Hard Rock Café International onboards its new hires a bit differently than most companies—and that's exactly how it should be, according to Jim Knight, senior director of training and development at Hard Rock Café International Inc.'s School of Hard Rocks, the company's corporate university. "We're a different kind of organization. We have little hierarchy, and focus on fostering individuality. We encourage Mohawks, tattoos, body piercing, and colored and spiked hair. And we look for those who want to be themselves—anyone with a touch of irreverence and unpredictability."
Which is precisely why Knight's first order of business when he assumed a leadership role within The School of Hard Rocks several years ago was to reinvent the company's onboarding materials to better resonate with this target audience.
"I looked a lot at the audience and focused heavily on finding a way to be more Millennial-friendly. The 19-year-old Hispanic busser with long hair is the guy I'm trying to reach. So the questions were, "What is it he's looking for? How does he want to receive information? How can I inspire him?"
For inspiration of his own, Knight turned to comic books and revamped the company's old employee handbook—a dull, jargon-laden manual with dozens of text-heavy pages—by throwing out as much copy as possible and replacing it with comic-book-style visuals and stories that relayed the same information, but in a more engaging way. All photographs and illustrations, Knight notes, were taken or drawn by Hard Rock personnel. "It didn't matter if it was a stick figure or whether someone had gone crazy and drawn something beautiful," Knight says. "We always gave credit to the artist alongside the artwork, which was also a great way to generate excitement and build buy-in."
Today, all materials handed out to new hires during Hard Rock's one-day employee orientation session follow the same model and feature plenty of stories, lots of humor and graphics, limited text, and generous amounts of white space. The one-day course also features six to eight brand-oriented DVDs with a rock ‘n roll theme that focus on specific elements of Hard Rock's history and brand.
This switch in tone and tenor is especially important given Hard Rock's history and expanding global footprint, notes Knight. "Hard Rock got its start in the 1970s during the rock ‘n roll revolution and the peace movement. Because of that history, our name, all of our memorabilia and merchandise, and even the music we play have killer back stories. Those stories are part of who we are, and as the company expands worldwide, this is one of the ways we ensure all employees and managers, whether they are located in Malaysia or the U.S., remain connected to that core brand identity."
By all meaningful measures the approach is working well. Hard Rock's average staff turnover rate, for example, is between 75 and 80 percent annually, compared to an average staff turnover rate of approximately 135 percent industry-wide. The company's annual manager turnover rate, meanwhile, is approximately 25 to 30 percent, compared to a 50 to 55 percent annual turnover rate for the hospitality industry overall, according to Knight.
Interested in implementing a similar program? Here are Knight's tips for success:
- Inspire. Above all, create a great handbook that tells the story of your company in an inspiring way and helps new hires more readily connect with your brand. "Too often, people put out handbooks that are HR-oriented and dull. To make matters worse, they write their handbooks in a negative voice by focusing on all of the things people can do to get fired. There will always need to be some pages of your manual that outline important laws and regulations, but that shouldn't be the main focus."
- Establish a consistent process. When you have 152 properties in 52 countries worldwide and are intent on maintaining a consistent brand message, establishing a standardized orientation process is especially important, Knight says. For this reason, each Hard Rock property worldwide holds orientation on the same day of the week, every week, so all managers know regardless of when they hire someone, each new hire will attend training on a certain day. Knight and his team also ensure consistency by distributing a standardized "Leader Guide" to all managers who conduct new-hire orientation. According to Knight, the Leader Guide is identical to the employee handbook, but also includes additional features such as instructions on what to say during training, when to perform certain activities, and stories to share with trainees that help to bring the Hard Rock story to life.
Hard Rock Café International Inc. is an entertainment and leisure company with corporate headquarters in Orlando, FL. In 2009, the company placed 123rd on Training magazine's Top 125 list, an annual ranking of organizations that excel at human capital development.