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Chipotle VP People Apple Musni

Apple MusniChipotle VP People Partner

Apple Musni, Chipotle’s VP People partner, shares her experience with tech-enabled nurturing, purpose-driven employment, employee retention strategies and much more for Chipotle’s vast retail workforce.

Episode Transcript

TTTM 227 Transcript EPISODE 227 

[INTRODUCTION] 

[0:00:06.1] RS: Welcome to Talk Talent to Me. A podcast featuring the most elite talent leaders on the frontline’s modern recruitment. 

[0:00:12.8] FEMALE: We actually want to understand the themes of someone’s life, we want to understand how they make decisions. Where are they willing to take risks and what it looks like when they fail. 

[0:00:22.7] RS: No holds barred, completely off the cuff interviews with directors of recruitment, VPs of global talent, CHROs and everyone in between. 

[0:00:31.1] FEMALE: Once I went through the classes and the trainings got the certifications through diversity and inclusion, I still felt like something was missing. 

[0:00:39.7] MALE: Talent acquisition, it’s a fantastic career, you are trusted by the organization, you get to work with the C-Suite and the security at the front desk and everybody in between and everybody knows you. 

[0:00:53.0] RS: I’m your host, Rob Stevenson and you’re about to hear the best in the biz, Talk Talent to Me. 

[INTERVIEW] 

[0:00:59.7] RS: My guest today on Talk Talent to Me is the vice president and people partner over at Chipotle, Apple Musni. Apple, welcome to the podcast, how are you today? 

[0:01:09.6] AM: I am great, Rob. Thanks for having me. 

[0:01:12.3] RS: I’m so pleased to have you not just because I do so adore Chipotle, I have to just call that out at the top. It’s sort of like a comfort food for me, I eat it when I’m sad, when 

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I’m really happy, why I’m feeling sick, when I’m healthy, there’s no time when I’m not just like, “You know, what would really hit the spot right now? A giant burrito.” Just wanted to call out my general love for your product but we’re not here to talk about burritos today unfortunately. 

[0:01:37.2] AM: I mean, we could, you should try the new Pollo Asado if you have yet to try that. 

[0:01:41.2] RS: I haven’t tried that, that’s a new product line. 

[0:01:43.1] AM: It is a new menu item. 

[0:01:44.8] RS: I will say also, I did Whole 30 recently, are you aware of this elimination diet where you basically eliminate all joy form your life, there’s no sugar, no dairy, no alcohol, no carbs, no grain, a bunch of other things but Chipotle is one of the very few restaurants where you can order a whole 30 compliant meal, now with the cauliflower rice. 

That was a lifesaver for me. I felt like I was being naughty even though I was totally compliant, so Chipotle got me through a tough, tough time. 

[0:02:15.8] AM: I’m very familiar, I did it for 30 days. 

[0:02:17.6] RS: What did you think, how was your experience? 

[0:02:20.3] AM: I was very proud of myself. It’s actually probably a lot easier than you would imagine after you rattled off all of the things you cannot have, so it was great. I felt very energetic after. 

[0:02:33.3] RS: I did as well and I agree with you, the first few days were hard because you were like, going through sugar withdrawal, right? For one. The harder thing was just sort of like, avoiding social situations. You can’t really go out to restaurants, you can’t drink with people, et cetera. Once you get around that, it wasn’t so bad and I found myself – it’s not even about the 30 days, it’s like, “Okay, I no longer dump a bunch of half and half in my coffee every morning. I’ve moved on from that, right?” That’s probably a generally healthy habit. 

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Anyway, we should probably at some point talk recruitment and talk talent. I’m just curious to hear all about your work and the awesome things that you’re doing with the giant workforce at Chipotle. Before we get into that though, would you mind just setting a little context for the folks out there in the podcast land, would you mind sharing a little bit about your background and kind of how you wound up in your current role? 

[0:03:19.4] AM: Yeah, my background actually is interesting, I’m not your traditional HR. I’ve spent half my career on the business side of the house in operations and then the other half, into people space primarily in talent management and then most recently, really end-to-end employee lifecycle. 

