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A career-advancement plan

At LYFE Kitchen's first unit in Palo Alto, California, HR director Chuck Conine started a benefit program for employees. It fit perfectly with the brand: each month crates of fresh fruits and vegetables would be delivered to the restaurant for the employees to take home.

Soon after it started, though, one employee mentioned that it would be a lot better if the crate was delivered to her home. So the company changed its delivery and now 90 percent of employees have the produce delivered home rather than to the restaurant.

Conine, a 40-year veteran of hospitality-industry HR, says that story typifies the chain's approach to employee relations.

"One of the signature comments that Mike Roberts made to me was …, 'I want LYFE Kitchen to be a place where we learn from each other and grow with each other,'" explains Conine. "I said, 'That's going to be a different kind of workplace.'"

So feedback is sought on everything, not just where produce is delivered. Conine has helped set up a review process based more on feedback from the employee than direction from management.

"One of the bigger challenges I've had in my career," he says, "is helping leaders accept their own inability to be right all the time and to welcome the opportunity to be wrong rather than to fear it."

He believes having that built into the management culture at LYFE and hiring people who are comfortable with that culture sets the concept up for free-flowing constructive criticism and employee loyalty.

"This philosophy is catching on in various companies," says Conine. "Any company that's doing it is benefiting from it."

One of the more unique employee-loyalty programs Conine has helped developed at LYFE is a career-advancement tool. When employees are hired they are asked if there is a job higher up the ladder they aspire to. A personalized development plan is put together for the employee, showing them how they can advance to their chosen position. Twice a year management sits down with the employee to review the plan, make sure they are on track, or rewrite the plan if the employee decides to go in a different direction.

"They are volunteering themselves to climb the ladder," says Conine.

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