In this week's weekly Workstream webinar, we met with Tiara Hicks, Chief People Officer at Prime Hospitality Group, a rapidly expanding franchisee of Ruth's Chris Steakhouse with locations in IN, MO, AR and many more to come. Tiara shares what differentiates top-performing restaurants, growth strategies, and modernizing operations.
Read on for the full transcript:
Table of Contents:
1. Tiara's Career Background
Brett: My name is Brett Spusta, I'm a Hiring Specialist with Workstream. Workstream is a hiring platform, we help mainly restaurants as well as hospitality groups, anyone who's hiring high volume hourly workers, to source candidates and hire through texting. Today, we have Tiara Hicks joining us with Prime Hospitality Group. Tiara is the Chief People Officer in Prime Hospitality Group, a franchisee of Ruth's Chris. We're really excited to talk with her and learn a little bit more about her hiring process and how she uses Workstream to help communicate, source and qualify candidates coming into her restaurants. So maybe to start off it'd be great to learn a little bit more about your background and your role at Prime Hospitality Group (PHG) and what you're working on right now.
Tiara's Career Background
(01:27 - 02:35)
Tiara: Brief overview of my background, been in HR for over 15 years, supported various industries but this is my second go around in the hospitality world so very familiar with this particular industry and a passion for it. I joined PHG in July of 2019 and I was tasked with assessing and implementing change that was necessary to achieve our very aggressive company growth strategy over a 10-year time frame so walked in and we were using Paycom as an applicant tracking system and we weren't really consistent in utilizing particular relationships for posting and sourcing and asking the right questions. We didn't have a process and nobody had really structured that process so that was obviously one of the things that I wanted to tackle first, was our need for talent, developing them to take us to the next steps to grow our business but also filling the open spots that we have in our company.
Improving PHG's Hiring Process with Workstream
(02:36 - 08:53)
Brett: Awesome so it sounds like when you came in you implemented a lot of change. What were some things that you were focusing on and looking for most as you're looking at these hiring processes and thinking about growth?
Tiara: It's so eye-opening when you go into the restaurant and you just observe what's going on and they're doing what they're doing because it works and so I felt like I really had to understand how it was being done to get an idea of how we needed to make improvements. I attended an onboarding session with three hosts and one of the hosts pulled the manager aside and said hey how much am I getting paid and I was like uh oh like we have a big issue. Retention's always a challenge, there's always other opportunities for these folks so how do we do that and one of the obvious ways was to improve communication throughout the process, as well as with them as they were coming onboard with us. The black hole of applications on the internet, how do you avoid that. So I did a lot of research on what kind of system and what partnership did we want to take so that we were able to eliminate that and also automate as much of the process as we could because we're all busy and we all have other duties and responsibilities so how do we engage our candidates and what ways are they applying and communicating and a lot of it is is via text and so what was going to give us the opportunity to get on their level and also keep them engaged by moving the process along.
Brett: That's awesome and that's so true with the black hole of of applications. I think we've all been in that place where you submit an application online and just wait and hope and never really hear anything back or maybe two weeks or three weeks later hear something back from someone. So yeah, that's super important. I'd love to talk a little bit more just about your end-to-end process, how you're leveraging different tools and getting people in. I know that automation has been super important for you and the communication was really important so talk a little bit more about how you've built that into the hiring process with Workstream, how has switching to more of a text-based communication helped with your managers and in the Canada experience.
Tiara: I would say the existing system was very traditional, the jobs got opened in the payroll system and they were left on forever so they were just always looking for everybody and I was like that's giving us a bad reputation. So our employer brand had to be taken into consideration, the culture that we wanted to create, who did we want to attract. There was a lot of thought process that goes into what solutions is going to work out best for you, not only that, but how do we work smarter not harder and how do we decrease that time and all of that fun stuff so that's one of the reasons we looked at automation and to your point we have different steps within our process. We have a partnership, it's called predictive index. We do a two question assessment on all of our candidates and we also use higher credit so we're looking for that work tax credit. I had other systems that I had to try to incorporate into our system to get a smooth process for the candidate because they didn't need to feel the bumps, they just needed to begin and end, and walk through a process so it was all about finding a solution that we could incorporate all of those things into, and allowing that communication so that's how we approached it. Our original application in our previous system was 18 questions long I was like oh my gosh do you even need to talk to them I mean you just asked them everything and when you're trying to do that on your phone, 18 questions, are you kidding me. Coming into the Workstream system and building it, I knew that I needed simplicity and I needed to get to the meat of what we really needed, we needed to get our steps processed and make sure that we were consistent with what we were asking our candidates to do and that automation piece. So you didn't know that you weren't engaging with anybody but the system was saying hey great thanks for your application really appreciate it let's move you to the next step and the engagement was being built from the very beginning or the reminders like hey don't forget you need to go in here and you haven't completed this yet and then it allowed me as a hiring manager because I was the first to demo it to go in and see where candidates were getting stuck, make changes right then and there if I felt like the system needed tweaks or a new question needed to be added, or I found that knockout questions were really beneficial so we're able to reduce the number of candidates that were making it through the process but that was increasing the quality. So I'm not about quantity, I'm about quality and again it's about that reduction of time but making sure that we're still filling those needs.