I started in the retail industry, again, also by accident. I was an aspiring lawyer, growing up, retail was my side hustle to truly be financially independent from my parents but I started at Target, I grew up in the store’s side of the house, that’s where I did a ton of operations. Went into talent management until I ended up at McDonald’s right after that where I really led the center of excellence for all of US people. 

I think, people strategy and then all of program product creation and implementation for the end-to-end employee life cycle so total awards, talent acquisition, talent management, et cetera. I was supposed to move to Chicago for McDonald’s and then the pandemic happened and so the pandemic was really good to my family and I because we never had to move and I quickly realized, the importance of our family. 

We ended up staying in California, I did a quick stint at a startup prior to Chipotle and then Marisa reached out, my CHRO and really, Chipotle for me, I’ve been watching them in the three years I was with McDonald’s, right? Primarily, the transformation of the brand over the last four years now on the brand’s culture and then really thinking about the value I would bring and so that’s how I ended up here. 

[0:05:07.7] RS: I’m really interested that you’ve kind of focused on the retail side of hiring most of your career, right? Is that still the case, is there a bifurcation between the corporate hiring and the retail brick-and-mortar hiring? Are you kind of focused on one or the other still? 

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[0:05:20.7] AM: I am currently focused on high volume still. We obviously did a corporate recruiting because we don’t candidly have as large of a need. Our turnover is pretty much almost none on the corporate side of the house, so that or us, from a talent work perspective is not as challenging as it is in the high-volume space. 

[0:05:46.3] RS: That makes sense. Forgive me if this is a naïve question but I don’t think I’ve ever had someone just kind of lay it out for me. How would you compare the experience to hiring for the corporate side of things versus front of house, retail, brick-and-mortar, I guess, high volume is one example. How would you kind of compare and contrast the two? 

[0:06:05.4] AM: You know, I think the two biggest differences is how your source and how you nurture a candidate. In the non-high-volume space, right? You do a lot more sourcing for the role and you also nurture your candidates through the entire candidate experience and in a very personalized manner versus in the high-volume space, it’s really about speed. 

It’s about simplicity of the experience and it’s about how you attract candidates to come to you ultimately. I’d say, those sourcing and like the way you nurture a candidate are two of the biggest differences. 

[0:06:46.0] RS: Is a lot of the nurturing automated on the retail side? I’ve spoken with a couple of folks who do high volume recruiting and I feel like there’s more of a need for text messaging and just more automation, is that the case for you? 

[0:06:58.9] AM: 100% I think probably whether it’s in the corporate side and/or the high-volume side, it’s a little bit of what I talk about. Experience has to be relevant, fast and simple but especially for the high-volume side of the house and so, making that experience automated and tech-enabled is really critical. 

[0:07:21.6] RS: What are some of the tools you deploy? 

[0:07:24.6] AM: Currently to your point, we have a text to apply and then we have additional, pretty simple technology investment for a hiring manager to be able to get a candidate through 

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to process quickly. I mean, we get candidates through the process within one or three days max, which is pretty amazing and is really standard is typically like over seven days from application to hire for the high-volume space. 

As we think about technology, I think traditionally in the HR space, technology investments have been thought about in silos of the entire employee experience versus again, looking at the entire holistic employee experience, determining how can technology and investment simplify and what is the true employee experience versus again just candidate, you use this technology, onboarding you as X and so, we are continuing to evolve and looking at an AI powered hiring platform today to truly make both a candidate and hiring manager experience seamless, more automated and less manual. 

[0:08:34.0] RS: How do you manage to insert the Chipotle of it all into an experience like that, you know, where it has to be automated, it needs to be fast, you assume, when you’re hiring these high-volume roles, the individual wants to know right away, they might have canvassed their talent applications that they – right? To just try and drum up some work. How do you make sure that it stays true to how you want to brand the experience when it is so high touch and automated? 

[0:08:58.6] AM: Yeah, I mean, it all starts with their purpose, right? Of cultivating a better world. For us, it’s meeting candidates where they are today and understanding your workforce. As you know, Gen Z and millennials make up 60% of the hourly workforce today. Also, that population again is connecting to a purpose-driven organization is highly important to them. 

