In-N-Out Burger is one of the most popular fast food chains on the US west coast. As a leader, what do you have in common with In-N-Out Burger zealots (a.k.a., their store managers)?

May 1, 2009

3 Min Read
Food for Thought: How to Motivate, Retain Employees

By David Russell



In-N-Out Burger is one of the most popular fast food chains on the US west coast. As a leader, what do you have in common with In-N-Out Burger zealots (a.k.a., their store managers)? You both have to manage employees effectively, retain top performers, and hold down costs while maintaining consistent quality. Here’s how to do so.

BusinessWeek’s Stacy Perman has written an article and a book about the fast-food chain, and those efforts might be good reads for VARs.

Fast food restaurants are known for high turnover and questionable quality, yet In-N-Out is the exception. They are known for exceptional quality and the tenure of their associates indicates they know how to make flipping burgers a meaningful life experience.

The strength of the In-N-Out organization came from Rich Snyder, one of the sons of founders Esther and Harry Snyder. Rich expanded the chain by focusing closely on the quality of the food and the staff before he was killed in a plane crash in 1993.

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Consider how you can take what they have learned In their company -n- try it Out in your VAR organization:

• Harry, the father, decided early on to call his employees “associates,” but it was Rich who aggressively developed programs to encourage the associates to continue to work at In-N-Out much longer than his father imagined was possible.

• As I explain often, employee retention involves helping them understand their future with your organization. Rich setup In-N-Out University, a training facility intent on filling his need for qualified managers and reinforcing the company’s focus on quality, cleanliness and service.

• About 80% of In-N-Out store managers, who make about $100,000 a year, started at the very bottom, picking up trash before rising through the ranks. Ask yourself, why?

• Rich began producing a series of training films and video tape trainees to critique their performance, just like star athletes do. Have you ever considered videotaping an employee (with their approval, of course) to help them critique their performance?

• Associates are encouraged to participate in on-the-job training that is waged in between mealtime rushes and everyone is given large helpings of feedback. He motivated part-timers who came for a summer job to stay for a career. How can you do the same?

• When Rich talked to store managers, he was always careful to refer to the shops as “your stores,” to instill a sense of ownership. How often do you communicate to your people in a way that transfers ownership to them?

• In-N-Out pays associates more than the going rate and offers an expansive set of benefits, but that is not what transforms their worker attitudes. The actions of their leader does. For instance, one year at Christmas, Rich took his managers to a performance of The Nutcracker. He insisted they wear tuxedos because he thought they were as good as any blue-chip manager in the audience, and he wanted them to feel that way too.

• Understand How You Make a Difference is one of the Desired Results in my book, Success With People. It’s about making certain your people believe they are doing meaningful work so they are fully engaged. The best quote about In-N-Out in this article:

“Although the work could be dreary – imagine a four-hour shift spent cleaning up spilled milkshakes – associates are made to feel part of an important enterprise and given opportunities to advance.”

If In-N-Out can make cooking, selling and cleaning up after people eating hamburgers a career, then as VARs we need to consider how we might apply some of their methods in our business to increase employee engagement and retention.



Contributing blogger David Russell is a best-selling author and CEO of MANAGEtoWIN, which develops employee performance management solutions.

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