Episode 299: The Role of the CHRO in the Restaurant Industry

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Episode 299: The Role of the CHRO in the Restaurant Industry

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Welcome to the Workology Podcast, a podcast for the disruptive workplace leader. Join host Jessica Miller-Merrell, founder of Workology.com, as she sits down and gets to the bottom of trends, tools and case studies for the business leader, H.R. and recruiting professional who is tired of the status quo. Now, here’s Jessica with this episode of Workology.

Episode 299: The Role of the CHRO in the Restaurant Industry with Elizabeth Baxter


Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:00:26.13] Welcome to the Workology Podcast sponsored by Upskill HR and Ace the HR Exam. Today’s podcast is part of a series on the Workology podcast focused on the roles and responsibilities of the Chief Human Resources Officer, or the CHRO. The CHRO is sometimes called the Chief People Officer, and it is an executive level role that deals with managing human resources as well as with organizational development and implementing policies of change to improve the overall efficiency of the company. Today, I’m joined by Elizabeth Baxter. She’s the Chief People Officer with one of my favorite restaurants, Torchy’s Tacos. Prior to her time at Torchy’s Tacos, Elizabeth led a successful career in human resources at Walmart, starting with them as an Associate Relations Manager and then progressing within seven years as their Senior Director of Performance Management and Global CEO. Elizabeth, welcome to the Workology Podcast.

Elizabeth Baxter: [00:01:19.83] Thank you for having me. Appreciate it.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:01:21.87] Let’s start with some background. You’ve been in HR for, and I hate to say it, 20 years, almost 20 years.

Elizabeth Baxter: [00:01:28.09] My gosh, you’re aging me.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:01:29.76] I know we all like, it’s good and bad. Like you have the experience and you understand the role. You understand the business. How have your roles evolved over time into that Chief People Officer role with Torchy’s?

Elizabeth Baxter: [00:01:44.70] Well, it’s funny to hear you say 20 years, because I remember early in my years like thinking how how do people have that much experience or how do you get to the next job now to have somebody introduce me and say, I have 20 years of experience. It’s like my internal reaction as time flies. You know, I think my, my roles have evolved basically just passion by loving people. So what’s interesting is I have a degree in advertising, marketing and PR in a little place called Wichita, Kansas, at Wichita State. My degree wasn’t in H.R., but I knew early on in all the different jobs I did starting at the bottom, that it was all about people. So looking back and thinking like how did I get to the Chief People Officer role, I think it goes back again to what I said, which was just a passion for people. And I think when you find your niche and you know what you love, that helps you get to the next role and the next role and the next role, whatever, that passion might be. So it’s interesting to think, you know, some of my first jobs are like folding panties of Victoria’s Secret and folding clothes at the Gap and then to, you know, open my own clothing business to then working at the largest company in the world, Walmart, and having seven, seven different jobs with them before coming to Torchy’s.

Elizabeth Baxter: [00:03:02.52] You know, I look back and I’m like all those different jobs taught me something different that helped me be a better leader and be passionate about developing others and and getting them realizing that, you know, whatever company you work for, but definitely with Torchy’s, that there’s opportunity for advancement. It’s about developing your people. And that’s where you find success, no matter what kind of role you’re playing or or what kind of business you’re in. You know, if you have people that love their job, you develop them, you invest in them, they give back tenfold. And that’s what makes your jobs, your restaurant, your businesses successful. So it’s really awesome to be in that Chief HR role and really be able to do that for people on a large scale and in a growing company. So I’m definitely lucky to have my role.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:03:52.41] I love how diverse your experience is. Spent time as an entrepreneur, works a lot in retail and different spaces, spent time at one of the largest employers in the world, Walmart, and then moved into this Chief H.R. Officer role at Torchy’s. So it’s, I feel like there’s more HR leaders that have this kind of path than maybe we would think just because also I feel like retail and restaurant or hospitality, H.R., when you get that experience in there, it really sets you up to be able to work in any type of work environment.

