While we don’t have In-N-Out Burgers here in the Hoosier State, the message in this BusinessWeek article about the restaurant is one that crosses state lines. The article explains how the burger chain has succeeded by making an extra effort to keep staffers happy — and on staff. It’s a bit of a paradigm buster for the fast food industry, and there are some valuable lessons here for any business. If you want to succeed, find good people — and keep them:
But on issues of quality, Rich remained his father’s son (Rich Snyder became president of In-N-Out Burger at the young age of 24, due to the death of his father, Harry). In 1984, in Baldwin Park, Calif., he set up In-N-Out University, a training facility, with the aim of filling the pipeline with qualified managers and reinforcing the company’s focus on quality, cleanliness, and service. About 80% of In-N-Out’s store managers started at the very bottom, picking up trash before rising through the ranks. Rich realized that if he wanted to expand, he needed to put a system in place that would professionalize management.
To attend In-N-Out University, an associate usually had to have worked full-time at a store for a year. In that time, she had to demonstrate initiative, strong decision-making ability, and impressive people skills. A cornerstone of In-N-Out’s limited growth strategy was to expand only as quickly as the management roster would allow. At the university Rich came up with a number of ideas to hone the training process. For instance, a team of field specialists was deployed to motivate and instruct associates. Inspired by pro sports teams, Rich began producing a series of training films and videotaped trainees to critique their performance.
Although the work could be dreary—imagine a four-hour shift spent cleaning up spilled milk shakes—associates were made to feel part of an important enterprise and given opportunities to advance. On-the-job training was wedged in between mealtime rushes, and everyone was given large helpings of feedback. Rich wanted each associate to understand his job and how he could do it better. The result was that many part-timers came for a summer job and stayed for a career…
At one point when Rich was planning the expansion drive, he sought the advice of a food industry consultant. The expert told Rich that if he slashed salaries, In-N-Out could save a "ton of money." This infuriated Rich. Recounting the story, he said it was exactly the kind of advice one would expect "from a guy who wears a suit and who thinks you don’t pay a guy who cooks hamburgers that much money." Continue reading