Yum! In The News
This exchange program is changing the way restaurant general managers think about KFC
Australian franchisee Greg Fisher wanted to reward RGMs for building strong culture by giving them a unique experience. He never expected it to take off like this.
Published on December 06, 2019
This November, a group of restaurant general managers (RGMs) from a handful of KFCs in Australia hopped on a plane to Singapore for a trip that was meant to be part-recognition, part-learning experience. During their time abroad, the RGMs took in the country’s culture and worked on mastering their craft of frying hand-breaded chicken. Then they returned home with some invaluable gifts including lifelong friendships, lessons learned for their own restaurants and a newfound sense that KFC is more than a job — it’s a career.
This RGM travel program is the brainchild of Greg Fisher, a KFC franchisee with five restaurants in Australia. He devised it as a way to reward RGMs who exude what Fisher calls a “positive charge” and whose restaurants are models for strong culture.
“At KFC, we measure everything,” Fisher said. “We measure drive-thru times, sales and performance. But it’s hard to measure culture, and that’s one of our key growth drivers. We leverage culture and talent to fuel results. If somebody is bringing culture to KFC and inspiring young people to be their best selves, they should be rewarded too.”
This reward program started back in 2016, when six Australian RGMs journeyed to London. The pilot was so successful that the next year Fisher pitched the idea of hosting Australian RGMs to a handful of franchisees in the U.S. and Canada, including Mike Kulp, KFC’s largest U.S. franchisee. They eagerly accepted young Aussies to man their fryers. Kulp hosted a handful of RGMs in Georgia, where they worked in the kitchen at the “Big Chicken” and took in Atlanta sights. “We were able to teach them about the birth of the brand and give them some perspective about KFC here in the U.S.,” he said. “It was pretty special.”
Fisher found his fellow Aussies were also eager to send their own RGMs abroad. KFC South Pacific Chief Development Officer Inara Gravitis was among them. Gravitis, who oversees Yum!-owned restaurants in Australia, was excited about the opportunity to celebrate and reward her RGMs and was one of the first to sign up for an exchange to the United States. She created a video submission process for her cultural “MVPs,” who submitted videos to leadership before they selected a candidate for the program.
Sending an RGM overseas wasn’t cheap — around $1,800 each — but it was small, Fisher said, compared to the impact on people’s lives and team member retention. “Across the board, people just bought in,” he said.
Greg Fisher with Greg Creed.
That buy-in extended all the way up to Yum! Brands’ CEO Greg Creed. At the end of the 2017 trip, RGMs convened in Dallas for an intimate session with the parent company leader. Creed cleared his schedule for an entire afternoon and fielded questions from the RGMs at a mock board meeting. In 2019, Creed spent three hours with Australian RGMs who were on their exchange trip in Singapore. Fisher said the CEO’s willingness to spend that time with his fellow Aussies (Creed is from Brisbane) is the perfect illustration of the kind of culture that differentiates Yum! from its competitors.
“There’s a cache that comes with your company sending you overseas and being able to meet your CEO,” Fisher said, noting that none of the RGMs who’ve gone on an exchange trip have left the brand. The effect is especially pronounced on those RGMs who’ve never left their home country — some have been as young as 21 — and show up to the airport with a brand new passport. Fisher has seen some RGMs bring their mothers, fathers, grandparents and cousins to the airport.
“This program absolutely blows them away and gives them a peek at what they could be doing if they stay with the brand longer term,” Gravitis said.
More than a vacation
The exchange program works like this. While they’re abroad, RGMs spend several days working in host country restaurants where they learn lessons they can take back home. “It's about getting your hands dirty and immersing yourself in the way that the restaurant does business,” Gravitis said. “It's not just a jolly junket. It’s a working trip.”
That work extends to the morning commute. No taxis or Ubers are allowed. No air-conditioned buses from the hotel are provided. Instead, traveling RGMs have to catch public transportation “so they get the rich experience of actually living like a local,” Fisher said.
The RGMs share a room with someone they don’t know. Then they’re paired with yet another person they don’t know and are sent off to a store full of people they don’t know. This has led to fast friendships and bonding that has forged unbreakable ties. The RGMs who travel together keep in touch via WhatsApp and meet up in-person any time possible. And they come home with new ideas for tackling old challenges, as evidenced by their Yammer posts.
“These guys are really on point when it comes to customer satisfaction and product quality,” one Australian RGM wrote on Yammer during her trip to the U.S.
“Excited to get back in-store and put all my learnings into practice,” another RGM wrote.
Passing the drumstick
Three years after Fisher sent the first group of RGMs to the U.K., the program has gotten so popular that 67 RGMs have participated and he’s having to turn away franchisees who want their managers to participate.
His solution? Have others carry the torch. That’s already happening in the U.S. and Canada, where RGM exchanges have been implemented on a smaller scale. Now, managers are bouncing around from Vancouver to Edmonton, and from Kansas City to Atlanta. In 2020, for the first time, the exchange will run in reverse, with Fisher hosting RGMs from the U.S. and Singapore.
“I’m ecstatic when I hear of another franchisee sending their employees abroad because that means we’re creating a culture that celebrates our RGMs for having that positive charge,” he said. “I don’t need to take credit or be involved in it.”
As long as franchisees are showing their top employees how much they’re appreciated, he’ll be happy.
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