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How Companies Identify And Retain Talent, with Alan Lundeen & Kage Spatz

HR Strategy Series, Real Human Resources

Cousins Subs Human Resources Hiring Strategies

If it ain’t groovin’, fix it!

As a part of my HR Strategy Series, I’m talking to top experts in the field to teach prospects what hiring managers are actually looking for, while also supporting business leaders in their hiring and retention strategies. Today I had the pleasure of talking with Alan Lundeen.

Alan Lundeen is the Senior Director of Operations and Talent at Cousins Subs. In this role, he leads the corporate operations team while recruiting and developing talent. Lundeen holds a Senior Certified Professional designation through the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM-SCP), a Bachelor of Arts degree in organizational leadership from St. Thomas University in Florida as well as an Associate of Science degree in business administration from Cardinal Stritch University in Wisconsin. Lundeen currently serves as the treasurer of the Cousins Subs Make It Better Foundation board of directors.

What brought you to your specific career path?

I’m driven by empowering others to achieve and helping them become the best versions of themselves.

I started with Cousins Subs at the age of 16 making sandwiches, entered the manager trainee program, and grew from there. At the age of 21 I was named General Manager. I was the youngest general manager in the history of the company. The same year, I was asked to oversee Cousins Subs’ booth at the annual Summerfest event, which spoke a lot to my abilities at such a young age.

I didn’t go to college right after high school. I was originally enrolled and ready to go to UW-Madison. However, in the 12th hour, I decided not to pursue that path because I really wanted to be on my own, have my own apartment and set my own hours. Working in management at Cousins Subs allowed me to do that.

At the age of 22, I moved to San Francisco and studied design, and while there I fell into a training opportunity with an architectural drafting firm owned by a close friend. It was there that I recognized the value of building interpersonal relationships and my propensity for training. It also allowed me to showcase my creativity and passion for art and design.

I later moved back to Wisconsin and returned to Cousins Subs with the goal of becoming an Area Director, with management over several stores. Within a couple of years, an opportunity surfaced in Minnesota for an area director, and away I went. I opened that market from nothing, which was both incredibly challenging and rewarding. It stretched me, and I drew on my training background as I had to create a footprint for the company in a market that had never seen it before, as well as training newly hired employees on all things Cousins Subs.

Two years later, the company decided it was going to grow through franchising and sell the corporate-owned Minnesota stores. As a result, I was brought back to Milwaukee and became an area director here. I was later promoted into a role that oversaw my other fellow area directors, but this promotion came with one caveat — I had to go to college to earn my degree in business administration. The company paid for my education and that was so valuable for my work/school integration.

At this point in my career, Cousins Subs did not yet have an official HR department. Therefore, out of necessity, in addition to overseeing the operations of 40 restaurants, I managed the on-going delivery of HR programs and services in the areas of staffing, employee relations, performance management, training and career development. I enjoyed this aspect of my job and worked to become more proficient in the field of talent management.

I left once again, but this time for Miami. I stepped into a role as a training director and later grew into talent management. After a decade and a half, I decided it was time to again return home to Milwaukee. I came back to Cousins Subs as the Senior Director of Operations and Talent, overseeing both the operations and human resources departments.

Thank you for sharing your story! What would you say is the most interesting or funny story that happened to you since you started your career and what lesson was learned from it?

The most interesting career-building experience was when I moved to Indianapolis, while employed at Southern Wine and Spirits, to open build an Indiana sales organization. It was a first-of-its-kind multi-million-dollar company endeavor with a very short non-negotiable deadline for completion. Along with my boss, I was to recruit, select, and train 300 sales, administrative, warehouse, and driver employees in 62 days. To make it happen, I willingly worked seven days a week, 15–16 hours per day for 62 consecutive days. With a strong emphasis on embracing a performance culture, I co-guided this evolution process of start-up to the national winner of three consecutive “Golden Bar” awards for Spirits Distributor of the Year. This was a unique accomplishment that had never been achieved in the industry.

Hiring can be very time consuming and difficult. Can you share five techniques you use to identify the talent that would be best suited for the job you want to fill? Please share an example for each idea.

It all starts with the job posting, right? That’s the first thing an applicant notices. We’ve crafted ours in a way that attracts the type of talent we’re seeking — hungry, hard-working, and humble individuals that value teamwork and exceptional customer service.

Once the applicant goes to our website to apply, our application contains specific questions related to their work behaviors, integrity, and character. We feel this adds an extra level of unique screening to the recruitment process and helps us gain insight into what type of individual we are considering for hire.

When we’ve identified candidates we want to meet, we try to make the interview process as fluid and convenient as possible by calling and texting candidates and working within their schedules to schedule interview times. We also have open hiring days at our stores that allow walk-in applicants to interview with our managers right then and there.

Offer made? Let’s get this person in the door ASAP. In order to do this, we don’t overcomplicate our hiring process. We try to eliminate as many barriers as possible so our new hires can get into our stores and start making money. To do so, we ensure all onboarding tasks can be done right from their cell phone in five minutes or less.

Once they’re ours, we encourage our employees to spread the word! Employee referrals are an incredibly powerful and inexpensive way to gain great talent. We offer a referral bonuses to our employees and add special “bonus blitzes” throughout the year, which pay even higher amounts for referring new employees.

With so much noise and competition out there, what are your top 3 ways to attract and engage talent who hasn’t reached out to you?

First and foremost, we attract the best and brightest crew members through our Employee Referral program.

To provide more line-of-sight into our store culture, we revamped the copy in our job postings. he enhanced job posting is more inspirational, showcases the dynamic roles our crew members have and illustrates how each position contributes to our upbeat, fun and family-friendly atmosphere.

To ensure we’re being very purposeful about how we define our employee experience, we introduced a new slogan — “Our Culture. Your Family.” We incorporated our hiring slogan into a 30-second recruitment commercial featuring our CEO, Christine Specht, as well as digital marketing outlets to reach and connect with young generations.

If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?

Bring back traditional appreciation and recognition via the art of a hand-written card. Whether it’s a follow up to an interview, a thank you, or a note of congratulations, it’s meaningful to be genuine, specific and timely with it. People don’t expect it, in fact it’s become such a lost art. I’m really trying to bring it back. At Cousins Subs, we are recognition detectives. We are constantly seeking opportunities to express appreciation in the form of a hand-written card. I am proud to keep an abundant supply of cards in my office for anyone who would like one to write a special message for their colleague.

Can you please give us your favorite ‘life lesson quote’ and how is it relevant to you?

“If it ain’t groovin’, fix it!”

I want to bring back the word “groovy” into pop culture. To me it represents all things that are fun, whimsical, energetic and joker-like. It also means things are going well and you’re performing at your best. Like when you’re playing an old school record, if it’s in the groove it’s playing well and not skipping. I’ve been amazed at how positively people respond when they ask, “How are you?”, and I reply, “I’m groovin’”. It’s unexpected, and usually makes those I’m responding to smile. Try it, I’m confident you too will get a similar, joyful response.

I’m going to try that! Is there a person in the world whom you would love to have a private lunch with? If so, who? And, why?

I would be honored to go to lunch with Ellen DeGeneres. She embodies the spirit of our company’s Make it Better foundation so much. She’s a true trailblazer. She’s got tenacity. And, she’s reinvented herself. She’s always fun and upbeat. She incorporates music and games into her shows. She’s charitable and always strives to Make It Better for those she encounters. She discovers and showcases new talent as well as provides a voice to an unknown worthy cause which might not otherwise have an opportunity for recognition. She seizes the moment and makes things happen.

Thank you so much for these fantastic insights!

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