Matt Gloster, vice president of administration for Captain D’s, understands this well. Facing turnover rates from 185 to a little more than 200 percent, keeping his workforce trained is a top priority. Established in 1947, Shoney’s Inc. offers family dining in its Shoney’s and Captain D’s branded chains, with more than 550 franchise and corporate restaurants in more than 20 states. According to Gloster, around 8,000 Captain D’s employees a year must be trained from scratch “on the basics of coleslaw, french fries, hush puppies, the operational part of our business.” Aside from that, Gloster also must see to the training of around 600 management promotion candidates a year, who must be schooled in the higher operations, business issues and the back-office operations of the restaurants.
The biggest challenges Gloster faces in getting the training out are overcoming logistics and ensuring consistency. “When you’re spread out to a bunch of locations, even if it’s something as simple as a recipe change for coleslaw, because it’s something you have to reproduce x number of times, we have to train it in each one of the restaurant locations,” said Gloster. “You have to get the procedure into a manual. You’ve got to get it plugged into your training system. So simple things become difficult by the order of magnitude in which you have to do them.”
He compared getting training out to widely dispersed employees to the “Operator” game we all played as children. “You know the old game that we played when we were kids where you tell one person something and then they tell somebody else,” he explained. “By the time you get to the end of the line, it’s a completely different story. Well, the same is true when you do it over 22 states and thousands of employees. So to get the consistency, you have to find a way to reach them all the same way consistently, and some of the things we’ve done in the last couple of years we believe are making a good stab at that.”
In 1999, the senior leadership at Captain D’s and Shoney’s realized that it needed a faster network to speed data transfer and credit card processing, in addition to supporting more efficient communication with its geographically dispersed team. Captain D’s and Shoney’s chose to implement the OneTouch solution—a live, integrated video and two-way voice and data application that is delivered to desktop PCs. The application combines real-time video, voice, data and live Web pages so that team members can interact with presenters, responding to and asking questions when necessary.
“OneTouch provides live and on-demand interactive business learning,” said Shawn Butler, senior vice president of product management at OneTouch. “You could think of it as basically the highest-quality presenter-led experience, short of being face to face, that you could have in a learning environment.”
The OneTouch solution can be delivered to PC environments, like a standard desktop environment in a corporation, as well as non-PC environments, such as warehouses and repair bays. Captain D’s and Shoney’s employs a hybrid solution, according to Butler. “In the back break room of the restaurant or wherever in the restaurant is appropriate, they have either one or two desktop systems,” he explained. “And what will happen is they’ll either have a group of people in there all hunched around the computer, or they’ll have individuals come in for training. …It’s kind of a hybrid model, but very effective for them because it allows them to do person-to-person training or do group training.”
According to Gloster, when Captain D’s added the training PCs to its restaurants, it began by having employees use the PCs to clock in and out. Then, Captain D’s used a satellite to deploy an interactive computer-based training program to handle base-level training programs for restaurant employees. “We call that the Captain’s Compass,” said Gloster. “The Captain’s Compass has three modules: one’s orientation, one’s for the kitchen and one’s for the dining room. Each module has multiple chapters and tests and all kinds of things in there.”
Employees in the restaurants go through interactive programs that introduce topics to them, then follow up with short quizzes to ensure that the learning is absorbed. As an example, Gloster explained how the program could train a new employee on coleslaw. “It shows them what the ingredients are. It shows them where to find the ingredients in the restaurant. It shows them how it’s put together,” explained Gloster. “A video is incorporated right into the computer so they can watch that, and then it tells them to go practice it. And when they finish practicing, they come back and have to answer questions on a mini-quiz, and then the manager who’s working with them also has to answer a question before they can move on to the next topics, which might be French fries.”
One of the great benefits of this form of training, according to Gloster, is the consistency it delivers. “A good friend of mine in training said, ‘A video never forgets a step.’ And the same is true of this computer-based training program—it never forgets a step,” he said.
Through the system, Gloster is able to pull the attainment level of passing scores in each restaurant and put it in a data warehouse in Nashville, the company’s headquarters. There, Captain D’s senior management can pull up the data to find out the training and competency levels in various restaurants, allowing them to focus on areas where more attention is needed.
In addition to crew-level training programs, Gloster’s team provides learning solutions for Captain D’s management staff. “We want to continue to educate and update our management staff, even for something as simple as a new promotion that’s going to run out to sell a certain product,” Gloster said. “At our corporate office we have a TV studio, and every manager in every store can access the program from the back-office computer, and on a live basis (and we can also do recordings) we can have the person in the R&D department show every manager of the company at the same time how the product is supposed to be assembled and produced.”
Since Captain D’s implemented the OneTouch solution, Gloster has seen progress, both in terms of driving down turnover rates as well as ensuring consistency in the training that is delivered. “When I first came to Nashville, around seven years ago, our turnover was about 250 percent,” said Gloster, “and we’ve gotten it down to about 185 percent last year. We’ve made some strides there.”
The system allows Gloster to make updates to the training quite easily. All he has to do is download the updates to ensure that every store is 100 percent current. “It really enhanced our ability to deploy changes going forward, said Gloster. “In fact, I’m fixing to send a Spanish-language version of some training over the satellite in the next couple of weeks. So all at once, I’ll have every restaurant in the system with a bilingual training program at the restaurant level, and you can imagine what that logistics nightmare would have been in the past.”
In addition to maintaining consistency of message, Gloster said that the new training helps Captain D’s maintain a more productive workforce—an imperative in an industry that sees such high turnover of its employees. “The employee distribution is about half-and-half counter and kitchen, but we have a 70 percent penetration level for all employees for counter and all employees for kitchen,” said Gloster. “This means our level of cross-training—cooks who know how to run the counter, counter people who know how to cook—is the highest level it’s been in the history of our company. …We all know that in order to leverage our employee base going forward, people have got to know how to do more stuff. And this (the training solution) gives us the opportunity to accomplish that and to measure that we are actually making those accomplishments.”
More productive employees who are better educated about their jobs also are able to drive up customer satisfaction levels. Captain D’s employs a mystery shopper program to measure the levels of customer service at its various restaurants, and since the training program was implemented, scores have been at an all-time high, said Gloster.
All of this translates into increased profitability for Captain D’s, and in addition, the solution has helped bring costs down. “If I had to send a staff out into the field to drive around and do all that training with all those people, the cost would be horrendous,” said Gloster. “My marketing department’s cost to travel and whatnot is way down. The training department’s cost is infinitely smaller than it used to be in regard to travel expenses, and it’s enabled us to do more with less.” Gloster’s training department is comprised of two training advisors and one administrative assistant, and they produce all of the training materials and conduct most of the training for the company.
“A long time ago, and I’m talking 30 years ago, the chairman of our company coined a phrase called ‘show and tell,’ ” said Gloster. “It goes, ‘Tell me, and I’ll forget. Show me, and I’ll try to remember. Do it with me, and I’ll always know how.’ And that’s the approach we apply. Later in life, I found out that there are three learning methods—audio, visual and experiential—and I guess intuitively the past leadership knew that here, and we just carry that legacy forward.”