I didn’t do anything in HR for the first four weeks I worked at Applebee’s. Instead, I worked in one of their restaurants for four straight weeks. Every position. Every shift. I came in early and made pico de gallo until I thought I would vomit. I worked the dish machine during lunch and dinner rushes. I worked the line and maybe made you a perfect burger or an Oriental Chicken Rollup.
This was how Applebee’s trained their new HR pros like me who came in from outside the company. They wanted to make sure that I knew the business, and understood what a manager and employee of a restaurant went through on a daily basis. They wanted me to develop empathy. If I ever went into a restaurant and got all HR-ish on them about keeping up some arbitrary process, I would understand what they actually went through on a daily basis to try and get things done.
My favorite times at Applebee’s were always walking into a restaurant that was “on fire.” Meaning, they were going down in flames. Too many guests at one time, not enough help, everything going wrong all at once. I usually traveled with one of my peers in operations, and they would immediately just jump in and help. So, I did, too.
I can’t tell you how many dress shirts and pants I ruined working the expo line at Applebee’s during a busy lunch or dinner rush. Everything would be moving fast, and — BOOM! — would go a full ramekin of salsa down the front of me. My wife hated going to dinner with me at Applebee’s because she knew it was just a matter of time until I left the table to go help if it was needed.
When I went to work at a large health system, I would do rounds with my nursing managers. Clearly, I couldn’t help with patients, but I could observe, I could interact and I could understand a little about what their good days and their bad days were like.
In all my corporate HR jobs, I was never considered to be like the “others” in HR. I was told this constantly: “Tim, you aren’t like the last HR person we had!” Mostly, that was said in a positive way.
Here are three ways you can act less HR-ish and ruin your dress clothes:
- Spend time with your colleagues doing their work, not yours. It’s not about doing HR when you’re on the floor serving Diet Coke and sweet potato fries.
- Learn what the ops team does before you implement HR programs. Ask them to teach you what they can. Then go back and redesign your programs and processes so they’ll work better in your organization’s operations.
- Don’t be concerned about doing good HR work. Be concerned about helping your operations get better. Sometimes that might mean you’ll be brainstorming better ways to market or sell. Sometimes you’ll be helping guests have a better experience. It’s all important.
If you have great operations, and you develop a sense of empathy for your employees and leaders, it will be easier to have great HR.
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