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Business Observer Friday, Feb. 8, 2019 2 months ago

How to hire lots of people and train them fast

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People and process means a lot at PDQ.
by: Mark Gordon Managing Editor

University of Alabama football coaching legend Nick Saban uses the term “the process” so often, it’s become an internet meme. For the Crimson Tide, an injury or a setback — or in some cases, the rare loss of a game — can be negated, if the entire team is executing on a well-defined, well-planned, process. Backed by Saban’s six national championships, the process plainly works.

'I don’t think any store opening has been perfect, but we want to get as close to that as we can. We always want to get better.' Nina Franchina, PDQ

Nina Franchina, director of training for Tampa-based fast-casual/fast-food chain PDQ, gives Saban a run for his process. She’s used it so well, PDQ is one of the fastest-growing chains in its field, a crowded landscape where multiple competitors jockey for supremacy. The company, with about 75 locations, spread from 40 in Florida to one in Utah, had $132.2 million in sales last year.

“We’ve opened a lot of units in a short period of time. Everything has a plan and everything has a process, and as long as we stick to the process real tight, we don’t have issues,” says Franchina. “When (the process) falls short, that’s when the real challenges and heartache begins.”

The PDQ process is how Franchina guides training for a company that opened nine stores in 2018, hiring 630 people. (It plans to open a dozen or so stores this year, hiring 1,000 more people.) The average age of a new PDQ hire is 20, and each store requires about 70 employees.

“Everything is fast, fast fast,” says Franchina, 31, who has been with the company for six years, starting in operations. “So everything we to do open a store has to have a purpose.”

The purpose stems from the company’s name – people dedicated to quality. To the company, founded by Outback Steakhouse co-founder Bob Basham and former Tampa Bay Buccaneers CFO Nick Reader in 2009, quality isn’t only in food, but in service. The chain seeks people who want more than an entry-level job, who take their work seriously but not always take themselves seriously.

The process behind the purpose, says Franchina, begins with putting the word out about a new store hiring, usually on social media. Then there are designated days for interviews; designated days for callbacks and hiring; and designated days for training. “This helps our managers know that in every store we do things the same way,” Franchina says.

In 2019, to enhance the process and make it more efficient, Franchina says the company plans to introduce hiring events, where it can do most of the candidate weeding out in a day or two.  

Franchina says PDQ managers search for three qualities in an interview, which includes an assessment test. The qualities? Integrity, honesty and a mindset for guest-focused service.

The whole process, from when managers first get into a site-based hiring trailer through Day One of the new store, takes four to five weeks. Franchina says one goal is to get that down to three to four weeks.

That includes a week of highly process-based training, from online menu tests to soft openings. “We have every hour of every day in every position mapped out,” says Franchina. “That’s’ the only way we are able to be successful.”

One more part to the process: constant improvement. “I don’t think any store opening has been perfect,” Franchina says, “but we want to get as close to that as we can. We always want to get better.”

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