At Famous Dave’s, a growing chain of barbecue restaurants, accountability is a favored word in connection with learning and development. With 138 franchise and corporate restaurants in 34 states and about 2,700 employees to support, the company has taken to heart the mission of its founder, Famous Dave Anderson, and ingrained the idea of personal and professional development into the culture much the same way it has blended seasonings into its famous barbecue sauce.
“Ultimately, every single person in our company is responsible for training and professional development,” said Joleen Flory Lundgren, Famous Dave’s of America Inc. vice president of human resources and training “We make a big deal about personal accountability, so we help develop the programs, we help coach, we help develop individual development plans. We oversee training programs for our associates, servers, hosts, our cooks and managers. Training is executed by the people who are doing those jobs.”
Having the entire organization take responsibility for some aspect of training and development is a little unorthodox by enterprise learning industry practice. Famous Dave’s methods to measure learning impact also are different because of the company’s focus on on-the-job training as a primary learning delivery method.
Most restaurants are too small to house more than one office and computer, so instead of reporting smile sheet scores and some of the more typical ROI metrics indicators, the company relies on a tell-show-do-review methodology that includes workshops, instructor-led classroom training and mini-learning celebrations that occur every shift.
“Classroom training is part of the culture of Famous Dave’s,” Lundgren said. “We’re full-contact barbecue. We’re very irreverent and fun, and we do things our own way. We want people to be individuals, and we want it to be exciting and alive and sassy like our sauces. With classroom training, we feel that it’s important, especially for the managers, to have that hands-on training. In the restaurant environment we are constantly busy, constantly moving from 7 a.m. until we close the doors at 10 or 11 o’clock at night. We bring managers into a classroom to get them together with their peers, to get that face time, that one-on-one time to network and talk about things that may not be as easy to talk about in our restaurants, and I don’t see that going away in the near future. It’s worth the investment. When we do return on investments for our training programs, we measure it through turnover, retention and satisfaction.”
Lundgren said, when she joined the company three years ago, management turnover was more than 40 percent, which is high for the restaurant industry. Now, following implementation of leadership development programs such as the “Good to Great” program, the company is at about 21 percent, which is more impressive because Famous Dave’s is a growth company.
“We’ve really identified some of the gaps in our training, in our leadership development, as well as created bench strength to combat that turnover,” she said. “Our associate turnover is also pretty leading in the industry. The last People Report we got was 91 percent, and the last statistics that I saw said about 130 percent for casual dining was pretty average.”
Using the “Good to Great” program sessions to identify and evaluate high-potential leaders involves issuing packets of data on human resource elements, sales, mystery shopper scores and guest responses, which participants use to create an hour-long presentation on people, sales and profit. Candidates also relay how they plan to make an impact in the company to a panel of training, operations and human resource peers.
“They also go through an hour of questions about what they’re doing, why they did it, some overall questions about where they want their career to go,” Lundgren said. “Then I spend two hours with each participant, one-on-one, helping to create a development plan based on their strengths — it’s a very intimate group. We talk about finance and business development. It’s more than just ‘how to run your restaurant.’ How does the public look at us? What does our balance sheet tell us? We have dinner with the executive team, and they go back to the restaurants, and we have a good understanding of where people are. We’ve got a ranking and a list of people that are ready or almost ready or will be ready in the next six months to a year for the growth that we’re experiencing and those potential promotions. We want to be the best in barbecue ever. I think we have a famous training and development department, and everybody is part of it.”
– Kellye Whitney, firstname.lastname@example.org
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