(This interview was originally posted and is part of a podcast series available through Talented Learning)
Trista Kimber, Director of Training and Design at Hooters of America, sits down with John Leh of Talented Learning to discuss some of the challenges of training a global network of franchisees.
Key topics from the podcast:
- Trista’s Role at Hooters [SKIP TO HERE]
- Organizational Roles [SKIP TO HERE]
- Most Important Training Content [SKIP TO HERE]
- Adapting to International Regulations [SKIP TO HERE]
- Joint Employment Concerns [SKIP TO HERE]
- Regulating Brand Standards [SKIP TO HERE]
- Top Training Mediums [SKIP TO HERE]
- Franchisee LMS Access [SKIP TO HERE]
- LMS Employee Roles [SKIP TO HERE]
- E-Learning Authoring Tools [SKIP TO HERE]
- Measuring Training Success [SKIP TO HERE]
- Parting Advice [SKIP TO HERE]
The audio recording is here:
John Leh (JL): Welcome to the Talented Learning Show with John Leh, Episode 6. Today I interview Trista Kimber Director of Training and Design at Hooters of America about the challenges and best practices of franchise learning. You can find more of our content at www.talentedlearning.com
Welcome to the Talented Learning Show. On this show I interview the world’s leading experts in extended enterprise learning solutions from both the vendor and practitioner perspectives. Our guest today is Trista Kimber, Director of Training and Design at Hooters of America, an international restaurant chain with over 400 locations in 28 different countries. Trista, welcome and thanks for joining us today.
Trista Kimber (TK): Hello, thank you for having me.
Trista’s Role at Hooters
JL: Great, Trista you had a 16 plus year run at Hooters. Reviewing your resume, you occupied everything from training coordinator, town acquisition manager, structural design manager, and now director of training and design. It’s hard to find anybody in the world, I think, with more real-life franchise learning experience, and probably no one better qualified here to help us understand and help our listeners understand the ins and outs of managing franchise locations and your own locations in developing and delivering training and compliance. So once again, welcome, and I was wondering if maybe we could start off by… how about you tell us about yourself and your current role at Hooters and what you’re responsible for.
TK: Like you said, I have well over 16 years of experience and not just the restaurant industry but within my organization. I started off as that college student, trying to put myself through college and that’s where I got into operation. Even though I told myself I wouldn’t be in the restaurant industry past my 21st birthday, it ended up becoming a true passion and as you mentioned, I just continued to move up in the ranks.
I had some really, really bad training experiences early on in my career and everything just led me to, you know, what if I was in a training role? This is how I would do it so nobody has the same experience that I actually had. They were essentially the epitome of: if the worst thing could happen, that’s what happened in my training procedures. It kind of groomed me to take on a role in training and ensure that happens to no one else ever.
That just happened all the way through my entire career and I just kind of kept putting myself in that position of what could go wrong? How did it go wrong and how would I prevent it? Anytime I was making anything to do with training or anything that had to do with hiring a new individual, I would put myself in their position in terms of how would this make them feel? How would they utilize it? How could it impact their training and their perspective of the company, their role, and what they would be doing for us?
Now as the director of training, I actually do have a really large say in how that’s going in our company because I get to come up with all the design, slogans, the systems that we’re using, how we’re going to be creating meals, and what programs we’re going to be doing and really designing those. And I use my operations background and the experiences I had to actually gear those towards each of the individual roles within our organization.
JL: Wow cool that’s pretty neat. I’m just curious, when you think about the different roles, is it like 5 or is it like 25? How many roles do you juggle when you think about the roles in the organization?
TK: Well I think about all of our hourly service-focused roles so everything from the hooters girl to a cook to a hostess. And then I get into more of our salary roles and we have four different levels of management that the individual can have. I have worked in each of those.
Then from a leadership perspective, we get normal unit management. Even thinking about how they’re going to impact the organization and how their training can be achieved when you’re hiring that individual. They still need to learn your company, your concept, they’re trying to open a restaurant, they’re trying to run a region, they’re trying to run a division, how do they juggle all of that? So those are the things that I try to think about.
Most Important Training Content
JL: Wow, that’s more than I would have thought from a role perspective. You said something that’s interesting or made me think of about a mix of types of content. If you had to prioritize, what are the top types of content, not mediums in this question but topical areas. Is it like compliance? Is it this development of the leaders and the franchise owners? Is it running promotions or about the brand experience? Just curious, you know, what would be the top things that you produce and try to get out there?
