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Donatos' strategy for employee retention

Two to three months after employees join Columbus, Ohio-based Donatos pizza—after they have gone through a phone screening and two rounds of in-person interviews prior to being hired—they are interviewed again, in what the company calls an “entrance interview.”

“If we make sure that in the first 90 days we’re getting people off to a great start, both in culture fit and their relationship with their manager, we’re doing well,” says Mary Rauchenstein, vice president, people services, for the company. “I truly believe that highly engaged employees don’t leave an organization. It’s when there is a disconnect that people leave.”

All of Donatos’ home office employees are given the entrance interview and the practice is just starting to be used with hourly employees. The interviews take around 20 minutes.

Sixty to 90 days after a person starts work is the ideal time for this meeting, Rauchenstein explains. It’s sufficient time for employees to realize what they like about their job, what they don’t like and what’s not living up to their expectations. “I think you get a chance to win someone back at that time, too,” she adds.

In fact, one of the first entrance interviews was with a top performer working in an administrative role in the home office. “This person felt her supervisor was being too hands-off,” explains Rauchenstein. “She appreciated that she was given autonomy and was trusted in her job but wanted her manager to check in more… I do believe we’d have lost this person if we hadn’t made changes.”

The entrance interviews, says Rauchenstein, also make employees feel that their opinion is important and that it will be heard. It helps them feel of value to their company.

“People love being asked their opinion and they also love it when they see you take them seriously and further engage with their idea,” Rauchenstein explains. “It also shows that we care and are concerned. It’s the beginning of getting employees to understand what our open-door policy is all about. And it gives us a good sense of where we’re on the mark and where we’re off the mark.”

The company realized it was off the mark after an employee explained that he didn’t know where certain things—such as the laminator and the shredder—were in the building. Donatos incorporated a scavenger hunt (that includes finding information on the company’s intranet) into the initiation process, which helps new hires navigate the home office, but is engaging and fun.
Donatos’ entrance interviews have been used for three years. To create them, Rauchenstein worked backwards from the company’s exit interview, looking to create a preventative discussion with the new hires. The company asks 12 questions (see sidebar) with the goal of rectifying anything the employee is unhappy about.

The most important questions, she says, are numbers nine and 10, which address the employee’s supervisor, “because I think the supervisor is key to company engagement as well as company culture,” Rauchenstein says.

If the feedback on the supervisor is good, she points out, “we want to give the person a pat on the back and some recognition.”

Donatos' Entrance Interview Questions

  1. What were your initial objectives for joining the company? Please elaborate on how they were met, not met or may have changed.
  2. How would you evaluate your onboarding experience? How could we have done a better job to acclimate you?
  3. What aspects of your job are the most satisfying? What do you like most about the company?
  4. What aspects of your job are the least satisfying? What do you like least about the company?
  5. How do our Promise, our Mission and our Philosophy affect your job performance?
  6. What changes would you suggest that would benefit our Associates, our customers or the company?
  7. Please comment on the company benefits provided to Associates. Do they meet your needs sufficiently? Is your compensation sufficient in recognizing your performance?
  8. On a scale of 1 to 5, how would you rate your overall experience thus far? Tell me about your rating?
  9. On a scale of 1 to 5, how would you rate the supervision and/or coaching you’ve received thus far? Tell me about your rating?
  10. What would you do differently if you were the supervisor?
  11. Do you feel that you have been given the opportunity to succeed in your job? Why or why not?
  12. Are there any additional comments you would like to make?


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