Chief People Experience Officer Lynne Zappone on managing talent, limiting turnover and fostering cooperation
To an outside observer, there is perhaps no other industry so accustomed to turnover and temporary employees as food service. Yet, many resumes likely begin with a maiden entry for time spent serving guests, cooking food, working a register or disinfecting tables and floors.
There is a perception that these often young and perhaps inexperienced employees take little ownership of their jobs beyond what is asked of them. Their employers are similarly disinclined to overextend themselves on any one employee’s behalf. Thanks to a talent development and people-focused culture launched three years ago, Chief People Experience Officer Lynne Zappone has helped Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen overcome the hurdles of that conventional wisdom.
Four Strategic Pillars
When the company was searching for a Chief Human Resources (HR) and Talent Officer in 2011, leadership hoped to find an HR executive who would help develop servant leaders and build a culture of hospitality. Enter Zappone, who brought with her not only 20-plus years of experience in these areas, but more specifically within the hospitality industry with Intercontinental Hotels Group from 1998 to 2011.
The marriage of Popeyes’ desired direction and Zappone’s skills and experience was a seamless one that initiated a shift in the brand’s culture. Today Popeyes aims to be a people-centric employer focused on creating a work environment in which team members can feel welcomed, inspired, grown and celebrated. Maintaining this environment helps team members deliver on the company’s four strategic pillars:
- Build a distinctive brand;
- Create memorable experiences;
- Grow restaurant profits; and
- Accelerate quality restaurants.
Upon joining Popeyes, Zappone brought about the introduction of several talent management initiatives. These new tools and processes are designed to find and engage the right talent, create a safe environment to engage team members, and grow them through leadership development programs.
“Our integrated talent management program looks at the competence and character of both prospective team members and those who work for Popeyes today, with each weighted equally. We certainly review a candidate’s abilities and technical skills because they are crucially important, but being able to build relationships across the organization, managing cross-functional projects and leading teams is just as important. Essentially, how you work is equally as important as what you do.”
She described, too, the performance management calibration process that has been implemented across all levels of the company. This approach ensures ratings are aligned with true performance and consistent across the enterprise. Leaders must come prepared to articulate team ratings with examples celebrating what they’ve achieved and how they’ve worked with others.
Knowing & Growing People
Where Zappone truly shines is helping to define and reinforce cultures. She discussed the kind of culture she has sought to create since arriving: “Our Popeyes leadership program is built on the foundation of team members discovering their personal purpose. We believe if our teams can bring that purpose to life at work, they will be more engaged and able to achieve superior results. For example, my personal purpose is to create communities where people can thrive. I have opportunities to deliver on that purpose every day, whether I am planning companywide activities, coaching team members or developing new tools focused on engaging our people.”
As a leader, Zappone also believes in being authentic and approachable. “Whether you are a franchisee or a fry cook, you will be always treated with respect. My role is to create a workplace where every member of the team feels valued, cared for and is having fun so they can bring their best self to the table.”
Development doesn’t always happen in the classroom. Sometimes it’s about getting involved in projects or having a mentor. At Popeyes, the leaders say, “We have to know you to grow you.” The brand has been testing a mentoring program to help foster new relationships and to connect team members across the organization. In describing the program, piloted last year, Zappone noted that Popeyes worked with an external firm to match mentees with mentors, experimenting with mentor-to-mentee ratios of both 1:1 and 1:2.
“In the best mentoring relationships, the mentor benefits as much as the mentee,” she said. “It’s all about building a trusting and respectful relationship.”
Adapt to Succeed
The blend of competence and character permeates Popeyes from the inside out. Though Zappone recognizes and is proud of the progress that’s been made, she is even more excited for the journey ahead. With Zappone at the helm, there seems to be no telling how far the company’s authentic cuisine and congenial culture can go.
Finally, as it pertains to advice she has for young professionals aspiring to executive leadership, Zappone places the greatest value on adaptability, curiosity, leveraging your strengths and developing new skills.
“Strong leaders are self-aware and seek feedback, even constructive feedback, of their work. Even veteran employees can grow and learn new skills, especially in the areas they happen to be weakest,” she said. “In a small company like ours, this approach has helped to create versatile team members who don’t just specialize in one area or stay in their silos.”
Tamer Abouras is a freelance writer based in Williamstown, New Jersey.
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