As Bojangles expands into a national brand, Chief People Officer Monica Sauls is ensuring the company sustains its values and culture principles.
Famous for its southern fried chicken, quick-service restaurant chain Bojangles prides itself on employees making food from scratch. Whether it’s following the 49 individual steps to make biscuits or brewing fresh tea daily, everything is made to order.
With approximately 800 locations throughout the southeast US, the restaurant embarked on a journey to grow into a national brand. CEO José Armario created the chief people officer role to focus on building and implementing a strategy that would help the company maintain its values, such as hospitality and scratch-made food, as it grew. Monica Sauls stepped into that role in September 2020.
Ingredients for organizational cultureDuring Bojangles’s 45-year history, it has developed a strong history and culture, Sauls explains. “But we’re at an inflection point because we’re ramping up for high growth. And any time you go through a significant change like this, it requires a transformation,” she says.
“We needed to define what elements of our culture we wanted to take with us and what elements we would need to adapt for us to be successful with our growth strategy.”
She and her team of 20 have spent the past two years building programs that will guide and reinforce the culture as the company extends its footprint across the nation. The first step was identifying Bojangles’s core values.
To do that, Sauls formed a culture committee comprised of representatives from every department. The committee’s mission was to isolate and examine the organization’s well-established values such as trust, hard work, hospitality, and inclusion.
“It’s not that anything was wrong,” she asserts. “It’s that the strategy requires for us to be intentional about our culture. It’s about who we want to be internally but also who we want to be as we interact with our customers.”
Next, she guided the committee as it explored how to transition those values into key culture principles for Bojangles in the future. Sauls says one of the aspects committee members wanted to address was how to ensure the values they want to keep are truly integrated with the company’s growth plans.
For example, she notes that values around trust were “ratcheted up into the principle of promise. What’s our promise to our customers? We’re going to make sure that our food is always going to have the highest level of quality. It’s always going to be hot and fresh. And all of us working at Bojangles make that promise to our guests every day.”
For the principle of inclusion, the committee explored issues such as what inclusion must look like between team members, at the company’s support center, as employees interact with guests, and in other scenarios.
“Our intention in defining these culture principles is for us to be uniquely Bojangles but also have us rally around them as our North Star as we move forward,” Sauls states. “When you’re growing as an organization, you want to bring along with you what has made you uniquely you. You don’t want any of that to get lost when you become bigger.”
To assess whether the committee was on the right track, Sauls and her team shared a list of core culture principles and important details about each with a variety of stakeholders, including senior leaders, midlevel and frontline managers, and franchisees.
“We asked them to tell us if these principles not only realistically describe who we are but also our aspirations,” she says.
Based on stakeholders’ feedback and further input from the culture committee, Sauls and her team made critical adjustments that culminated in finalizing the list to six key culture principles: hospitality, inclusion, initiative, trust, promise, and leadership.
They then created visuals for each principle they rolled out across the chain’s locations for all employees to view and respond to. With further feedback, Sauls and her team were ready to develop content.
The training programs and communication materials they created enhanced overall awareness of the culture principles and conveyed to corporate leaders and hourly team members alike how their behaviors and attitudes should reflect the company culture.
“As we acquire new locations and new team members, it’s important that they understand our culture so that they’re able to be ambassadors and advocates for the Bojangles brand,” Sauls adds.
Partnership recipeWhile Sauls and her team are focused on training and development programs related to brand standards, culture, leadership, and employee engagement, she explains that the operations training group is responsible for work-procedure and operations training for the 10,000 employees at both the corporate-owned and franchise locations.
“I’m looking at our employees’ entire life cycle, from the candidate experience when we’re recruiting people to onboarding new hires, all the way through management development and culture engagement to even how they experience Bojangles when they exit the company,” she explains.
The operations group develops and delivers training on technical procedures such as how to prepare food and take orders; Sauls’s group develops training programs for creating the ideal work environment for employees.
“We are truly business partners to be able to make our culture and performance come to life,” Sauls states. “We have to find a way to ensure that all of our training and development is fully integrated.”
For instance, because Bojangles is revamping its organizational structure to support its growth plans, some of the management teams’ roles have been evolving. One of those changing roles is the restaurant business leader.
Elements of that role require leadership development, which falls under Sauls’s purview, but training must also address multiple operational components. In practice, that means her team develops programs that focus on better ways for managers to engage in the community, deliver effective customer service, communicate, and motivate their teams, whereas the operations group concentrates on training for new practices around conducting inventories and managing systems upgrades.
“Ultimately, training needs to include all the skill sets that we believe the restaurant business leader needs to have in order to be effective in this role,” says Sauls.
“We partner very closely to ensure that as a part of this initiative, we’re giving those leaders everything that they need—whether it’s leadership skills or technical skills—to be fully capable within their roles.”
Food for thoughtSauls remarks that the culture transformation initiative at Bojangles has been expansive, so the approach she has been taking is one that “focuses on the quality of execution. When you think about this kind of scalability, sometimes there’s a tendency to rush things.”
But instead of speed, she says Bojangles is “focused on landing issues and details—and landing them well. That takes training. That takes communication. That takes change management. That takes role modeling from the most senior-level leaders.”
Fortunately, with nearly 20 years of experience in talent development leadership roles at companies such as Walgreens, Boeing, and Duke Energy to her credit, Sauls was well prepared for the scratch-made culture she encountered when she joined Bojangles.
She points out that cooking and creating talent development solutions follow similar methods. “It’s the same process. Oftentimes, when you create talent management or talent development programs, you’re starting from scratch with a concept or topic.”
It’s commonly Sauls’s team’s job to chop that up into the most important elements to create something people not only want to consume but also nourishes their development.
“In my experience, people think that anything related to people and culture—training, career development, or talent management—is just fluff. However, the business can make more money by having fully capable people,” she says.
“So, it always boils down to ensuring your people-focused efforts have a business impact. When they do, that’s not fluff—that feeds the business so it can grow.”
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