aj richichi and natalie rothman

Natalie Rothman, Chief People Officer of Inspire Brands, discusses the importance of focusing on frontline team members and creating policies and perks to humanize the hourly workforce. She emphasizes the role of HR leaders in understanding generational differences and creating a positive work environment. Natalie shares examples of initiatives at Inspire Brands, such as philanthropy, scholarship programs, and internal mobility, that contribute to employee engagement and retention. She also highlights the need for flexibility and recognition in the workplace. The conversation emphasizes the business case for treating hourly workers well and the cost of turnover.

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AJ Richichi (00:49)
Hey everyone. This is AJ Richichi. Um, the host of the podcast Hourly. We talk about everything hourly workforce, hiring, retaining, sponsoring those that, that need it most in our society. Um, I'm here today. It's a privilege, um, with Jim Balis, um, the CEO of Sizzling Platter, um, and a partner at CapitalSpring. Um, Jim and I have known each other for a few years. Now we bump into each other at, uh, too many conferences. It feels like.
Um, but I always enjoy our conversations. I deeply respect the work that you've done not only at Sizzling Platter, but as we were joking earlier, the CEO of several companies and really excited to talk with you here today. Thanks so much for joining.

Jim (01:31)
Thanks for having me, AJ.

AJ Richichi (01:33)
Yeah, so I thought we could start with just, you know, why the hourly workforce? Um, you know, you have a lot of different holdings and different types of companies. What attracts you, um, to, um, hiring people and, and providing a life for these, for these hourly workers.

Jim (01:51)
Yeah, I mean, what I'd say is, you know, first and foremost, we're in the hospitality business and you know, that business embedded in it is, you know, being hospitable and trying to deliver great experience to the guests that come and visit our restaurants. And that takes various forms. Obviously, if you're in a full serve restaurant, that experience is very different than, you know, if you're a digital consumer of a business where you order takeout and your goal is to just pick it up and leave.
That experience probably revolves more around the freshness of the product and the order accuracy. And for me, I very much like being in the hospitality business and working with hourly workers that also want to be in the hospitality business and understand what the purpose behind it is and what we hope to achieve within it. And what's great about our business is it does have a generally...
A workforce that skews a little bit younger. And they're not really sure, is this something that's, you know, a career? Is this something that, you know, enables me to buy that, you know, video game console that I want or that car that I want or provide spending money while I'm going to college or high school? You know, our business really does take various forms. And what's incredible about it is we take everyone.
You know, there's not a certain degree that you need. There's not a certain amount of training. There's not, you know, a certain amount of experience. We truly take anyone and everyone, and then we pay to train them to, you know, work within the businesses that we have. So all of that is very fulfilling to me, and I love watching people grow and develop, and, you know, I'm really very culture-oriented, as a lot of leaders are, and so that's really what I enjoy about it most.

AJ Richichi (03:45)
Yeah. And one thing that I profoundly respect about you and Sizzling Platter and a lot of the CapitalSpring portfolio is you don't just talk the talk, right? It's easy to say, we care about culture. We love our people. We don't provide opportunities, but I know you guys have a lot of programs around actually putting that into action. Can you highlight like one or two of those and the impact it's had and maybe why you started them.