Elizabeth Baxter: [00:04:33.64] Yeah, I remember actually interviewing for this Chief HR role of Torchy’s and it even being brought up like, hey, you don’t have restaurant experience and I look back, August will be my third year with Torchy’s. And what’s interesting now I’m looking at it with a completely different set of eyes is, you know, people are just people, whether they’re at a restaurant, they’re buying groceries at Walmart, they’re buying clothes at a clothing store. They all want to be treated the best way they can if they’re the the guest and they want to have that memorable experience. And if they’re the team member, you know, they want to be treated with respect, they want to know what they can do and not do. They want to know that they’re making the best money they can and they’re in a great environment. So it’s interesting because I think there’s a lot of scrutiny when people go from one kind of career to a different like, hey, do you have the experience you need? But but, you know, I look at it differently, which is just people are people and they want a great experience no matter what side of the barrel you’re on. And I think if you look at it that way, you’ve got a much more flexible point of view. And I think especially after a year of a pandemic to that’s really more true than average, is that people want to feel safe and happy and, you know, like their money and their dollar meant something and they got the most out of their dollar and or their their level of sweat equity, whatever it might be, if it’s that team member. But, you know, if people want to be treated fairly and well and and that’s what either gets, you know, a guest coming back or gets a team member to stay for years with you, either side of the coin.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:06:07.78] I wanted to ask you about what skills and experiences that you believe are absolute requirements for CHROs, especially thinking maybe about someone who’s just starting out in their career.

Elizabeth Baxter: [00:06:22.54] You know, I talk to a lot of students this last beginning of the summer, we started an intern program. And I remember actually kind of talking about this even past the H.R. role. But I think, you know, especially starting out is like, you know, it’s OK to be curious and to try different things. I think if you fast forward to like what something or a requirement that has to be in the HR role as being, one, it’s a passion for people. And it’s also that willingness to develop and realize that everybody has hopes and dreams. If it’s about advancement, they want to be known. They’ve got opportunity. If it’s a people situation that’s tricky, they want to be, you know, comforted and known that they’re going to be treated fairly. You know, I think it’s it goes back to if you’re going to be in the HR role at all, you’ve got to have a love for people. And someone that’s really successful in the HR world realizes that the complexity of people in H.R. is that every situation is unique. And so even if you have best class standards or best ways you might handle something, people still want to be dealt with on an individual level and be felt that in their specific situation, they were treated the most fair they could. And so it makes, you know, something where you might want to just say, well, this is the policy more difficult. But the beauty of it is, is if you’re a real people person and a lover of people, you have that ability to be specific in that situation and make a lasting imprint. So I really feel like it’s not necessarily the experience that they have to have, but it’s more the passion around a specific part of H.R. or just, you know, this passion for making things right, making things simpler and a difficult job, or in a difficult world. That’s what’s going to set somebody apart in the H.R. role in general.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:08:18.31] I think it’s true and, and it really speaks to the culture and Torchy’s and how you fit in to to that space, because in order for Torchy’s to be successful, in order for the H.R. function to have to be to be successful, you have to have the people first qualities, and that is everybody in the organization too.

Elizabeth Baxter: [00:08:43.95] Thank you for saying that.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:08:45.69] It’s true. I want to talk more about the restaurant industry, because I think that the entire industry has dealt with a lot and we all have, but especially the restaurant space in the last year. Can you talk a little bit about 2020 and maybe some different things that your team had to cope with?

