Staying on top in business is about being watchful for the next big opportunity. As the ones responsible for giving every team the tools and training they need, L&D leaders have a critical role to play in making sure their business can respond to these opportunities.
Whether you’re a new upstart, or a prestige brand with a long history and a loyal customer base, you need to stay ready. When opportunity knocks, your teams need to be prepared to change direction and offer new - and different - products.
Recently, I sat down with Felicia White, VP of Global Operations Training & Development at Church’s Chicken. We talked about how she uses flexible L&D techniques to keep every member of Team Church’s ready for the next big challenge.
We kicked things off by discussing some exciting recent developments.
It’s official: the ‘chicken sandwich war’ is heating up. Now, after serving their signature fried chicken for nearly seven decades, Church’s is expanding their menu with their own take on the chicken sandwich. As Felicia explains, the stakes for the launch are high.
“We’re really throwing our hat in the ring with our new chicken sandwich,” she says. “We’ve been working on this product for over a year, and we wanted to make sure we have everything perfect and ready to go. It’s a game-changing product for us.”
For Church’s, stepping up to the plate isn’t just a question of following the competition - it’s about responding to customer demand for new experiences. “It’s a product line extension we’re extremely proud of, and we know it’s going to have a huge impact,” says Felicia. “We’re only two weeks into the launch, and we’re generating a lot of buzz, and a lot of sales.”
Even more impressive than boosting sales? The fact that Felicia and the rest of the Church’s team launched this product despite the disruptions of COVID-19.
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In the food service industry, ensuring quality and consistency is crucial when launching a new product. As Felicia explains, the COVID-19 situation has added an even greater layer of complexity to the launch.
“When we laid out our training calendar in January, we imagined being about to go into the market and provide training in person,” she says. “Of course, these best-laid plans were all thrown out the window as the pandemic unfolded.”
“We had to adjust our plan to create an engaging training session covering all the key topics, but keeping things virtual,” says Felicia. “We needed to create a hands-on feel, with the same type of engagement everyone is used to, but through a computer screen.”
Having the right tools made all the difference. “We were able to incorporate training through tools like Microsoft Teams and Zoom. This way, our managers still had two-way communication with every one of our learners. We also introduced different poll features, and we used our LMS to follow-up on our results.”
“We needed to create a hands-on feel, with the same type of engagement everyone is used to, but through a computer screen.”
Switching to remote training for the launch of Church’s new chicken sandwich didn’t just help to execute the launch - it also boosted the number of training sessions Felicia and her team could deliver. In fact, she even set a few records on the way.
“Fortunately, we were able to flex and deliver everything safely,” says Felicia. “With a typical product launch, we’d have around 55-60 in-person training sessions over a three-to-four week period. Instead, we turned this into ten sessions over two weeks. The 1,000 people we would usually have in attendance grew to 1,400 people. That’s a record for us.”
As Felicia explains, these expanded training sessions helped to increase the reach and depth of the training. “We were able to train a larger audience, because we could get cooks and cashiers involved, and other people who usually can’t travel to a training session. This was a big win, because we were going deeper into the hierarchy and training a wider pool of learners.”
This example illustrates the true value of flexible L&D techniques. By switching to remote training, Felicia and the Church’s team kept their product launch on track, and expanded their pool of learners to reach even more people.
"Instead, we turned this into ten sessions over two weeks. The 1,000 people we would usually have in attendance grew to 1,400 people. That’s a record for us.”
A big part of Felicia’s success comes down to the Church’s Chicken philosophy of empowering people to take charge of their own learning.
“We expect everyone to stay current when it comes to their development,” she says. “We launched our training with webinar sessions, but we expected everyone to follow up by completing training in our LMS, too.”
This doesn’t just mean the front-line staff, either. “We weren’t only training the cashiers, the cooks, the restaurant managers, or the franchise owners,” says Felicia. “We were training our folks in the restaurant support center, from finance and payroll, all the way up to the CEO. Everyone had to attend training and take the follow-up e-learning.”
For Felicia, having everyone on the same page created a lot of buzz. “It was really helpful for everyone to have a high-level understanding of the product and what was happening in our restaurants. It’s been an exciting time, because we’re all part of Team Church’s.”
“It was really helpful for everyone to have a high-level understanding of the product and what was happening in our restaurants. It’s been an exciting time, because we’re all part of Team Church’s.”
Although stepping into the sandwich war has been a challenge - especially during such a tumultuous year - it’s showing some great results so far.
“We’ve been closely monitoring our guest feedback to look for the key points we covered during training,” she says. “We’re tracking sales, checking the dollars and cents, and also looking at food costs to make sure we aren’t having any issues with waste.”
And as Felicia points out, this training is still an ongoing priority. “We’re hiring new people into the system every day, and we want to make sure people are trained right away. We’ve been averaging 90-93% completion on training just with this particular module, which is fantastic.”
“We’re using mystery shops to track overall guest satisfaction with the sandwich. Since we started, we’ve been averaging in the low 80% range, which is great given this is a totally new product.”
For Felicia, this experience has served to highlight the importance of flexible learning techniques in pursuing new opportunities. “It required a major behavioral and cultural shift for individuals in the restaurant. It’s exciting, because we’re focusing on making sure people are executing at the highest possible level.”
A huge thanks once again to Felicia for sharing her experiences with us!
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