Jim (03:47)
Thank you.
Yeah, so a couple of years ago, I was connecting with my director of HR, my VP of HR here at Sizzling Platter, and I was just curious, asking how many people did we hire last year on board onto our system? And the answer was 21,754 team members. And my reaction was, we are doing something wrong. The fact that we're turning over so many people.
You know, that is a number that you want to be as low as possible relative to your employment workforce, right? And so, you know, and look, the dynamic between employer and employee in our space has changed dramatically since COVID and, you know, everything from going through, you know, the hiring challenges to quiet quitting and, and all of the things that have happened in our space, you know, where it used to be that, you know,
somebody would be a no call, no show, and they come in the next day, and I'm sorry, you're fired, right? Now it's totally different. How was your day off? What did you enjoy doing while you had a few minutes to yourself? So I think that dynamic has shifted, and I think that's forced us to look at the relationship we have with our team members very differently. And so because of the dynamic shift, because of looking at how many people we recently...
we onboarded, I said, you know, we really need to be looking at how we engage with our team members differently. And so, you know, brought together and had a strategic session and brought some team members in and brought some leadership in and a number of other key individuals in the field to get everybody's perspective of how can we do a better job of really, you know,
meeting our obligation and on our desire to be an employer of choice. And so the first thing we started with is we needed to change our mission statement and core values. And our mission statement historically had been, let's drive customer experience and guest counts and profitability. And we flipped it, and we intentionally put the team members first. So it took a long time. Words are very important for something like that. And eventually ended up in a place where we came up with a mission statement.
that starts out with our team members and goes from there. Now, living up to that versus just speaking to it, as you said a couple of minutes ago, is the devil's in the details. And so it's everything from starting all of our meetings. So we have here at Sizzling Platter, we have brand presidents oversee each brand. When we review their weekly and monthly numbers.
you know, it's not just let's jump into the KPIs. They have to start off with an example of how we've lived our mission statement around our people. And so they're constantly, we're reinforcing that message with them and the importance of it, the fact that it's the very first thing that we cover. We don't end with it, we start with it. And so, you know, that's a big piece of driving that forward. It's gotta be top down and it truly has to like continue to trickle down within the organization. And so, you know, that's one area that

AJ Richichi (07:02)
Mm.

Jim (07:23)
You know, we've we changed our mission statement. We're living to our mission statement. And then there's the tactical component, which is, okay, you know, how are we truly going to engage with our team members? So the first thing we have to do is get their feedback. So, you know, we started a very deep employee sentiment program where, you know, at clock in and clock out, we're asking a lot of questions about, you know, how they feel about the business and things we can do better. And, you know, then we've.
layered in other areas of feedback loops for them. We have video screens in the back of the house now that are showing anytime we get positive remarks on social media and other channels or guest feedback, or even if somebody gets a promotion, we put their picture on that screen and so everybody can congratulate them in the store. And then we're doing other

AJ Richichi (08:07)
Mm.

Jim (08:23)
tactics around that monitor back of the house. When somebody starts their first day, we put their picture up, we ask them about hobbies and things like that. So I don't know if that gives you some idea.

AJ Richichi (08:35)
Yeah, I mean, that's fantastic, right? And there's a lot to digest there and a lot of really strong work you've done kind of all together for one really harmonious overhaul of your people practices. And, you know, I guess I had just asked for our listeners that may be a general manager of one location or a three location franchisee. Um, if you want to do one thing.
that could dramatically improve their retention or overall satisfaction of employees based on your experiences of trying a lot of different things. What's that one thing if you can pick just one?

Jim (09:10)
Yeah, I would say, you know, compassion, you know, which takes various forms in order for you to be compassionate, you have to listen, you have to be sympathetic and then ultimately compassionate. And that compassion doesn't come just in the form of, Oh, you know, let me, you know, be a shoulder to cry on if something bad happened to you. It also works in the opposite where, Hey, when they're doing something well,
let's make sure to compliment them. I think rewarding team members verbally and in other ways is very important. And it may not just be patting something in the back and saying, hey, you did a great job. I saw X, Y, and Z happen. It's important that it's done publicly so that not only are they receiving the recognition themselves, but they're seeing it in the context of the overall work environment. And I think too,
you know, making sure that it's not just for financial gain. Hey, you know, this person just became a shift lead under your leadership. That's fantastic. You know, how do we get more shift leads and you know, how do we develop more people because that overall helps my individual restaurant or you know, my three or four restaurants. So I think, you know, really, you know, being compassionate I would say is the one thing.

AJ Richichi (10:20)
Thanks for watching.
Yeah, and that's really insightful, right? So usually when I have people on here and I ask that same question, they'll give something very tactical, right? Raise pay, increase PTO. And the fact that you just went to compassion, I think really speaks to your maturity as a leader, particularly of managing the next cohort of workers, which for all the jokes that are placed on this group, millennial and Gen Zs have different love languages at work than my parents' generation and Gen Xers, right?
We, as a cohort of workers, want to feel special. We want to feel important. We want to feel valued, right? More than previous generations. And I don't want to paint the broadest of brushes, but my dad would tell me that the purpose of work is to work nine to five. It doesn't matter if you love it or hate it. Make as much money as possible. Go home, live your home life, and have a white picket fence, and live the American way. And that's just the way work is. When...
our generation and now what's becoming the fastest growing cohort of workers in quick service restaurant and in the hourly workforce, they want something different. So, you know, I guess the question would be how did you arrive there? Because I don't think it's that obvious to most operators.