Brett: I love what you said about the brand. Obviously, Ruth's Chris has a very high prestigious brand and you want to promote that both to your customers as well as the people who want to work there so making sure that people are really engaged the second they apply they don't feel like they're being misled or miscommunicated throughout the process. I love the simplification that's super important especially as people are on their phone and applying with mobile devices you don't want them to be spending hours trying to fill in little boxes. So I'm curious, with the simplification how did you maintain that level of quality and making sure that your hiring managers were trained to recognize the people in interviews that are going to be really high standard of care people.
Hiring High Quality Employees
(08:54 - 11:03)
Tiara: Another thing that I really like about the Workstream system is the ability to give different levels of authorization to make changes. At our restaurants, they're doing the hiring and they have their own questions that is specific to them, shifts that they have available or certain positions that not every location had. I started by creating the template that was getting the core information that we needed to be able to make those decisions but then I went in and I set it up and customized it so that they could add the questions specific to them. So I gave them the template and said hey this is the foundation of what you need and this is our process and these are the steps but I am empowering you to go in here and make it your own. For example, if you do an open interview slot, you can add that stage in there. If you have a knockout question for a certain position because there's a requirement of maybe you need a certain skill set that not everybody else does in our other locations. It was also empowering our managers and getting their buy-in to like hey this is better and it's going to make things easier and that really helped with the transition of rolling it out quickly and getting it across the board. Another place where I think that I didn't touch on earlier but it was able to make an impact is we could incorporate it very easily into our corporate website. The ability to print a poster and have it at the front desk or hang it up in a new store window so people could scan the QR code and apply, or text and apply being able to direct them on our website to go specifically look and the search features, again really keeping in mind both the user, the applicant and my managers because to me they're both users of the system and so trying to set it up so that it worked out best for both of those guys and mine but again that customization was key to making it fit across the board.
Sourcing for Candidates
(12:27 - 15:35)
Brett: Switching gears a little bit, talking about sourcing. Obviously, with people I've talked to in any industry, getting candidates to apply seems to be a challenge right now just given the workforce and unemployment. I noticed that in your account, you had 250 applicants last week and you were actually able to make 16 different hires across your different restaurants. I'm curious where you're seeing applicants coming in from and if you've had any strategies on how to make sure you're getting the right balance of quality and volume in the sourcing efforts.
Tiara: Yeah so a big win with my managers was implementing Workstream because of all of the free job postings that it would automatically send all of the sources to. I was able to help them with their budget. They were posting on Craigslist or they were posting on Indeed and they were all over the place and we didn't really have optics to what site is our talent coming from and where are we getting our biggest thing for our buck if we want to spend some money so to have all of the free postings was huge. That's really all I'm using at the majority of my locations and then it's encouraging them to keep them up to date. We also changed our philosophy, we don't go fishing all the time. We go fishing when we have a need and so that's uncomfortable because they like to be able to have that pool of people they can just latch onto but I've been able to show them how quickly we're able to fill a talent pipeline by quickly posting and keeping ourselves current and again I explained to them the reputation. You don't want to always be looking for people and you don't want people thinking why is everybody leave there, why does nobody want to stay there so we only want to look for what we're really looking for so that was a big piece of it. We have a new store opening, they're in orientation right now and it opens next week, so we sponsored on those jobs. We put it on Facebook by just utilizing the apply here link that comes with the Workstream system and then I sponsored it on ZipRecruiter and Indeed because I get a lot of traction on those two sites whenever I was doing recruiting, so we're strategic about where we spend our money and again we have optics into seeing now how many candidates are coming from what source and who's giving us the better quality of talent. To your comment earlier about getting applicants, I think it's our challenge hasn't been getting applicants. Our challenge has been getting them to show up to interviews and to onboard because in order to qualify for unemployment they're having to prove they're applying, so they're applying and we're seeing those numbers but it's actually converting them into employees that's probably where some of our managers are finding this challenge.