I think it’s, how do you ensure that although technology enables, when they engage with that technology and/or a human being that their experience is connecting to our purpose of cultivating a better world. We also look for candidates who thrive on working for a purpose-driven organization and then in addition, our marketing and for recruitment as well as how we think about alternative labor pulls, such as building talent partnerships with organizations such as Boys and Girls of America, all align to our purpose as an organization. 

[0:10:09.7] RS: Yeah, even just understanding that it took 60% of the workforce are this younger generation. You have this experience of needing to engage with the next generation, 

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probably a faster clip than a corporate recruiter because when I was getting started in work, all I was seeing are these articles about, “Here’s how to manage millennials, here’s why millennials want out of work” right? 

Shortly, those are going to be like, “Here’s how to manage Zoomers” right? That is happening on a slower timeframe though, for corporate hiring. For you, I’m imagining it’s happening much quicker. Your need to sort of stay up to date on what the kids these days care about, it’s much 

more immediate. In that regard, where you’re like, “Okay, we got to get Chipotle on TikTok” how do you manage to speak to these individuals and engage with them? 

[0:10:54.4] AM: Yeah, it’s about the right message to the right audience, right? In the right modality, to your point. We don’t overly rely on just call it, social media because really, the power of Chipotle comes from the power of our brand, which really comes from the power of being a people first culture. 

To your point, it’s understanding what that workforce needs today, whether it’s from how we recruit them such as social media, how we retain them through our employee value proposition and then how we continue to grow them through our leadership programs. 

I don’t know if it’s necessarily any different than other generation versus understanding the different personas of the workforce and the generational differences and ensuring that we have, again, the way we attract, the way we grow, the way we retain talent could be both purpose-driven but also relevant to the workforce that we have today. 

[0:11:53.8] RS: Yup, makes sense. I want to shift gears a little bit to just the reality of retail work kind of at large, right now. Maybe it’s just my filter bubble feed and what I’m seeing. You see these typed out pieces of paper to a store window that’s like, “We will be temporarily closed due to staffing issues.” Apparently, no one wants to work anymore, no one knows the value of a hard day’s work and since you and I spoke, I see those, it’s not necessarily on Chipotle. 

I see those messages and I’m imagining Apple’s eye twitching when she sees that, has that sort of general drop of labor participation rates affected Chipotle, do you think about that at all? 

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[0:12:30.4] AM: I mean, I think about that all the time but for us, we are at our best staffing levels in at least two or three years, which is saying a lot, understanding the industry and the external landscape that you just alluded to, Rob, right? I really do believe it starts with our employer brand. 

Again, we’re a purpose driven organization, we have a great employee value proposition. We continue to iterate that our candidates are attracted to. We also have continued to evolve our recruitment marketing campaigns, right? Ensuring that we are refreshing those and meeting 

candidates where they are and then again, on the talent partnership side, it’s understanding what are the other labor pools we can tap into that also cultivate a better world that serves up community, et cetera. 

[0:13:26.0] RS: Can you explain what you mean when you say purpose-driven? I’m curious, what is that purpose that you think talent is connecting to that makes them want to stick around? 

[0:13:33.6] AM: I mean, our purpose is to cultivate a better world in all of Chipotle but in the people space more specifically, it’s really creating an environment where employees can thrive, pursue their passion and become lifelong learners. 

We really, as you think about that purpose, we think about and we deliver how we attract talent and we ensure that candidates are connected to that people purpose. Our hiring manager talk about that from pre-hire all the way to day one, all the way through how they engage them throughout their time with us. 

The biggest proof of that is that last year, we promoted 19,000 employees. I don’t have all of the industry’s numbers but 90% of Chipotle’s restaurant leaders are all internally promoted and I can tell you without having everyone’s numbers, that best-in-class and very unique to Chipotle and our brand, having worked into a large hourly workforce organization. 

When you come and work for us, you hear about it but then you see it so therefore, you believe it and then you likely will experience it, given that last year, an average of six employees per restaurant got promoted. 

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[0:14:50.5] RS: Yeah, it’s interesting, as you kind of explained some of the realities of that work experience and how your own work relates to it. It strikes me that the comparison to the lower volume corporate is just that everything is happening on a larger scale and faster, right? Whether, it’s like your need to engage with the next generation or the need to provide development learning opportunities to provide people opportunities for promotion. 

