Recruiting Your Way Through A Recession

Recruiting is marketing. Recruiting is training. And most importantly, recruiting should be aimed squarely at the people you’re both looking for and also at the people whom you’ve already hired……..

“There’s three things in business that will kill you,” says writer Gary Hamel, “denial, arrogance and nostalgia.”

I was thinking about that comment last week when a Dallas-area Regional Manager friend of mine said, “Well, if there’s a silver lining in this challenging economy, it’s that the labor crunch has eased up a whole lot. Now we can focus a little more on the customer instead of hiring.”

Whoa, Nellie. I mean, he’s right. And he’s wrong. Right about the fact that the customer always deserves a “little more” focus. And wrong that once your application files start filling up again can you turn your emphasis away from recruiting. The truth is, successful operators know that if applicants are finally re-filling the labor pool, now is the time to invest in the best damn lifeguards you can hire, develop, or steal.

Now, now more than ever, we need to do two things: focus on service, and give it slavishly to both internal and external customers. Because in tough times, customers will give up the things they like best last, not first. And that holds true for both employees and guests. We need to use this challenging time to recruit wiser, hire smarter, and develop more intensely. Let the other guy keep hiring “bodies,” you want to invest in appreciating assets. Recruiting is marketing. Recruiting is training. And most importantly, recruiting should be aimed squarely at the people you’re both looking for and also at the people whom you’ve already hired.

Frederick Reichheld, writing in The Loyalty Effect (1996, HBS Press), expressed it this way “loyalty leaders see people as assets rather than expenses, and they expect those assets to pay returns over a period of many years. Indeed [they] engineer all their business systems to make their human inventories permanent. They view asset defections as unacceptable value-destroying failures, and they work constantly to eradicate them. They have discovered that human capital, unlike most other assets, does not depreciate over time. Like good wine, it actually improves with age.” Let’s talk about employee loyalty as your secret service, sales, and marketing tool.

Grow your talent or lose your talent

So how do we define value for our employees and managers? Ed Michaels, author of The War for Talent says: “managers who feel their company develops them poorly are five times more likely to leave than people who feel their company develops them will. In fact, 57% of managers who intend to leave their employer in the next two years cited insufficient development and learning opportunities as a critical reason for leaving.” Plus, experience shows that bad managers hire very bad employees. So development and training is key, but so is positioning your talent. Rich Melman, CEO of Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises in Chicago, says: “If your average server waits on 30 people a night and that person works 6 nights a week, he or she will be dealing with 180 customers each week. If you don’t have the right people in the right place, you’re making a big mistake.” Have your aces in their places.

Re-think what marketing truly is

One should carefully assess both the potential and also the risks of heavily investing in local store marketing programs alone. While getting more new in customers in your door is always important, never forget that the real trick is to get them to come back—with their friends. What if your LSM program attracts only guests motivated by discounting, or “neighbors” who may not like your concept to begin with? You end up spending a bundle acquiring “dissatisfied customers [and] more customers of the wrong kind, like price shoppers and buyers with no stake in the product, service or company,” says Frederick Reichheld. Well, guess what? The best kind of marketing is not a 3-ring binder of strategies and tactics. The best kind of marketing is a happy, attentive, and productive employee. And that’s a recruiting and retention issue, first and foremost. As Russ Bendel, President and CEO of 65 unit Mimi’s Café, in Tustin, CA told this column last December: “Every time you hire a new employee, you’re adding to your marketing team.”

Keep the piano in tune

Every foodservice company invests in physical plant renewal and upgrades annually via a serious R&M budget each year. But hey, what about R&M on your human capital too? Invest in expanding your manager’s brainpower via outside training as well as bonuses and salary. Like the ad says: a raise may be nice, but it won’t make me better at what I do.

Make every job defection a study in prevention instead of just a statistic

Just as no individual raindrop ever considers itself responsible for the flood, no individual manager who loses one employee a week ever considers himself responsible for the company-wide customer exodus. Measure retention store-by-store. Focus on vacancy rates for open positions as critically as you measure P&L. I’m serious.

If you want to keep a lid on employee turnover, you have to give people a good reason to come to work

How? Nurture self-esteem, heighten the learning curve, and remember the sage advice I’ve quoted before from Darrel Rolph, CEO of Wichita, KS –based SASNAK Restaurants who says: “Keep it fresh, keep it focused, and remember to say thank you.”

And finally, here’s some parting advice that’s square as a pan of cornbread, but just as tasty:

I think that companies today have an obligation to create an environment where people are happy. Because if people aren’t happy and they don’t like the company they are part of, if they don’t like their leader, then they are really not going to be focusing on the customer. They’re going to be focusing on their resume.Hal Rosenbluth, CEO of Rosenbluth International.