By Bruce Erhardt, Reginelli’s Pizzeria
Our company’s success revolves around making an impact on more than 350 Reginelli’s “students” every single day — a responsibility we do not take lightly. To make things even more challenging, we have “classrooms” spread out across restaurant markets in New Orleans, Baton Rouge and, most recently, Houston.
Our staff members represent a variety of generations with diverse ethnic backgrounds, income levels and IQs. If we expect our lessons to be lasting, our approach must meet the needs of each individual we bring on board. We must be such dynamic teachers that our staff members are driven to take responsibility for educating each other, because we simply can’t be everywhere at once. We know the effort we put forth into developing our employees is exactly what we are going to get back from them. Because we are fully committed to strengthening our culture as we continue to grow, we must treat everyone who joins our restaurant as a future teacher, and make a connection that keeps each employee on our common path. Here are the tenets of teaching that we believe help us do this.
We create an environment that fosters authenticity. From the minute our employee attends his or her first training shift, the experience reflects our company mission. As we carefully go over the guidelines of our employee manual, our new team member knows that these are more than words on a page. Honesty has always been an important part of our mission as an employer, and it’s crucial to developing brand ambassadors. When our employees say they enjoy working for us it’s usually because they sense a “family” feel to the company. The comfort of family stems from being a group of people who can be honest about who they are and what they expect from the very beginning.
We count on family to tell us what they really think — that’s where the authenticity comes in. At Reginelli’s we try to live like a family as opposed to just claiming to be one. A strong family affirms, “I know who you are, I understand your strengths and weaknesses, and believe it or not, I can work with that.” Even when the truth hurts, we’re never going to avoid bringing it up for short-term comfort. We also know that sugar coating your thoughts usually only results in distrust. The more direct we are with our opinions and expectations, the more clearly our message gets spread by well-connected employees.
We take every opportunity to humanize the experience. We must enhance employee connection by listening to and caring about what our students have to say. Our leaders need to take the time to learn what matters to their employees, and understand where they’re coming from. Ultimately, they’re never really going to offer their best just for the sake of the company. Our students will, however, do it for themselves and for their fellow employees — if we help them see the opportunity that lies in front of them.
We wouldn’t be doing this if we also weren’t able to have some kind of positive impact on people’s lives. We could easily have stuck with one or two locations and a small group of individuals to lead them. We also could have lowered our standards just a little at the locations where qualified candidates are harder to come by. But we haven’t done either of those things because developing relationships with people is a big part of why we remain in the restaurant business. It’s the only reason we’ve been able to see the growth we had always hoped to see for our restaurants.
We are diligent in sharing our goals. We don’t see an end to communicating our mission. Our expectations for the stores are communicated on a daily basis by owners, corporate members, store managers, assistants, leads and trainers. Taking advantage of every teaching moment we encounter leaves little room for confusion about where everyone is headed. Oftentimes, it occurs with whoever happens to be in front of us that day. Our persistence has led to more people than we could have imagined watching our brand, protecting our brand and acting as an ambassador wherever they go.
Several months ago we hosted an “open forum” at a local bar with a dozen or so employees, drawn from staff-level positions up to the corporate level. There was little rhyme or reason as to who was invited to attend, except that it was a mix of people from different locations who have all been around for a while. Most of them we would consider teachers who spread our message when we are not there. We wanted to get some opinions on why people stay with Reginelli’s without having them feel like they were shelling out rehearsed answers. We didn’t tell them why they were coming, and having a few ice-breaking drinks before we got into our discussion definitely helped.
We learned some things about what they were thinking at this meeting, but one question that stood out was, “What would you hate most if it changed?” We really had no idea what people were going to say, but three of the answers that were generated reinforced the value of the authenticity, humanity and diligence of our approach.
Here, word for word, are three changes our employees would hate:
1. “If we ever became ‘too corporate.’”
2. “If our service ever became snobby.”
3. “If we ever lost our willingness to always ‘do things right.’”
Ultimately, our leaders want to know they’re working for real people who are committed to getting the job done. If our company can keep these kinds of teachers working side by side with our staff, we might just be OK.
Bruce Erhardt is co-owner of Reginelli’s Pizzeria, which has seven locations in New Orleans, two in Baton Rouge and one in Houston. He and the company’s co-founder, Darryl Reginelli, will speak at Pizza Expo on the topic of Teaching Staff Side by Side on Tuesday, March 25. Darryl Reginelli also will present the company’s story during the Pizzeria Concept Showcase on Monday, March 24.
This Pizza Expo Exclusive is part of a continuing series leading up to the International Pizza Expo at the Las Vegas Convention Center on March 24-27, 2014. Seminar speakers and demonstrators will provide professional advice on their area of expertise.
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