Keeping that in mind that it’s so important to sort of lay a path before people, show them these opportunities for advancement, how do you kind of present that to the entire workforce? Like, “Here are the development opportunities available to you, is there course work available” is there college sponsorship. What are some of the resources you provide to folks to show them that you are invested in their growth? 

[0:15:36.3] AM: Yeah, I mean, so many different ways but I’ll start with, I keep going back to again, focusing on what matters most to the employees, right? I am a design thinker at heart and so you know our top two drivers of retention whether or not you sit on our support center, i.e. the corporate office and/or in the restaurant, two things. One is that the executive leadership of Chipotle communicates a vision of the future that motivates me and then two, I can see a clear link between my work and Chipotle’s vision to your question. 

What we do as an example, as we kick off 2022, our leaders really take the time to share the strategic objectives across the enterprise and share the whys of the company strategy and that starts at the top with Brian Niccol doing that but really what’s most important is that we help then each individual understand how their work connects to our brand, ambition and values and we don’t just do that in the beginning of the year as I just called out, we do it throughout the year in what we call a four-by-four conversation. 

A four-by-four conversation is a leader, an employee conversation that occurs four times a year, it focuses on four questions. I mean, as simple as it gets, it is a look back question, a go forward question, one that’s related to our values, right? So that you can always try to remember how your work connects to our values driven organization and then what about their personal development and these conversations occur with every employee both in our support center, our corporate office and then in the restaurants. 

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It really helps our teams align or candidly sometimes realign to ensure we’re all marching in the same direction, learning from each other and then also staying committed to cultivating a better world. I think that that’s one way that happens throughout the year. Secondly to your question, we have a ton of different programs. We have a lot of leadership programs, we continue to iterate them both for the corporate workforce as well as the hourly workforce. 

Then last, we also provide debt free degree because we believe in creating pathways to opportunities for all of our employees. 

[0:17:52.7] RS: That’s fantastic and it sounds like it starts with you — with looking at just the employee life cycle, putting yourself in the shoes of someone who might start at the store, what do they want? What do they want to get out of this experience? Who are they when they leave? That is not different than hiring for any role, right? If you are doing it thoughtfully and then once you have a sort of clear idea about that, this process exists in other disciplines by the way. 

Designers like you say think about this constantly, marketers think about this constantly, you develop your buyer persona on the sale side like who are these people, how do they stand the benefit from buying our product, right? This is well-tilled empathetic soil and the point is to figure out who this people are and what they want, what they see the benefit and then where do you fit in to that journey, right? 

Once you understand that, then you find the people who you’re going to do right by and do right by them. That just process of empathy is really interesting to me and the four-by-four in particular, that feels like a framework for one-on-ones that I think everyone ought to adopt wherever they are having these sort of work related conversation. I think a lot of one-on-ones just sort of go nowhere because a lot of times, the manager lets the employee drive. 

As an employee, you might have a couple of gripes but you are mostly going to just be, “Yeah, it’s good. I guess I could use a little help with this but no, things are going good. I love my job. Am I getting promoted?” those kind of things and then the other less frequent version of that that maybe happens quarterly is like a performance review and now the manager is being like, 

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“Hey, you could do better here. This is going great. This is when you might get promoted. This is where we might give you a head count” right? 

That’s just sort of like an update, that doesn’t feel like a strategic planning conversation but the four-by-four does. Would you mind giving some examples of the most questions that folks might ask in the four-by-four? 

[0:19:32.8] AM: Yeah, I mean, a lot of times, you know, there is really a lot of focus on the values piece because what you’ll find employees do is they’ll choose one or two of our values such as authenticity lives here, right? Teach and taste Chipotle but what’s interesting from maybe not a question but a conversation is that you’ll find that the employees although they choose one or two values to focus on can really see how their work connects throughout all of our values. 

I had my first four-by-four with my team given my tenure at Chipotle and that is probably one of the biggest ‘aha’ moments for me. I think the second one is aligning on the goals, right? I think often times in the business space that is always the very controversial, you know, what is expected of me? Are we aligned in our expectations and then are we aligned on how you as a leader will support me in delivering to my goals in the outcomes in which I need to achieve. 

