KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- As foodservice becomes more important to Pilot Flying J’s growth strategy, the retailer is doubling down on its effort to find team members who wake up excited to serve guests.
There’s just one problem with that: Travel centers and convenience stores are operating in one of the tightest labor markets in years. In April, the national unemployment rate inched down to 3.9%.
The chain has also not been immune to the industry’s rapid turnover, clocking in at 115% for c-store associates in 2017, according to the NACS Compensation Report. “We compete with every fast-food restaurant out there,” Paul Shore, vice president of talent acquisition and field human resources for Knoxville, Tenn.-based Pilot Flying J (PFJ), told CSP Daily News. “So we’ve got to have a compelling message to get people in the door.”
This desire to create a great place to work amid a brutal hiring climate led to PFJ’s Ignite initiative, which asks team members to consider how to create a better day for team members and guests in every new program they roll out. Through the initiative, PFJ has put a dent in turnover.
Here's how the chain has applied the philosophy to its recruiting and retention efforts ...
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PFJ's initiative began with a revamp of its career site with updated testimonials. In addition, PFJ overhauled its hiring procedures. Involving more team members in the selection process is one way the retailer is working to brighten employees’ and guests’ experiences with the brand.
The company is testing role champions, who meet with candidates to offer a deeper understanding of on-the-job expectations and demands. Role champions are individuals who excel in their positions, such as food production, shift leads, maintenance or cashier. In addition to helping potential hires self-select into the right environment for them, role champions also offer input on the selection process. In some cases, applicants do opt out of the process after talking with the champions, giving managers the opportunity to dive a bit deeper with serious candidates, Shore said.
“Our retention improved in locations that followed the selection process,” he said. “We thought, ‘We’re selecting someone who truly understands the role vs. someone who just needed a job.’ ”
PFJ also designed a new onboarding process aimed at making team members feel like they are part of something bigger. “We want to connect them to a larger purpose, not just the travel center they are located in,” Shore said. During the first two days of the orientation, new recruits learn about the 60-year heritage of the company.
After 21 days on the payroll, new team members fill out surveys about their onboarding experience and are asked to share what tools they need to be successful. These surveys supplement the company’s biannual online surveys, in which each location is tasked with creating action plans around the top two problems that rise to the top of the surveys. The talent management team anonymously compiles the results and distributes them to managers.
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Talk it out
In the past, PFJ would inundate field members with communication, leaving them to filter out the need-to-know details in an onslaught of information. Now, a centralized message goes out on Mondays, and it’s up to management to share the pertinent insights with their teams.
However, when it comes to team member feedback, the company is all about overcommunicating, Shore said. As most industries are struggling to find professional drivers, PFJ is asking how it could make professional drivers' jobs better. “We’re really putting accountability back on the leadership team,” Shore said. “Our drivers show up at travel centers, and we make them feel a part of the company and make sure they have a support system. We’re actively soliciting their feedback about their jobs.”
Pilot Flying J also publishes a monthly newsletter for its drivers. In each issue, PFJ celebrates a driver specialist and recognizes individual drivers who exemplify the company's brand values.
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The tough labor market has also inspired PFJ to automate its employee referral program. Drivers and store team members can now bank up to $500 for a successful referral. To make it as easy as possible for workers to recruit talent, the company has adopted a mobile app that team members can use to text and email job listings to potential candidates.
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