Elizabeth Baxter: [00:09:05.60] Yeah, I mean, I think like most restaurant companies, it was like it felt like overnight that everything changed. And so and I remember early on, the leadership team, I actually called them and said, I know it’s the weekend, but this is all changing and we’ve got to figure out what how are we going to handle furloughing people and are we going to close restaurants and locations and how are we going to do takeout? And all these know just literally nothing was the same. And I remember everybody coming around my kitchen table really early on and saying, like, OK, what are we going to do? And so we knew that because everything was changing, we had to make some quick decisions. And we also knew that we would be better together than we would be apart. And that if we said, you know, we’re still going to put our people first above the business, that we would come out stronger. And what I love about our CEO, G. J . Hart, is, you know earlier on he’s like we’re going to be stronger for this. And I still think, you know, 18 months and counting in we’re still saying that we are stronger than we were 18 months ago. And I don’t know that every business can say that. But I think it goes back to us committing to having that culture that put our people first and continuing to have damn good food, even if everything changed. Some of the key things that we dealt with was there were weeks where restaurant locations were closed and so, you know, we weren’t allowed to have dining customers.

Elizabeth Baxter: [00:10:32.39] And overnight we were one hundred percent, you know, carry, carry, delivery. And luckily we had been prepping and knew like with DoorDash and all the different delivery companies, that, that’s where, you know, business was heading before the pandemic. But then definitely during the pandemic, it looks like people still wanted to eat their fresh tacos, but they just, you know, weren’t allowed to eat them in the dining room. So what did, you know, a damn good taco look like fresh if it’s being delivered to the doorstep? Or if somebody is picking it up? And so we also overnight had to change our offerings. And we saw a lot of other restaurants doing this early on. But we were one of the first where we would transition over to something called family packs and at home Margarita kits. And I think that really saved us early on because they still wanted to eat Torchy’s, but not necessarily at an individual level. And I remember, you know, my son and I being cooped up in the house for weeks and working 24/7, and it was like I still wanted my tacos. And there was something really comforting about like being able to go to my Torchy’s and get a family pack that for $30 feeds four to five people, which is an unbelievable value and could make several meals off of it. And then secondarily, you know, we are one of the first businesses that did that at home, fresh Margarita kits.

Elizabeth Baxter: [00:11:53.99] And I remember in those early days like we were selling out of them before, it felt like they were even on the menu. And so people I think it really resonated with a chord with people because they still wanted to drink and people were under stress and they still wanted to have a good time if it was on the back porch with the family or if it was with their neighbor versus going into a restaurant. And so I think what’s great about us is, like, because we started as a food truck and that was a different way to get food, you know, we very easily transitioned back into that in and making sure that we had great off premise varieties and ways for pickup and delivery. And people could actually text us or call and we’d bring the food out to their cars. And then the other thing that we also did is in certain local communities, we actually did sign ups in neighborhoods and we actually brought Torchy’s to their neighborhoods. And so we did a lot of different things just to say, like we are Torchy’s family. We also understand, you know, that people are scared and worried, but we still want to make torches available. And I think we did some, some good things as far as like adjusting to what the guests needed. I think the other big, huge piece of it for me was we knew early on that we needed some sort of playbook that really focused on, like the safety of our guests and the safety of our team member.

Elizabeth Baxter: [00:13:15.56] I remember actually going out to a restaurant, a non Torchy’s restaurant and eating and the experience being so often so uncomfortable that I thought, you know, am I being stupid eating in this restaurant? It feels unsafe. And luckily, I took back that experience and said, like, this is not how we ever want to make anybody feel in the Torchy’s. And so, you know, very quickly we really transitioned to focusing on training and making our team members feel safer so that they then can make the guests feel safe. And for us, that was really about how do they feel safe and having open dialogue and to talking about like what difficult conversations might occur and how would you approach those conversations with the guest. And knowing, too, that everybody felt very different about a pandemic. Everybody felt very different about the level of safety in a restaurant. Felt different about the safety of food in general and so really wanted to embrace our team members and make them feel safe in their jobs, you know. The other important thing that Torchy’s did as early on, we did have to furlough some team members but we brought them on in a, back in a matter of weeks. And we were one of the very few restaurants that kept insurance coverage, offered free covid shots and free testing, you know, paid for our team members to be safe and secure in times where they thought they might have been exposed.