Reducing No-Show Rates with Text Communication
(15:36 - 17:30)
Brett: I hear that all the time that getting people to show up is like three quarters of the battle it seems like. Are you finding that with Workstream and with the texting you're able to reduce those no-show rates or how has that been since switching over to more text-based communication?
Tiara: Yeah so that's awesome allowing them to schedule themselves and have the option to click on a link if something comes up. I tested it and recruited for a few positions and things came up and I had to move people around and it was easy, I could go in and I could hit reschedule, it sends them a link and they just went through and picked another time and they were right back on my calendar again. So it eliminated those frustration through that part it allowed us to easily communicate and schedule and then it does reminders so that helps and there were times for some of our back-of-house positions that we weren't seeing communication from people, so we did then pick up the phone and say hey just wanted to confirm that you got your text and that you're good to go. Another interesting part where this technology came into play that helped for our new store is our office moved. So we were renting a space to do some interviews and then we had to move into the restaurant and I had to be able to change the location of where everybody was meeting and it was really simple because I could just go in and update the system and then that's the new location that they received information on so I wasn't having to go back out and go hey I can't remember where I told you to go but can you go here and we could put in all the instructions and we sent texts to say hey you're going to walk in, you're going to go up to the second floor third door knock on it, whatever communication we needed to have and it allowed us to really script that out.
Work Opportunity Tax Credit
(21:30 - 23:27)
Brett: I know you had mentioned the Work Opportunity Tax Credit (WOTC). For people who are not familiar with that, it's essentially a government program that allows you to get tax credits based on people you hire who are benefiting from different federal programs like unemployment SNAP benefits etc. I'd love to hear how that's worked for you, have you seen a lot of success from that program or what sort of results have you seen?
Tiara: The challenge that I have is that my Work Tax Credit program is through a third party, so it's not affiliated with my payroll company or with Workstream. The challenge that I had was how do I get them to fill out two surveys, one during the application process and two during onboarding, and utilizing technology, I've been able to implement a link and having them go to a different website and fill that out so it's as smooth as it can be but it's not as smooth as it could be if it was already part of the system. So because I'm partnered with a third party that makes it a little bit more of a challenge and then I also get a report every Monday that says hey you've had X number of people apply these people would qualify, depending on your strategy, if your strategy was to get as many of those as you could then that would give you the information to know these are the people that I need to prioritize reaching out to and making sure that I interview and put through the process. We don't do it that way so that hasn't been a priority on that side of it but I do get access to the information, I do see what's available.
Brett: I've seen some mixed results with that program and I'm glad to hear that it's worked pretty well for you but definitely something to take advantage if you're not familiar with it. We do have some resources on our website about it that you could check out for anyone who's listening and wants to know a little bit more about that tax program.
1. What are some examples of knockout questions that you're using maybe for different roles or in the general application?
- We are open most holidays. Are you able to work on weekends and holidays that's like a deal breaker for us, it's something that has to have. So that was a question you were able to put in there. For some of those more experienced physicians like a bartender, do you have at least three years of experience same thing with servers, our entry-level positions are going to be focused more on stewards and hostess and things like that you can transition into so it was really just being able to create those questions again specific to the roles and specific to the location because they each have their own their own deal breakers is what I call them and so they are able to incorporate that into the process.
2. Have you found a cadence or a frequency of reminders that's been the sticking point or what have you seen work really well with getting people to show up or complete stages of the application with those reminders?
- I pretty much went with the recommendations of our implementer at Workstream. She gave me the guidance and the ability to customize it if it wasn't working out so we went with pretty standard. Another feature that I really like about it for those candidates who don't follow through, who don't listen to the reminders, who don't complete steps in this process, we automatically send them a no thing, thanks but no thanks we didn't receive your completion so we're still communicating with them we're still touching base with them even at the end when we say hey sorry this process didn't get completed so we couldn't move you along. It's still communication so they know where they stand and they're not just hey I applied to there and I never heard anything. Nobody's saying that anymore.
3. You mentioned taking the advice of our Customer Success, Mary, who I believe you work with who's awesome. A question came in just around the implementation of Workstream and how that looks with getting your managers trained and getting set up to get everything going, what did that look like for you?
