We spend a great deal of time with frontline team members in our work in retail, hotels, and restaurants. Many of these team members are new to the workforce and often view this first job as a temporary way to earn money while going to school or as a way to build skills for what will be their future career. They aren’t planning to be employees for life with the company they are temporarily working for.
You may remember the Service Profit Chain from the 1970s. Well today, Root firmly believes that the thinking behind it still holds true; in fact, we like to say that a customer’s experience never exceeds the employee’s experience. Yet most organizations don’t spend time focusing on that employee experience; rather, they seem to buy in to the same belief that the new employee has – that since the employee isn’t going to be there for the long term, they don’t invest much in that employee’s development.
What if, instead, we helped them see this job as their first and most critical stepping stone to a career in the business world? What if we created large groups of team members who are not only loyal but are also advocates for the brand and the specific location they work in?
Whether your employees are with you for decades or just for the summer, they are worth investing in. Even if they don’t become employees for life, they can be advocates for your brand for life and even customers for life.
The Four Roots of Engagement describe the fundamental triggers of employee engagement that we’ve found to be applicable across all job levels in all industries, and especially with frontline teams.
If you want to recruit the best candidates and ensure you are getting the very best from them every day, the Roots of Engagement are your best guide.
1. Being a part of something bigger than yourself
Does the first-time employee working in the Saline, MI fast food restaurant recognize that he is a part of a system of more than 35,000 restaurants around the world? Does the woman in the same location see that the 30 customers she greets today are part of the millions around the world being greeted in her brand? Does the store team realize that they are a part of one of the most respected brands in the world?
If they don’t know, they should. They need to know they are a critical point in this very large system and that without them – the frontline team – the entire business fails.
- Talk about the size and significance of the business: number of locations, number of customers, awards won, and growth.
- Discuss how the work of one individual paired with other individuals drives success of the unit, the district, and ultimately the brand. Help the team member see his or her impact on the business results.
2. People want to feel a sense of belonging
This root is all about being part of a team and feeling known and cared about. People need to know they are not just a number or an easily-replaceable body. You chose them because they had something special to bring to the team.
- Get to know your employees as people, not just as employees. Who is important in their lives? What are they most proud of? What are their ultimate life goals?
- Ask what tools, resources, and support they need to be successful. If they don’t know, ask questions to help you determine what they might need.
- Tell employees you appreciate them. Tell them often – from the beginning.
3. People want to go on a meaningful journey
Most of the leaders we work with in retail, hotels, and restaurants started as team members or unit managers. Their stories are inspiring, and many of them started the journey without an expectation that the job would become a career. While in their first job, a manager took an interest in them and invested. And as they say, the rest is history.
- Schedule time to talk about the career path with each employee. Help them see the skills and experiences they need to reach the next level – and the level after that.
- Share the story of your career path and the stories of other managers and leaders.
4. People want to know their contributions make an impact
In the daily grind, it can be easy to lose sight of the impact one has. Unfortunately, some never see the bigger picture of the work they are doing. What would the brand experience be like if the following were the thoughts of employees?
“I’m not making sandwiches. I’m providing a family a meal that nourishes them and provides an opportunity for them to connect with each other.”
“I’m not cleaning a room. I’m preparing a comfortable space for a family to return to while on a vacation that is consuming most of their disposable income for the year.”
“I’m not selling sneakers. I’m selling inspiration and empowerment to this young woman to be active and to invest in her health.”
- If you hear someone describing their job only in tactics, reframe it for them.
- In orientation, help new team members truly understand your customers and begin to build empathy for them.
In the fast paced world of retail and hospitality, we know that you have hundreds of things you need to do as a manager each day, and no shortage of actions and tasks to coach on. Still do those things, but reframe the way you think about those interactions with the team and check yourself. Are you helping your team members feel like they are a part of something bigger, that they belong, that they are on a meaningful journey, and that they have an impact? If you are, then you are on your way to having employees for life or providing a great foundation for someone to begin or advance their career, or both. In any case, you are creating loyalty to your brand.