It’s All About The Culture: Warren Boone and Lisa DiVirgilio

Hosted by Chris Dyer, the CEO of PeopleG2 – TalentTalk Radio features engaging conversation with CEOs, thought leaders and HR executives.  TalentTalk connects professionals who care about talent-related issues and having the cultural mindset to embrace the needed diversity of the workplace.

Today’s guests are Warren Boone, Director of Human Resources at Islands Restaurant and Lisa DiVirgilio, Vice President at WyckWyre. To hear the entire show, click here.

The two guests, both from different spaces in the food industry, talk about the importance of strong, consistent company culture.

Warren Boone culture

Warren Boone is the Director of Human Resources at Islands Restaurant. The company owns 55 restaurants in four different states – all dedicated to recreating a laid back and relaxing time at the beach. The company takes pride in the consistent culture it has harbored across all its restaurants. According to Boone, it’s all about creating experiences for the customers.

Managing human resources in the restaurant industry has its own challenges. “Not a day goes by when we’re dealing with something different and just when you think you know it all, you find out that you don’t,” jokes Boone when asked about what really drives him. Helping people deal with issues and using those insights into strategically improving the business, continuing to drive revenues and bringing in more guests are the rewarding opportunities his job provides.

Working with Millennials

A lot of Islands employees are 16-year olds who are into their very first job. Hence, there is a very inexperienced workforce at play. Boone said it’s important to give these young people a chance to grow. They start as a host and then gradually move up by joining the kitchen and then becoming servers. The challenge lies in identifying the best way to train them. Since there is a heavy millennial workforce, Islands uses online courses to train them. They try to shorten the courses as much as possible, being fully aware of the short attention span the millennials have. Based on generational preferences, the HR team tries to find ways that are impactful.

Don’t Retain, Just Inspire

Boone says that often companies look at retention as a systematic thing. They establish competitive compensation, put together a great benefits program and assign jobs that the employees are well trained for in order to retain them. Boone doesn’t believe in this concept. He believes that “the reason people stay with a company is that they are inspired and feel like they are doing something bigger than themselves.” It’s all about showing employees that it’s more than business and that they are taken care of.

Don’t Live the Culture, Enhance It

“HR doesn’t drive the culture. We are a facilitator or an ambassador of the culture. But the culture has to be driven by each person,” explains Boone. He insists that the culture has to be adopted by every single person. You can’t have one type of culture in your restaurants and a completely different one in your corporate office. Boone strongly emphasizes a unified culture. HR can help in enhancing the culture by thinking about how to promote company’s culture through talent management, training programs, and so on.  Boone asserts that there should first be clarity in the underlying values of the company.

Don’t Just Collaborate, Innovate

Boone strongly believes that the employees’ ideas matter. It is good to work together and be on the same page but it is important to bring new ideas and innovate. “You’ll be surprised when you give people the latitude to put their ideas forward without a risk of their hands being slapped or being turned down; great ideas come to the table,” says Boone.

What are you reading?

Boone just finished reading Advantage by Patrick Lencioni, a book on how to build organizational health.

Lisa DiVirgilio culture

Lisa DiVirgilio was a television reporter with FOX 40 News before joining WyckWyre as a Marketing Manager. Today she is a Vice President with the company and looks after development, new product launches and innovations. She recounts that since the beginning she “fell in love with the company and its mission.”

WyckWyre is an applicant tracking system that helps restaurants find the right employees. It employs different methods of pre-screening, customized to the needs of the restaurant, in order to get the perfect candidate for a job opening. DiVirgilio firmly believes that the success of her company lies in its people. The passion among WyckWyre’s employees is contagious and that very positively affects their customers.

Building Leaders from Within the Organization

DiVirgilio disclosed that her company very rarely hired people from outside the company for leadership roles. The company values its people and believes in rewarding them. She says that a person within the company who could potentially be the next leader puts in a lot of hard work and knows the company’s culture. “For certain things you can’t train a person. You need to be really immersed in a culture,” she adds.

DiVirgilio emphasizes the value in showing interest in your employees’ professional and personal lives. She organizes a monthly one-on-one with each person on her team and finds out what they are excited about – whether it’s work or something outside of work. This is how she identifies their strengths and gives them responsibilities that are best suited to them. This is all a part of leadership building, according to her.


“I am proud of the products and strategies we have launched but one thing I can walk away with tomorrow is I am really proud of the culture we have created,” says DiVirgilio. She describes it in word – ‘inclusiveness.’ Everyone at the company feels included, engaged and as an integral part of the team.

While recruiting, DiVirgilio reveals that they don’t necessarily look for skill sets. They look for personality types. “We look for people who are entrepreneurial, who can very confidently express their ideas, who are open to constructive criticism,” she explains. Finding a cultural fit is of utmost importance for the company. Most of their people deal with customer service. She says, “I look for someone who feels like a friend over the phone or in person because that’s how I want my customers to feel.”

Employee Recognition

Every Friday, WyckWyre organizes a call with every employee from everywhere in the U.S. During these calls, every person has to do two things – give a shoutout to someone from the team who has helped them during the week and talk about a positive impact they made. “The weekly recognition has done so much for the morale… It’s a great way to end the week on a high note,” explains DiVirgilio. Recently she also introduced a ‘Vision Board’ challenge where everyone writes down their purpose and intent for 2015. It was an optional activity, and yet they saw a 100 percent participation from the employees. This exercise helped the employees visualize their goals and also earned them an additional vacation day. “I think monetary gains are great, promotions are great, but I don’t think every time rewarding like that is the only thing we can do. People appreciate an extra day off or appreciate that their leaders are interested in their lives and things other than those that affect the bottom line.”

What are you reading?

DiVirgilio is currently reading The War of Art by Steven Pressfield. She finds the book very inspiring, especially its core message – resistance is the ultimate evil. She is also reading The Lean Startup.”

How Can People Connect With You? Via LinkedIn

Tune into the show next week, and remember, do what you love….and show the world how talented you can be, today.

Date: March 17, 2015