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This Will Happen Again: A Case Study

To support a financially disciplined business, the effective retention and invigoration of a talented workforce is not a short-term project.

Founded four generations ago, the Morin family’s hospitality businesses have endured for 110 years. Beginning as an Attleboro, Massachusetts-based cable car diner, the family’s businesses now include restaurants, catering operations, and special events venues. One of the current cornerstones of the family’s successes is Russell Morin Fine Catering. This business is fueled by a tenured workforce of over 150 people, each of whom have been integral to the operation for 20, 30, or more years. They know this business. They know it well. And they’ve remained committed to its success.


In conducting business, Russell Morin Fine Catering makes their financials visible to all employees. It shares the firm’s performance and trends. When the fallout from the Covid pandemic was just approaching, employees could see the threatening toll that the economy was taking on sales and profitability. They believed that, regardless of the economy, they would be fairly treated. Their past experiences with their leaders led them to stay on.


And Morin’s was committed to stay with them.


The devastation of most every business was intensifying. Owner Russell Morin recalls that, “As a caterer we had absolutely no business.” A long-trusted consultant to the Morins advised that, with the gathering economic storm and an imploding business, huge outlays of non-productive payroll dollars could be averted by a deep layoff and that the impacted people could eventually be rehired, maybe even at a lower pay rate.


Thinking of the long term and the integral role played by its seasoned talent, Morins made a bold decision regarding a deep layoff of its staff – “we’re not going to do that.


Keeping long-loyal employees engaged for a return to normalcy wouldn’t leave the rebirth to chance. “There was never any question that we had to keep our people." (As it turned out, when the pandemic finally faded, other available talent was scarce.)


In his 65+ years, first as a worker and then as a leader in the business, Mr. Morin had seen the hospitality industry tank before, and every time it was ugly. But he was convinced that there could be a navigable path through this tempest, regardless of how intense it got; or how long it lasted.


In economies that scream “layoff,” how (or why) do you manage an enterprise with scores of excess employees?  As Mr. Morin observes, “loyal people do appreciate that you’ll take care of them.” With continuing compensation, and benefits complemented by government-funded programs, Morin’s added other safety nets. Alternative project and maintenance work served the company well and kept people employed; new hospitality services were introduced; new streams of income were developed; employees’ use of vested time-off pay was encouraged.  Work hours were tapered, to a degree. When the pandemic faded and better times re-emerged, Morin's still had all but three of their 150 seasoned employees. The business faced no disruption to hire, train and reposition an essential staff – and all hospitality and event services were ready to roll and to meet over a year’s worth of pent-up demand.

 

The short term savings waived by Morin’s were huge – in excess of $5,000,000. The related expenses for employee benefits and insurance inflated the continuing cost of payroll for this army of underutilized talent. Morin reflects that, given the reality of  choices, they absolutely made the right one. Morin states, “In the end, the short-term sacrifice solidified our business.  It gave us new perspective into potential operating improvements, and even helped give birth to a division of new restaurants.”


Today, as many businesses still struggle to stay fully staffed with the right people, Morin’s continues to experience a close-to-zero employee turnover, and has no need to sustain an ongoing recruiting initiative. Mr. Morin observes that “good employees help to bring in good employees.”    


Morin’s winning battle plan, to bridge an erratic economy:

  1. Maintain solid operating effectiveness, cash position and prudent investment as the foundations for a resilient organization.

  2. Practice joint “ownership” with employees.  Assure fully open dialog with staff and a commitment to do what’s right to build a real cultural foundation.

  3. Instill an urgency of decision making to help meet the highest expectations of employees, investors and clients.

  4. Cultivate a thick-skinned willingness to take prudent risks.   Very little of substance comes easily.

  5. Just referring to employees as “family” is one thing.  Actually treating them as family is quite another.     


Lizzy Desibia, a 10-year Morin employee, points out that through the pandemic, the Morins kept a firm hand on their financials yet led “with their hearts, not with the numbers.” As the pandemic receded “others have continued to experience trouble finding the people they need. We’ve had a backlog of applications. Most, if not all, new hires have been referred by current employees.”


To support a financially disciplined business, the effective retention and invigoration of a talented workforce is not a short-term project. It’s an unwavering commitment. Even before the pandemic, the ever-changing economy dragged us through traumas like the great recession, and countless other storms.


And ready or not, it will take us there again.


 
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