The importance of proper training cannot be denied, according to Helen Wechsler, director of BC Dining at Boston College in Chestnut Hill, Mass. Wechsler says when she became director in 2005, new employees would come in and just be thrown right into their positions because everyone was too busy to give them proper training.
“We backed up and said we’ve got to do better because [training] feeds directly into employee retention and the happiness of the other employees,” Wechsler says. “We spent an entire year creating a new employee training program that is very intense.”
The program starts with hiring. Once an employee is hired he or she goes to a training unit where he or she works with a trainer for two weeks. Wechsler says the department trained its hourly employees who where consistently being rated highly during evaluations as trainers. During those two weeks the new employee doesn’t just do the job for which they were hired, he or she works an entire round in the operation so he or she gets the entire picture.
“Even if I’m the first cook I might be making sandwiches one day and receiving the next,” Wechsler says. “Each day during those two weeks you are with a trainer so you learn best practices. You also sit down with a manager at the beginning and end of your day and they have a checklist with things like, do you know where the time clock is? Do you understand your benefits? Do you know what to do with your uniforms? When those two weeks are over, the employee goes to the unit he or she was hired in and is paired up with a peer who is the same level and he or she trains for a week with them. Then he or she is off and running. It’s made all the difference in the world.”
Management training follows the same system, although the managers train for six weeks and they go to every operation. Wechsler says this works well because she had managers who had been with the department for five years and had never been to every location on campus. The managers in training do everything from receiving to cashiering and cooking.
“Before they ask someone to do something like put the milk in the milk machine, they know what it’s like,” Wechsler says. They know what receiving is like and they know where a receiving record is kept. That’s something I’m really proud of.”
Another aspect of training is a management internship program. Wechsler says because of the economic downturn the department lost four managers by attrition and wasn’t allowed to hire anymore.
“We had to reorganize the way we looked at our management schedule and then we were allowed to add what I call the management intern who would be almost a rounds manager for us,” Wechsler says. “The first person we hired as a management intern, we actually were allowed to hire permanently.”
Gold standard: Wechsler says one big challenge she encountered was when she was trying to convey her vision for the department and her employees didn’t seem to understand.
“Twice a year we have a departmentwide meeting that is all about training and keeping people up-to-date,” Wechsler says. “My role is to give the vision of the department and talk about where we are going because I like to be as transparent as we can be. I kept hearing, ‘What’s our goal? How do I fit in?’ As a leader of the department I was like, ‘How come no one gets it?’ So we developed the Gold Standard of Service, which spells out our vision, our values and how those relate to the institution we serve.”
To develop the Gold Standards of Service Wechsler says she took her management team on a two-day retreat where they worked on developing what exactly the gold standards were. There are 12 gold standards. The standards cover everything from how the employees respect and talk to each other to how they serve their customers. Wechsler says it’s like training in itself because they are constantly being reminded about the proper way to do things. There is also a new credo and motto that relate to specific positions, be it a dishwasher or a manager.
“I realized they were asking what’s my role in all this?” Wechsler says. “So we came up with this to define their roles: ‘To demonstrate through every action or commitment concerning care for each and every individual. I do this daily with pride, purpose, respect, integrity, dedication and enthusiasm.’ We use that all the time to sort of define what your role is as an individual.”
Another important initiative for the department was the Shoot for the Stars incentive program that Wechsler and her team started. To respond to the economic downturn Wechsler says she knew the department needed to focus on its three key areas: absenteeism, food cost and sales. Wechsler says by focusing on these three areas, the staff was being trained about their importance to the success of the operations.
“We started an incentive program called Shoot for the Stars where all the operations compete in those categories,” Wechsler says. “At the end of every semester, a unit wins and they are each awarded a $50 bill. We’ve seen a decrease in the last three years in our overall food costs, our sales have steadily increased and out absenteeism has pretty much stayed flat, but at least it hasn’t increased. People love it because every month the unit that wins gets a little star and so some units have stars all over. They are competing not only with each other but also against themselves, so the better they do the harder it is to top it.”
To read more about Wechsler's initatives, check out the July 2011 issue of FoodService Director