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Investing in people power
Investing in people power


Investing in people power

How to strategically harness a forward-thinking people-first approach to business as a means to boosting profit and growth

Recruiting and retaining the best and brightest teams is perhaps one of the soundest investments any business can make for its future. If only it were that simple. From labor shortages, driven by low unemployment across the globe, to increasing costs in the form of salary expectations and benefits packages, franchisors and franchisees alike certainly have some challenges to overcome. But those who do – and those who make investing in people a priority – have the power to dominate their marketplace and achieve remarkable results.

Adopting a strategic ‘people-first’ approach – essentially, valuing people as much as the bottom line – is more likely to deliver faster and more sustainable growth, higher levels of stakeholder engagement, and increased customer satisfaction. No surprise then that companies with engaged workforces are up to 22 per cent more profitable than competitors, whilst poor employee engagement around the world has been estimated to cost around $7 trillion in lost productivity.

“People are, without doubt, the biggest asset in a business of any size,” explains James Vincent, U.K. performance director of global business coaching firm, ActionCOACH. “The power of your people and their abilities, willingness, and impetus to work towards a common goal will make or break you. True commercial synergy is achieved when your people – the ones who run the systems, interact with stakeholders, and impact everything from financial decisions to color schemes – can operate successfully, ideally more so, without you.”

And so, the first step to harnessing the power of your people is getting the right ones on board in the first place. Or rather, according to James, that’s the second step…

Create a culture

“To get the right teams on board you have to zoom out and think bigger picture. Start by clearly outlining the culture that you want in the business.

How will you define your interactions with others, your impact on the communities in which you operate, and the causes you will champion both internally and externally? Respect, gratitude, integrity – these are the types of emotive anchors that are actually going to attract people to your organization. And from there, work towards a values match with the people that you are ultimately going to have running your business with you.”

In a highly competitive market, employees are now looking for more than financial rewards. With ESG concerns, personal satisfaction, and freedom of expression scoring high on the list of priorities, putting your culture front and center is a clear indicator to candidates that they can expect to be more than just a reference number on a paycheck.

“Hiring people based on their attitude as opposed to ability is an incredibly forward-thinking approach adopted by many of the world’s leading organizations,” says Vincent. “You can teach people what they need to know, but you can’t teach them how to fit in, how to live and breathe your culture, or passionately believe in your vision. They either do or they don’t. From there, it’s about channeling productivity in the right direction with a healthy mix of autonomy and accountability. Champion your people, and empower them to grow, progress, and contribute.”

Labor shortages in the restaurant industry have crippled many brands.

But thanks to its own distinct emphasis on employee experience and engagement, HOA Brands, the franchisor and operator of Hooters and Hoots Wings remains an industry icon after nearly 40 years.

“We know experience drives beliefs and engagement, and engagement drives behaviors, and therefore business results,” says Cheryl Whiting-Kish, chief people officer. “All our experience and engagement initiatives include culture and career journey efforts derived via a steering committee process. Success indicators are defined upfront before any program is designed or deployed. Commitment and buy-in are created on the front end to ensure adoption in the field.”

A clear example of this in practice, Hooters outlines career journey skills and competency mapping for all levels of team members – from Hooters Girls, Heart of the House, and managers, all the way up to CEO. The brand offers a synchronous approach to learning.

“Our people-first vision is that Hooters provides a platform for our team members to hone skills and become whomever they want to be, whether that’s to continue and advance within the brand or in preparation for life beyond. We empower our people to grow and stretch – bring their whole selves to work and we will support their growth and goals.

“Our CEO is a former hourly team member in the heart of the house – the kitchen – as is our Senior VP of Operations. I was a Hooters Girl and progressed on my career path through operations management and then HR. Our workforce’s longevity, loyalty, and retained skill are a testament to our people-first culture. We’ve built our brand around the power of people, knowing that they are our greatest asset.”.

This focus on people-first is the driving force behind the company’s four-decade-long history and is what will keep the brands on their sustained paths of excellence.

Yet another example of how investing in people translates to operational gains, is Hooter’s new, modernized and digitized ‘Manager in Training’ program. Developed in 2021 and launched in March 2022, the completely digital program is designed with over 60 learning level demonstrations where either competence, proficiency, or expert level has been identified and required depending on the skills being demonstrated.