Elizabeth Baxter: [00:14:40.83] And really, because of those safety precautions, you know, we stayed at a very low minimum and had a good procedure. And in dealing with these situations, even in an early time where we weren’t really sure how bad it was going to be, you know, and then secondarily, like, I think because we embraced our team members so well, in turn, our guests felt safer and you know, we never really had any huge problems or deals where there was a guest on safety. And as you, I’m sure, saw on the news, there was a lot of that where people felt like they were eating in unsafe restaurants. And so I think it went back to us again being focused on our teams and making them feel safe. Then they could embrace the guests and make them feel safe. You know, there’s so many things I look back at that we can be proud of during the pandemic. And I think that we’ve ended up being a stronger team. I’ll tell you that, you know, we’re one of the only restaurant businesses that during the pandemic ended opening 12 restaurants in three new states. And we hired over a thousand new team members in a year where other teams and restaurants were either completely closing locations or closing their doors altogether. So I know from a Torchy’s perspective, we really feel lucky that we were able to continue to grow and to react in such a scary times.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:15:58.14] You’re talking about all the safety things, and I’m thinking like it doesn’t even now really seem real, it.

Elizabeth Baxter: [00:16:04.86] Right?

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:16:04.86] Because we’re kind of coming out of this. And then I’m also thinking like, you were committed to employees, to the team members and to the customers. And you were still able to grow. And like you said, add one thousand new positions, hire for another thousand people at your organization. There are not very many restaurants in the US and probably anywhere that can, that can say that, which is, says a lot to the culture and then just how you guys have had to flex and so quickly and pivot.

Elizabeth Baxter: [00:16:42.43] Yeah, I mean, I think we we have a lot to be proud of, and the thing I go back to, I think my biggest takeaways were just, you know, early on we said we’re going to get through this together. And, you know, secondarily, I think we said we’re putting the people first, which is the Chief HR role, you couldn’t ask for more for us to be united in that in that way, beca use I know for a fact I have other peers that didn’t have that situation. So I was lucky in that retrospect. But I think, too, that, you know, when when restaurant teams, companies talk about culture like, you know, a culture is alive or dead based on its people and the actual practices that they live out in their in their daily roles and in the hard times and the good times. And so, you know, I think our culture is alive and deeper and better than ever because of these hard times, because we make quick decisions and we stayed consistent. And in a scary time, we decided to have like gentleness and love and put our people first when we could have said, like, hey, we’re going to put the dollar first, I hope. And I truly believe that that’s going to continue to pay us back in years to come. Because I’ll tell you even now, this last year, most companies turnovers and at an ultimate high and we’re actually at an ultimate low, comparatively at our MP level, which is our store manager level, you know, we’re 68 percent lower than company comparison, which is just nuts. We basically have hardly any turn in that position at the store manager level and even at the hourly level, which, you know, as an H.R., you know, that’s like the position. You just can’t keep an hourly level and we’re down six percent over this last year, which is really crazy.

Elizabeth Baxter: [00:18:26.41] And these nutty times when we had to let people go and we had to make choices. But we also even in those team members, we did have to furlough. Like, one of the cool things we did is like every couple of days we’d have somebody personally reach out to them and check on them and see if they’re safe. And I’ll let them know we wanted to bring them back. And I just don’t know that every other company had that much level of detail around their people. But I think that that’s what’s going to make the difference. And it’s really given us some great momentum with our teams is it’s really like taking that extra time and going that extra mile.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:19:01.60] I want to ask you about training, because in our prep call, you, the Torchy’s team and the HR team have a I feel like a really unique training program that kind of starts from the ground up. Can you talk a little bit about that?

