HR: Return Strategy - Church's Chicken

“Return-to-work” implies a going back to where we were. Is there a “going-back” or are we simply moving toward a whole new reality? In conversation with human resource leaders across the U.S., Steve Nilsen explores cross-sector return-to-work strategies.

This issue of HR: Return Strategy features Karen J. Viera, SVP & Chief People Officer, Church's Chicken

Nilsen: Is there a “going-back”?

Viera: We never stopped working. At Church’s, we took a different perspective. To us this wasn’t a “return to work” plan; it was a journey to transform how, when and where we work. Hence a “Transformation Journey” and it consisted of two major paths: workability and connectivity. The workability aspect of our Journey would address our capability to be effective in our operations while seeking a workable comprise; the connectivity aspect would ensure our ability to remain a connected and collaborative workforce. This Transformation Journey was a response not only to the Pandemic, but an opportunity to fix, enhance, and protect where and how we work by evaluating five core areas: office space and settings, employee roles and responsibilities, physical footprint (floor plan), technology infrastructure accessibility and security--- and accommodations for social distancing readiness. This multilayered scope of our Transformation Journey is precisely what prepared us for the “new norm” safely and responsibly.

We remained focused on progress and moved forward. We realized there is no going back, but rather addressing a whole new reality of how, when, and where we can operate safely and responsibly to ensure the continuity of our essential business and the employment of our valued team members. Our OPS services teams worked closely with our Restaurant teams and franchisees to ensure we’d meet the demands of getting our food into the hands of a growing number of guests.

Nilsen: What are the biggest changes you have implemented to continue operating? In your return-to-work plan, what will remain as a COVID-19 legacy?

Viera: We have always put our people first, and safety is a priority in all we do; it’s simply our culture and it’s what we value the most. Thoughtful development and implementation of a People First. Safety Always plan was the right thing to do. Our branded PFSA Plan immediately assessed our workforce to identify those in high-risk scenarios – either for themselves or their households. We then used research-based judgment to outline functional roles and work that lent itself to a remote model. We moved as many of those people as possible to 100% remote work. We also transformed our on-site team members to split time with alternative two days per week in the corporate offices. This allowed for greater space for social distancing while also providing effective opportunities for in-person collaboration. It is our intention to keep this Distributed Workforce model in place going forward. More importantly, we have a commitment to Monitor, Respond, and Activate based on data, trends, and the pulse of our team members to effectively lead the mitigation efforts as we address the remainder of the year.

Nilsen: What metrics are you tracking to help guide your organization’s return-to-work? Are you implementing new related internal metrics?

Viera: It’s a two-track sourcing strategy to gather, track and respond to data from multiple reliable sources to support a robust PFSA Plan; these involve external and internal sources.

First and foremost, externally we follow the CDC, WHO and the local state guidelines as well as follow a cadence of communications with our pandemic teams to understand their specific in country guidelines. We look at markers and trends, then make decisions that ensure the safety of our people and the effective continuity of our business. Internally, we gather team member feedback and monitor engagement through individual conversations and pulse surveys. We address the readiness of our team members functionally and emotionally by providing guidance, tools, information, and the equipment needed to make remote work. In that commitment, we have been diligent to activate, monitor, and respond to a changing environment throughout this Pandemic, swiftly and effectively.

Nilsen: In what new ways are you using technology in your return-to-work strategy?

Viera: Our company made an investment in a digital workplace prior to the Pandemic and we realized during COVID-19 just how important that investment would be as it became our single source of information and communication with our team members in the corporate office, in our restaurants and with our franchisees. Technology is an essential component of how globally dispersed organizations function effectively. It’s simply beyond essential, particularly to effectively support a Distributed Workforce model. We rely heavily on resources like our award-winning “Team Church’s” intranet for communications and coordinating company-wide initiatives. We have also expanded options for connectivity, digital security and credentials, file sharing, and more, so that functions operate seamlessly wherever our team members are to support the brand, our guests, and each other.

Nilsen: What do you anticipate will be the greatest obstacle in the return-to-work phase?

Viera: Great question. Our greatest obstacle in this phase will continue to be making remote work. This pandemic is the strongest test of our resolve to ensure our alignment in order to effectively adjust our direction to the changing environment. We have and will continue to effectively prepare our corporate team members for remote work demands with the right tools and technology, while also enabling supportive interactions. We simply must remain essential to our essentials (our restaurant teams and franchisees) so they, in turn, are able to consistently meet the needs of our guests.

Another obstacle is flexibility. Our approach and solutions are flexible and scalable and highlight Operations, Marketing, and Technology working in tandem to meet the needs of our guests:

  • Operationally, our Delivery model for the ‘Order-Ahead Pay-Ahead’ investments and execution allow us to be competitive and ensures our continuity in this space for the long run.
  • Our Marketing efforts have significantly increased our digital presence and engagement with our guests across key social media channels.
  • Our Technology has allowed us to connect and collaborate virtually with team members, franchisees, and vendors.

So, whether it is meeting the needs of our remote workers, restaurant teams, franchisees, and our guests, we will continue to monitor, respond, and activate based on data, trends, and in accordance with our People First Safety Always Plan.

Nilsen: What is your greatest learning from this so far, and what advice would you offer as we continue to navigate these unchartered waters?

Viera: Best question of all--- because these are the most unchartered waters of all! My best advice is as simple as it is underrated. Communicate, communicate, communicate. But--- it’s the quality and cadence of that communication that makes all the difference in the world. At Church’s, we created a culture of communication and accountability. We share relevant information, timely—and we react and follow-through timely. We set and manage expectations against a well-built PLAN. We know our course and have resources to succeed; we are nimble and can adjust quickly. That’s the secret sauce.

We communicated our “People First. Safety Always” early, and it wasn’t a stretch from what our teams and franchisees have come to expect from us. We don’t take our responsibility as a global employer lightly--- and our team members and franchisees accept and share the responsibility in mitigating the spread of the Pandemic by implementing and following safety guidelines in all they do. Together, we have developed the ability to be nimble with the changing environment and communicating those changes early and often has won us praise from our team members.

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