Spring 2020
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CTDO Magazine

Driving the Mission

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Chief People Officer Marissa Andrada is leading cultural transformation at Chipotle.

From sustainably sourced, real ingredients to hand-prepared foods to forming partnerships with farmers to offering employees no-cost mental healthcare and debt-free college degrees, Chipotle is on a mission to cultivate a better world. The fast-casual restaurant infuses this mission in everything it does, and that is a driving element of its talent development initiatives.


"It really does capture what we stand for, which is this whole food culture and movement that Steve Ells, our founder, created," says Chief People Officer Marissa Andrada. "The culture begins with this shared purpose. It's food with integrity. I also say it's people with integrity."

The 12 individuals on the talent development team—broken into organizational development and leadership development teams—fall under Andrada's leadership. "We are small but mighty," she says. The team has been playing a critical role in helping Chipotle embark on a cultural transformation that began in 2018, shortly after Brian Niccol took over as CEO and as Andrada joined the organization.

From her experience working with such consumer brands as Kate Spade and Starbucks, Andrada brought with her the people development leadership skills to guide that transformation, as well as the passion for growing brands and people.

"You cannot grow a company unless you grow people," she states. "The key to growth is unlocking leadership and unlocking culture so that people can grow."

As a people leader, Andrada wants to help grow companies that have a beloved consumer-facing brand and that are about to begin a period of transition. That's what drew her to Chipotle (that and a love for its food), and it's a passion that aligns with Chipotle's mission to cultivate a better world.

Food with integrity

Training plays a significant role in ensuring that Chipotle employees provide both quality food and a consistent experience to customers. "Our standard training is pretty labor intense for when an employee onboards. They learn about the culture; they also learn about every aspect of what it takes to prepare the food and serve the food," Andrada explains.

She points out that from the time a customer enters the line to when they receive their food, it is all about personalizing the experience to the customer's liking. And that requires detailed training.

Crew members go through a roughly two- to three-week onboarding program, depending on the number of shifts they work, as well as quarterly food safety training. They also learn on the job as they work.

Andrada says that crew members typically start out at the tortilla station, which is the first part of the ordering line. Or they may begin as a cashier, if they have had prior experience with that. From there, they learn the ins and outs of personalizing each customer's order.  

All crew members likewise have a training guide book that they build on as they go through different training levels. The process of learning all the roles within the restaurant is long term and is a journey that employees have a hand in driving, Andrada explains.

"No matter where they are in their journey—whether they're a crew member and they're learning all the different aspects of the different roles they can be as a crew member before they're promoted up to the next-level manager, which is kitchen manager and service—they can see where they are in their training journey and when they've been validated for that aspect of their job," she says. "As they want to continue to learn and grow, they just follow the journey in their book. It's validated with a shift manager or a kitchen manager to help them in their journey."

Each time Chipotle pilots and launches a new product, "training is at the forefront. If this is something new we're introducing to our guests, how do we train our employees to work this into their routine or work this in as a new thing?" Hands-on training is the primary mode that the company uses with employees, but Andrada also notes that her team uses numerous videos.

In addition to training crew members on food preparation and delivery, in 2018, Andrada introduced hospitality training as a new component that all employees must complete. When first launched, all employees went through the training; now it is part of employee onboarding. She says it's more than making the bowls right—it's the final touch at the end when crew members ask customers if they've made the bowl perfect for them.

Sustainable employees

While the quality of the ingredients—and particularly using sustainably sourced suppliers—is central to Chipotle's mission, so are its employees. "I think about sustainability as sustainable people, a sustainable organization," Andrada explains. "Our vision for people around authenticity is: How do we create a culture where our employees can thrive and pursue their passion? Because to deliver this amazing food to our guests every day, at the center of that are our 80,000 hourly employees."

Andrada relays that employees are at the core of everything the company does. Sustaining them means providing them with opportunities to grow and be who they are. That also aligns with the company's values (see sidebar).

Beyond the regular training that Andrada's team provides and the opportunities for employees to grow and develop in their roles within the restaurant, Chipotle recently launched Cultivate U, a corporate university for field leaders and general managers to develop leadership and management skills.

The talent development team also began a new initiative of 4x4 performance and development discussions. All employees will now engage with their managers in quarterly development conversations focused on four questions: What did they accomplish in the prior quarter? How did they live out the values? What do they want to accomplish next quarter? In what area do they want to grow and develop?

But as Andrada points out, sustaining and retaining employees goes beyond their jobs. It extends to them as individuals. One of Chipotle's four values is "Authenticity lives here." She says, "Our food is real, and so are we. We want to make sure that all of our employees feel like they can bring the best version of themselves into their work and to their work environment."

To do that, Chipotle has been making significant strides to offer crew members benefits that support their educational endeavors. First, the Mexican grill has expanded on its Cultivate Education benefits, or tuition reimbursement program. In addition to reimbursing employees up to $5,250 a year for their educational pursuits at a school of their choosing, the company will now cover 100 percent of tuition up front for 75 degree programs at participating universities via Guild Education.