Elizabeth Baxter: [00:19:21.37] Yeah. So the first year I was here, almost three years ago,I knew one of our biggest opportunities was our management and training program. You know, we had a management and training program, but we weren’t getting great results like, you know, most other comparison companies, but I knew we needed to overhaul it so we had been working on it for a while. We’ve finally gotten to this place right before pre covid. We’re like, OK, we’re officially starting this. And it was funny because we had the all the teams pulled together and learning and development and our training, the ops team, and we were starting to make good headway. And then of course, covid happened. And I actually remember that that team coming to me and saying like, oh my gosh, are we going to lose our jobs? And oh my gosh, it’s going to be furloughed. And and then I, you know, kind of said was like, no, you know, me and the leadership team and specifically our CEO is like, no, let’s double down. Like, let’s take this time, this pause where everything was kind of like in transition and keep working on this program. And what was great is like in the scary time, we don’t, not only said like, no, you’re not leaving, we want to keep this whole team whole because we do want to continue to grow as a company. We’ve got work to do for that growth.

Elizabeth Baxter: [00:20:35.35] Is that all of a sudden it like freed up the space, and it was like we almost revved up the engine and started working on it a lot quicker. And so one of the huge positives that came out of this last year is that we completely reinvented our new MIT program and, you know, a program that we thought was going to take two years, we got done in a year because we were really able to just like grasp on to it and say we’re going to take this time and do the right thing and. I will tell you, I’m so proud of it because I look back and I feel like our program is unique because it’s a 10 week program for our management levels, five of it being focused about them being in stores as leaders and doing shifts, and the other five of it being around learning every station within the restaurant and then specific skills to what their specific opportunities are. So, you know, if you were to take to manager side by side to get started, if one of them’s been, let’s say, a manager before in a restaurant, they’re not going to need as much training in restaurant leadership as a brand new trainer. And so what’s great about our program is that we really specify it according to what the team member, the new managers team needs are, and making sure that at the end of their 10 weeks they’ve gotten what they need to be a great manager or what we consider successful at Torchy’s.

Elizabeth Baxter: [00:21:58.52] So what I will tell you is that we’re seeing amazing and great results out that. This last year since the new MIT program, we already have 42 graduates out of that program. We’ve only had one out of the 42 not be successful, which is almost unheard of. And in those 42 there’s been over 26,000 training hours. And so what’s great is if you look at it, it’s all electronic. There’s QR codes. They can actually go in and scan and say, what am I doing for the day? And it’s all disciplined and different things that they need to be experiencing as leaders in the building or specific skills of culinary or specific leadership and accessibility, things to continue to make them feel comfortable, to have difficult conversations or to schedule somebody or whatever it might be, you know. What’s great is at the end they do assessments and they make sure that they understand and actually have the skills they need. And if they don’t, they re-take a piece of it. And then there’s checks along the way with actual different leaders, whether it’s a culinary coach, a training coach, a manager in the building, a market manager, they’re meeting with all different levels of their tenured leaders to check their skills, make sure there are great focus culturally, and that they really feel like by the end of this, they’re ready to go whatever into that role.

Elizabeth Baxter: [00:23:20.19] And so what’s amazing is, again, you know, we’re getting great success out of it, but now we’re starting to tweak that program down to a supervisor hourly level and test that program as well. And so being able to really put this out there has been huge because with us planning on opening over 15 restaurants every year for the next five years or more, our growth is going to be huge. And finding leaders and training them up quickly and getting them long term to to be focused on our culture and and damn good food, which is our motto, you know, that’s a hard thing to get skilled up in. And for a program so far to be super successful and for us to be turning out leaders in and out of the 42 and we have one that wasn’t a good fit. I still I consider that one that wasn’t a good fit. We figured out they weren’t a good fit. Right? And still, for for that to be the number out of a year’s worth of graduate, you know, that’s pretty unbelievable. And so a lot to be proud of as far as Torchy is really investing in the training of its team, especially with this expanding and growing as quickly as we are across the United States.

Break: [00:24:30.41] Let’s take a reset. This is Jessica Miller-Merrell, and you were listening to the Workology podcast sponsored by Upskill HR and Ace the HR Exam. This series, the CHRO series, is powered by Daily Pay. And we’re talking about the role of the CHRO, and in this episode, we’re focused on the restaurant industry. We’re talking with Elizabeth Baxter, the Chief People Officer with Torchy’s Tacos.

