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Chain LeaderEditorial Archives2003 — August — Technology

Higher Education
Virtual meets reality when Web-based, soft-skills training produces hard results at Monical Pizza Corp.

Harry Bond keeps tabs on the number of months since a unit manager has left Monical Pizza Corp. In June, it was 14. He also follows systemwide turnover closely. Over the past year, it decreased from 100 percent to 80 percent.

Monical Pizza Corp. Educational Coordinator Terry Pappas and President Harry Bond are leading the company's training push.

The president of the Bradley, Ill.-based chain of 55 Monical’s Pizza restaurants is anything but arrogant about these accomplishments. In fact, he sees room for improvement and is constantly on the lookout for new training and development tools to increase his employees’ knowledge and skills.

Since Bond assumed leadership of Monical in 1993, the company has embarked on an educational journey, so to speak, prompted by its adoption of the Harvard Service Profit Chain model. Over the years, it has implemented numerous training programs, ranging from ServSafe for all unit-level employees to incorporating the NRA’s Educational Foundation’s Foodservice Management Professional (FMP) certification into management training.

“There’s a learning epidemic here at Monical,” says Bond, who receives the Commitment to People Award from the Council of Hotel and Restaurant Trainers this month. This epidemic shows no sign of abating: The latest program is Harvard ManageMentor PLUS® (HMM). Bond first heard of it at a presentation hosted by Harvard Business School Publishing’s eLearning division last summer.

“We’re at a point where our managers have well mastered the hard skills of running the restaurants and are in need of soft-skill development,” says Bond. “They were actually asking for training on topics like conflict resolution, communication and time management. We were all asking, ‘What’s next?’ and this program was the answer.”

Customized Curriculum
Monical is the first foodservice company to use HMM, according to Holly Fasano, corporate account manager for Harvard Business School Publishing, a wholly owned nonprofit subsidiary of Harvard University.

HMM focuses on 33 management-training topics covered in modules distributed via the Internet to licensed subscribers. The base price is $195 per user, but the price of an annual license is based on the number of users, according to Fasano. Monical’s license was $5,000 for 40 users, says Bond.

Monical structured its own program around HMM. A group of unit managers reviewed the 33 topics and selected 11. Terry Pappas, educational coordinator at Monical, developed them into a curriculum of nine modules: Goal Setting, Keeping Teams on Target, Managing Upward, Managing Difficult Interactions, Managing your Time, Delegating and Coaching, Leading a Team, Giving and Receiving Feedback, and Retaining Valued Employees.

The 45 FMP-certified unit managers were invited to participate last fall, and 23 enrolled. The program kicked off in October and ended in April. Each participant invested about 80 hours, some on Monical’s time, some on his or her own time.

“This is totally voluntary, and there’s no incentive other than the peer pressure to constantly improve your performance,” says Bond, although he adds that manager bonuses are tied in part to unit performance.

Participants met biweekly in study groups to discuss module topics. “Participants log on at their convenience, enter a code and password, and go through the module,” says Fasano. “Many also print out the topics for mark-up and easy reference.”

Between class meetings, participants completed the online modules using the POS system in the units or their home computers.

Back To Work
But the crucial part of the process was applying the lessons on the job, according to Pappas, who developed the curriculum and supporting materials and facilitated the class sessions. Participants presented a verbal report on their real-life application at the next meeting, which was followed by a group discussion.

Incorporating the study group format with the Internet content gave new meaning to the term “interactive learning.”

“Unfortunately, most education and training is in a classroom setting and is not applied immediately, so it’s lost,” explains Pappas, who came to Monical five years ago from the NRA Educational Foundation. “With this program, the students interact with the content online, which is a great way to absorb material, and then use what they learn right away in their unit and report back at the next class meeting. We gave the knowledge and they made it part of their normal operating methods, which is very motivating because you see results.”

“The blended learning approach keeps the participant interested,” agrees Fasano. “They experience the applications firsthand, right away.”

Immediate Returns
Tom Tucker, unit manager of the Decatur Pershing Monical’s Pizza was surprised at the fast return on his own investment of time. “I had expected to see results in a few months, but I literally saw changes right away,” he says.

Tucker used his training to address labor costs at his unit. The opening of additional Monical’s Pizza restaurants in the market had changed his sales, requiring a reduction in labor. The curriculum began with the Goal Setting module, prompting Tucker to develop a strategy for reducing labor that involved analyzing sales, pizza counts and scheduling. He then used the soft skills he learned to execute the strategy.

“Every module taught me something that I applied to the goal of decreasing labor,” Tucker says. “For instance, I thought I was a good communicator, but the work on Giving and Receiving Feedback showed me that I was missing feedback from my staff, feedback in the form of attitudes and performance cues that were important. Once I improved my ability to take feedback and use it effectively, I saw big improvements in how the plan was carried out.”

Labor Gains
Tucker also learned time management and delegating skills. “In the past seven months, we’ve missed our labor target for a grand total of six weeks,” he reports. “During the same period last year, we did not make labor for even one week, and there were weeks that we were 100 hours over. The improvement was amazing.”

During a five-week period this spring, Tucker reduced labor more than 300 hours compared to the same period last year. By the time he had completed the HMM program in April, unit revenue had risen 4.6 percent.

Manager of the Rantoul, Ill., Monical’s, Christine Keyes says her improved ability to communicate with and delegate to her assistant manager and other staff has resulted in a more energized team.

“Overall, morale is up because everyone understands their role and responsibilities better,” she explains. “I’m dealing more with the guests and spending time on quality and service issues.” Labor productivity at Keyes’ unit improved 6 percent from the time she began HMM, according to Bond.

Steady Growth
As a company, Monical is enjoying the impact of the “learning epidemic.” Systemwide sales for fiscal 2003, which ended in April, were $40 million, up from $38 million in ’02. Unit sales average $825,000, an increase from $745,000 in 2001. Same-store sales are up 3.5 percent.

Bond anticipates systemwide sales of $43 million in fiscal 2004. He expects about half of the growth to come from the three new units opened in the past 18 months and from same-store sales gains. The other $1.5 million will be obtained through performance improvements, he says.

Monical’s total investment in the HMM program was roughly $9,000, not including the participants’ time. “A few thousand dollars to drive $1.5 million in growth. How’s that for ROI?” Bond asks.

Fifteen managers are taking the HMM program this summer, and a third group will begin in the fall, when the program will be opened to franchise unit managers. Bond and Pappas are working with Harvard Business School Publishing on a more advanced curriculum for those who have completed first.

“We firmly believe in the value of lifelong learning,” says Bond. “We’ve got to keep our managers and employees growing beyond the tasks of making pizza. That’s how we have managers who are here for 15, 16, 17 years. We all just keep learning and keep getting better at what we do—every aspect of what we do.”

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