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Arby's Engages Employees in Brand Growth

By Damian Hanft & Jennifer Aden Murnane, PhD
There’s a spirit of energy at Arby’s, where new CEO Paul Brown and his team are bringing innovation to products and services, as well as employee and franchisee relations. Coming off 18 consecutive quarters of same-store sales growth, Arby’s is considered a star in the industry, rivaling (and even outpacing) the success of Chipotle. 
Brown clearly understands the business and the challenges. Among many new initiatives is the investment he’s making in Arby’s team members who demonstrate commitment to the brand and a strong work ethic. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that investing in people is critical for business growth and prosperity in today’s marketplace. With Baby Boomers leaving the workforce at a rate of 10,000 per day and demographic shifts leaving fewer replacements, we’re entering a time when the “Race for Talent” will continue to accelerate.
Brown has embraced the challenge unlike most CEOs, implementing innovative programs to address shifting demographics and market forces. Employee development programs at Arby’s are based on giving those close to the customer the knowledge and tools they need to make strong business decisions. This, in turn, helps team members feel more confident in their jobs and results in company loyalty, stronger retention and more promotion opportunities for current employees – in a word: engagement.
No More Checklists
Previously, the management approach at Arby’s – as is often the case in a franchise business – was to create systems that required little in the way of critical decision-making on the part of restaurant managers. It was an efficient way of managing daily operations – a “checklist” method of managing. In order to make it easier on Arby’s managers, the initial philosophy was about taking business decisions out of their hands and giving them a roadmap to guide their daily activities.
But now the company has realized that pushing responsibility for business decisions to the level of customer interface has several positives: 1) It engages the customer-facing team members in the business; 2) It allows them to make good decisions on behalf of the brand based on where they are; and 3) it creates a strong, experienced leadership pipeline for the company’s future.
Arby’s has created several learning initiatives to support this shift in management philosophies and equip its employees with the knowledge they need to be successful. One of the initiatives they’ve invested in is a partnership with Nebraska’s Bellevue University to create an Arby’s custom learning program that teaches business acumen and leadership principles to front-line managers and employees. Bellevue was chosen because it has been in the business of creating custom learning programs for corporations for nearly a decade – some of their clients include Verizon, Home Depot and SunTrust Banks.  
Language and Culture
The Bellevue University approach is unique in that it creates learning programs that directly address the developmental needs of the organization, in the organization’s own language and culture. Bellevue knows how to engage team members in the learning and, most importantly, they understand how to measure the ROI of that learning in terms that are meaningful to Arby’s and that are linked to key performance indicators, including the level of engagement of managers and their team members.
The program being developed exclusively for Arby’s team members, called Arby’s Business Management & Leadership, is comprised of 12 college courses that involve key concepts and tools needed by the company’s current and future leaders. Completion of the 12 courses earns participants a Certificate of Completion. They can also apply the 12 courses toward a bachelor’s degree. 
The Arby’s custom learning program is scheduled to be launched in January of 2016. Stay tuned for progress reports and results.
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