Local businessman aims to shake up workforce

August 23, 2022
Taylor Cooper
The Brunswick News
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Justin Henshaw thinks he has the solution to a problem that just about every employer across the country is dealing with — workforce recruitment and retention.

There just doesn’t seem to be enough people to go around, Justin Henshaw, owner of Henshaw Companies on St. Simons Island, said. Under the umbrella of Henshaw Companies are multiple restaurants so he’s got firsthand knowledge of the issues as they pertain to the service industry, one of the biggest in the Golden Isles — average pay has nearly doubled since 2019, turnover is up 133% and it now costs roughly $4,425 and 36-45 days to fill even entry-level positions.

The symptoms were there, and he thought he could diagnose the causes.“The way we’re managing young people, it’s not working. We’re speaking different languages,” Henshaw said. So he got to work distilling the employer-employee relationship to its lowest constituent parts. What does an employee want? What does an employer want? In his estimation, it’s transparency and accountability, respectively. Employees want to know their boss is hearing them, he said. “They just want someone to notice. They just want it to matter,” he said Employers, on the other hand, want to be able to trust their employees. “When I give you the keys to my business, what provides for my family and for all my employees, I don’t want you to betray that trust,” Henshaw said.

How are both of these achieved? Communication.“The doctor doesn’t just tell you ‘I need you to be better. I need to be healthy.’ Not like what we tell our employees,” Henshaw said.It’s obvious, but Henshaw said something isn’t clicking between the older generation and the incoming younger workforce and that communication is not occurring.

Out of that desire to provide a means to give employers accountability, give employees transparency and give them both a means to communicate was born a phone app called GAGE. The transparency-accountability-communication equation is academic. The practical application, he said, is what is essentially a credit score for an employee’s performance.

Scores range from zero to 1,000. Everyone starts at 500, and “high fives,” “nudges,” evaluations, your job history and other aspects of job performance, influence scores.

If someone does a good job, peers and supervisors can give each other high fives. These reinforce good behavior and move the needle up. A nudge is not so much a reprimand as it is a reminder or suggestion and is intended to help an employee understand where they fall short and to improve.

Regular evaluations can be set up via the app for a range of periods, from monthly to annually. It involved giving a 1-10 rating on 10 skills, like communication, professionalism, integrity, responsibility and resourcefulness, along with optional explanations or comments.

Those metrics can be subjective, but others aren’t. The app also tracks when someone no-shows or resigns without notice. It also tracks the frequency of resignations.

It’s not meant to be a tool for managers to punish workers, as an employee can choose when to share their score and access to the tools to influence it. It’s not all top-down, either, as the system has a means for employees to file anonymous reports about supervisors to the business owner.

College of Coastal Georgia Professor William “Bee” Carlton said he built the skeleton — the barebones algorithm on which the app operates. He credited Henshaw and the Whiteboard app development firm with everything else. “They put the muscle and skin on it,” Carlton said.
It’s got a desktop component, but its primary function is through the phone app, which was the main focus and is being continually tweaked to be accessible for everyone.

Creating apps is a new venture for Henshaw, which is why he called on the best when looking for help with the user side of things. Whiteboard has built a few successful apps, the most familiar likely being the one developed for Chick-fil-A.

It’s not quite ready for primetime yet. GAGE has gone through months of alpha testing at Henshaw Companies’ various franchises — Fuse, Salata and Smoothie King, to name a few.

On Sept. 1, Henshaw plans to formally announce the companies participating in the beta test. It’ll be the first time someone outside his sphere has used GAGE professionally, and if the sheer amount of changes and tweaks made in the alpha test are any indication, the beta test is likely to be transformative for the app.

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