC offers a CCM program that certifies managers, with single-day certifications for supervisors and potential managers. The Association has Executive Certification programs that validate the careers of senior management, and regional seminars that cement leadership traits and share tactics designed to assist multiple levels of influences. All are there to assist in the continuing education of this industry’s professionals or the next group of leaders, and yet they receive moderate responses.

The young employee will ask his/her employer three questions internally: First, do you know me? Secondly, do you care about me? And finally, can you make me better? It is interesting that these three questions have taken priority over salary and benefits in recent surveys of Millennials. (It sounds like a recruiting mechanism for high-school athletes.) The key factor in this series of questions: Can you make me better? Each person of any value wants to be better tomorrow than today.

Are we as employers offering those opportunities to grow our employees, or are we restricting expenses and cubbyholing employees as we continue to watch turnover rates rise because the people, the “human inventory” we so need in our business, want to become better? That’s right, people, employees, staff members are inventory. I would propose that they’re the most expensive inventory we have in the workplace. Staff members, I propose, are the only pieces of inventory or equipment that actually appreciate, gain value, as we use them. Unlike a popcorn kettle or hot dog grill that depreciates over time, employees who stay in the company gain knowledge, experience and expertise. If we value the importance of the maintenance of machinery, how is it that so many companies do not value the “polishing” of the staff, continuing the educational process so they can perform at higher levels? Hopefully, you are valuing the continuing education of your staff and improving the channel of the exhibition industry. It is imperative that people continually learn and grow in business and in life. Isn’t that what people do when they are educated—improve themselves and their operations?