Dunkin’ Runs on Great Talent

Her real love was psychology, but Ginger Gregory was entertaining the idea of studying business in college; she credits a fateful phone call with her older sister for giving her the nudge she needed in that direction.

It was a good move. Her first few jobs doing analytical work and statistics revealed a passion for organizational effectiveness, and she earned a graduate degree in organizational and industrial psychology. After college she began working for a small boutique consulting firm in Chicago conducting executive assessments, executive coaching, team building and training.

“I loved it because I was very interested in human behavior and what motivated people to act in certain ways,” she said. “It was helping people understand themselves, giving them feedback and coaching and in many cases teaching people how to be more effective in the workplace.”

While she enjoyed it, consulting proved to be a bit mismatched for Gregory’s lifestyle; her son was young and, ready for a change, she was recruited to global biopharmaceutical company Bristol-Myers Squibb to work in leadership development.

A job as an HR generalist at health care company Novo Nordisk followed, and there she acted as the HR business partner to the president. The role enabled her to forge a close connection to multiple areas of the business. Rather than running one facet of talent management such as leadership development, she was able to take a business problem and see what aspect of HR could be used to fix it. “I liked having all the tools in my toolbox to help the business be more successful,” she said.

Gregory later gained other HR leadership experiences in the United States and Europe. Now, as senior vice president and chief human resources officer for Dunkin’ Brands Inc., Gregory leads the overall HR function, which includes supporting 665 internal corporate employees as well as 662 employees in the company’s field organization — field trainers, operations managers and field marketing. Dunkin’s learning organization also reports to Gregory, and it provides learning to some 2,000 franchisees and licensees around the world.

What’s Brewing at Dunkin’
Recruiting, engaging and retaining great talent is a common denominator in successful talent management functions among established brands worldwide, and Dunkin’ is no exception. Gregory said one of the company’s biggest priorities is to find compelling ways to make sure top talent is highly engaged, rewarded and interested in long-term careers.

The organization’s strong brand presence ensures that it attracts top talent, but Gregory’s primary focus is tracking and managing retention for high potentials. “We’re constantly looking at our turnover, and whenever we see any kind of spike in voluntary turnover of high-performing, high-potential talent, we say, ‘OK, what happened here?’ even if it’s just one person,” she said.
Gregory also said the company’s annual performance management system is a useful tool that enables leaders to sit down and assess performance from a bird’s eye view. It isn’t just enough to assess past performance; assessing employees’ future potential is also a key consideration. Because of that, Gregory implemented a stay interview process to help improve talent retention.

“We need to sit down with all of our high-potential leaders and ask them: ‘What are [you] most excited about? What do [you] hope for 12 months from now?’ and outright ask them, ‘Is there anything that would cause you to leave us?’” she said.

Before she joined the company in March, the organization had been using exit interviews, but Gregory said the data came in too late to do much good. With the stay interview process now under way, leaders can take the time to get to know their talent and help them develop internally by offering lateral and cross functional opportunities.

“We had leaders from marketing talk to talent in operations, and we had the finance leader talking to people in communications because I really wanted to build a broader ownership for the retention and development of talent across the leadership team,” she said.

Gregory is also spearheading the company’s applicant tracking system, a tool to aid in online recruitment. A pilot test was rolled out to a few hundred stores this fall. She said the level of assessment that franchisees can use is what makes the new system so special.

Interested applicants punch in a ZIP code for their desired work location, and are then prompted to complete an assessment. The results determine if they’re recommended for an interview.
The assessment also produces useful data for the restaurant manager. For instance, if a candidate appears to be a good fit based on the assessment but lacks cash handling experience, the assessment provides the manager with structured questions to ask during the interview.

“It’s a great tool for recruitment and getting people on-boarded, but what we’re also seeing, franchisees are … getting better at judging talent, assessing talent, coaching talent,” Gregory said. “It’s raising the game of talent management throughout all the stores that are participating.”

Catering to Franchisees
It’s not unheard of for an organization with a large number of franchisees to experience some degree of friction, especially when trying to uphold the brand and get lower-performing franchisees to improve quality — and Dunkin’ Brands is no different.

But Gregory said Dunkin’ Brands CEO and Dunkin’ Donuts President Nigel Travis and the company’s leadership team have been instrumental in forging a positive and collaborative working relationship between the two parties.

