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Do Fast Casual Franchisors Need to Rethink Employee Training Under the NLRB Cloud?

Fast casual restaurant franchisors and franchisees are trying to figure out how to deal with employee training in light of the National Labor Relations Board’s (NLRB) joint-employer ruling. The ruling has introduced an element of legal risk for franchisors regarding training which is impacting their ability to deliver a consistent brand experience.  

It is causing fast casual franchisors to pull back on their employee training mandates to reduce their risk exposure. But at the same time, employee training has a profound impact on the brand image that franchisors need to protect, and the restaurant experience that customers expect.

Some franchisors are moving toward loosening their control on training to avoid joint liability for employees with the franchisee. To cover themselves, they are utilizing third-party trainers for necessary certified training like ADA compliance or food handling safety, trusting that the franchisee will adequately live up to the franchisor’s standards for all other training requirements.

But with such distancing comes a potential erosion of a franchisor’s brand equity. Mistrained employees can damage the brand experience profoundly with a single incident. And in this age of social media sharing, visibility of that incident can spiral out of control fast.  Also, customers expect consistency at whichever restaurant they patronize. Brand erosion will happen if brand standards stray and vary from restaurant to restaurant.

The good news is that social technologies can also offer a solution. A new model for employee training is emerging in which franchisors can continue to drive training, without the liability exposure. Some progressive franchisors are creating training content and resources that employees actually want to use on their own volition. The new training material is fun, compelling and easy to consume, without the mandates.

The new employee training model relies heavily on the latest social, mobile and networking technologies that millennial employees have come to expect. It’s largely powered by social engagement and micro-content.

Just as fast casual restaurants are increasingly turning to fast wireless networks, mobile apps and digital tools to attract customers to their restaurants, they can also enhance the employee training experience with the same kind of dynamic rich media, with the same positive outcomes.

Using their own or a company-provided mobile device, employees can spearhead their own training regimen by consuming on-demand video and fun, interactive training content when it works best for them. They feel more empowered because they are in control – rather than being controlled – and the device platform is a natural extension of their everyday lives these days.

The new training model replaces long hours spent reading manuals and giving employees tests with engaging training content.  The key to driving employee performance is higher frequency exposure to shorter training assets.  

Fast casual franchisors can boost engagement with a “gamified” approach to training.  Posted leaderboards may reward employees with special recognition and/or privileges.  In addition, automated virtual assistants, and social media channels may link employees with each other as well as coaches and mentors. Social media also provides an effective platform for group discussions where employees can brainstorm collectively and allow experienced employees to pass down their knowledge to new employees.   User-generated content has demonstrated a powerful influence on employee behavior.

Restaurants can also utilize live web polls over their WiFi networks, presenting a customer service scenario or other training simulation and then prompting the employees with answer choices on their mobile devices. Interactive quizzes can make testing enjoyable. And being digitally rewarded in some way for their diligent, self-directed learning can build confidence and self-esteem in employees.

This new digital model also helps management by making it easier to track an employee’s participation, ensure compliance with corporate mandates, and communicate with employees in a more casual (i.e. less intimidating) online environment.

The NLRB ruling has created a false choice between franchisor liability and brand experience. Using a new networked, digitally-driven, consumer model for employee training will turn employees into eager directors of their own professional development, without the risk imposed by the NLRB joint-ownership rules.