Jim (11:54)
Yeah, I mean, I would say it was a group effort. You know, as I said earlier, AJ, you know, we got the team together. Um, and it was, you know, a real bottoms up approach. I mean, we started with team members that are working in the field every day that have, you know, developed great cultures in their restaurants are. Um, you know, promoting people from within, you know, our organization is obviously, you know, bigger, so, you know, some of the efforts that we have.
apply on a different level. But I think, you know, going back to the compassion point, listening to the team members and understanding, okay, you know, how do we make your life better? How do we be a better partner for you in your position, in your life, you know, because you're spending X amount of hours with us each day, you know, we really wanna be, you know, as good a...
have as good a partnership as we can develop, a good relationship. And ultimately it came down to really just listening. And from listening, it kind of evolved into this compassion. But it's gotta start with first, we don't know what we don't know, right? I don't know what I don't know. My team doesn't know what they don't know. And so let's start with the people that are living in the trenches.
And we started with the people that literally the general managers that have hourly workers that would die for them. And we don't have a gazillion of those, but we have enough to know that they're doing something special. Let's find out what they're doing. And what they were doing is being compassionate.

AJ Richichi (13:39)
Right.
Right. Yeah. I always think in the way I communicate it to my network is if you establish a strong culture, you're going to have a strong retention. And if you have a strong retention, you're going to have strong recruiting. Right. Cause when you have strong retention, those people come in, they're excited to work. They tell their friends about it on the first day. When somebody comes for an interview, you can just feel it in the restaurant. Right. It's like symbiotic people, you know, are treating each other properly and it's a happy place to be.
easier. Do you also think of that in the context of recruiting people and overall, you know, how do you think about culture as it pertains to recruiting and sourcing new applicants, which as we know is a huge challenge in the industry as well?

Jim (14:25)
Yeah, you know, look, a big piece of this effort is around, as I said, retention, right? So starting with retention so we don't have to recruit, right, is almost like objective number one.
And I look at it as a flywheel. So, you know, we're now making the investment in our team members at the top of the circle. And as you come down the side of the circle, assuming we make that investment and that team member is happier and more engaged and doesn't want to leave and the investment in that team member turns into greater retention, the more they're retaining and the more employees and hourly's that we retain in our business, the better we execute against our guests.
We all know that the longer the more tenured employees do a better job against the guest and then the better they do against the guest.
the more the guest will come back because they're having a better experience, we're making more money that we can reinvest in our team member and it creates this flywheel. So that's almost like the retention piece of it on the recruiting side. Absolutely. You know, it was interesting. Um, at one of our board meetings, one of my board members said, you know, you're, you're launching in this, into this effort. There's obviously, you know, tubes hyped to the investment in it.
This is more what I said when I was presenting it. I said, you know, we're, we are investing in it. We're investing financial capital and human capital. And the human capital is almost equally important as the financial capital. We're investing in this effort, but you know, they were saying, how are you going to measure this, you know, and, you know, they were saying retention is one part of it. And to the recruiting piece, you know, it's, I said, well, here would be a massive success for me, but it's hard to measure it this way is if one of our hourlies was in a bar, having a drink.
AJ Richichi (15:47)
Right.

Jim (16:06)
And a friend of theirs walked up and said, hey, you know, where do you work again? And they said, Sizzling Platter. It's amazing. And then whatever they say next, like I've won. Right. And so I honestly believe in my core that if you're able to execute against this engagement plan where people are happier and more engaged by being here, that automatically recruitment becomes a lot easier because, you know,
You have people telling their friends, they're telling their relatives about how happy they are. So naturally recruiting has become a lot more seamless and you're gonna get a steady stream of team members without even having to go to third parties.

