Georgette Vlangos runs CHOPT Creative Salad’s entire learning program by herself. Since joining the innovative salad chain in December of last year, she’s revolutionized the company’s approach to training its growing workforce despite being the sole member of her team. It’s a monumental task—one that requires precise time management, clear tactics, and a lot of energy. Vlangos isn’t complaining. “In my career, I’ve been a department of one more than I’ve been a department of more-than-one,” she laughs.
Hers is a common story in the industry. L&D is full of single individuals who are responsible for creating training and development paths for entire companies, all by themselves. It’s a challenge to engage thousands of employees as an L&D department of one, but as Vlangos proves daily through every salad served at CHOPT restaurants, it can be done. Here, in her own words, is how she creates great learning solo:
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Engage learners by investing in your training content.
There’s nothing worse than wasting an employee’s time. You want them to think, “Wow, not only did I learn something, but they put a lot of effort into this.” In other words, “they put a lot of effort into me.” I want my content to create that sense of, ‘I want to see what comes next.’ That makes our people excited about learning.
Focus on quality over speed.
I’m more likely to pump the brakes on something than rush training out. It’s so much more impactful to craft something carefully than to makeshift it and throw it out there. I think that actually does a disservice to the department. That’s why I make sure that our first run is really good and then collect a ton of feedback to make the second run even better.
Maximize your impact by simplifying management training.
We rely on our managers to run the business. It’s our job to support them, to come up with systems that make them more effective in a faster process. My question is, how can we simplify things for them so they can focus on doing what’s important? Which, I feel, is spending time with their people and making sure their product is 100% to-spec.
We have a monthly newsletter that goes out to every restaurant. It announces rising stars—people who we feel have good potential to hit that next career milestone—and new restaurant openings. It talks about recent promotions at every level. We celebrate other fun news, too; if someone runs a marathon that’ll go in there.
I think what gets everybody most excited, at every level of the organization, is our growth. We started the year with 27 restaurants and will end at 34. I think it’s keeping people motivated because to them it means, “I can keep growing.” I love it when someone sees a shift leader advance and says, “Wow, if they can do it, I can do it.” The growth that happens in the organization creates that opportunity.
Make every part of your workforce into your leadership pipeline.
Over 70% of our managers are promotions from within. We don’t say, “Oh, we need some outstanding external hire.” No—we will make our own outstanding managers.
We preach about our culture of Choprtunity. There’s one guy who comes to mind—we call him ‘The Godfather of CHOPT.’ He started off as a dishwasher and learned all the positions, became a manager, became a general manager, and now he’s a senior managing partner overseeing two restaurants. He had these leadership attributes that you dream of your employees having: the curiosity to learn more, high integrity, dependability. So we point to him and say, “Hey, we’re looking for the next rising star, and it can be anyone. And if you consistently demonstrate our Eight Ingredients of Success, it will happen for you.”
Systematize the training process.
At first we didn’t have an MIT [managers-in-training] program in D.C., and we were losing managers. Since we installed the MIT program in February, we have not lost one manager. We’ve been able to catch ones that we don’t feel are a good fit, during the training process. We also have a development plan mapped out; it’s kind of a “choose your own adventure” deal. So people know, “these will be the different milestones I’ll hit.”
Don’t be afraid to get involved where it matters.
I check in with managers in training every week. When I go to a restaurant I generally spend about 45 minutes with each MIT, visit with the staff a little bit, maybe go back and play with them and make a salad—definitely eat a salad—and just try to be present with the team. That’s really important to me. Those are some of the best-spent hours of my week.
Love what you do.
My pilates instructor asked me recently what I do for a living. I told her, “I make people’s dreams come true.” She looked at me like I was crazy, but it’s true. I’m the head of a training and development department. I hold people’s dreams in my hand. And that’s a lot of responsibility.
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