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Hiring technology: Tools for finding, processing the employees you need


Part two of a two-part special report

Beyond recruitment – efficiently filtering and processing job candidates

Given that online job boards and other computerized tools for identifying and aggregating job candidates have been around for several years now, it should come as no surprise that restaurant operators' use of technology in hiring no longer stops after recruitment.

Indeed, increasing numbers of operators have come to rely on automated screening and candidate-management systems. Such technology is intended to enhance hiring efficiencies by helping to weed out "inappropriate" candidates, tracking applicants and keeping management in the loop regarding hiring efforts at the store level. They are also designed to reduce turnover by aiding employers in identifying candidates who, because their personality attributes and skills best mesh with corporate culture and needs, are more likely to remain on the job longer than their less-suitable counterparts.

Finding Square Pegs for Square Holes

Atlanta-based Metrotainment Cafes, which operates 10 restaurants in the Atlanta area, has minimized manager turnover and lowered its turnover rate for hourly employees by double-digits, to about 90 percent, using the Performance Fit Retention, or PFR, Hiring System from CorVirtus of Colorado Springs, Colo. That's according to Andrea Brooks, director of training for the company with such concepts as Einstein's, Cowtippers, Cheyenne Grille & Sports Bar, Joe's on Juniper, Metrotainment Bakery, Garrison's Broiler & Tap and Hudson's Grille.

Administered online to candidates working in their own homes, PFR Hiring System assessments are geared toward measuring cognitive ability, service-mindedness, pro-social outlook, work-related situational judgment and practical knowledge — mathematics and grammar, for example. The technology also supports "inventorying" candidates' personalities, its maker and users contend. The basic premise, Metrotainment's Brooks said, is that all of those factors can predict on-the-job performance.

Applicants in whom Metrotainment is interested are sent a link to a special website, where they can log on to complete the initial assessment. "To gauge [prospects'] true interest in our company and get an initial handle on their organizational and time management skills, we allot 24 to 48 hours before the link expires," Brooks said.

The system flags items that may be of concern or that may warrant further investigation — such as lack of work experience or a seemingly negative trait — and recommends whether a telephone interview is advisable. Candidates who pass that test proceed through a second detailed assessment and, if warranted, an in-person interview. A final assessment of whether the person should be hired then is made.

Brooks receives a daily report detailing the results of tests administered and the actions being taken. In addition, the system generates offer letters for new hires and forwards their information to the appropriate departments for processing.

"This keeps us very organized, hiring-wise," Brooks noted. "At my previous company, it sometimes took 60 days to get through the process, and we lost many good candidates as a result."

She added that utilizing technology and a scientifically developed method to assess the viability of management and hourly job prospects has sparked more "consistency in judgment. Not using widely varying and sometimes subjective criteria has definitely improved the caliber of our personnel and [hence] the customer experience." Metrotainment heeds the system's recommendations 99.9 percent of the time, Brooks said. "The one time we didn't listen, we ended up with the wrong hire," she conceded.

To a similar end, The Grape, a wine bar and retail chain also headquartered in Atlanta, has implemented the PFR system. It has done so, representatives say, to find managers capable of overseeing day-to-day details and ensuring that staff are up to the challenge of demystifying wine-tasting and purchasing and who can ably promote a menu that is crafted to complement available wines.

As of July 2006, The Grape had 12 locations throughout Alabama, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina and Tennessee. According to chain sources, 11 new locations will be added by year-end, with the CorVirtus system being used to assist in the screening of applicants for three positions: wine bar manager; director of wine/cellar manager; and kitchen manager.

"Since so many elements of the system are automated online, [with] the initial application and the personality assessment among them, the job of the hiring manager is much easier than it was previously," notes Jeff Pendleton, The Grape's vice president and director of operations. "By the time we are first notified that there's a candidate to be interviewed, that person has already passed several stages of the process, so we only interview people who are already at the top of their class."

Off the Shelf or Customized

CorVirtus offers the system, which also is used by such chains as Outback Steakhouse, Red Lobster, Carrabba's Italian Grill and Hard Rock Café, in an "off-the-shelf" standard form or customized to suit operators' requirements and preferences. Licensing fees, which include programming for the first year, vary according to number of units covered, and per-unit expenditures decrease as the number of stores covered increases, noted Pamela S. Hargis, CorVirtus' vice president of development. As a benchmark, Hargis said, a three-unit chain with three to four managers per location would incur an expenditure averaging out to a total of $5,000 per year, including applicant screening, applicant tracking and unlimited use. "If you have 1,500 units, it would be less than that," Hargis said.

