Investing in People: Proper training reaps substantial benefits

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Snack Corner

Foodservice operators and managers have fiscal responsibilities and must learn how to operate the business in a profitable manner with the revolving employees that come and go. The apathetic employee who does not care about following instructions, although you set a good example. The employee who feels compelled to flirt with the new team member who is working in the office and therefore must walk off and leave his/her duties momentarily to get that phone number, only never to return to his/her duties.

In today’s theatre environment, reducing expenses and expanding sales have taken the highest priority. We do have to pay for those new recliners, right? The question then becomes: Should our concentration be focused on training the employee to perform at the highest level if we want to enjoy the financial success we desire? With the right training, employees are money-making machines!

Research shows the top three percent of foodservice operators spend anywhere from three to five percent of their payroll dollars on training and continuing education. If you reverse the lens, what that is really saying is: 97% of companies in this channel of business do not invest in progressive training and educational activities.

Employees are the one element that can actually appreciate rather than depreciate over time. Cooking equipment, ice machines and food warmers all wear down and lose their quality over time; but employees can get better over time, more consistent in their performance and gain greater value if trained and coached in a precise manner. Therefore, that hourly employee increases in value, becomes a better instrument and produces more sales and less expense due to the training extended on the job.

This seems like common sense—yet, if it was so easy a process, why have we not mastered it after 100 years in the business? I think the answer is that people change through the years. Flat tops and skinny ties of the ’50s were replaced by the bell bottoms and “free love” of the ’60s, only to see the ’70s bring about a “new attitude.” Today we are challenged with tattoos and body piercings that bring me pain when I see them on others. What does that tell us? We cannot expect to teach new employees the same way today that we instructed them a few years ago. Even “The One Minute Manager” has given way to the “Seven Habits” of Steven Covey. Even now, I am trying to learn this social-media thing—tweets and online classes?

Concession owners and operators remain somewhat constant over the years as we manage our businesses. We are set in a career while the people we hire for our concession stands are new and transient, moving from job to job until reality sets in: “I need a career.”

It is my opinion that the most critical investment we make in our business is the employee. Unfortunately, too many management personnel spend too little of their time with the front-line employees. They will spend days, weeks, even months negotiating deals to save $500. In the meantime, the hourly employees are wasting inventory, sneaking food to their friends and ignoring maintenance priorities which may cost the operation thousands of dollars. So many times I have witnessed a management team placing the least experienced employee on the popcorn popper, probably the most expensive piece of equipment in the concession stand preparing the highest-profit item on the menu, then leaving that employee for hours to decide the quality of the popcorn and cleanliness of the kettle.

Training is in fact the most important job a manager has; however, too many times it is the most neglected job, since the “to do” list is pressing. After all, “anybody can pour a soft drink” and how complicated can it be to pop corn? Training is actually happening at every moment that an employee comes to work. Why? Because employees are watching everything you do. When you work alongside them, they copy your movements, they memorize your phrases, they employ your methods. If you smile at the customers when they enter your building, employees learn that is acceptable and approved behavior. If you complain about certain groups of people (like teenagers) when they visit your stand, the employees find it acceptable to treat them rudely. Therefore, the employee is a direct reflection of the management or the owner/operator. (There are exceptions to this rule, of course.)

The employees are a reflection of the manager, and no one feels empathy for the employee who has been cheated out of a fair chance of a valuable learning experience.

Training in and of itself is defined as changed behavior. If we do not change the behavior of the employee when they arrive in our facility, we have done nothing more than place an individual in a position to emulate what they believe the job entails. Training involves teaching, training involves demonstrations, training is the engineering of behavior to the satisfaction of our standards or the standards set by ownership.

I was once told that when we show employees how to do a task, they retain that information at about 30% and the task must be repeated nearly ten times before they grasp the ability. However, when training, if you teach the employee why they are doing the task, they will retain over 90 percent of the information and it takes only three attempts to master the task.

So what do you want to do? Teach/train an employee 10 times what he/she can do or explain why we do things the way we do and save immense amounts of energy and time? Explaining the process and the anticipated results before allowing an employee to perform gives everyone a chance for success. When employees perform to your standards, profits will stream like soda from a fast-flow valve.

Larry Etter is senior VP at Malco Theatres and director of education at the National Association of Concessionaires.