According to HBR “organizations that build great cultures are able to meet the demands of the fast-paced, customer-centric, digital world we live in. [1]” Angelina Sabatini is the Director of Training and Development at Fords Garage. She is a “department of one”, in charge of a learning and development program that spans over 17 locations. We sat down with her to learn more about how she operationalizes the Fords Garage training program and creates a culture of learning and development.

The food and beverage industry is notorious for high turnover. In 2021 the US Bureau of Labor Statistics reported the Leisure & hospitality turnover rate was 85% while the industry turnover rate was 47% [2]. The pandemic has exacerbated this further. Currently, there are “70% more job vacancies than pre-pandemic and 10% fewer people looking for work.”

A fundamental part of employee and retention is training and development. A study by BlackBox found that two of the most important things to restaurant job seekers are promotion opportunities and company culture [3]. The study reported that 17% of its participants left the industry because there was a lack of professional development and promotion opportunities, 15% left because of the company culture.

At Ford's, Angelina leverages cross-department communication as a part of her strategy. “Training needs to be both operations and training and not just training." She invests in one-on-one calls with District Operating Managers (DOs). “DO’s have so much on their plates right now in regards to keeping operations, running product, supply chain, labor shortages, etc.” Furthermore, these calls give Angelina the time to align with each DO individually and encourage interaction with their respective Managers In Training (MIT). The communication does not stop there. Angelina takes it a step further by interacting with Managers, MITs, and hourly employees.

A gallup study found that managers alone account for 70% of the variance in employee engagement [4].The key to making a training program a part of company culture is by involving managers early on. Angelina empowers her managers early on in the process to contribute. This lends to more engagement and easier implementation. The seemingly mundane task of creating a new LTO ("Limited Time Offer") or manual becomes a shared project that fosters conversation from a diverse group and ensures that their needs are represented. “A lot of the time we go to the managing partner or the highest level manager in the restaurant. And I don't think that that's where we win all the time. Let's capture the people that are there doing the work in and out.”  Angelina makes people want to be involved, “it was a team effort to be here and, and get to the finish line and their voices matter and are heard.”

Angelina's approach to training is just as empathetic and human-centered as her creation process. “Let's pivot and be agile and make the best decision we can in the moment.” She encourages leaders to be mindful of the stress that comes with training. Her employees are empowered to 'tap out' of training if they're having a bad day. “Be mindful of what's going on in people's personal lives, both personally and professionally to make sure that we're doing what's in the best interest of our people and what's in the best interest of our business.”

Angelina has digitized her training to make learning fun. Whether it is a corporate or franchise training, all employees have access to one another. She uses scoreboards, zoom calls, and chats to foster this shared identity. “I really liked that it brings people together, not just within their own restaurant, but within the whole organization. Anytime they can see bigger than just their individual restaurant or location and they get to interact on a larger scale, I think that's really fun for people.”

After speaking to Angelina it is clear to see why Ford’s Garage is so successful. The organization is adding more locations and was recently recognized as a “Trail Blazer” by FSR Magazine [5]. There is no luck or magic. They are intentional and people-centric and as a result, have created a rich culture that is resilient to the many changes in our restaurant industry.