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National Restaurant Association - The power of promoting from within

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The power of promoting from within

When Elana “Lani” Hobson was a part-time fry cook at Jack in the Box in 1977, she never dreamed of rising to senior vice president of operations. Through the years, Hobson climbed the ranks, first within a northern California unit, then to district and area manager and regional and division vice president.

Inspirational stories such as Hobson’s abound throughout the restaurant industry. Tales of dishwashers, servers and line cooks who ascend to leadership positions are countless. About 9 in 10 of the industry’s salaried employees start as hourly workers in restaurants, according to National Restaurant Association research. While that figure includes employees who move from restaurant to restaurant, many operators foster a culture that encourages employees to stay for advancement opportunities.     

 Movin’ on up

Promoting from within provides employees the opportunity for career growth. But employees aren’t the only ones to benefit. Restaurants gain the advantage of hiring a known entity.

“When you promote someone, you already know their work ethic, that they’re dependable, that they understand your culture, that they’re a good fit,” says Nancy Cross, chief people officer of Mexican Restaurants Inc. The Houston-based company owns 46 restaurant locations under four full-service concepts and one fast-casual brand.

By promoting from within, restaurants can slash recruiting and training expenses. Managers hired from outside the company typically undergo a 10-week training program, while internal promotions require only five or six weeks, says Cross.

The possibility of an internal promotion offers employees incentives to stick around. “When you start at entry level and move up, you really develop a loyalty to the business,” says Hobson, whose Jack in the Box career spans nearly 40 years.

 Career pathways

To help employees find a career path:

  •  Create a road map for success. Lay out potential career paths from the get-go, as early as the interview or orientation. “The pathways should be clearly defined to avoid any perception of favoritism,” advises Donna Herbel, director of training and development for Minneapolis-based Perkins & Marie Callender’s.  
     
  • Establish stepping stone positions to help employees gain confidence and gradually take on leadership. For example, top-notch servers at Perkins can become certified trainers who guide new hires. From there, they might get promoted to shift leader, then assistant manager, before being named a manager.
     
  • Point good candidates in the right direction. When she was 18, Hobson’s manager pulled her aside and said she had an incredible career ahead of her – if she worked for it. “My manager saw something in me that I didn’t even know I had at the time,” Hobson recalls.

    Today, Hobson encourages general managers to seek that spark in team members. “Look for people who lead naturally, even when they’re not in a leadership role,” says Hobson. “Look for people who show a passion for the business and for taking care of customers. They show pride in the food and in keeping the restaurant clean.”

    Remember, management isn’t for everyone. Even team members who excel at their job might not be management material. “Getting results from a team takes a different skillset than getting results from your own two hands,” says Herbel.
  • Provide guidance to help train and develop promising candidates. Tell team members what you see in them, so they can retain and further develop those traits, Herbel says. Sometimes an employee gets promoted because he or she demonstrates great camaraderie, but they let go of those interpersonal skills when they get into management because they incorrectly think that’s not part of the job.
     
  • Combine formal and informal training to prepare employees for their roles. Mangers might informally show a certified trainer how to close the restaurant and then provide a hands-on opportunity to practice the skill, Cross says. The company also offers a formal two-day training to new assistant managers.
     
  • Consider tuition-reimbursement to help managers gain a formal education. Jack in the Box footed the bill for Hobson’s undergraduate and graduate degrees in finance. In return, she became more valuable to the company and climbed the corporate ladder. “Invest in your people,” Hobson says. “If you spend the time with them, they’ll feel cared for and will develop loyalty.”

Get more information about restaurant career paths at America Works Here, and download our latest research on Who Works in the U.S. Restaurant Industry.

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