Meet You on “The Porch:” How Slim Chickens Drives Brand Consistency and Community With Their LMS
Vice President of Training and Development, Slim Chickens
- Slim Chickens is a popular fast-casual chain known for its ﬁnger-licking fried chicken and southern-inspired dishes.
- Brand consistency in delivering a quality product and customer experience is essential for building trust and loyalty among guests.
- To support restaurant location growth and keep store experiences consistent across locations, Slim Chickens rolled out a new Learning Management System (LMS), aptly branded “The Porch.” Like the cultural significance of the American front porch, the LMS creates a sense of gathering and belonging.
- The Slim Chickens LMS user base has reached an impressive milestone, with nearly 7,000 users in the system. Driven by their expanding network of more than 249 restaurants, there is a weekly influx of nearly 380 new users.
Operating in the fiercely competitive fast-casual segment, we recognize that consistency across franchise locations can be the differentiator that sets us apart. With rapid growth since our founding in 2003, comes the challenge of ensuring operational and brand uniformity.
The leadership team at Slim Chickens identiﬁed a pressing need to preserve the unique essence of the Slim Chickens guest experience, regardless of location. We envisioned a scenario where a customer in Arkansas would receive the same level of quality service as one in Colorado. To turn this vision into reality, we sought the technology-driven solution of a Learning Management System (LMS), aiming to align our teams’ learning and development, communications, and operational compliance with our brand standards across all franchise locations.
Rolling out a new LMS can, and should, be a thoughtful process. Here are the key components of our Wisetail LMS and how it delivers results:
Centralized One-stop Shop
One of the primary objectives has been to streamline access to essential and current information. The LMS provides a central repository with a robust search function for five key types of learning resources:
- Training Modules
- Weekly Newsletter Archive
- Operations Assessments
- Equipment Manuals and Guides
Users no longer need to sift through their email archives to retrieve documents from months past, search for missing pages in equipment reference materials, or try to locate their printed recipe book. Weekly newsletters with current information are also cataloged within the LMS, ensuring that users, especially newcomers, can retrieve key information from past issues at any time. An image widget for key information is clearly visible on the newsletter page of the LMS.
Operations assessments are efficiently conducted within the platform, supported by an add-on checklist tool called “OnTrack.” This tool provides Franchise Area Directors (FADs) with a way to audit among locations. This resulted in healthy competition between franchisees to be the highest ranked in franchise performance, and even higher brand standards across the board for the Slim Chickens brand. OnTrack additionally facilitates assessments, metrics, and performance at various levels, and enables rapid incident report generation.
Relationship Catalyst with Key Stakeholders
Fostering relationships on multiple levels ensures teams have access to the materials they need, enhances communication, and aligns training with organizational goals.
1. Establishing Page Administrators
Brian Henry, the Senior Manager of New Restaurant Openings (NROs) for Slim Chickens, came to the training team with a challenge. How could his training managers, who were deployed to an NRO, access all the necessary materials while on the road without the hassle of scattered documents? Brian is now a page administrator, where he “owns” this page on the LMS. This gives him the ability to upload and organize content for his team, eliminating confusion, repetitive emails, and time-sensitive delays.
2. Empowering Through a Training Council
Empowering those in the field, including collaborating with leaders in our franchise community, provides valuable insights into learning and knowledge gaps that the training team might not be otherwise aware of. This approach has proven highly effective in maintaining open communication and ensuring that our training remains relevant and impactful.
3. Building Bridges with Department Heads
Regular communication with these stakeholders results in productive meetings when approaching new learning objectives and processes. Ensuring the right people are involved in discussions requires strong relationships with department heads in marketing, finance, human resources, technology, operations, and legal.
Example: Adopting the LMS required strong integration with HR to determine permissions and which information to “unlock” for each level of employee.
4. Engaging Subject Matter Experts (SMEs)
SMEs bring a wealth of nitty-gritty details to the table about the day-to-day workings of a restaurant. To bridge the gap between theory and practicality, we involve key stakeholders such as field training managers, general managers of stores, and operators from different franchises. We cultivate these relationships early and integrate them into our training process, tapping into their knowledge to find the source of truth in restaurant operations.
Example: Recently, we revamped our schematics for our set-up stations due to a menu update. We began by establishing a baseline and then collaborated with our SMEs. In the case of “SSW” (Salad, Sandwiches, and Waffles), we organized all the elements for a salad and laid them out step-by-step for assembling the dish. The magic happened when we shared these visuals with the individuals directly affected. Their feedback was a catalyst for adjustments; tomatoes were repositioned, coleslaw was relocated, and our schematics were fine-tuned to reflect practical realities of those on the front lines.