Break: [00:24:55.73] Personal and professional development is essential for successful H.R. leaders. Join Upskill HR to access life training, community and over one hundred on-demand courses for that dynamic leader. HR recert credits available. Visit UpskillHR.com for more.

Supporting a Stellar Employer Brand in the Restaurant Space 


Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:25:11.40] Torchy’s is such a great brand, I am a fan. I told you that before, I love I love everything about Torchy’s. It’s a fun environment to eat. I’ve never had a bad experience. I think from a customer perspective, that is what drives people. And there’s a number of different things, but also from an employee perspective. And there is so much talk right now about the challenges in retention, especially in the restaurant industry. You talked a little bit about this, but I wanted to talk in more depth about what do you think is the reason for the low turnover at Torchy’s?

Elizabeth Baxter: [00:25:52.95] Just to reiterate, I think, one is we’ve got a great training program. I think too we also haven’t spoken so much about this, invested in some really great tools on the front end with hiring. So making sure early on that we are actually doing an assessment and are they a good fit for our brand. Meaning, do they connect to us in feeling like they can be a genuine person that wants to talk to our guest and have that lasting experience? It’ss all about and passioned about our completely one hundred percent scratch-made beautiful damn good food and loves it and it’s kind of a food taco junky. And then do they see a career with Torchy’s? And those are things that we’re looking for. And so we’re able to be a little bit choosier with our team members that we pick. I think secondarily, we talk a lot about like if they’re a good fit and how culturally do we make them feel accepted day one. And I think that’s a miss on a lot of companies parts is. And it’s hard when business is turning and things are crazy. Not everybody gets a great experience and people get left behind in the dust. But I think when you combine with are they a good fit? To then did they get the right training experience? And the number three, like, did you make them feel welcome day one? And that goes back to the culture of us having tenacity and being original and making people feel like they can be themselves.

Elizabeth Baxter: [00:27:16.83] You know, have we shown them respect in their new job and respect as a human being? Have we shown them a connection to their local community and all the different things that we’re doing to make people realize that not only do they want to be a long-term guest with Torchy’s, but they also might want to be a team member. And then do we treat them with honor? And show them that, you know, through trust and hard work, they can have a great job at Torchy’s and have fun doing it and have damn good tacos and really just a better life with Torchy’s, with a lot of opportunity. And I think culturally, you know, we really try to make people feel that whether they’re a guest or a team member. But I think from a team member perspective, if we really can deliver that early on, nobody ever wants to leave. And, you know, that’s kind of what’s magical. Even being the Chief HR three years later I think, like, you know, this role has just gotten better and better.

Elizabeth Baxter: [00:28:10.83] And and I want every team member down to the cashier that just started yesterday to feel that, too, because Torchy’s is something special. You know, it is a company that started in one trailer in Austin and now we’re in 93 stores. We just had a store open today across eleven states. And and we plan on opening across more states this year and ending up being at our 100th store by the end of this year. And so our growth is crazy. And and I have to attribute that to we have a really great culture that is really living and breathing and that other companies would love to have. And ours is just an actual reality. And so, you know, I think my biggest goal is that over the next, you know, five years like that we keep that culture and it grows as we grow because that’s what makes us special and that’s what’s going to continue to make it successful. And it’s also what’s going to continue to drive retention, because when people are happy, they don’t want to leave. They want to find out what more they can do for a company. And so that’s really what we’re focused on, is showing our team members the opportunity that lives and Torchy’s.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:29:15.24] Thank you for sharing. And I think that we’re hearing in the news all the horror stories of how restaurants can’t retain their workers or they can’t hire people right now. And you guys are the opposite of that. And I think it is because of the training, the culture that you have and all the investments that you’re making in in the people and you have been making since, you know, long before the for the pandemic.

