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Case Study: Serving Up Safety

A safety program helped a restaurant rebound.

a hearty mealWhen executives at a national restaurant chain began discussing ways to improve the company's financial performance, safety likely was not the first topic to come up in conversation. In fact, it was probably nestled on the back page of management's menu, well behind more traditional conversations around restaurant locations, marketing strategies, and efforts to generate patron traffic.

Priorities changed, however, when a full-service performance improvement company was invited in to assess existing corporate strategies and explore ways to boost the bottom line. Through an in-depth analysis of existing data, performance metrics were benchmarked against corporate objectives and established best practices. Findings clearly outlined operational gaps, and an interesting picture related to safety was uncovered.

How did the safety storyline unfold as data were reviewed?

  • A high number of monthly accidents (slipping on wet floors, kitchen accidents, etc.) were being reported across all restaurants.
  • Filling service slots opened by accidents was putting a strain on the chain's existing workforce and was adding expenses related to temporary help expenditures.
  • A workforce in flux and the subsequent inconsistencies in service levels appeared to be negatively impacting customer service and satisfaction scores.
  • As service and satisfaction scores fell, there were correlating drops in employee satisfaction levels and overall financial performance.

Although such cause-and-effect issues are generally spurred by multiple triggers, the deficiency in safety performance quickly came into focus. The spotlight for the company suddenly shifted from traditional marketing and sales matters to safety, a topic that probably was not top of mind for most employees. After all, a common misperception is that an intense focus on safety is something you would find with warehouses, production lines, and a host of other industries--not restaurants.

Introducing a Safety Culture
Ultimately, changing the company's direction wasn’t about introducing safety into the workforce. There were well-defined processes and compliance guidelines in place. Instead, the effort focused on consistency, top-down alignment of safety best practices, and a stronger effort to engage a multi-level workforce in the message. It was critical every employee clearly understood his role in helping the company improve performance when it came to safety adherence. The effort required a culture of safety to be introduced.

The solution was a team-based recognition and reward program with an overall goal of reducing the number of accidents resulting in reportable claims. The program's design focused on creating an environment that engaged the company's most valuable assets--its people--in safety-centered education and measurable performance improvement steps. The team element helped reinforce a sense of accountability and an atmosphere where encouragement was rewarded.

Each restaurant received a program kit including, among other items, multilingual program brochures and posters. Quarterly newsletters kept various safety topics, such as food safety, burns/cuts, and emergency preparedness, top of mind. Interactive safety quizzes, supported by various sweepstakes awards, helped ensure employees were taking accountability for understanding safety tips and company growth objectives.

To enhance peer-to-peer support of best practices, all restaurant employees earned award points if specific monthly safety goals were achieved at the restaurant level. Employees also were rewarded if their restaurants achieved quarterly safety training, participation, and incident reduction objectives. Award points were redeemed through a catalog featuring a great selection of merchandise items at a variety of point tiers.

Reaping the Benefits
The program immediately began to show positive results as safety became a critical component of the company's key performance indicators (KPIs). In fact, a positive safety environment quickly became an important part of the restaurant's "employer of choice" employment messaging.

The company experienced these and other measurable improvements:

  • Reportable claims dropped 17 percent in the first year.
  • Restaurants with zero accidents increased by more than 100 percent by year two.

Perhaps as important as the numbers was an understanding of why addressing safety performance was a critical first step. Post-operational discussion focused on what the corporate impact may have been had the company invested in a consumer marketing initiative instead of a safety program. It was determined that failing to address the core pain point (safety) may have simply meant more patrons visiting the company's restaurants, receiving poor service, and ultimately reducing the chance of any long-term loyalty (not to mention a loss of new business as a result of unsatisfied customers sharing their experience with friends and family). The potential consequences of pushing safety to the back burner could have been catastrophic for the company's financial outlook.

Introducing a Successful Safety Incentive Program
A positive outcome, as outlined in this case study, doesn't happen by accident. The executive commitment, core processes/procedures, and tools for successful implementation must be in place. A performance-based safety initiative complements these established components and enhances a company's safe workplace. The following seven essential elements for success, however, should be considered for such an initiative:

1. Assessment. In order to operate most effectively and efficiently in a safety-centric environment, you must first understand where your company is at and where it needs to be. Identifying safety's impact on your business and outlining the desired performance levels serve as your program roadmap.

2. Training. A safety culture requires staying abreast of regulations, requirements, and expectations. If your employees need more information or a different skill set to accomplish your goals, training can be a critical part of your program.

3. Program Design. Your performance improvement initiative should be designed specifically to address your desired goals. An earning structure is best when recognition centers on measurable safety improvement and is supported by all levels of management.

4. Communication. Your people must understand safety goals, the action required to achieve those goals, and the positive return for adhering to the established guidelines. An ongoing creative multimedia approach ensures your program becomes a part of a well-designed safety culture and effectively reaches every employee and business partner.

5. Administration. Operating your program on a comprehensive platform enables multiple safety initiatives to be integrated with other business strategies. Online tracking, testing, two-way communication, and instant recognition should be standard elements of any program.

6. Rewards. In order to engage and motivate your employees, award offerings need to actively connect what they get with what was achieved. Awards must enable participants to attach emotional value to the program by providing what money can't buy: recognition and appreciation for their commitment to safety.

7. Analysis. You need proof for your efforts. Measurable results should provide financial justification (return on performance), operational measures (participation), and qualitative input (participant feedback) for your safety program.

Capitalizing on safety's importance, companies should implement safety "incentives" as a way to drive loyalty among workers, reinforce established safety practices, and drive down expenditures. In the end, the most critical mindset for success is the belief that such initiatives are not expenditures to deal with safety, but rather, investments to support it.

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