Hotel / Catering

Fresh talent adds spice

by Grace Chan

Yip Yuk-Hong (left), head of operations
Kathy Lee, human resources and training manager
Genki Sushi Hong Kong Ltd
Photo: Lewis Wong
Restaurant chain reaps the benefits of nurturing a promising young workforce

Youthful employees tend to expect more than future prospects and financial incentives from their careers. They also want to enjoy their jobs.

For this particular reason, creating a happy working environment is important to retain workers falling into this group, says Yip Yuk-Hong, head of operations, Genki Sushi Hong Kong Ltd.

The sushi chain now operates 34 outlets in Hong Kong, employing an average of more than 30 fulltime and part-time staff each. Like other eateries in the city, the company used to have a relatively high turnover of junior frontline workers.

"Young people change jobs frequently," notes Kathy Lee, human resources and training manager, Genki Sushi. "Their working conditions and relationships with their peers are paramount to them."

The company's human resources personnel therefore devote considerable effort and resources towards organising activities to foster a stronger sense of belonging among staff and to help new recruits to settle in. These include soccer contests, marathons and excursions, as well as special interest classes such as cooking programmes.

Stable workforce

Aware that younger employees are attracted by fun activities, the restaurant chain recently invited all its frontline staff to participate in a tea-set menu competition. "Although they know our customers' preferences and eating habits, it can be a challenge to balance cost and food choice," says Ms Lee. "This kind of exercise helps to enhance employees' sense of job ownership."

A caring attitude towards workers also helps to boost staff loyalty. Genki Sushi therefore assigns mentors to advise new recruits, review their performances and help familiarise them with the company.

"We aim to cultivate a transparent corporate culture and communicate frequently with our store managers to ensure that they are clearly informed of our latest policies and strategies," Mr Yip remarks.

Apart from providing competitive salaries and benefits, Genki Sushi also offers frontline staff cash incentives up to the equivalent of a month's salary. "Those stores that meet our operating objectives, including sales targets, mystery-shopper scores and internal store audits, are rewarded. Last year, more than two thirds of our outlets achieved this," explains Mr Yip.

Staff training and development are central to the company's vision. Again, cash incentive schemes are formulated to help with motivating young employees to go the extra mile. In accordance with the systematic training procedures in force at Genki Sushi's Japan headquarters, all new recruits in Hong Kong receive six months of on-the-job training on fundamental kitchen duty and frontline service skills and knowledge.

"Those who successfully complete the first three months of training receive a HK$200 cash coupon," says Ms Lee. "Once they've completed the entire six months, they undergo an internal assessment on both their soft and hard skills. If they pass this, they receive a pay increase of HK$300."

Promising careers

Genki Sushi believes that opportunities for continuous learning and promotion are vital to talent management in the longer term.

"Two thirds of our 60 store managers were promoted from within, and many of them started out as store assistants," says Mr Yip, who was Genki Sushi's very first Hong Kong staff member. "One of our youngest district managers was promoted to her current position nine years after graduation, while another one now manages up to seven stores with nearly 100 staff."

It takes about a year for a shop assistant to move into a supervisory role and another three to five to be promoted to deputy store manager, says Ms Lee. "Becoming a store supervisor is the first step on Genki Sushi's managerial path. Opportunities for promotion depend on individual employees' performance and attitude towards learning and development. Apart from receiving on-the-job training, young supervisors are also coached by district store managers to help them assume greater responsibility over time."

While supervisors are expected to perform daily tasks such as meeting sales targets, monitoring stores' profits and losses, managing the inventory and recruitment, store managers must demonstrate exemplary leadership and time management skills, as well as excellent business sense, in order to be promoted to district manager positions.

"Running a store involves plenty of team management and market sense, which can be stressful, but also satisfying," Mr Yip points out. "People aspiring to enter this profession should be prepared for long working hours and a demanding environment. However, as Genki Sushi continues to expand, we can guarantee that outstanding employees will be rewarded with career development opportunities."

A contented workforce

  • Happy, fun workplace essential to retaining young employees
  • Cash incentive schemes promote pay for performance culture
  • Promotion-from-within policy ensures sound job prospects
  • Leadership skills and business sense indispensable for store managers

Taken from Career Times 7 May 2010, B11

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