A Case Study in Operational Communications

One of the fundamental questions managers wrestle with is how to effectively and consistently communicate to frontline employees, especially when they are distributed across multiple locations and regions. While managers understand that keeping everyone updated on operational details is crucial to the success of the business, making this happen can be a fulltime job on its own.

Consider the situation of Tommy Harris. He is the general manager of a regional chain of cafes in North Carolina. He has the task of expanding the operation from a couple of local shops to several new locations across the state.

The product is unique and practically addictive. The stores are fresh and immaculate. And the chain’s marketing story really resonates with locals in the targeted markets.

But going from a couple of stores to several fully operational pastry-and-coffee joints intended to successfully compete with national chains as well as a host of mom-and-pop operations, will require an effective and efficient workforce.

Harris comes to the role with the kind of deep experience and insights you would want in a restaurant General Manager. He knows what makes or breaks daily operations. He has the technical expertise to oversee the day-to-day tasks. But quickly scaling that knowledge across several new and far-flung locations is a brand new challenge.

To complicate the challenge, Harris is managing in an industry known for very high employee turnover rates. Even though he will work hard to be a preferred employer for hourly workers in each of the new markets, he has to deal with the reality of working with a large, distributed workforce of new and short-term workers who do not yet have a lot of experience when each store gets up and running.

So, how can he effectively communicate the operational details that he knows are so crucial to the ongoing success of his new and existing stores?

Start with a Scalable and Consistent Communication Platform

Clearly, Harris has to communicate the specific tasks and ongoing expectations that he has for each employee. Even after the initial training conversations, each frontline worker needs a set of consistent instructions on everything they need to do their job, from opening and closing the store to how to handle minor mechanical issues with the ovens, coolers, and coffee machines.

But how? He has a few different options:

Least effective: be an on-call manager

Harris can make himself and his deep knowledge accessible to all of the employees at all times. That puts a lot of power in employees’ hands and it may well work for a specified period of time. But as Harris pushes to open more stores, this system is doomed to break down by distracting him from his other managerial goals. Further, it may hamper employees in their efforts to be self-sustaining, an important contributor to job satisfaction and reducing his employee turnover problem.

More effective: create a training manual

Harris could document all of the processes and tasks in a manual that he places in each new store. That sounds like a good idea until you realize that very few employees will actually consult it. The few that do are likely to be frustrated with outdated instructions and poor organization, which makes it impossible to find what they really need in the critical moment that they need it. An alternate approach may be to post checklists and process flows strategically throughout the store. But that only serves to create unsightly clutter without really helping to keep the information up-to-date and useful.

Most effective: offer mobile app checklists and in-context help

A better solution is to deploy a mobile app that offers employees a digitally-delivered and centrally-updated checklist for all of the known tasks and potential problems. Ideally, workers can interact with the app through talk, touch, or text anytime they need step-by-step instructions or help troubleshooting issues–all while in the context of their work. This approach can scale as Harris opens new stores, hires new employees and roles, adds new items to the menu, and uncovers new issues for employees to solve. 

Identify Trouble Spots and Opportunities for Growth

When Harris implements this mobile-based communication platform, not only does it provide him with a scalable and consistent way to push information to his frontline employees, it also enables him to start collecting useful feedback from them.

For example, he could publish a closing procedure checklist that he requires a crew leader to complete. The checklist not only includes reminders of the specific steps, it may also require inputs from the employee, such as a record of product waste, the amount of the day’s cash deposit, a picture of the cleaned dining room, and other helpful details. This can give employees confidence that they know what is expected and give Harris confidence that vital tasks are completed. It also puts important information at Harris’s fingertips about how each store is doing day-to-day, and week-to-week.

Effectively Implementing Process and Procedure Changes

The data collected may help Harris identify that specific stores are wasting too much product, that other stores are not fully complying with procedures, and that the equipment in another store needs to be serviced or even replaced ahead of schedule.

Whether the information points to problems or highlights successes, this kind of frontline feedback absolutely provides opportunities for growth and improvement. And with his effective communication platform in place, Harris can quickly pivot with new processes to meet the new challenges.

So, when he sees that product waste from the Fayetteville store is slowly increasing and consistently falls outside of the acceptable boundaries, he can address it. That may mean adding a new step to the closing process anytime that waste hits a specific threshold. Not only can he identify the need to have a particular store make a chance to reduce the waste, he can actually push the updated procedure to all or some of the stores–either as the fully new process or as a test procedure that will help him evaluate the real impact on waste and store sales.

Consistently Communicating for Confidence and Accountability

Keeping your distributed workforce informed of what you want them to do is usually half the battle. But, actually ensuring that they are doing what they are supposed to do without having to physically hover may seem like an unrealistic dream for most managers. And that is to say nothing of the need to systematically analyze feedback signals from employees for opportunities for improvement. But DaVinix actually helps managers like Tommy Harris accomplish exactly that–boosting his confidence as he opens new stores and makes new hires while giving each of his workers the accountability needed for his doughnut shops to succeed and grow.

To try your hand at creating digital workflows and in-context job aids for distributed workforce, visit