TK: Everything you mentioned. The top pieces are definitely the brand; that’s one of our biggest assets. I mean, our company has been around since the 80’s, so we’re over 30 years old as a brand and that’s truly how we focus on it. And that’s something we want them to hold near and dear to their hearts, is our brand. Actually every piece of training that we go through and focuses on how does that affect the brand? So that’s kind of embedded into everything.
Because we’re a restaurant: our service platform. How we go around offering our world famous hooters hospitality, what we’re known for, making sure that they truly do understand that aspect. Then depending on what level they are within the organization, some of it is compliance- that does tie into worldwide- so our franchisees actually have vocalization and compliance that they have to deal with, that we may not have to deal with here in the United States.
When it comes to that, we do allow them a little bit more freedom complying with their local regulation. I don’t want to say that here in the United States we have to worry about this and this aspect, whereas we go internationally they may not be a role. So when it comes to that we may share a best practice but we don’t necessarily require that they follow exactly what H.O.A. is doing to the T because it may not translate into their culture.
Adapting to International Regulations
JL: Interesting, so I saw that you have a location in Frankfurt, Germany and other locations in Europe. What about their regulations that are different than ours? You said you have leeway on some things that you have that they don’t need. What about things that go beyond like that General Data Protection Regulation that’s being implemented here in Germany this spring, does that cause you any pause or concern? Do you think about stuff like that or help manage that or you just put that on the local locations?
TK: Actually I just got back earlier this year from opening the Hamburg Germany store. I traveled to Germany, spent three weeks in Germany working with that management team, training their team members; it was a great experience. But one of the big things that’s a little bit different from here in the States is their employees are contracted, so their expectation of hours that they’re going to work or the fact that they’re being contracted for a specific role, it’s very different from how we do it here in the States.
They know that they’re guaranteed a position in that business for however long they’re contracted for. It was just something that as you’re talking to new hires and as you’re going through the expectation- even though they may not necessarily uphold those expectations- it does make it very difficult to document, to coach, and develop those employees. Even in the eventuality that you have to terminate those employees for not upholding those expectations. It makes it very difficult for some of them.
We as the franchisor, we do decide on the side of the Franchise Group, letting them say you know what, yeah, this is H.O.A. policy, this is H.O.A.’s practice, however we want you to have your legal team review any of our policies and any of our procedures. We want you to go through and make sure that is actually applicable to your local laws, your local regulations.
That’s why we try not to overly hold them to our standard. That sounds really weird, but we don’t want anything that is common practice here in the United States- or being that we’re based out of Atlanta, Georgia just a regulation here in Georgia- to affect any of our franchisees anywhere. We leave it up to them and their legal attorneys and things of that nature to be able to say: you know what, this does not apply in our country. We want to change this aspect of the brand or we need to make sure that as we’re selling this role that we need to make it a little bit different in this aspect. Everything we do always comes from the stand point of hey this is the best practice for our organization. However we leave it up to you and your legal teams to make sure it does apply well to your franchise group.
Joint Employment Concerns
JL: Yes, that’s probably a unique very franchisee-friendly way of approaching it for sure. Does that extend to the concept of the joint employer regulations that you have to have some kind of barrier or some kind of wrapper around anything that’s provided to your franchisee and their employees as I think exactly that being is best practices not as mandatory? Is that something that you worry about? Do you know about that joint employer concern?
TK: Yes, the joint employer regulations are definitely of concern for us. We’ve put a lot of things in place this year that necessarily hadn’t been overly focused on in the past. As our employers are becoming more common out there where you’re seeing it a lot more, we’re really looking at just the individual language we’re using as we’re talking about our training program.
We make a lot of things available for them. At no point do we ever say that they have to use any of our training materials. That’s why we focus on our brand and our brand standard, as long as that brand standard is not something that goes against any of their regulations or any local things that may come up within their culture, something of that nature. As long as it doesn’t go against that and we’re upholding our brand standards, there are training programs in the development of those programs that relate to them. We just link everything that we do at H.O.A. available for their use.
Regulating Brand Standards
JL: Yeah, interesting. When you say brand standards: I read on your website about how to get a franchise location. There’s a lot of good information about the traffic that has to be there and the population, the medium income, a lot of the things that I hadn’t considered to just get into one. But how do you know that they’re adhering to your brand standards? Is there ongoing measurement, inspections, how do you know?
TK: We do have ongoing measurement standards that we look at; audits and things of that nature. People look at audits very negatively. We actually have some franchise business directors whose focus is actually working with our franchise group. We have two here in the United States and they literally split the country in half. And then we have one overseas in South America. We have one overseas in the European African continent. Then we have the Asian Pacific area so they have the Asian countries as well as Australia.
