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Crucial importance of job orientations for new unit managers challenges companies’ training creativity

Crucial importance of job orientations for new unit managers challenges companies’ training creativity

Most managers remember their first day on the job and whether it was a positive or negative experience. The more positive the orientation, the more likely a manager will stay in the job longer than the norm, restaurant operators say.

In the battle to retain top managers amid an ongoing war for talent, some operators have revamped their strategies for management orientation programs. A tactic among competing companies is to leave a better first impression in the minds of newly minted managers, whether they were promoted from within or recruited from outside the company.

Operators who profess to have been enlightened about manager retention say orientation days are not for hazing or neglect, but are critical times for saturating the branch bosses in corporate culture and making sure they have the tools to do their job.

“It’s hard to pin down a single cause for turnover, but we do know the power of a good orientation,” said Ed Pavuk, director of training and development for Orlando, Fla.-based Red Lobster. “I’ve been here 23 years, and I still remember the first day I walked in the back of the restaurant. We know it’s pretty important to set up a manager for success.”

Orientation is the time to solidify a manager’s commitment to the organization, so it needs to be interesting, engaging and meaningful, say trainers and human resource executives. Some have incorporated videos and role-playing in order to liven up orientations. Some include one-on-one sessions with supervisors to make them more impactful.

“When we looked at our orientation, we found out things were inconsistent,” Pavuk said of the 680-plus-unit seafood chain. “Some managers when they got promoted got a full day with their director. For others, it was: ‘Here’s the key. Go to your restaurant on Monday and call if you have any problems.’”

Often in the industry, a general manager or assistant manager is filling a position that has been vacant for some time so they are immediately put to work and expected to figure out things as they go, said Kim Reynolds, director of education and training for Ruth’s Chris Steak House, the 102-unit chain based in Lake Mary, Fla.

“But I think as an industry, we’re all getting better,” she said. “It used to be very haphazard at [Ruth’s Chris], but we’ve built something that has a lot more focus.”

Ruth’s Chris has developed a 14-day transitional program for new managers to bring them gradually up to speed in the restaurants. Each day managers focus on a different aspect of their responsibilities and receive feedback from their general managers.

Red Lobster revised its orientations to give new general managers more one-on-one time with their regional supervisors. Now new general managers spend a day with their regional director before they take over their own store, Pavuk said. The director has an outline for the topics they will cover—everything from a comprehensive review of laws and security procedures to the regional director’s expectations for the general manager.

After Red Lobster formalized its orientation program, more than 70 percent of general managers went through a structured orientation before their first day, Pavuk said. Of those, 100 percent reported the orientation was helpful and set them up for success.

Orientations are usually the time to cover a lot of basics and fill out paperwork, but the experience does not have to be dull, said George Green, a project manager with four-unit Bread and Co., a fast-casual bakery-cafe chain in Nashville, Tenn.

New managers review handbooks, ServSafe training routines and standard-operating procedures, but they also role-play to practice problem-solving skills and watch videos shot from the customer’s perspective.

“With the younger managers, you need to keep it lively for them,” Green said. “It’s OK to make it funny and something to enjoy.”

Experiential learning is a key component of orientation for new managers in the Union Square Hospitality Group in New York, the multiconcept company founded by restaurateur Danny Meyer, whose nine restaurants include Union Square Cafe and Gramercy Tavern.

Some role-playing, some lectures, some exercises and some PowerPoint presentations all are part of the new manager’s first-day experiences, said Susan Reilly Salgado, USHG’s director of culture and learning.

The orientation is one way a company communicates its culture to employees, said Salgado, whom Meyer hired three years ago after she used USHG as the subject of her dissertation for her doctoral degree in organizational behavior.

New managers meet Meyer and other company executives and, at the end of the day, they break off into smaller groups and have dinner at one of the restaurants, but not at their own. The entire day gives them a chance to get to know people in the company.

The orientation serves to introduce employees to the company, even those who have been promoted but may not know much about the other concepts, she said.

For new managers in the 41-unit Claim Jumper casual-dining chain, orientation at the corporate office in Irvine, Calif., is only the first day in a management-training program that lasts eight to 14 weeks. Often, new managers have traveled miles to work at a training store after orientation, said Bill Story, the company’s vice president of training.

The managers are picked up from the airports, taken to a car rental company and escorted to the office so they do not have to worry about getting lost. They receive their paperwork ahead of time so they can have it completed when they arrive.

“We’re asking people to commit to us so we need to show our commitment to them,” Story said. “I’d say the most important aspect of any orientation is to show you care. A good working relationship has to be based on trust.”

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