The quick-service restaurant chain is innovating to train and reward employees.
Technology is critical to so many aspects of the workplace. For Monica Sauls, chief people officer at the quick-service restaurant chain Bojangles, technology is a key component for managing, developing, and rolling out initiatives. Sauls is charged with leading the talent management, leadership development, and culture and employee engagement efforts for the 10,000 workers spread across approximately 800 corporate-owned and franchise restaurants.
“Our employees need information and access at their fingertips. As the company modernizes, one of my priorities has been figuring out how talent development at Bojangles can use technology to accelerate our growth and develop our workforce,” she says.
One way Sauls and her team are using technology is to connect with people before they’re even hired. Like most companies, Bojangles has adopted a digital application process for recruitment. But the restaurant chain takes its approach to using technology during this stage a step further.
“As potential employees move through the interview process, they can schedule online interviews and communicate with prospective managers via text messaging. From the application to the interview to hiring, it can all be done online,” she explains.
Sauls and her team are also using technology to pre-board new employees. She notes that “People want to know ‘Who’s my manager? What am I going to be doing when I get there on the first day?’”
New hires receive a video message from their new manager welcoming them. The message also links to a pre-boarding website that shares information such as what they should wear and bring with them on day one as well as links to important forms and guides on what to expect during onboarding.
“We want to give people vital information before they start their jobs. And our new pre-boarding site, which we launched in September 2022, is really the beginning of the training process for employees,” Sauls shares.
Messaging with links to training, videos from managers, and other learning resources continues throughout new hires’ 28-day onboarding experience.
Leaning into animationIn addition to developing e-learning courses, Sauls and her team are using innovative technology to create animated videos. A good example is the video snippets they developed to support the rollout of Bojangles’s six culture principles.
“Like many others in the training space, during the pandemic, we couldn’t get the traditional folks together on location to record videos due to safety protocols. So, we turned to animation,” she says.
Each video is based on a scenario and story from real restaurants and workers, and the animated characters are wearing Bojangles uniforms and working in a Bojangles location.
“Employees get to see these fictional characters go through a situation where they have to problem solve and make different decisions. But because it’s not a specific location or person, it’s always relatable. This approach gives people a safe place to think about and consider how they can make adjustments to their own performance.”
Sauls adds that animating the videos rather than going traditional routes has been a way to support inclusion and diversity. “We are able to ensure the video represents everyone at Bojangles,” she says.
Rewarding performance and giving feedbackRecently, Bojangles updated its employee rewards program and added an app to its suite of online talent management tools. The app enables managers to recognize employees on the spot when they see someone demonstrating one of the culture principles, such as hospitality, or going above and beyond in their daily work.
Managers write a description about the performance they observed, thank the employee for their hard work, and assign an amount of Bo Bucks, which are reward dollars workers can earn and cash in for gift cards.
That approach recognizes and rewards individual workers and is a way for managers to give immediate performance feedback rather than waiting for a formal review later in the year.
Sauls believes the initiative benefits the employee who is receiving feedback and “creates a way to show other workers what good performance looks like.”
And to ensure that critical feedback from individual restaurant locations makes its way to corporate senior leadership, the company is using QR codes. Employees and guests can use their phones to scan the QR code, which directs them to surveys or forms when they have something to share.
“By using this innovative technology, feedback isn’t just one way. We’re getting feedback from everyone in the organization, horizontally as well vertically,” Sauls notes.
Taking care of peopleAnother initiative that Sauls is proud of is a telemedicine and virtual mental health program, a component of the organization’s well-being strategy. Both full- and part-time employees have access to medical doctors and mental health professionals within the first two weeks of their employment.
“With all the stress that frontline workers suffered during the pandemic, we needed to be able to ensure our folks are well in terms of their physical and mental well-being,” she states.
“Well-being is linked to our culture. We want to have a working environment where people feel safe and like they have a healthy place to work; where they feel like they can thrive.”
New technology and virtual meeting tools that telemedicine and mental health providers use have given Bojangles a way to support workers that wasn’t possible before, Sauls says, adding that the program has reached a 36 percent utilization rate. That is higher than the industry average, which is about 5 percent, Sauls shares.
Saying goodbyeThe fluid labor market is a challenge for the quick-service restaurant industry. Sauls notes there’s always someone leaving. While at other businesses, the goal is to attract and retain people for two, five, or 10-plus years, that’s not typical for restaurants.
“We want an employee’s exit to be a positive experience so that we’re in a position to rehire folks as their careers progress and change. We use technology to automate this phase of employment to ensure important information can be collected and analyzed for the future,” she says.
Sauls explains that at Bojangles, when someone leaves, they automatically receive a survey that asks them to share their experience so restaurant managers and corporate leaders can understand why they’re exiting the organization. More importantly, information that managers glean from the surveys helps them evaluate how to leave the door open for employees who may return to work at the company.
One thing is clear, whether for supporting talent management or employee L&D, Sauls assures that “From hire to departure, we’re leveraging technology at Bojangles throughout the entire employee life cycle.”
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