Those individuals will go out, they’ll travel to every single one of our franchise locations and visit with them. They’re going to go through and do a brand standards audit and that’s literally looking at restroom standards, food safety measures, looking at the color of the paint that is used on the restaurant making sure that it falls in our color scheme, what the furniture looks like. So it’s very much: is it branded appropriately for Hooters and then also are they giving that hospitality that we’re known for, is the image of hooters girl there, is it what we’re looking for?
We have that aspect, and then the franchise director in the business also works with those individuals. If they need help, or if they’re working on building sales in a restaurant, those individuals work with them independently to make sure that that they’re hitting those key goals in those areas as well. They kind of develop an individual action plan for our franchise group.
What are the Top Mediums of Training?
JL: Wow. You mentioned that you were in Hamburg for three weeks. That’s pretty cool, by the way, to get the opportunity to do that, especially on a company-funded trip. You also mentioned something about creating booklets- I think I heard in another answer that you had. There’s at least two mediums. What are the top content mediums that you use to drive training? Do you send trainers around or virtual classroom, combo of everything? How do you approach it?
TK: We do a combo of everything. So for any store opening, we definitely have trainers on the ground. We’ll send them to our new store opening and they’ll teach classroom style; you know, instructor-led workshop. We do have an LMS so they’re doing online learning. We do a blended approach where they do some OJT. We have webinars, both recorded and live session, so we do have a virtual classroom that people can attend. We have workbooks, we have printed materials, and we have videos that people can watch.
We really try to look at all the different ways that an individual can learn and try to have something available out there so that we’re hitting all of those different learning styles. Where we truly are blending, you get the classroom you get the in-person trainer working with you, you get content material that you can see, feel and read on your own. If you’re flashcard person we have flashcards, if you’re somebody that wants to really get into it and see it, we have videos available for you. So, it’s a huge medium pretty much everything that we have available.
JL: Outstanding and is the LMS the central repository of all this content or do you have it in a few different places based on medium? How do you approach that?
TK: We do have it in a few different places. For Hooters of America, the LMS is our central hub for learning. For our franchisees, we don’t require that any of them purchase the LMS because we realize that internationally you may not have access to the internet. It’s not as common as it is here in the United States. So we make sure that our company intranet actually has the materials available for them as well so that our franchisees can have access.
Franchisee LMS Access Permissions
JL: Did I hear you right that you charge the franchisees for the training or the LMS or no?
TK: For the LMS, they just have to sign the agreement with the company that we use. Really, they just have to pay for their license with the company but we don’t charge them for content. If they have their own LMS and they wanted any of our courses or anything like that we would actually upload on there any of the courses that we made for our company.
JL: And how often does that happen? The franchisee, the locations, have their own LMS sometimes?
TK: We have a few that have their own LMS, but for the most part they really like the company that we’ve partnered with. They’re like, ‘hey you’re doing all of the hard work, you’re building the LMS, we’re just going to jump onboard and use what you’ve already created all the systems, all the background work that it takes into it.’ They just like to jump onboard and say, ‘hey can we do that too?’
LMS Employee Roles
JL: For each one of those locations, do you have different roles in the LMS? Do you have a concept like an organizational or a franchisee manager role that gets specific reports about their group, or do you kind of manage everybody homogenously?
TK: We have individual roles that we can build in our LMS, and if there’s something that one franchise group wants that another doesn’t, we can actually work with them. Our LMS does have the capability where we can build that individual role just for one person that nobody else in the system actually has. So the LMS is pretty high tech in that aspect, that it allows us to kind of customize it for each franchisee. We can even have it where they have an individual look and feel so it doesn’t feel like coming to Hooters of America, it’ll feel like you’re going Hooters of Hamburg.
We can have individual pictures of that location and things of that nature, which makes it really, really nice when you’re employing, and you’re training, and you’re seeing things that you’re familiar with like, ‘hey that’s my restaurant,’ ‘oh my gosh, that’s so-and-so, my trainer.’ So it makes it a little bit more impactful for you. So having an LMS that can do that for us was really key in that aspect.
JL: Yes it’s pretty powerful, your LMS is what?
TK: We partner with eLogic learning.
JL: Your offering tools or what do you prefer?
TK: We prefer to use Storyline.
JL: Storyline and your virtual classroom of choice?
TK: We’re just beginning to get into that aspect. I wouldn’t say that we necessarily have a virtual classroom of choice at this point. With our webinar aspect we use GoToMeetings frequently, GoToWebinars. Those are some of our big things. And for any of our video editing and things of that nature we go with the Adobe Suite.
JL: Okay great, any other tools in your stack you’re using every day for learning?