“Over 200 new managers have entered this program and our Net Promotor Score from those related to the program is exceeding expectations. To date, the turnover of this population (those who entered the program since March) is a fraction of overall management turnover. We estimate hundreds of thousands of dollars in reduced turnover costs by end of 2023.”

Retention strategy for growth

81 per cent of businesses agree that high employee turnover is a costly problem. Some sectors, such as care, face arguably the worst struggles around recruitment and retention. Dan Archer, U.K. managing director of global care brand, Visiting Angels, says to fully engage and benefit from the power of your people, businesses need to flip the problem on its head.

Proudly ‘carer-centric’ Visiting Angels’ entire business model is built around putting its people at the heart of the company. Employing over 16,000 caregivers worldwide, this is no mean feat. The approach sees emphasis placed on retaining staff – rather than the ever-increasing investment in recruiting them – creating an environment in which people not only choose to stay but become brand ambassadors who actively bring others into the business alongside them and chase internal opportunities for progression. This approach retains all-important knowledge, skills, and relationships with colleagues, clients, affiliates, and key community contacts.

“Lots of businesses are spending money in the wrong places,” says Archer. “They’re working really hard and spending a lot of money to effectively stand still as they fight churn, and it’s not a problem unique to care – the same can be said for education, QSR and hospitality. The answer is understanding that your employees – your teams – are the most important people in the business. They need to be put at the top of the pyramid – invert the organizational chart. Then, you must accept a responsibility to care for the whole person, not just the employee.”

And whilst Visiting Angels really does pull out all the stops for its staff – including a fully-funded, completely bespoke mental health and wellbeing program ‘AngelCare’, through which employees can access talking therapy, grief counseling and mental health training, amongst other things – the reality of such a strategy isn’t as daunting as it might sound. From employee recognition schemes to celebrating birthdays and saying, ‘thank you’ for a job well done, finding what works for your team comes from listening, caring, and supporting your staff.

“Employees who are happy, feel valued, are properly rewarded and cared for themselves, deliver exceptional service,’ says Archer. “They stay in the business longer, work harder, and ultimately make each individual franchisee – therefore, the overall franchise business – more successful. We don’t just believe it; we can prove it. And here’s where things get even more exciting. If you’re not replacing leavers, and instead through investment in retention, you’re building capacity, you have the ability to do more work, which creates revenue. Whilst obviously increasing the size and scale of the business, this approach also helps to pay for the retention strategies that do have costs associated.”

For anyone yet to be convinced, the results of Visiting Angels’ approach speak for themselves:

  • 30 per cent of carers now come from staff referrals
  • Staff turnover reduced from 26 per cent to 12 per cent
  • Industry average staff turnover is 73 per cent – VA is 12 per cent
  • Industry average carer recruitment cost is £760 versus VA’s £325
  • Carer satisfaction is at an all-time high, nine points above the industry average
  • Revenue increased by 158 per cent in the last 18 months.

“More broadly businesses do have to look at ways in which they can meet the changing expectation of a modern workforce,” adds Archer. “Since the pandemic, hybrid working and working from home is high on many people’s agenda and brands must find ways to adapt, or else risk losing top talent to those who do.”

And the facts certainly support this theory. 45 per cent of those unable to work from home report having less job satisfaction than their colleagues who can, whilst 63 per cent say they expect their company to offer either hybrid working or working from home in the next 12 months. “Of course, there are sectors, such as care, where these things don’t really apply, but the principles remain the same – evolve or become extinct.”

A whole-person approach to business

In today’s climate, Celebree School is taking a whole-person approach to its business. With a mission to Grow People Big and Small™, Celebree understands the power and impact of ‘people-first’. Adopted early on by CEO Richie Huffman, it remains a top-down philosophy.

“To create high-performing teams, there must be a focus on psychological safety, trust, and clarity,” explains Celebree School chief talent officer, Lisa Bricker. “Celebree has created this type of culture by empowering team members and providing them with growth experiences that allow them to realize their full potential. This means providing the resources and opportunities to do so, but also making sure they feel empowered and supported to do the hard work on their growth journey.”

Growing people BIG has not only led to retention but has allowed Celebree to choose from a bench of individuals that are ready to support the brand as it grows rapidly. This growth would not be sustainable without putting in the time and resources to get people ready for the next step in their careers.

As the early childhood education brand expands from only corporate-owned schools to now franchising nationwide, it has been able to expand the growth opportunities available for team members, and they now see a new path to supporting the success of franchisees. For example, Celebree has supported teachers in their journey to become school opening specialists and has watched school directors grow into licensing support specialists, franchisee trainers, and franchisees, just to name a few.