I think a lot of the conversations are focused on that. It is about alignment of what do we need to achieve with the team, how will we support each other along the way and then how do I know in between these conversations on how I’m doing and what does that look like. A lot of the leaders focus a lot on the alignment and clarity of expectations as well as coaching along the way. 

[0:21:01.4] RS: The connection to values struck me a little bit because I speak with folks on this show a good amount about how to connect your company values to behaviors for the sake of the interview process, right? For the sake of screening people and being like, “Okay, we want to make sure that people are aligned with these and that they have experience or examples doing the kind of thing that is in alignment with our values, right? 

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But then it kind of stops like I don’t often hear about people being like, “Yeah” and then once they’ve worked with us for two years, we look back and be like, “Hey, does your behavior at this company and the things you’ve taken on, does that align with the values?” you assume that it does because if you screen for that properly bringing them in, then you think that, “Okay, then we must have do that when they get here” but that is not always the case. 

If you received the question, “Tell me about the time where you did something that aligned with our values” like you are going to think of a time, you know? Like that is just a fraud interview question. Anyway, I think kind of bringing it back to that is really, really important. I am seeing all these parallels between corporate recruiting and retail recruiting. Do you see that? Do you see that these are some of the similar problems? 

[0:22:01.9] AM: Yes. I mean, I think we don’t differentiate our values depending on where you work in the organization, right? I think to your point and to my – what I was eluding to earlier, no matter where you sit in the organization for us, working in this organization, you know, people who work in our organization believe in our values, believe in our purpose and can always see how they align and that honestly starts during the interview process, right? 

This starts pre you become an employee and one of our values that I didn’t mention it’s called the line is the moment of truth and that goes back to what I was saying, which is understanding what matters most to our employees and the line is the moment of truth, you know what that really means is you understand the Chipotle line, which is our crew member, what matters to them, how our work could support and simplify their experience, right? 

That’s what we do in our support center i.e. your corporate office. There is always a synergy between the workforces in the restaurant as well as the support center because of our values. 

[0:23:10.3] RS: Yeah, I love to hear that. I do wonder about the retention piece because I assume that in a retail job, it is sort of a leaky bucket that I would expect higher turnover, I’d expect people to be like, “Yeah, I am going to work at Chipotle over the summer while I am home from college, I’m going to go back” what do you think is the – one, I just love to hear about like your approach to retention in any metrics you might share there and then two, what is the economic reality of like a long-term retail employee? 

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[0:23:37.2] AM: Yeah, I mean the reality is we’re not immune from your typical hourly retention challenge that occurs across retail or food industries et cetera but we are better than most, so I’d say we are best-in-class and again, I think it starts with hiring employees who believe in what we do and then our purpose and then engaging them along the way. I’d say the biggest retention driver is the growth both of our people and of our brand, right? 

We just announced that we are going to lead into opening an additional 4,000 restaurants. We’re at 3,000 plus today and we will be at 7,000. And so in addition to the number of people we just promoted last year, you know, there is a lot of opportunities for growth and then you know I know talk a little bit about how we create pathways opportunity where that free degree programs earlier but even in that program, our teams have access to at least 100 degrees across ten universities without out of pocket costs and that starts at a crew member. 

What we’ve seen is that participants in these programs have proven to be promoted five times more than average, seven times retained and then three times retained for those who even just engage with an educational coach and not maybe actually go into our programs. These are some of the programs that we have seen resonate with our people we also, you know, throughout the pandemic have thought a lot about how do we stay competitive in the market and the challenges of the pandemic. 

Recently, we’ve really refined and thought about how do we fortify the holistic wellness of our Chipeeps, which is what we call people who work at Chipotle. 

[0:25:29.7] RS: Chipeeps, oh my god, I love it so much. 

[0:25:33.2] AM: We continue to curate like a robust suite of financial, physical and mental health offerings and I think the biggest newest ones throughout the pandemic that I was so proud of is our partnership with Health Advocate. It is a concierge service that provides mental health support to our Chipeeps and their families along with other health services. 

[0:25:51.2] RS: For all Chipeep kind. 