In August 2005 Tully's Coffee of Seattle, now with about 90 company coffee bars and 36 franchised units domestically, rolled out the Kronos Talent Management Hiring Management System for Dining. Tully's began using the system, which was marketed under the Unicru brand prior to that firm's acquisition by Kronos, to find more personable baristas, according to Maria Ostrand Card, the chain's human resources manager. She said the targeted candidates were people "born with smiles on their faces" who would show "more enthusiasm for [our] core business."

The Kronos system is delivered in an application service provider, or ASP, model, under which clients pay a monthly fee for each location served. Depending on the size of the location and the services used, that fee can range from $10 per month to more than $300 per month. Clients also may incur an implementation fee of $50,000 or more, according to Kevin Tate, vice president of marketing for the Kronos Talent Management division. Kronos representatives said the Unicru-derived system has been deployed by more than 140 chains, which, in addition to Tully's, include such organizations as Rock Bottom Restaurants Inc. and Original Roadhouse Grill.

During the first four months that Tully's used the Kronos technology and services, the chain used the system to assess 2,281 applications. Those applications were submitted via the Tully's website and included questions formulated to eliminate prospects who failed to meet minimum employment obligations — for example, age and legal status. Other questions were designed to compile a comprehensive behavioral assessment of each candidate for such traits as dependability and the ability to relate well to others.

More than 1,000 applicants, 40 percent of whom failed the behavioral assessment, were excluded in the first round. Eliminating those individuals, according to Ostrand Card, saved managers valuable hours and allowed them to focus on their stores. She noted that from among the remaining 1,280 viable applications, 120 employees were hired.

"We are seeing far fewer performance issues related to tardiness and attendance," Ostrand Card said. "When I observe training classes now, I see a dramatic change in the groups of new hires. They are full of energy and genuine enthusiasm."

In addition to continuing to use the system to assess hourly personnel, Tully's has deployed it to evaluate managers. During 2006 the software was configured so that district managers can see information on promising candidates as soon as it becomes available. Should one store be experiencing a shortage of personnel, high-scoring applicants at units in the same region automatically can be identified to rectify the situation. According to a deployment timetable, store managers are to be equipped with back-office PCs by the end of March 2007 and, as a result, will be able to automatically populate Tully's human resources database with W-4 information and other data valuable to human resources management.

The Hiring and Cash Flow Connection

For some operators, the implementation of job candidate assessment technology is even contributing to increased cash flow. Such is the case for Golden Corral Corp. of Raleigh, N.C. GCC, parent of the 480-unit, grill-buffet segment leading Golden Corral chain, has increased general manager retention rates from around 40 percent to 85 percent via Insight Interview, a tool from Kenexa of Wayne, Pa.

"Management retention and cash flow definitely correlate; cash flow is 67 percent higher in stores where managers have been employed for at least three years, vs. stores where managers have been in place for just one year," said Judy Irwin, GCC's vice president of human resources and training.

The tool comprises a questionnaire-type test administered to prospects online or in stores' back offices. To develop the solution, a team from Kenexa interviewed top management and several hundred Golden Corral employees whom the company had identified as top performers to determine what personality drivers and behavioral traits they have in common. Once these traits had been identified, the vendor tapped its database of questions to sort for those that would best flag prospects with matching attributes. Applicants who do not pass the first step in the screening process do not go on to the next phase: an interview.

"With the system, we're consistently hiring high-caliber managers, and better management equals lower turnover," Irwin said.

Based on the results garnered through Insight Interview, Golden Corral in 2006 commenced assessing prospective hourly hires with a complementary tool called Coworker Insight Interview. The result was that turnover among hourly employees dropped to 107 percent from 146 percent and appeared to be headed even lower – again because the chain was able to sift through the applicant pool for "top talent." Irwin said.

Bill Anstine, managing partner of Kenexa's Retail and Hospitality Group, claims these metrics are on target with the company's own findings. He says the vendor's hospitality clients typically achieve a 20-percent reduction in turnover at the hourly level and a 50-percent reduction in turnover at the management level one year after deploying Insight Interview. Costs to operate the system run $8 to $10 per employee, including the licensing fee, but there is no per-candidate charge to perform assessments, he indicates.

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