How do you engage workers in entry-level food-service jobs, which are notoriously dead-end? Ari Weinzweig, co-owner of Zingerman's Delicatessen, in Ann Arbor, Mich., is doing something right: in an industry with an average turnover of 150%, his is just 60%. Here are some basic techniques that Weinzweig says are helpful in building a great workplace:
Communicate clearly to employees. Weinzweig's primary job, he says, is selling his company's principles to the staff -- reiterating how important those entry-level jobs are. Employees receive a hefty monthly newsletter detailing new products, departmental news, and the company's direction. It also reviews business books. And last summer the restaurant and food store began posting weekly sales and labor costs. Also, at open monthly meetings, management reviews profit-and-loss statements. That encourages employees to think like businesspeople.
Listen to employees. Almost every newsletter article solicits ideas and suggestions. Weinzweig listens to those ideas and to employees' problems. For instance, when Tammy Chew, hired as a porter seven years ago, handed in her notice, the owners asked what it would take to keep her. She decided she wanted to handle construction and repairs for the company. Now building manager, Chew saves the company money and helps sidestep hassles with outside contractors.
Promote from within. Of the 52 senior Zingerman's employees, 44 were homegrown. That practice requires more training, Weinzweig acknowledges, but those employees already understand the company and its customers -- the most difficult thing to teach new hires.
Give employees a stake in the company. Zingerman's offers profit sharing to all employees after one year.
Not all of the 140-odd Zingerman's employees are responsive to the company's efforts, Weinzweig admits. But he maintains that the payoff is clear with workers like Chew. "Here I can learn as much as I want," she says, "and nobody's stopping me." -- Phaedra Hise* * *