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4 ways you can crib from Chipotle on how to engage employees

Some of these are easier to learn and implement than chopping jalapeños.

4 ways you can crib from Chipotle on how to engage employees
[Photo: Chipotle]

“What’s up?”

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As an HR guy, I ask a lot of questions, some serious and some more casual and conversational in nature. This simple question is my standard and signature greeting and it’s more valuable than most may assume. It’s an effort to connect, to engage with someone, and to show I care. This question also serves as an open door to an approachable ear.

From research, we know that when employees feel listened to, they’re more engaged and connected to their company and leader. In turn, they’re more loyal, and they stay. But how do you get them there? The answer is simple: connect. Here are four ways we make this happen:

Know your people

At Chipotle, we’ve created a culture of inclusion, one in which everyone matters. That’s why our human resources department is called people experience headed up by a chief people officer. The way we focus on our restaurant guests is the way we create the same level of experiences for our people. It’s intentional language, kind of like my “what is up.” We encourage all leaders to truly get to know their direct reports and their teams at least two levels down. They should know their roles and accomplishments as well as how to effectively foster their growth and development.

Our leadership team embraces this philosophy, leading by example during restaurant site visits. They ask questions to each member of the crew and engage in dialogue, learning about team members and their individual goals. What’s been amazing is the number of business insights gathered from these simple conversations. Conversations and connections that ultimately drive change.

Grow your people

Chipotle’s purpose is to Cultivate a Better World. We do that with food and with people. An important part of cultivating people is creating an environment where they can thrive and pursue their passion. In fact, more than 80% of our restaurant general managers have been promoted, often from starting as line-level crew members. Last year alone, we promoted more than 13,000 employees across different levels of the organization. This means we have a lot of first-time managers, which offers me an exciting opportunity to assist in guiding their careers.

[Photo: Chipotle]

Invest in your people

To help our managers become successful, we’ve invested heavily in training and development tools, including coaching, webinars, and in-person training. At the Restaurant Support Centers, we have corporate employees participate in restaurant training for three days. It’s important that even support center team members see and taste Chipotle at the restaurant level to understand how their decisions will impact the field-based team members who they serve. Also, to appreciate the hard work that goes into prepping and serving real food made from real ingredients. It’s not as easy as it looks to chop jalapeños, mash avocadoes, and roll burritos.

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We also leverage outside partners to help us develop team members, specifically new people managers. We’ve had great success with Bravely, a service that provides confidential, unbiased guidance on approaching issues. The autonomy our managers feel with Bravely has been a big win internally. One of our general managers referenced the service as “a personal coach, almost like a mentor who will give objective advice and direction.” Throughout our 2018 transformation, this service aided in retention as an undeniable part of keeping key legacy individuals engaged. Team members were able to receive real-time, third-party coaching and in return helped ignite the new brand vision.

Engage your people

Be open to feedback and embrace change. We received constructive feedback about our former annual performance review process that required massive paperwork, number crunching, and forced awkward conversations. Little action came from these so-called action plans, so we eliminated them. Instead, we launched the 4×4. This is a conversation between an employee and their manager that happens four times a year and focuses on four simple questions: two looking back on performance and two looking forward on development.

The new format is working, rooted in the concept of having a two-way dialogue with a goal to empower employees and encourage growth. It opened a door for a casual chat to lead into an actionable item, bridging the gap between interpersonal and professional development conversations. Based on a recent company-wide engagement survey, we know this strategy is working and have received lots of positive feedback.

At Chipotle we are trying to keep it as real as our food. Taking the time to engage with team members, understanding who they are, how they work, and how they can be supported has worked for us. You can do the same at your company by acknowledging the human in each person, by encouraging and investing in them. Simply put: Connect with the hearts and minds of your people.

Jamie Viramontes is the vice president of talent at Chipotle Mexican Grill.

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