TK: Just to make it easier on our franchisees when we are building meals and things like that we actually use PowerPoint. I know that’s kind of odd, but when you think of how many people worldwide have access to PowerPoint vs. how many people have access to design things of that nature it’s just easier for us to put it into an editable file in PowerPoint and design a manual using PowerPoint. There are franchisees that need to edit it and need to take out sections or add sections. It just makes it very, very easy to do it that way.
JL: They don’t have to come back to you.
TK: Right, PowerPoint is pretty easy. A lot of people with just beginning level computer skills can figure out how to make edits, how to make changes, things of that nature.
JL: Yeah that makes sense. Do you have off-the-shelf content that you provide your employees or franchisees or is it is that the majority proprietary or some sort of combination?
TK: Majority is proprietary, but we do have some off the shelf material that we have available in our LMS. For those individuals that are in our LMS, they can get access to it because it is off-the-shelf, and we as an organization are paying for it. Unfortunately, I can’t share it with those who are not in the LMS. That was just one of the agreements that we had with the vendor that was providing that material, but we do have some workshops and things of that nature.
We’re going to have Jim Sullivan actually speaking at one of our conferences. We’re opening it up to any of the franchisees who want to attend on the topic of management and we’re paying for it. We’re saying, ‘hey, if you want to attend, it is open, you can be there. It’s not a requirement by any means for you to be there, this is something that we have going on.’
Measuring Training Success
JL: Wow that’s great. This half hour went so quickly, we’re at the end already as I’m drilling here question after question. How do you measure success from your standpoint? It certainly looks like the brand audit, or not audit for the lack of a better word, but the brand audit was one way that you’re measuring it. How do you know you’re being successful when you’re training? That’s what I’m trying to ask.
TK: You really know that you’re being successful in your training when the trainee is turning around and doing all those expectations of what you taught him. So, for us, a big measure of success is actually what our guests are saying back to us. Whether it’s something that they’re posting on social media, if it’s them coming back to see us, if it’s them calling our guest hotline and talking to us about those restaurants. Those are a really big piece of how we measure success.
We do have a compliance piece, where we looked at completion training, and yes, we look at scorecard results of how the restaurant is doing and things of that nature. But one of the biggest ways to see if your training is having an impact is really looking at whether the employee is turning around and using what you trained them.
JL: That makes complete sense. Do you notice any difference between the performance of your corporate-owned stores versus franchisee locations since you can make the one take training (or more of it anyway) versus the other like we were talking about? Is there any impact on how they perform and the things that you’re measuring by chance?
TK: I wouldn’t necessarily say there is or there isn’t. There are franchise groups out there that have a passion for training so even though they’re not necessarily using our exact training program, they have come up with more rigorous programs than what we offer. So we may have a week-long of training, they may have four weeks that they put their employees through, so I can’t say it’s because they’re not using our program that they’re training isn’t top notch. That makes it very difficult if I’m seeing the performance of one over the other because we put so much emphasis on the brand and maintaining the brand that a lot of our franchise locations are definitely making it a priority to ensure that their employees are getting trained appropriately.
JL: Sure, fair enough. All right last question do you have any parting advice or wisdom you can bestow here on organizations that are trying to improve or get started I think with more holistic approaches to franchise learning like you’ve built at Hooters? Any advice you care to share?
TK: Absolutely one of the biggest things that any organization can do actually is listen to their franchisee. Find out what it is that they’re wanting. If something is not working or if they’re not using a training program, find out why. It may be because it’s not applicable in their area or may be that it’s not feasible on their budget or something of that nature. So, talk to them, find out.
Franchisees are a lot more willing to jump on board with anything that you’re trying to roll out to them, whether it be a training program, a brand new item, some change to your brand. There a lot more likely to be onboard with it if they felt they had a say in what you’re working on, because they have that individual ownership that way.
So that’s the biggest piece of advice I can ever, ever relay to anyone and to definitely talk to your franchisee, have roundtables with them, come up with ideas. They may have systems going on in their franchise group that you want to turn over and rollout more on your corporate side. So, definitely work with them and find out what’s going on in their world.
JL: That’s great. Well, there you have it folks. Trista Kimber, Director of Training and Design at Hooters, sharing some real world practical advice and experience with us here today, that’s wonderful. Thank you very much Trista for joining us and we got a webinar coming up here in a week or so where we’ll dig deeper into the topic and you can find more of our information at www.talentedlearning.com and of course Trista and her whole team welcome you to come and see that and experience that brand for yourself and all the hard work that she’s doing manifesting itself in each one of those locations. Thanks everyone, thanks Trista. Have a great day.
TK: Thank you.