"The good news with debt-free degrees is that programs are customizable, a lot of them are interactive and online," Andrada adds. "So, employees can fit that into whatever their lifestyle can accommodate."

Many of those programs are focused on business and technology. "As we continue to grow, we're going to continue to have opportunities in operations and supply chain and in technology," Andrada says. She notes that after graduating, employees may want to continue working at Chipotle in another capacity. "Whether they're passionate about pursuing a career in restaurant or pursuing whatever it is in life that they want to do, we realize that they make us successful."

Andrada continues, "If you think about the nature of the workforce, it's initially a minimum-wage job. We want people to feel like we care about them beyond just the paycheck. That's why debt-free degrees are another way to invest in people." Crew members are eligible for the education benefits after 120 days of employment.

Further, Chipotle reimburses employees—and their families—for expenses related to high school degree completion and English as a Second Language programs. "We believe that cultivating a better world starts with our people and then the ecosystem around them, which is their support network and family," Andrada states. 

A focus on mental health

The fast-casual chain is likewise looking out for its employees' health and well-being. "The majority of our workforce, 95 percent, are millennials and Gen Z. Then the next generation is coming up. Mental wellness is a big deal, especially for the way social media is these days," Andrada points out.

"How life is moving quickly, I think it just goes back to the basics, which is: How do we inspire confidence in individuals that they believe in themselves, and how do we do that in a way that makes sense for them? It's very personal." 

On January 1, Chipotle began offering all employees and their families free access to mental healthcare and mental health counselors. And although it's a new employee benefit, Andrada says she and the benefits team are already seeing employees embracing it. She also notes that employees are afforded the time they need to pursue their educational goals and their mental and health well-being—it's about communication and planning ahead.

Tech-driven future

The future of work is a critical matter that all companies—including Chipotle—are facing.


Although Andrada asserts that the company will never replace the human labor efforts required to make its quality food offerings, Chipotle is still seeing technology's impact now and for the future.

"The fact that we cut whole onions every day in the morning, technology's never going to replace that. We're never going to get precut onions nor buy a machine that's going to cube our onions. We rely on the culinary skills of our employees to do that. However, technology can help us in the kitchen."

She predicts that in the future, grills may be able to automatically check the temperature of the meat. She also sees technology playing a role in how the company manages inventory as well as in traceability and sustainability with the supply chain.

"If we can automate ordering, if I think about supply chain, it just makes life easier for our leaders—taking the administrative task out of the work and letting data do the work for us."   

For the restaurants specifically, Andrada says Chipotle has seen significant growth in digital ordering, which has led it to develop a digital make line, another kitchen line that is in the back of the restaurant and handles the online orders. She says that this growth and the technology of online orders has led to employees learning to improve the speed at which they support customers.

When it comes to the future of work, Andrada connects back to Chipotle's overarching mission to cultivate a better world, and she hopes other companies will follow the Mexican grill's efforts to make a difference in the lives of its customers and, importantly, its employees.

"Our work is pretty special and pretty labor intense. It's not about just being profitable. It's about getting there in the right way and treating people in the right way to do that," says Andrada. "I really do hope that other companies that hire similar workforces will also invest in people and believe in people in the same way we do."

Values to Support Its Mission

In 2018, as Chipotle embarked on its cultural transformation, it identified the need to codify its values. Chief People Officer Marissa Andrada states that this effort began at the leadership level. Once the leadership team had settled on a set of nine values and related language, the talent development team then took those values out to the restaurants and spoke with 300 employees, from hourly crew members to shift, kitchen, service, and general managers. They also spoke with field leaders, multi-unit leaders, and the restaurant support center to gather input on the values. This ultimately resulted in Chipotle's four values:

The line is the moment of truth. This refers to the food line, whether it's the physical food line in each restaurant or the digital line. "It's about the experience that we create for our guests and our employees to deliver that food," Andrada explains. "At the end of the day, that's the reason why we all exist: It's about that food making it to the restaurant, creating and preparing it to deliver to our guests. If we don't do that well, then we don't exist."

Teach and taste Chipotle. This value speaks to the labor-intense and detail-oriented aspects that make up Chipotle and its offerings. But Andrada says it is also a way of thinking at the company. "Teaching Chipotle is about bringing people along with you, helping them understand and learn it well so that we can all do well as an organization."

Authenticity lives here. With Chipotle's focus on real ingredients, the company is also focused on developing employees who can be themselves and be authentic.

The movement is real. "This movement around food cultures is something that started 26 years ago with our founder," Andrada states. "It's alive and well in that there are so many people out there also believing in bringing good-for-you food to the world at an accessible price." She says that Chipotle is trying to make a difference in the world, and that's why the movement is real.

Read more from CTDO magazine: Essential talent development content for C-suite leaders.

About the Author

Joy Metcalf is the managing editor of TD and CTDO magazines and TD at Work.

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