AJ Richichi (16:47)
Yeah. And, you know, I couldn't agree more. And I know a lot of our listeners feel that a flywheel can be very positive when the right motions are in place and things become easier as the momentum builds and that flywheel speeds up. What would you say to somebody though, who has a broken flywheel, right? Somebody who has a, they're entering a restaurant, there's a, there's a poor culture, maybe they just acquired the unit or their new GM and they need to shock the system, right? Because the worst retention you have.
you have no test you have no referrals you have no testimonials when somebody comes in to interview you can feel it and the customers feel it as well what's a few things you can do to kind of put that in the right direction and get the flywheel moving in the correct the correct direction

Jim (17:33)
Yeah, and look, you know, one thing I'll say is, um, I love operations. I started in operations. I'm a lot more comfortable back at the house, honestly, the front of the house. Um, so, you know, what I would say is the first thing I would do is at the end of the shift, I would pay to bring in pizza, some food, I'd bring everybody together. And I would start, you know, sharing feelings about, you know, what they like and dislike about the environment.
working in that particular location and start to get feedback. And then I would also have individual dialogues. What happens with those conversations is typically the leaders bubble up. Those that are more outspoken initially are those that some of the other team members may look to for leadership and guidance and, you know, even perspective, you know, and those, those leaders tend to be influential down, you know.
or even sideways, not even down in sort of the hierarchy of the restaurant. And so having that initial meeting and then follow up with those individual conversations. But the key to it back to something that you said earlier is actually putting the actions behind the words, right? So if you listen to what you're, you're hourly say, and you don't act on it, then you act, it's actually a greater disservice than if you didn't listen at all.
Right. Because then it's like, well, they asked me, but they don't care. Right. Where the other is they're not sure. Maybe they just don't know. And they, you know, they kind of, you know, dismiss it a little bit, um, as something that may not be, you know, as important. So I think the, the followup from those conversations with your team and it may be, you know, there may be some people that are toxic and need to be removed. You know, that are cancer within the organization. Um, it may be, you know,
AJ Richichi (19:07)
time.

Jim (19:23)
changes to culture that can happen quickly. It may be a myriad of other factors that you can actually implement change.

AJ Richichi (19:33)
Yeah. And it kind of goes back to your board members question around how do you track the efficacy of whatever you're doing? Right. And turnover, and I know this intimately for my work with Sprockets, turnover is a very long term value proposition. And oftentimes if you look at it day to day and week to week, and you're in the trenches, you may not know if you're winning the war.
Right? Because 100% turnover is still painful, but it's way better than 200% turnover that you may have experienced beforehand, before instituting the changes. So what are some short-term things that you've seen or you've encouraged or you track at Sizzling Platter to show, okay, we are making progress. This is what we did this month, this is what we did this week, maybe this is what we did today. Any guidance there for some of the smaller operators?

Jim (20:24)
Yeah, I mean, you know, one thing is rewards, right? I think that's an easy one is, you know, identifying areas where you want to reward your team members. Again, not just for financial performance, but other types of performance, you know, and it, you know, it could be, you know, how many shifts you were fully staffed or.
You know, how few, you know, as you, as you sort of interview your team members, the complaints that you get from those team members are those going up or down. Right. You know, I think those are some great ways to kind of in the short term, you know, kind of measure and, you know,
AJ Richichi (20:51)
Hmm.

Jim (21:09)
I mean, we've worked with some third party services that actually have rewards programs where they download an app and I can give 10 points, which is a double F for dollar. So I think there are some reward programs and some, as I said, some accolades that you can give that really have some short-term effect. But I think it's back to whatever's not working.

AJ Richichi (21:18)
Right.

Jim (21:36)
I think it's important to address those items as best you can.
So what, one tactic we found is very successful is, um, is training. Interestingly, the more we invest in training, the more educated the hourly becomes about our business, the more engaged they, the, and connected they feel they are with our business. And so we've run some.
correlations and there's a cost associated with it obviously because you have to train the person but you know as you look at like training modules the more that you can train because you know we everybody in our business targets that post 90 day period you know if you keep them for 90 days you're likely to keep for a year right and so you know what gets us to that 91st day and we have found a direct correlation and a pretty tight correlation to better trained better educated about our business.
the more engaged they are. And we've actually added here at Sizzling Platter, a training program

Hourly

Empowering the Invisible Workforce for Shared Success

By AJ Richichi

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Sprockets works alongside your current system to help you source, screen, and select the best applicants for open positions. It’s the solution to hiring hourly employees you’ll wish you discovered sooner.