Not long ago, I wrote this article for Smart Business about my wife’s grandmother, who was in the habit of going to Wendy’s every day, for 20 years, to get her Diet Coke.
When she pulled up to the drive-thru, the employees would wave her on down to the window; they already knew what she wanted, and that’s why she was there.
It wasn’t about the Diet Coke. There are plenty of places she could’ve gone to get that. But the Wendy’s employees were her people, she told me. They knew her by name.
That kind of personalized service, that feeling of familiarity, is a pillar of the Wendy’s culture. For my podcast, The Thermostat, I sat down with Wendy’s Chief People Officer Coley O’Brien to dive into the company’s strategy for attracting and retaining talent—and how they ensure that employees at their headquarters and across all of their 6,700 locations know and live out the Wendy’s values.
You can listen to our full conversation here—and read on for key takeaways O’Brien has gleaned surrounding building a compelling culture from top to bottom.
Make it more than a job.
O’Brien says it doesn’t matter if you’re the Wendy’s CEO or the person running the grill. “The vast majority of employees want to be a part of something that’s bigger than the role they’re in,” he says, “whatever that might be.” The company recognizes that and makes it a point to not only deliver a great product and great customer service but also to let their employees know they value giving back and treating people with respect—two standards that resonate, no matter what your role is.
Offer opportunities for growth—and recognize potential.
Wendy’s employees often first come to the company as high school student simply looking for a part-time job. O’Brien has talked to several general managers, who are now leading teams in the dozens and running $2 million restaurants, who weren’t planning to stick around, but they saw opportunity. “In many cases, that wasn’t probably what they were thinking about when they were asked in school, ‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’ ” O’Brien says. “[But] they see opportunity.” They also often had someone who recognized something in them that they perhaps didn’t see in themselves, and so they stayed and explored that potential with Wendy’s.
Take a more holistic approach to culture.
Organizations across industries often believe culture to be a long-term experience for an employee, something they observe and participate in over months or years. But O’Brien says Wendy’s recognizes that a potential employee will start forming an opinion of their culture from their first interaction with the company. So they need to be sure that interaction, whether it be through their application process or the career site, is positive and relays the right messages. It starts long before their first day on the job. “How do we show up, and how do we bring our culture to the forefront from that first second on?” he says.
Redefine how your people work.
Wendy’s goes to great lengths to measure employee engagement, and one of O’Brien’s biggest takeaways from those efforts is the redefinition of the traditional workday. Organizations who can meet people where they are by perhaps offering flexible hours or opportunities to work remotely are the ones who will keep their employees engaged. “We know that carries a huge impact on their desire to stay with us as a brand,” he says. “That we recognize them as a whole individual, and we’re an important part of their life to achieve the successes they want both in work and outside of work.”
Don’t just talk about the “what.” Talk about the “how.”
O’Brien says Wendy’s isn’t just hyper-focused on the what of their business, which is their great business results and customer experience. They’re also focused on the how. And the how is determined by the company’s core values. They keep them at the forefront by talking about them, writing them on the wall and living them out with action and conviction. “That’s a great place of strength for us,” he says. “And it’s our obligation to make sure we’re continually demonstrating that through our leadership behaviors.”
Want more content like this? You can subscribe to The Thermostat, my podcast where I share culture-shaping lessons and interviews with authentic leaders, here. Thanks for listening, rating and reviewing.