- Way better than I thought it was going to. Anybody who implements systems and is trying to get changed, it was fairly easy. Mary did a phenomenal job she took all my job templates she set up all my different locations, she had me good to go there. We set up that general template of questions and processes, Mary did all of that for me as well and then Mary does an amazing job of making me videos. So if I send her a question, she makes me a video on where do you click and where do you go and how do you do that so then I'm able to quickly flip those videos around to my managers and that's basically they logged in for the very first time, they took a tour I did a one-hour zoom with each one of them. I had them pick the GM and another manager who did hiring and had them attend and I walked through and answered questions and then they've got those videos and then that little chat feature when they get stuck, they're able to really utilize that, so they can get help when I'm not available because I'm not available all the time. So it's nice that they're able to search for help and find those videos themselves and move the process along so it went much better than I expected.
4. How many questions do you actually ask in your application now and how many do you go through before you decide if you want to bring them for an interview. Do you do you know off the top of your head?
- I've got five questions on the first round and then the second round digs into schedule and availability, holidays, those kinds of questions and then I love the feature of I always ask for one work reference. I might not use it in the beginning of the process but depending on the level of position as we get near the end I can go back to that information so that's always helpful.
5. Do you rely more on that predictive index assessment that you're using to decide who's going to come in for that interview?
- No I would say the PI is utilized more at a management level position, that's where that really comes into being a factor. For the hourly positions, we're still working on getting our managers access to it so that they could utilize it as a decision making tool, so that's not being done in our life. I would say what it's work experience and schedule availability, those are probably the two factors that they're looking at the most when they're determining who to make that contact with and then experience like if it's grill, certain positions that that we need them to come with that experience already so that would kind of be the third one.
6. Sounded like mostly Indeed, Facebook and ZipRecruiter were your top three job boards. I'm curious do you have any sense of are there different job boards or different areas that are better for different types of candidates? Do you get kitchen staff from one place versus front of house versus managers? Have you seen any trends that way?
- Yeah I would say back-of-house positions, I tend to post on Craigslist. More hourly focused positions, ZipRecruiter. I think all around is a really good investment. I like their pricing strategy, I utilize them in other positions that I've had supporting other organizations so they really run the gamut of that from an hourly level up to in the manager side. I think ZipRecruiter, Indeed is always out there but like I said what's really nice and I don't know the number maybe you do off the top of your head is how many free sites Workstream automatically posts to and that does include Indeed and it does include Facebook and a lot of the big ones that we're not even having to spend any recruiting dollars on. I'm not having to sponsor anything we're able to get enough flow and then like i said the ability to have a QR code or a number that you text it makes it super simple to go out on social media and say hey we're looking for great talent like you, go to this address, text this number, see what positions are available. It's as simple as hitting copy getting your link and then sending it over same thing with setting up our website. It's just made things a lot easier to access and to be able to integrate my other systems to support the recruiting side of it rather than being in these silos where everything's individuals.
7. Where do you find your industry news and trends and what resources could you point out for people to dig into some of this stuff a little bit more?
- There's restaurant associations, they are always big from an HR standpoint specifically. I am loving the trend of HR roundtables. So a lot of HR consultants, a lot of payroll companies are starting these HR round tables for certain levels so at a C level at a director level at a manager level and they're getting really specific about who gets invited to these groups and then it's a mastermind to be able to share so I would strongly encourage seeing what round tables are out there. Restaurant association is always great for industry specific. LinkedIn, I'm a big one out there on seeing what's out there going on for the people that you follow and again kind of customizing who you're getting your information from rather than just the worldwide net kind of throwing it all at you.
8. Chris Johnson over at the pump house asked about feedback from your management team on Workstream and in the process.
- Yes they give me lots of feedback anytime when we experience any hiccups. They're very proactive in reaching out to make sure that the system is operating the way that it should be. Their feedback has been very positive, like I said they're loving that their budget is not getting impacted by all of these beings for all of these ads and monitoring that. They're able to fill their position, I'm not going to say that we fill them all super easy, we had to go out there and sponsor a few of those positions for that new store opening we had to spend some money we had to focus it we had to get a strategy around looking for that talent specifically in the Chesterfield Missouri area and they have appreciated having a tool that gives them all of that in one area. Now the piece that we haven't done yet is, we haven't implemented it with our payroll system. I think once I get that done and it's a seamless you hire your offer letter and then it flows to onboarding. I think they're going to love me but they're still grumbling a little bit in between now.
Hiring Specialist at Workstream