Elizabeth Baxter: [00:29:43.05] What’s interesting is I do think, like out right now, there’s a hiring issue in general. It’s not a restaurant thing. I think it’s an everybody thing. What is helping us combat that is being a cool, edgy brand and investing in the team and slowing down a little bit. And, you know, I’m here to also say that our team is really like dug in and said if there’s stores that have opportunities, like how do we help them more? And, and how do we resonate and connect back to a community and, you know, hey, if they’re looking for cashiers doing different things like getting our team members to internally bring other friends and say, like, hey, Sarah, I see that, you know, I checked you out three times a week at Torchy’s. Have you thought about ever working here a couple shifts? And we get a lot of new team members. That way, too, is just like we have like true food taco junkie fans that love Torchy’s that end up saying, well, I want free tacos and if you work here, you can get them. And so that helps, too, is really digging in and always looking for that great team member.

Elizabeth Baxter: [00:30:47.80] And I think the other thing that we really focus on and we even saw in, you know, in our recent engagements survey with our team, it says like people stayed at Torchy’s because we’ve been able to be flexible with them and, and focus on a work-life balance, which, as you know, is like really hard in any business. It’s hard to be in a store and actually even say that you have a work-life balance. And so being able to say like, hey, it’s OK to be a mom and be a manager for us or it’s OK to go to school and only be able to work as many shifts, like we’re willing to do things and go the extra mile where other companies might say these are the shifts and if you can’t work, then we’re going to turn you. And so you just have a different perspective in the way we approach people. And, and I think that that has helped us with some of our turnover and retention as well.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:31:35.62] It’s funny that you’re talking about this, because I just got a Facebook message from somebody who was like, they’re messing with my schedule. They’ve made a change, like, what right do I have? Because they’re trying to schedule me for my shift outside my current availability. So that really does go a long way.

Elizabeth Baxter: [00:31:57.25] It does.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:31:58.39] One of the things that we also talked about and I will link to in the show notes, Torchy’s Career website, so you can take a look for yourself. But I wanted to ask you about what the store hiring process looks like as you grow. What tools or tech or digital resources are you using to to make it easier to for the candidate and also for you and your team?

Elizabeth Baxter: [00:32:23.65] Yeah. So the last three years, I’ll tell you, this year, we also implemented something that we call My Torchy’s, which is our new HRIS program. And it was several years in the making and it’s actually ultipro that built it for us. And we’ve been, you know, very, very happy with the result of it. So it’s a one stop shop. That’s our HR info system that the team now uses. And prior to that, we were using eight different systems for H.R. functions, which is crazy. And a lot of different companies are in that same same situation. So when we moved it over to that, though, we really spent the time with our hiring process to make sure that it’s in one system and it’s a seamless as possible. So we completely overhauled and made sure that our questions make sense by position that they’re applying. We also added some screening questions, like I mentioned before, that help us really quickly determine if they’re good fit for Torchy’s and then what role they’d be a good fit for based of what they’re interested in, naturally. And then the third element of it is that in-person interview. So we’ve done a lot of things, even with the hiring button, and invested some money in some easier hiring buttons with Indeed. So everything’s auto-connected. And if you click that easy hire button within minutes you’re already applied with Torchy’s versus having to go into our website and do everything separately. And so we’ve gotten some really great feedback about that.

Elizabeth Baxter: [00:33:49.93] You know, we also overhauled some of our perks. We just announced this last week actually that we’re offering an hourly health care program to those that might not necessarily get coverage. And that’s a huge win for us. So we’re also really looking at how we keep our benefits savvy, even down to the hourly level and giving programs and discounts even on safe work shoes and just different things that will make people’s lives better no matter what level they’re at. We also have some financial institution and educational pieces that we’re adding more at the manager level and making sure that they understand how to invest their money wisely as they become managers with us. So we’re doing a lot of things, perks and benefits wise, that keep us very cutting edge and then also just making sure that hiring process is as easy as possible, but also that we are asking the right questions for the right role because we’re really focused on do we have the right person in the right role at the right time, at the right store? And that’s a lot of rights that you have to figure out so that you don’t get it wrong. But I think the more time we take on that, even if it’s easier for the team member, then we’re in a much better place and, you know, we’re continuing to stay focused on making sure that our hiring efforts are branding, all of that stuff is very attractive for for whatever level we’re looking for.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:35:16.16] Elizabeth, I want to thank you for for taking the time to talk with us. I have one more question for you. And I want to make it a restaurant industry specific. And so do you have any advice for H.R. leaders who are working in the restaurant industry right now? What can you share with them? Maybe just to help take some things off their plate or where they should maybe shift their focus?

