My HR career has taken me on a winding path of various roles in different industries. I started out, like many, in the corporate ranks, moved through manufacturing, did some time in professional services… and ended up in the restaurant industry.
Recruiting in a restaurant environment was much different than anything I had experienced in my career. Every other position had a centralized recruiting function, and HR was responsible for sourcing, interviewing and hiring candidates to join the organization. In restaurants, it’s just the opposite: Recruiting is decentralized and handled in each location by the general manager and their management team.
Whenever anything isn’t centralized, the chance for a gap in how things are performed is inevitable. You are separated by time, distance and, most importantly, style. I never understood the power and sway of style when it came to adding employees to your organization until I worked in the restaurant industry. It is a crucial factor that has the most influence when people make hiring decisions.
Over the years, I tried the traditional recruiting approaches that had worked in the other industries that I knew well. You see, it was my only point of reference. Instead of making the personal connection with the people responsible for hiring, I fell into the trap many HR practitioners follow: I took a human resources approach, versus a field approach (where the recruiting was actually happening).
I conducted classroom training with many store managers at the same time and gave them solid, long-established recruiting and interviewing practices. The classes focused more on the do’s and don’ts of recruiting, and they had no tangible impact. It was a puzzle because these practices had not failed me in the past.
When I saw how ineffective my efforts were, I realized the person who had to change was me.
Once I realized I had to adjust how I was approaching recruiting, improvements happened right away. Instead of requiring managers to come to a training center, I went to their restaurant and sat with them in a booth. Back in the day, the booth is where all recruiting happened in restaurants. Even though we do online applications now, when I started, candidates would sit in a booth and fill out an application with paper and pen. To this day, interviews and job offers happen in booths.
Getting out to the field and meeting people in the restaurants was the most important way to break barriers and understand how decentralized management styles work. This simple step bridged the gap between “corporate” and “restaurant operations” and lessened the inherent tensions. These are two distinctly different cultures, and talent advisors need to be aware of all cultures within their organizations to exist in all of them seamlessly.
Sitting in the booth with managers has made the recruiting process more understandable for both the managers and HR. We know more about the environment where our new employees work. We can better assess people who take care of our guests. The managers have learned that HR is accessible and someone who can be a resource for them, too.
A key thing to take away from this evolution is that we’re just starting to make headway. We are always working on our interviewing approach and style, which helps HR understand the nuances of candidates. As a team, our general managers and corporate staff are changing our language and moving away from hiring cooks to hiring “team members” to whom we can teach job-related skills.
It’s exciting, and we are moving forward. So I anticipate being in a booth for some time to come!