As the summer heat settles in, many of us will be vacationing with our family and friends. With less staff on hand, these popular vacation months can present a challenge for restaurants as they attempt to keep their daily operations running smoothly and results on track.
Due to a key staff member taking time off, restaurants may experience a rise in labor or food costs, or a lack of executional quality. This is often a result of:
- The “hero” condition in which one (typically ego-driven) individual arranges for all work to flow through them. This individual usually craves control and needs to feel as if they are a necessity. For example, a “hero” chef dictates to the kitchen staff how much food to prep each day. If that chef happens to be out, the staff is ill-equipped to make food prep decisions on their own and may end up prepping more food (leading to waste) or less food (leading to executional issues).
- The “I’m too busy” syndrome in which individuals claim they are too preoccupied to train others, or prefer to perform all tasks on their own. I think we’ve all heard someone say, “it’s easier if I just do it myself” — but is it really more effective in the long run? Often, this individual is extremely busy doing other people’s work that they should in turn be allocating.
Simply put, successfully operating a restaurant requires more than one more person. It requires a team.
Shifting from a culture of “me” to “we”
Meeting the complex demands of today’s fast-paced restaurant industry requires a team of skilled individuals. While service automation is trending, I believe a superior dining experience will always include human interaction. More than ever, our industry needs to develop and upskill its people instead of looking for ways to replace them.
For example, we’ve begun teaching key associates and lead cooks how to perform some of the functions of a manager so that when the manager is absent, other staff members can incur their workload. Upskilling our staff means that others are capable of stepping up when the unexpected occurs — and leads to less pressure on any one individual leader.
Why development is key to employee retention
In addition to upskilling, personal development is key to employee retention and effective operations.People often leave their jobs when their strengths aren’t being utilized and they aren’t growing in their careers. According to Harvard Business Review, “smart managers create opportunities for people to use their strengths. They open doors to meaningful tasks and learning opportunities, and enable their people to be energized by their projects, to perform at their best and to move forward professionally.”
If you want to keep your people — especially your top performers — it is critical for management to help develop their skills. Managers who take the time to develop their staff can help strengthen trust, reduce turnover and ultimately improve their restaurant’s operational efficiency.
A study by the University at Buffalo School of Management found that employees especially respond to leaders who act with humility and empathy. Leaders who leave their ego at the door are considered more relatable, likable and effective. When these leaders go on vacation, they can count on their well-trained staff to effectively manage operations in their absence.
How to effectively assess and improve performance
#1. Upgrade the annual review performance
The antiquated annual performance process is demotivating, especially for high achievers because of the long delay between accomplishment and recognition. The key is to provide solid, consistent feedback and have employees set goals on a weekly, monthly or quarterly basis. I personally strive to engage with my team members and develop objectives with them on a bi-monthly cadence. If I fail to, then I notice our team lacks alignment and focus, and does not deliver on time.
Providing consistent feedback also helps avoid top employees becoming frustrated, bored or moving on. In addition, departing from the norm of attempting to plan projects a year or more in advance will make your business more flexible and agile.
According to Harvard Business Review, a number of industries are embracing a more agile approach to feedback performance, including retail (Gap), consumer products (P&G), and accounting (all Big Four firms). Overall, the focus is on delivering more immediate feedback throughout the year so that teams can become nimbler, “course-correct” mistakes, improve performance, and learn through iteration.
#2. Apply a job effectiveness equation
Using a job effectiveness equation can help management effectively evaluate people, strive for continuous improvement and stay focused on how to develop people’s skills and capabilities. Years ago I learned the following equation from my executive coach, which has stuck with me throughout my career.
Using this equation can help managers determine which areas employees need to improve in and provide transparent guidance as to how they can improve. It also allows employees to develop relevant objectives (where do I want to go) and key result indicators (how will I know I’m getting there).
Here’s how I suggest using the equation to assess an individual:
- Mental capacity: consider their emotional intelligence and cognitive ability.
- Skills: based on the skills required by the job function, consider their ability to lead, openly learn, adapt and collaborate.
- Knowledge: consider how deeply the individual understands their industry. Is this person aware of relevant news and trends? Do they proactively seek to learn more?
- Commitment: consider how disciplined, determined, conscientious, authentic and trustworthy they are.
- Values: consider whether their behavior and actions reflect your company’s values.
- X factor: consider whether they exhibit dysfunctional or inconsistent behavior, a poor attitude or a lack of respect.
For example, if you apply the equation and find that a certain individual lacks the proper knowledge required to be effective in their role, you might consider assigning them a project that forces them to learn more about a specific topic. If your restaurant begins serving trendy menu items (e.g., grass-fed beef or plant-based burgers), your manager may need the adequate background to explain the health and environmental benefits to guests. In this situation, you could assign the manager a project to research the benefits and then share their findings with their team. In addition to helping the individual improve their knowledge, this process allows for assessment of their abilities and commitment.
It’s more important than ever to respect the capabilities of our staff and develop their skills. Dispersing work and relying on a skilled team will lead to more effective operations. Moving away from a culture of “me” to a culture of “we” can lead to a more agile, proficient and stable organization. In addition, restaurateurs will be able to fully relax on their summer vacations knowing that their staff is capable of covering them.