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[0:25:52.6] AM: Yeah and honestly what’s also great about it is they can go to their resource to also get counseling on how to lead their teams during the difficult times and continue to engage them, so really think about the holistic wellbeing of an individual. 

[0:26:08.7] RS: Yeah, that makes sense and you mentioned earlier some of the investment and opportunities that Chipotle provides, I assume that increases retention, right? You’re more likely to stick around if you can get a debt-free degree, right? If you are seeing these leadership opportunities, it is more than job at that point, right? You can invest in your future while you’re working a part-time gig. 

[0:26:27.8] AM: I mean, how many places can you say where you can potentially go from making a starting hourly average rate and then making 100k plus within three years if you desire? You know, not many and so – 

[0:26:40.9] RS: Definitely not in content marketing. 

[0:26:43.1] AM: You know, we get very clear on here is your pathway to opportunity if you so choose, right? We get clear on here’s how we’re going to help you get there and also financially what it could mean for you and your family and also, here are some of or a lot of the examples of people who have gotten there and we’re transparent about that not just when you start working here but you can look it up on our career site today if you are interested in an application, so it’s that important to us. 

[0:27:15.8] RS: Yeah, got you. Is the retail workforce a pipeline for a corporate? Is there a track there? I imagine that would be challenging just because there is so many less people working in the support center than there are in the actual stores. Is that the case though? Is there a view that there’s like a farm team quality to the people in the stores and you could kind of bring them into corporate? 

[0:27:35.5] AM: Yeah, I mean so I’d say today, we are probably over index on from restaurant to operations leadership, which is still a support center role. However, we are working on one of the avenues in what we’re calling a cultivate academy and how you get to our support center 

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role if you want to go into another function outside of ops to just marketing or people or technology, so that is definitely top of mind for us. 

Again, although our support center or corporate workforce is much smaller, we believe in our internal growth just as I have mentioned and so ensuring that we’re creating a sustainable and diverse talent by looking internally first and foremost and then complimenting with external as needed, most of our population coming from again, our field force is important and is top of mind for us. 

[0:28:27.7] RS: Got it, makes sense. Well Apple, we are creeping up on optimal podcast length here. Before I let you go, you have a unique experience in that you’ve spent most of your career working with these massive workforces. I think a good chunk of the people listening to this are probably like internal more corporate recruiters, what advice would you give to someone like this if they were thinking about kind of shifting to a role like yours, what are the changes that they can expect? 

What are the benefits or the things you love about this role and how would they go about finding this kind of job? 

[0:28:56.9] AM: Yeah. I mean, I would say similar to our earlier conversation, humans are humans. Whether or not they are an hourly team member and/or a salary team member, it’s really understanding your audience and the human personas of that whole that you’re focused on. I think two, it’s ensuring that you stay relevant in the space both for your expertise and experience and also the way in which you think about you’re creating strategy and then three, I’d say the best success factor that I’ve seen is I’m a business leader first and foremost, right? 

I specialize in people, I specialize in talent acquisition but I think understanding the business, therefore understanding the workforce and understanding how you ultimately support the business outcomes to drive the conversations that you have. If you sit into talent acquisition space, you’re not just talking about your hiring volume, you are also talking about your internal pipeline, diversity. You are talking about retention because it impacts your talent acquisition strategy. 

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Ultimately because you are a business leader first and foremost and you understand the business as a whole. So I’d say that’s the last one is probably my best advice to people is just be a business leader first, you know, people specialty second and then perhaps talent acquisition third. 

[0:30:28.2] RS: That’s great advice. Apple, this has been a wonderful conversation, thank you for being here and sharing your experience and expertise with me today. I’d love chatting with you. 

[0:30:35.2] AM: Thanks Rob, it was so great to be here and I appreciate you having me. [END OF INTERVIEW] 

[0:30:41.5] RS: Talk Talent to Me is brought to you by Hired. Hired empowers connections by matching the world’s most innovative companies with ambitious tech and sales candidates. With Hired, candidates and the companies have visibility into salary offers, competing opportunities and job details. Hired’s unique offering includes customized assessments and salary bias alerts to help remove unconscious bias when hiring. By combining technology and human touch, our goal is to provide transparency in the recruiting process and empower each of our partners to employ their potential and keep their talent pipeline full. 

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