One of the signs – which admittedly seem, on some days, to be vanishingly few – that our world may be transitioning to a Type I civilisation is the increasing importance attributed to formal education. However, this trend usually applies to certain social classes only: the further down the social scale one goes, the less and less formal education appears to have practical application. Entry-level jobs are increasingly being eliminated; those which remain are being standardised and rationalised to the point where intelligence or creativity are strictly deemed to be extraneous. This is particularly true of the fast-food industry, where staggering rates of staff turnover – rates that would be unacceptable in many other economic sectors – have been explained in part by the stultifying nature of most jobs in that domain; even today, it is perceived that most positions at the major burger chains are inherently undesirable.
It was therefore with genuine refreshment that we at Mediolana came across the story of Pal’s Sudden Service (‘PSS’), a drive-through hot dog and hamburger chain based out of Kingsport, Tennessee, a small city forming part of the ‘Tri-Cities’ region of Kingsport-Bristol-Bristol in the southern United States. Unlike nearly all companies in the fast-food sector, PSS aims to recruit only the best and brightest: even entry-level job candidates have to answer a 60-question psychometric test, and are subject to rigorous, ongoing training. Employees are certified and recertified for each skill, including customer service: those failing to attain a mark of 100% can no longer work at that particular sub-discipline. And every company leader, including the CEO, spends 10% of their time helping an employee develop a specific skill. PSS CEO Thomas Crosby explicitly states that his company is ‘in the education business, just like any school or university’.
The results are impressive: Pal’s has shedded just seven general managers since its 1981 foundation, and its overall annual staff turnover rate is 32%, approximately one-third of the industry average. Both these statistics signal continuity and stability – the stuff of gold in an all-too-turbulent business world. They also indicate that PSS is saving large wads of cash on recruitment and HR costs. By strongly emphasising the need to develop their employees instead of just chasing quick, surly bucks, Pal’s is winning on both the financial and the human capital fronts. But will more companies have the foresight and courage to improve their bottom line – and make their employees happier?