Headquartered in Orlando, Darden Restaurants (includes Capital Grille, LongHorn Steakhouse, Olive Garden, Red Lobster, and others) arrived at number 65 on Fortune’s 100 Best Companies to Work For list. Perhaps its diversity commitment had something to do with that. Minorities comprise 42% of its 180,000 employees, and its managers are 39% female. Additionally, the corporate culture is one of challenging all employees to grow continuously as Erika Fry reports for Fortune (“Serving Up the American Dream” 5/20/13, p. 34):
“[Darden Restaurants is] the only restaurant chain that has ever made our list, a designation it earned in part by building a culture that dares its employees to dream big. ‘We want our employees to recognize that everyone who walks in our doors can go all the way to the top,’ says Clarence Otis, Darden’s CEO.”
That commitment to strong talent development throughout the organization has resulted in turnover rates about 20% lower than Darden’s competitors. This is a significant number considering the typically high turnover in the food industry.
Darden’s commitment to talent development and retention is proven by numerous examples of individual employee stories. For example, Mike Stroud started as a kitchen helper but is now a senior vice president, and Lisa Hoggs started as a server but is now a managing partner.
In my experience, when it comes to talent management, many restaurant chains cannot seem to get it right. In this case, it seems Darden Restaurants has definitely broken that mold. Every organization can learn from it. When you focus on talent development and continuously challenge your people to grow, everyone stands to prosper.