“When the franchisee community says they want something, we have to at least listen to them and in some cases say yes or no. This is why we have much better communication and dialogue,” she said.
Dunkin’ Brands has a structure and governance in place when interacting with franchisees, and the primary mode of communication is via an advisory council system. Dunkin’ Brands is home to two well-known brands: Dunkin’ Donuts and Baskin-Robbins. Both have brand advisory councils, which consist of franchisees who’ve been elected by their fellow franchisees to serve as leaders or representatives. These individuals serve as liaisons who communicate information from the brand to the franchise community and vice versa.

Within the advisory councils, Dunkin’ Donuts and Baskin-Robbins each have a people sub-committee that Gregory co-chairs. Discussions typically revolve around learning interventions and organizational issues.

“Most recently we’ve talked about how [franchisees] can better recognize people within the store — how can they give tools to their restaurant managers to recognize strong performance of the crew members,” she said.

Dunkin’ also rolled out a profitability curriculum this past fall to teach franchisees and restaurant managers how to manage the profit and loss system in their stores. The program helps them to better understand what costs them money, including labor, how to save in different places and how to more actively manage their business through various financial elements.

Gregory and her team seek feedback from individuals who’ve been through the programs and make adjustments when necessary to preserve the mutually beneficial relationship between Dunkin’ and its franchisees. “We know we will be successful if they are successful, and they know that we know that,” she said.

Effective talent management and providing development opportunities for franchisees are paramount in the food service and hospitality industry, especially given the diverse and multicultural nature of its constituents, said Gerry Fernandez, president of the Multicultural Foodservice & Hospitality Alliance.

There are multiple layers of complexity that franchised organizations have to contend with — including a lack of consistency within their local workforce.

“If I’m a franchisee in a suburb with a well-educated populace, it’s easier to train and develop them because they may all speak English, they all have [a good] reading level,” he said. “Other maybe minority franchisees often don’t come with the same kinds of resources.”

For these and other reasons, the relationship between the franchise’s senior leaders and the franchisees is absolutely crucial — both must work toward the same business goal.

“Think of it as the Pentagon sets the strategy for the U.S. Army when they go to war, but the soldiers on the ground are the ones who really actually fire the bullets and carry it out,” Fernandez said. “Franchisees are the field generals; their employees are the soldiers and the platoon leaders — they get their orders from the Pentagon, but the franchisee, the field general, has to deal with bad weather, poor supply, the product doesn’t get here, the soldiers aren’t prepared.”

Providing development and training to franchisees benefits the entire organization.

Adding HR to the Value Menu
During her two decades in the field, Gregory said she has watched as HR leaders evolved from policy makers to strategic business partners, and it felt like being part of a renaissance of sorts.

“We are not there to get in the way; we are not there to say, ‘You can’t do this and you can’t do that’ and create policies. We’re there to say, ‘OK, what are we trying to do here and how can we help you through talent management, through compensation, through whatever, to be more successful as a business?’” she said.

Further, Gregory said it’s about instilling this mindset in others — be it newcomers to the field or to HR veterans who have spent a majority of their career with a more traditional view of HR.
“They’re used to tell[ing] people: ‘Here are the rules; you can’t do that and you can’t do that,’” she said. “[They need to move] from that kind of approach to one of ‘Tell me what’s going on in the business, and I will go back and think about how I can help you.’”

Travis has roots in HR, with nearly two decades of experience in the function, and as the leader of a multinational brand he understands the integral role HR can play in an organization.

“Most people see HR as just an admin function that hires, fires and processes people,” he said. “I come from a background where HR is one of the highest-respected functions, a highly proactive function, and that’s the way I’ve always used it.”

Organizational leaders stuck in the old HR mindset who don’t appreciate the value that HR can bring to the table and don’t leverage the function in a proactive way are passing up the opportunity to add value.

“In most successful organizations, HR is integrated in everything that goes on, and it’s not just a function where you say, ‘OK, we’re going to reorganize this — get it done,’” he said. “They should be involved in the thinking of the organization, the design of the organization, the manning of the organization, what this means for the development of people, what it means long-term.”

HR Leadership Qualities
Nigel Travis, Dunkin’ Brands CEO and Dunkin’ Donuts president, shared qualities he believes today’s quintessential HR leader should possess:

• International experience.
• Experience working in other industries. “It adds value to your perspective,” he said.
• Coming to the table willing to talk about the business.
• Being perceived as open, fair and easy to get along with.