Problems Hiring? Here's Your Secret Sauce...

Sep 30, 2022

Problems Hiring? 

We found the secret sauce in the middle of the night at the most random place...


It is no secret that the majority of today’s workforce issue is the ability to attract great talent… or any talent for that matter.  It seems that COVID hit our world and wiped out our workforce.  We keep waiting for the return, but it just doesn’t seem to show any sign of a rebound. 

Over the past 12 months or so, the HRB team has started to notice a trend- companies who have a great culture are not having trouble hiring or retaining employees.  However, companies who struggle with their workplace culture, are struggling to hire and retain new hires and their current workforce.  Of course, we put on our detective hats and started looking into this pattern deeper… what we found was very interesting.  Did you know that (according to when searching for a new job, 77% of surveyed respondents to a recent study said that they would consider a company’s culture before applying.  In addition, 56% responded that they care about culture over salary when it comes to job satisfaction.  According to the Society for Human Resource Management, 95% of employees who rate their workplace culture as good say they have a meaningful career working for their organization, compared with 32% of employees who rate their culture as poor.

From experience, over the past year I have seen many exceptional examples to back up our hypothesis: culture really does eat strategy for breakfast.  But recently, I happened to stumble into the best possible example of just how important culture is to the success of a thriving workforce.  It really does take the “waffle” (so much pun intended).  To demonstrate this example, the understanding lies in a story, so grab a drink and snuggle in for a good one… 

It all started with a celebration that lasted until the wee hours of the night.  On our way home, my husband and I realized that we were STARVING.  Now, in this post-COVID world, there are very few options to fuel the belly after 10 pm.  So, with Waffle House as our only option, we made our way there with little enthusiasm and growling bellies. 

Upon arriving at the Waffle House, I recalled many memories from my 20s that included too many drinks, dirty Waffle House floors, lots of coffee, and sub-par food.  I humbly prepared myself for a similar experience (minus the too many drinks, as my liver can no longer handle that shenanigans).  When we walked in it was almost unreal- the floors were CLEAN!  I just about jumped through the roof.  Then I looked at the tables, they were clean too.  Before I could even process this epiphany, we were warmly greeted by a smiling face and encouraged to sit at the counter, we obliged. 

Once we got seated and settled, another bright smiling face whipped around and quickly assessed that we were in need of coffee.  In no time, we had coffee and water in front of us with a delightful welcome and kind reminder of what was on the menu… it was glorious.  As we settled in with our menus, the solo diner sitting next to us had her food delivered.  It smelled so good, my husband and I both salivated.  So, we asked her what she had in front of her.  She had the “All-Star Breakfast” with chocolate chip waffles- yummo!  I quickly decided that is what I would get too. 

As our new friend started eating, we sparked up a conversation.  She mentioned that she managed a local restaurant and went to Waffle House every night when she got off.   She went on to say that the labor market has been brutal on her restaurant, they have had to close early every night- with no end in sight.  As she is telling us her story I look up and noticed something truly magical- the Waffle House team was on a roll, at midnight!  They were taking orders, placing orders, dancing, cooking, chatting, serving, and cleaning… with a simple playful grace that was so natural to all of them.  So, my curious brain took over and I chimed in with the tough question to the Waffle House team, “How is it that she (our neighbor) and many other local restaurants can not find help, much less a great team like what I am seeing here- what in the world keeps you coming back to Waffle House?”  The whole team was excited to jump in to answer my question!

The cook (I really wish I could remember everyone’s names- we did know their names at this point of the story) turned around and very boldly and with pride said, “I love my job!  I have a predictable process that allows me to serve up good food, to good people while working with great people.  I even get to watch people enjoy the food that I make- I love it!”

Next, the sweet waitress with the most adorable motherly disposition said “I leave my 4 kids at home every night to come to work here, I could take the day shift, but I prefer this shift.  We work together really well.  Everyone here tonight is good people” 

Then there was the statement that smacked me across the face- the kind waiter who had promptly brought us our coffee said, “I worked for her (referring to our amazing neighbor and new dining companion) for 3 days- I just couldn’t do it.  Everything was constantly changing, and nothing was organized.  In 3 days, I was more exhausted than I ever was working overnights here, so I quit and came back.”

At this point, our food arrived and I needed to process all of this incredible insight that I have just been blessed with.  Our conversation moved from the Waffle House workplace to good ‘ol downhome grits.  As we were debating on the best geographic location to consume grits, our chef turned around with pride and a bowl of grits.  With a smile, he said, “I overheard ya’ll talking about grits so I thought I would whip up some of my special grits for you.”  With a smile, he placed the grits in front of us and whipped right back around to his workstation.  One thing that you should know, I have never appreciated the taste or texture of grits (no matter the geographic location), but at that moment I happily ate those grits and enjoyed every bite.  Who knows, maybe I’ll give grits more of a shot in the future. 

Throughout the rest of our meal, we enjoyed a casual conversation and tasty food.  The whole time this team had fun and stayed on point with the late-night rush, without ever skipping a beat.  When we parted ways with this fantastic team, our favorite coffee provider looked at us and said, “Come back soon, you’re a part of the family now.”  We haven’t been back since, but I can’t wait for our next late-night trip to the Waffle House.

Over the past few weeks, I keep coming back to revisit this experience.  I have torn it apart and put it back together again many times, and this is what I took away from this incredible team:

  • Leadership empowered this team to make decisions that ensured they could provide the best possible hospitality
  • Leadership empowered this team to find success through predictable and simple processes
  • Leadership did a great job in training this team and allowing the team to hold each other accountable

I do not know who this leadership team is.  Heck, I couldn’t tell who the manager on shift was- this is likely because this organization has a culture of leadership and hospitality. This culture is so ingrained into this team that they probably don’t realize it- they just know that they love their job.  Now, that is the secret sauce right there. 

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