Elizabeth Baxter: [00:35:40.19] You know something this last year I’ve been telling my team is, especially in the field of H.R. and with the pandemic and lots of different things in the way the world is, is there’s a lot of craziness going on, but what I’ve told my team this past year is like it doesn’t really matter what the question is, love should always be the answer. And what I mean with that is like however we react with our teams, you know, staying thoughtful and slowing down and being more intentional about how we can help that team member or that guest and their specific situation, that’s what gives you lasting effect. That’s what gives us lasting success at Torchy’s. And and I think sometimes it’s OK to to slow down and realize, like, what’s the loving way to answer somebody? What’s the loving way to to handle a difficult situation, especially whoever it is, because the world is crazy right now. And I think everybody reacts better to love than they do to drama or overreaction or even just hardness. And I think there’s a lot of that out there right now. I think, you know, in talking to my team about that, I know we’ve been better for it. So that would be my advice to everybody is just no matter what the question is, I think if you react in a loving way, in a genuine way, that’s what people react to. And people might not remember how what you said or the actions you took, but they’ll never forget the way that you made them feel.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:37:06.26] I agree. I have been saying when somebody irritates me or I don’t understand or maybe I don’t like the energy that they’re sending to me, I just have to remind that they’re trying to come from a place of love. It kind of helps my response a little bit. But I love yours, too. And I do think we need to to respond more with love because we just don’t know what people are going through behind the scenes or in their life.

Elizabeth Baxter: [00:37:32.93] For sure. Interesting last couple of years.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:37:36.35] For sure, and I know it’s going to continue to be an interesting couple more years as we come out of this pandemic. I want to thank you for for taking the time to chat with us. We’ll be sure to include your LinkedIn profile and then, of course, the Torchy’s career site on our resources over on the, the specific episode page. So thank you for, for taking the time to talk with us.

Elizabeth Baxter: [00:37:59.96] Awesome. Thank you so much for inviting me. It was fun.

Closing: [00:38:02.96] Are you loving the Workology Podcast? Our Workology community reaches over 600,000 H.R. leaders every single month. Want to be a sponsor? Reach out to us at Workology.com/advertising.

Closing: [00:38:16.40] It’s really interesting to delve into how a role like the CHRO, whose experience more closely connects them to the strategy and operations of the overall business and how it works with the rest of the company leadership team, especially around innovation, training, culture and employee development. Elizabeth had some great insights. Not only did she graduate from Wichita State University, I’m a Kansas girl myself, but I also see so many great things that they are doing. As someone who has worked in the retail space, you can’t have retention numbers like Torchy’s does without some really great programs and a focus on training, culture and employee engagement. The CHRO doesn’t just lead within the HR organization. This role is key to structuring the leadership for the company’s executive team. I appreciate Elizabeth taking the time to share her knowledge and talk with us today. Thank you for joining the Workology Podcast sponsored by Upskill HR and Ace the HR Exam. This series, the CHRO series is powered by Daily Pay. This podcast is for the disruptive workplace leader who’s tired of the status quo. I know that’s you. That’s why we’re here to drive some change. My name is Jessica Miller-Merrell. Until next time, visit Workology.com to listen to all our previous podcast episodes.

Connect with Elizabeth Baxter.



– Elizabeth Baxter on LinkedIn

– Torchy’s Career Website

– CHRO Job Description

– Episode 297: CHRO Series – How Did You Start Your Career in HR?

– Episode 293: HRetreat’s CHRO Panel Highlight

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