When learning and development are food for thought

Raquelle Simpson

Requelle Simpson, a specialist trainer with the Brisbane-based Minor DKL Food Group – owners of The Coffee Club – has a unique perspective on how to maximise learning and development for staff in 300 franchised and company-owned stores.

Ms Simpson will speak at the Australian Human Resources Institute National Convention & Exhibition 2016 in Brisbane this August about The Coffee Club’s experience and talks to Choose Brisbane about the role technology plays in learning and development.

How long have you been working for The Coffee Club and what’s your preferred cup of coffee (or tea)?

I started with The Coffee Club in 2008, waiting tables and making coffee. I progressed into management roles across a number of franchised stores in Brisbane, before landing the Store Opening Coordinator role for The Coffee Club in 2013. I moved into a Training and Communications role in late 2014, becoming a Training Specialist for Minor DKL Food Group in January 2016. No two days in my role are the same. I work on many exciting Learning and Development (L&D) projects across Minor DKL's franchise brands, including The Coffee Club, Ribs and Rumps, The Groove Train and our Support Office. I do love coffee; opting for a double shot latte most mornings of the week.

How many stores does the company have now? (franchises and company stores)

The Coffee Club is owned by Minor DKL Food Group, a leading Australian retail food franchisor. Minor DKL Food Group also own Ribs & Rumps, The Groove Train and Coffee Hit. In total we have 450 stores in 10 countries with a mix of franchise and company owned stores. Veneziano Coffee Roasters is also a part of the group, servicing wholesale and retail customers throughout Australia from roasting facilities in Melbourne and Brisbane. I work across all brands and love the variety.

The Coffee Club is an enormous organisation, based in Brisbane. What are some of the biggest HR lessons you’ve learned in your time with them?

We have a team of over 6000 employees across 300 Coffee Club stores in Australia, and we’re still expanding. We work in a fast-paced environment with employees from both franchised and company stores. So when it comes to launching L&D initiatives, we have unique challenges. Firstly, I have learned the need to wear two L&D hats - the dictator and the negotiator. It isn't difficult to drive engagement in a company-owned environment, but franchising is another story! Less than 10 per cent of the training we offer is mandatory, so we have experienced what works and what doesn't when it comes to the other 90 per cent. Having previously worked in franchised stores, I understand that for L&D initiatives to be successful they must gain traction with all levels of a business, including our front-line employees.

It is challenging to find individuals who are committed to the hospitality industry as a career, as many of our employees are casual. I’ve learned that our L&D initiatives must cater for all types of learners – the fast full-time learner, the parent working between school drop-offs and the student that juggles one or two shifts a week. Because of this, we’ve created an extensive L&D program and career pathway to support individual employee’s needs. Our flexible learning programs let them know that working for us doesn’t have to just be a ‘job’, it can be a ‘career’.

What have been some of the biggest opportunities/wins?

I’m lucky to have worked with a fantastic team of HR and L&D professionals, but nothing is more rewarding than seeing others develop through the initiatives we have implemented.

A particular win has been the steady progression of unskilled workers who start in lower-level roles in store and through our programs, progress into multi-site management or training roles. Having led the Franchisee Training Program at The Coffee Club for a number of years, I am delighted to have seen a number of our store managers purchase their own TCC store and become franchisees.

We are also proud to have been recognised by a number of industry leading bodies, including AHRI, QSR, HC and the Australian Business Awards for our work in launching our Learning & Development Program and notably our Experience Based Qualification program. These achievements are a great way for our team to be recognised and let us know we are on the right track. We are often sought out by other retail businesses, seeking advice on how to integrate L&D initiatives with the rest of our organisational processes; including audits, OHS, reporting, online recruitment and on-boarding.

In your opinion, what do you think other large organisations can learn from The Coffee Club’s HR journey?