“To embrace a people-first approach to business, it’s important to understand that growth cannot be a one-size-fits-all approach – whether it be a franchisee or corporate team member,” adds Bricker. “Companies must take the time to get to know the person they are in a partnership with. This is a relationship. You want to know where they are coming from, where they want to go, and what may help or hinder them to get to their position. When you do this, the result is a relationship based on authenticity and trust; it’s not transactional.”

“When individuals join the Celebree team, they are asked why they chose the brand. Team members consistently say, ‘because I know I can grow here’. However, Celebree has quickly learned that they underestimate just how much they can truly grow with the brand, professionally, emotionally, and financially – the potential for growth is endless.”

This focus on people-first has allowed Celebree to build a team of professionals that not only have the skills they need to succeed but have loyalty and passion for the brand that helped grow them. These individuals want Celebree to continue to prosper and grow because they know the success will benefit them as well.

The power of a motivated team

It would be easy to shy away from Key Performance Indicators (KPIs)and targets in a bid to create a people-focused culture, the assumption perhaps being that employees will resent the weight of responsibility or react badly to perceived pressure to achieve. But in fact, clear goals, structure, and expectations are vital components for motivated teams – being able to exceed targets, embrace challenges, and overachieve is a heady recipe for your already value-matched teams. The secret is securing buy-in.

“Yes, KPIs are vital in a business to ensure everybody knows the direction in which they are all pushing,” explains ActionCOACH’s James Vincent. “They are the vehicle to ensuring that the productivity and the energy being put in is being focused in the right places. And that individually, everyone is working to push the business in the direction that, collectively, they agree to go.

“So often though, the missing link is the sense of ownership and buy-in from each team member. By involving them in the process of goal setting and defining key metrics for growth and performance, employees are able to invest themselves in something they have helped to create. At a surface level, this results in genuine personal commitment by individuals – great. But it also builds an environment in which your people will actively look for ways to improve systems and streamline processes, as well as bring innovative ideas to the table. A collective, cohesive determination for improvement. Powerful stuff indeed.”

What if we train them and they leave?

But what if you don’t and they stay? It’s a harrowing thought, as the now-famous quote implies. Notwithstanding the current climate, business owners should view investment in the training and upskilling of their people as a direct investment in the future of the company. “If we make people better at what they do, that’s beneficial for the business,” says Vincent. “If they then leave, they obviously weren’t a good match and we must revisit culture and recruitment of the right people.”

“You can’t achieve your goals for better profit margin or turnover with a team who aren’t engaged in your vision for the business or satisfied in their working environment. You may achieve what you achieved yesterday but they won’t reach for better today or tomorrow. Investing in the right people by hiring on attitude, giving them ownership and securing buy-in on KPIs and training them means higher retention, loyalty to the business through job satisfaction and a sense of belonging.”

The moral of the story? Harnessing the power of your people requires a genuine commitment to employee wellbeing. As well as investment in training and development, it demands a flexible approach to delivery and a willingness to bring stakeholders at all levels into the process of strategic decision-making for the business. A people-first approach reduces the cost of recruitment, encourages creativity, increases productivity, boosts retention, and drives growth and profitability. It’s no longer a nicety, it’s a necessity.

Most important employee retention factors:

71% Fair financial rewards
69% Job fulfillment
66% Freedom of self-expression
60% Sense of cared for and wellbeing
60% Scope for creativity/innovation
58% Ability to exceed expectations of the role
50% Choose when to work
50% Choose where to work

PwC’s Global Workforce Hopes and Fears Survey 2022

People first: Hooters’ best practice

66% of operations leaders came up through the hourly ranks
40% of operations leaders are female – most former Hooters Girls
75% of corporate marketing leaders are female – most former Hooters Girls
75% of learning and development team came up through hourly and management field roles
Over 400,000 women have worn the orange shorts

Does culture drive financial performance?

According to Forbes, one long-term study found that having a good company culture increases revenue by as much as four times. The same study found that company culture impacts stock market performance too – with share prices increasing on average 90 per cent compared to only 74 per cent for companies deemed to have ‘non-performance enhancing cultures’

4 steps to harnessing people-power:

  • Define the culture of the business
  • Hire based on values-match over ability
  • Secure buy-in on KPIs
  • See training as an investment in the future of your business

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