Quality over quantity: it’s an age-old adage regurgitated frequently enough to deafen most ears it falls upon.
Expansion should never come at the price of performance, but it’s all too easy to once-over an exponential growth curve and conclude, “that’s a healthy company,” ignoring what’s frequently being left on the table in the rush to scale.
Some of the most poignant case studies for exploring this dilemma come from companies that primarily field hourly workers, the employee demographic that is historically least motivated, most likely to turn over, and comprised of perennially-distracted millennials.
READ MORE: What's next for Dave & Buster's food program?
To glean insight into the best-practices of engagement at scale, I spoke to a seasoned operations expert at one of Americas’ most multi-faceted hospitality brands: Chris Schricker, director of training at the entertainment titan Dave & Buster’s.
Chris began his D&B tenure as a server at the first-ever Dave & Buster’s, earning extra cash in college. Twenty-five years later, he’s responsible for implementing training policy at all 110 of Dave & Buster’s colossal storefronts.
Develop a core philosophy, and live it (i.e., your values shouldn’t be window dressing)
It’s en vogue to have a (not so) carefully-wordsmithed “corporate vision” plastered across your website, but a philosophy is about more than branding:
“Core culture is the root of everything; informs everything; it’s the trunk of the organizational tree. You have to be deliberate, talk about it, define it—literally write out ‘this is what culture is in our company, and this is how we’re going to keep it up,’” Chris said. “If you have pillars and stick to them, you will never go wrong.”
The Dave & Buster’s ethos rests on four pillars: Founders’ Spirit, You Got It, Everybody is Somebody, and Fun to Our Core. These cultural keystones are baked into every Dave & Buster’s process, from the first training sessions with new hourly workers to high-level strategic decision-making by corporate leadership.
“You’ve got to start from the beginning with culture. Training is marketing: it’s vibrant, fun, on your feet, showing what we are. Guests come to escape and have fun and that should go for the employee as well.”
In order to gauge their success in conveying culture, training teams push out 90-day exit surveys for employees who leave the company.
“It’s important to know, did we paint the right picture? Did they feel like they were part of something?” Chris says. “It all comes back to that. When you’re deciding things based on your culture pillars, that’s when they’re ingrained. When they make you feel good but are contrary to business decisions—that’s bad culture.”
Recognize and reward great work (i.e., use the carrot, not the stick)
The second-order effects of a robust, articulated culture are pronounced: Dave & Buster’s boasts a 30 percent internal hire rate for management roles.
“A big, shiny building only gets Guests in the door the first time. It’s what the employee does—details—that keep them coming back, and recognizing those positive behaviors, rather than punishing negative ones, is a super positive way to teach and train.”
Dave & Buster’s runs frequent competitions on service and sales, and incentivizes with a “B.R.A.G.” program that awards points which can be redeemed in an extensive prize marketplace. The “Blue and Orange Team” is a badge of honor for top staff from around the country: a “Blue Angels” of service.
“These programs accelerate pride, make you stand tall when you move one level to the next. The Blue and Orange team, that’s the best of best of our staff—these crew members are leaders in their stores. They even help to open new stores,” Chris said.
The same principle goes for management. D&B uses automatic leaderboards tethered to its PoS system in order to rank locations across a standard metric performance scorecard.
“We’re a competitive company. The ability to track, to stack rank performance, is huge. People want their name at the top, not at bottom. If you do well, and you care about the company, there’s nothing but success.”
One of Chris’s colleagues at WHQ started in the dish pit.
He’s now an AVP.
Communicate—the right way (i.e., not via your desktop)
No one is making headlines by asserting that communication is important. The insight here is in the nuance: it’s not just about communication; it’s about the avenues of communication.
“Communication is huge. We need to be cognizant of the times and think outside of the box, because trickle down doesn’t work. We can’t just communicate to our GMs and assume that everyone below them gets the memo,” Chris said. “That cascade style of communication puts a lot of pressure on GMs when their plates are already full as it is.”
This communication chasm has only become more pronounced with the influx of young, technophilic teens and twenty-somethings in the workforce. As the generational disparity between management and the frontline exacerbates, communication becomes a larger and sharper pain point.
Older managers frequently want to ban phones from the building, which Chris says is unrealistic:
“You’ve got to give up on that. As long as employees are engaging with Guests, these devices can actually become an asset.”
After experiencing engagement issues with software that required email addresses to use, it became clear that a shift to mobile was on the horizon.
“So many people don’t have emails. Communications is so instantaneous for millennials that email doesn’t work for them—they won’t wait. Mobile is necessary now, and to be able to send out notifications via text and app has been huge.”
The Bottom Line: Be Big; Think Big; Act Small
“For our employees, you’re one of a handful. You’re a small part of a big puzzle. We always ask ourselves: how do we prevent their feeling ostracized?” Chris said.
“How can we be big, act big, but simultaneously maintain this small, intimate mentality with Guests, and crucially, with our employees?”