There is a definite need for L&D initiatives and training to be commercially focused. You need to have a clear idea of the bigger picture and the results you want to achieve. We always begin with the end in mind - it’s important to know what success looks like, and how your HR initiatives can tangibly impact the end result. Working from the outside in ensures we put a focus on what improves our customers’ experience – not just what we want to see improved. Our KPIs include metrics that measure skills our learners develop, which in turn brings our customers back.

There also needs to be a focus on relevance and engagement. Our HR and Training teams spend time in stores, speaking with our team members and franchisees to understand their challenges and where we can provide better training. To ensure relevancy to each individual throughout their learning journey, we also have the ability to assign specific training to different roles across the network.

We also never ‘launch and leave’. Our business continually evolves, so too must our training and materials to ensure we remain ‘best in class’.

What works and what doesn’t when it comes to online training programs? Are they all the same?

Compiling all of the information possible on a topic, and popping it in a module with some questions at the end is not the way to go. These types of training often result in learners being overwhelmed and becoming disengaged from the start. Instead, e-Learning should attract the learner. It should be clear, concise and focused on what the learner needs to do – not what they need to know. Creating a flexible learning environment that is as close as possible to the actual environment you’re training for is important. This environment should be an inviting, safe space, where learners can make mistakes and learn at their own pace. Learners are responsible for their learning; we’re responsible for providing the tools and creating a safe space to do so.

Feedback is not a ‘one size fits all’ thing. Timely and contextualised feedback is important. Our learners are encouraged to give the task at hand a go, and if they don’t get it right, encouraged to venture through learning content to find the answer themselves. Our learners are rewarded for demonstrating the correct behaviours in a number of different ways, including prizes, competitions, experiences and certificates.

E-Learning is great, especially when it’s designed effectively, supports consistency and contributes to achieving business results. However, it is only a small part of the formal learning that makes up 10 per cent of a learner’s experience - and something that shouldn’t solely be relied on.

What doesn’t work? Transferring all of your current training materials online to save time or money. With everyone jumping on the ‘gamification’ band-wagon, it should be noted that this won’t replace the other 90 pre cent of a learner’s experience, which includes face-to-face learning, coaching, mentoring, experimental and collaborative learning. 

Are you looking forward to presenting at the AHRI National Convention? Do you find the opportunity daunting or exciting?

It’s very exciting! The Coffee Club has come a long way in the last two years, and I believe we still have room to improve. I’m looking forward to sharing our experiences and coming away with many new ideas as well. I am grateful to have the opportunity to network and learn from other likeminded HR professionals.

Do you think people outside the HR industry understand how important good HR is? How much value it can add to an organisation? Interested in any thoughts you have along these lines?

I believe everyone understands that a business’s most important asset are its people, however, they may not understand the true value in nurturing and developing them. There is nothing more important than having effective, loyal and productive people working for your business producing results and inspiring others to do the same.

Often we get caught up in the day-to-day operations and don’t take time to invest in our people. When this happens, we risk retaining disengaged staff. These employees won’t do your business any good – and they’re costing you a lot. Understanding how to accurately and effectively measure the return of investing in your people and exactly what this looks like, is key to understanding how much good HR can add value to an organisation.

Can you name a few global organisations which you respect based on their HR record or activities and explain why?

My mind automatically jumps to the likes of Google or Apple – both organisations with a focus on technology, innovation, people and culture. The other organisation that springs to mind would be Deloitte - I enjoy the approach they take with recruiting their employees. I was recently shown the ‘Will You Fit into Deloitte’ gamified video. It invited me to live a day in the life of a Deloitte employee and see whether I would ‘fit in’ with their company culture. What an awesome introduction into their organisation; it definitely attracted attention and I particularly enjoyed selecting the wrong answers just to see what would happen! See more at: http://www.raptmedia.com/project/deloitte

Requelle Simpson will speak at the HR Tech Conference, part of the Australian Human Resources Institute National Convention & Exhibition 2016, to be staged in Brisbane 3 – 5 August.

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