Retooling the workforce

A people-first strategy led to retention.

Not every executive would initiate a turnaround by changing the staff dynamic. But for TGI Fridays U.K., CEO Karen Forrester’s people-first strategy has paid off in more ways than one.

karen forrester

She helped make the London-based division one of the top U.K. companies to work for. That should come in handy now that TGI Fridays U.K. has been sold to its management via private equity firm Electra Partners, with plans to double the size of the business by 2020.

When Forrester joined the company in 2007 as managing director, the brand was seen by customers as old and tired, and staff turnover was topping a reported 150 percent a year. Forrester doubled down on the basics over the last six years by investing in the people who work hard for the brand.

  1. Assess the team. Working with unit managers and other stakeholders, Forrester assessed everyone in the organization and classified them into one of three groups: Players (“true Fridays people,” as she puts it); Potential Players (“people who want to be Fridays people but need more training”); and WannaBe Players (“people who need to be managed up or out”). A fourth category, Assassins, was Forrester’s term for people who needed to be let go. “They don’t want to change.”
  2. Train or drain. In the first year, the company’s entire advertising budget was diverted to a retraining program for Players and Potentials. WannaBe’s were placed on performance improvement plans with clear targets and deadlines. As a result, approximately 10 percent of the workforce left the company the first year. Another 20 percent were told they needed improvement. Now, only about 2 percent leave the business, and many work their way up the ranks into management.
  3. Keep up the good work. The “right team” exercise is repeated every year.

Unit managers are invested in it because they are responsible for their teams, which are monitored weekly on operations calls and centrally at monthly executive board meetings.

Team members’ success also is recognized through a series of formalized programs, including achievement pins and gifts, which are given out on the floor, in front of customers.

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