Darden Restaurants, headquartered in Orlando, is the world's
largest company-owned and operated full-service restaurant company
with almost $6.7 billion in annual sales and approximately 180,000
employees. The company owns and operates more than 1,700
restaurants including Red Lobster, Olive Garden, LongHorn
Steakhouse, The Capital Grille, Bahama Breeze, and Seasons 52.
Daisy Ng, senior vice president, talent management, says Darden
concentrates on "building organizational capability, capacity, and
engagement to enable and accelerate Darden's business growth
through effective, integrated talent acquisition, optimization,
development, planning, and deployment." She spoke with Learning
Executives Briefing about talent management at Darden.
Learning Executives Briefing: What is the goal of
talent management at Darden Restaurants?
Daisy Ng: It is critical for an organization to
have an established definition of talent management around which
everyone is aligned. At Darden, talent management is an integrated
process focused on three themes that enable company growth:
capability, capacity, and engagement.
LXB: How has that changed from the company's
Ng: The restaurant business is first and foremost
a people business, and starting with our founder, Bill Darden, the
company has long recognized that people are our "best competitive
edge." The first department Bill Darden created to support his
early restaurants was the training departments - to ensure that
employees had the knowledge and tools needed to succeed. About
three years ago, the company decided that we would benefit from a
talent building structure that was more enterprise-focused. At that
time, we had four restaurant operating companies within Darden, and
each of them had been doing the right thing to engage and build
talent. But to enable Darden to grow and achieve our goals, we
recognized the need for talent sharing among and across the
operating companies, which in turn, would give our people more
opportunities to progress. For example, a general manager in a Red
Lobster may not want to relocate from his hometown, but under our
new structure, he would have advancement opportunities at our other
brands in the area.
LXB: Is the idea to create your own talent, as
opposed to looking for it elsewhere?
Ng: Darden has more than 170,000 employees and 90
percent of those people work in our restaurants. Internal promotion
is our goal. Nearly 50 percent of our restaurant managers have been
promoted from hourly workers - the people who prepare our food and
serve our guests in the restaurants. Nearly all of our general
managers and managing partners have been promoted from the
restaurant manager position, and 95 percent of our directors of
operations and regional managers have been promoted from general
manager and managing partner. In fact, the president of Olive
Garden, who has been with us for 35 years, started as a line cook
in one of our Red Lobster restaurants. We aspire to have 100
percent internal promotion in operations.
We know that the best way to build our talent pool is to enable
strong performance among those "closest to the action" - our
restaurant employees and managers. We also have a restaurant
support center (corporate headquarters) in Orlando, which employs
about 1,400 people. At our support center, we aspire to 75 percent
internal promotions, but we also recognize the value of "new blood"
coming in. We want to remain best in class in our various support
functions such as supply chain, marketing, HR, and finance. We
benefit from a diversity of thought, background, and experience
that external hires can bring to the company.
LXB: How do Darden's talent management efforts
align with the company's business strategies?
Ng: Our ultimate goal at Darden is to be a great
company. And to achieve that, we focus on two primary objectives:
to be a winning organization financially and to be a special place.
We have multiple, distinct brands that provide both physical and
emotional nourishment to really delight our guests. But to be a
multi-brand company that achieves the growth potential we see in
our industry, we need common operating practices that leverage our
scale and resources along with a strong, unified culture. In our
talent management strategy we ask: How can we create tools and
processes that can build talent for multiple brands? Because we are
working to make Darden a special place, we have placed even greater
emphasis on obtaining employee insights and responding to employee
needs in meaningful ways, including creating new learning and
LXB: What kinds of metrics do you use to measure
the success of your talent management efforts?
Ng: Part of our metrics center around culture and
bench strength. We want to make sure that we have candidates ready
for (key) position. For instance, I am measured on the readiness of
replacement candidates for our senior executive roles. We also make
sure that candidates have gone through the assessment process so
that they can be ready to take on more or different
responsibilities. We measure how quickly we can fill a role -
either internally or with an external candidate. That's the talent
side. For the culture part of the equation, the key indication for
us is found in the employee engagement survey. We also benchmark
externally to see 09.08 //View from the Learning Executive
Continuedhow well we compare with the restaurant industry as a
LXB: Is a high-potential person in the company in
line for just one job, or several different kinds of positions?
Ng: There are two different kinds of candidates.
One is ready for a particular role, but could move into that role
at any of our restaurant companies. For example, we might identify
a person who is ready to be a senior vice president of operations
overseeing 100 restaurants. That person could be moved into
position at Olive Garden or LongHorn Steakhouse, or wherever there
is an open position. Ninety-nine percent of the skills are similar;
the individual just needs to learn the intricacies of the different
The second kind of candidate is an individual who could perform
multiple roles within a particular function, such as a marketing,
operations, finance, or HR. We have a job rotation program in some
functions to help broaden knowledge and skill sets and prepare
individuals for a variety of positions that may become available.
LXB: What challenges do you face today that were
not as critical when you arrived three years ago?
Ng: Preparing to integrate a new culture into
Darden (has been challenging). About a year ago, we acquired RARE
Hospitality, which included nearly 300 Longhorn Steakhouse and
about 30 The Capital Grille restaurants. This required integration
from an employee and cultural standpoint, as well as a systems
standpoint. That has included new processes for employee
management, selection, and assessment. But this is very similar to
my previous role as chief learning officer for HP. We acquired new
companies much more often, so we tended to take the process for
granted. Three years ago, when I joined Darden, I didn't know my
role in talent management would include integrating new companies,
but it has been an invaluable experience that provides a foundation
for future growth of this type.
LXB: What will be your biggest challenge in the
next few years?
Ng: Our plan is to standardize our performance
management system for all six restaurant operating companies. That
will be a huge job for us. We are also preparing to move - about a
year from now - into our wonderful new restaurant support center
campus. Right now we work out of 14 different buildings around
Orlando. We are moving into a very environmentally friendly
facility (Gold LEED certification). Our aim is to foster greater
collaboration and cultural consistency. On the first floor we will
have centralized training facilities and training kitchens where
our development chefs can more easily share best practices. We will
also have a dedicated training room and a leadership assessment
room. It will be a wonderful thing when we move in next fall.