Skip to main content

Joe DeLoss: ‘You Are Responsible for Developing the Workforce You Desire’

You may have done a double-take when you saw Joe DeLoss on the I&E schedule. What could someone who serves as head fryer of a company called Hot Chicken Takeover possibly know about fleets? 

DeLoss, of course, is founder of the company, and his message really has very little to do with chicken. It’s about solving your workforce challenges — and that is a topic front-and-center with fleet managers. 

In the past few years, Joe DeLoss has become one of the most talked-about social entrepreneurs in the country. He has taught at Harvard Business School and been featured by The Today Show, Forbes, Politico, and the Wall Street Journal. As head of an award-winning Midwest restaurant brand, he is changing perspectives on workforce development including employee recruitment and retention. 

Hot Chicken Takeover is about its people. The company provides supportive jobs to men and women who need a fair chance at work. Regardless of the worker’s situation —whether it be homelessness, previous incarceration, or the need for work-hour flexibility — HCT is focused on the future. DeLoss will speak on Wednesday, April 13 at 1:30 pm, in a session exclusively for CAFMs titled, “Disrupting HR for Good.” 

NAFA: What inspired you to focus on creating community and for providing fair working opportunities to everyone regardless of education or background? 

DeLoss: There have been two consistent threads in my life: (1) family engagement in the community and volunteerism and (2) social entrepreneurship. We always gave back to our community as a family because of our resources. Because transferred from a blue-collar to a white-collar family, we had responsibilities.  

NAFA: Workforce challenges have been a real struggle for companies during the pandemic. Why do you think people don’t want to work anymore? 

DeLoss: I do not agree with that statement. People do want to work — they just want to work for companies that value them as true human resources. Many companies are accustomed to taking a cattle-call approach to labor, but that caught up with them during the pandemic. 

Particularly when you’re talking about entry-level employees, the extra support from the government presented a real challenge for employers. They could earn double to triple their income to stay home, get assistance, and stay safe from COVID. Suddenly, these entry-level employees had some choices, and they used their voice. 

NAFA: Have these workforce challenges affected you, and what are you doing to address them? 

DeLoss: After COVID, we recalled 90% of our workforce in seven days. The average across the country was 30–40%. But we are not immune to this very tough labor environment. What’s harder for us is how it affects our suppliers and vendors. We can’t get what we need on time, or if we can get it, the price is hiked up. 

But we’re committed to this work, whether or not it makes financial sense. We have retained our team three times longer than the restaurant industry average. We do it by offering the things people are really looking for, like extra PTO to care for a sick loved one. Our average team member tenure is 400–500 days. The restaurant industry on average faces a 150% turnover every year. 

NAFA: Fleet managers have a hard time keeping drivers onboard. It’s not uncommon for drivers to go from place to place seeking out better pay or better vehicles, for example. What is the key to retaining your workers? 

DeLoss: First, it’s important to recognize that a competitive team can be a competitive advantage. Start by communicating very clear objectives and expectations. Show them the path to more income, more personal growth. Show them that they are in charge of their own trajectory. 

The second thing is to offer relevant benefits. If you’re hiring at entry-level wage or hiring someone facing challenges in their life, they aren’t going to care much about a 401k — they’re worried about making rent. They need flexible PTO and a matched savings account. 

Also, get frequent feedback. Most employee reviews are annual, but when your turnover numbers are high, if you do the review every 12 months, you’ve already lost them. At HTC, it costs us $5,500 every time we turn over a new employee. For a lot of companies, it’s much more than that. 

At HTC, the hardest job is washing dishes. Everyone has to be willing to start there — even leaders on the corporate team. In fact, everyone on the corporate team has to do dish duty every three months. It’s about buy-in for our culture. You’d be surprised what you can learn from the team around you while you’re washing dishes. 

NAFA: How would you describe the future of work? What must fleets do to attract the people they need? 

DeLoss: We will see employees having more leverage. Companies will learn to build a work environment that is compatible with what people are trying to achieve.  

We have a responsibility to develop the workforce we desire. Employers cannot be absent from the workforce struggle. You have to learn to develop the pipeline of candidates, and that’s a major shift for lots of companies.  

NAFA: What can I&E attendees expect to learn at your presentation? 

DeLoss: I want the people to walk away feeling empowered that they can improve the workforce landscape. I want them to have a better understanding of where and why things are happening with their workforce. I want them to recognize what kind of candidates they are attracting, and how to become an employer of choice. 

SAVE THE DATES: NAFA is offering a Fleet Workforce Impacts seminar series on November 23, November 30, and December 7, from 1:00–2:00 pm EST. NAFA’s webinar series brings together fleet content leaders to share their knowledge and discuss the latest in fleet and mobility trends. Details will be announced soon, or you can contact with any questions.