Leveraged Learning Styles
To achieve a dynamic and engaging learning experience, we’ve adopted a multifaceted approach for each and every module that caters to different learning styles and preferences. This ensures no one is left behind.
Visual Learning – We incorporate PowerPoints, infographics, and posters you would find in the restaurants. These visuals serve as a foundation, ensuring that visual learners can absorb information in a way that resonates with them.
Auditory Learning – We have witnessed the incredible impact of short, 30-second to 1-minute videos that convey key concepts. These videos not only engage auditory learners but are also effective in conveying information to a broader audience.
Reading and Writing – Some learners excel when they can sit down, read, and take notes, so we also include written content like detailed recipes and quizzes. This allows learners to absorb information at their own pace.
Kinesthetic Learning – Interactive learning experiences are crucial for learners who thrive when they can engage with the material actively. We’ve made it a priority to include interactive elements such as drag-and-drop exercises and hotspots for additional information. This approach enhances the experience for all learners as the need to interact with the platform continuously encourages deeper engagement and understanding.
This framework serves as a step-by-step navigational guide for our employees, ensuring they know what to expect and what is expected of them. It instills a sense of responsibility, lessens anxiety, and helps newcomers smoothly integrate into their roles. Our training roadmaps ensure everyone is on the same page regarding when online training should begin, and the approximate duration for completion.
Example: In this example for a Front of the House (FOH) training team member, their training journey begins with the yellow square on the roadmap, where the documents required for the training are communicated to the new team member by their manager. Upon arrival for their training shift, the employee is well aware of what to bring.
An exciting feature of our training roadmap is the inclusion of handoff videos at the end of each online training session. These videos serve as a symbol of completion and a clear signal that it’s time for the team member to transition to on-the-job training, which starts with shadowing, followed by a shift review and feedback session.
- Ideation and Design: It all starts with the initial planning phase, where the course content and structure are formulated.
- Testing and Implementation: This is where the course materials are put into action, often in phases or staged rollouts.
- Measuring and Evaluation: After initial implementation, it’s essential to gather data and assess the effectiveness of the course.
- Pivot or Preserve: Based on the feedback received and evaluation results, decisions are made. Do you need to make minor adjustments, or is a complete overhaul necessary?
- System-Wide Launch: Once you’re confident in the course’s effectiveness, it’s time to roll it out to a broader audience.
Multi-channel Communication Reinforcement
- Webinars and Newsletters: We understand the value of webinars and virtual meetings. In our weekly newsletter, “The Dip,” we share updates such as the launch of new video series like “Back to Basics: Walk-in Cooler Management” and “Draining the Brine from Your Chicken.” We ensure these updates are tagged in the LMS for easy access.
- Video Messages: We provide bite-sized video messages that lead users to relevant documentation, streamlining the learning process.
- Push Notifications and Email Reminders: We keep our learners informed about upcoming promotions and training sessions.
- Marketing Collaboration: We collaborate closely with our marketing department to ensure that any printed materials align with our training themes, making it easier for our team to receive essential materials.
- Product Implementation Guide (PIG Book): Our “PIG Book” serves as a comprehensive training resource, ensuring our field team knows exactly what to expect in their POP kit and what to do if it doesn’t arrive.
To stay relevant with training content and approaches, we recommend:
- Being a part of meeting-of-the-minds groups like the Council of Hotel and Restaurant Trainers (CHART).
- Reading information from outside of the industry to see what other companies are doing, such as Harvard Business Review, Fast Company, Inc. magazine, etc.
- Establishing the right partners who are putting on conferences and workshops so you can share and see what others are doing.
- Asking the younger generations what technologies they are using. Those team members are now becoming managers and can help us create content in the way they want to absorb the information.
- Being open in the ideation process. Be willing to break down walls and do something different.
- Transforming the LMS into a continuous resource for users through feedback loops.
Slim Chickens’s journey highlights the pivotal role technology plus learning plays in today’s restaurants. By embracing technology and a more eﬃcient way of learning communications, we not only achieved brand consistency, but set a precedent for operational excellence. With the right tools, brands can deliver uniformity, enhance customer loyalty, and ensure proﬁtability while offering guests a trusted dining experience.
If you’d like to watch the Slim Chickens’s L&D team talk about the strategic approach they took to achieve such success with their Wisetail LMS, watch their CHART webinar HERE.