Many businesses — restaurants included —suffer from a perennial churn of new employees. With the industry turnover rate at 66.3 percent as of 2014 and the resulting focus on refilling the ranks, it can feel like you never get to the fun or important stuff amid all the hiring, orientation, and training. How do you take care of your customers and run a business if you’re constantly being pulled away to find new staff?
In parts 1 and 2 of this series, we looked at ways you can improve your hiring and training processes for greater success. But even the most positive of changes in those areas can’t help you if you aren’t able to retain your staff for the long haul.
At the 2015 National Restaurant Association Show in Chicago, a number of industry notables — Jim Knight, managing founder of People Forward; T.J. Schier, president and founder of SMART Restaurant Group; John Kelley, SVP of Restaurant Operations for White Castle; and Kate Shehan, former VP of Human Resources for Cosi — shared their insights into what rewards motivate loyalty in and drive retention of your organization’s best employees.
1. Focus on accomplishment, not just longevity.
Most companies honor anniversaries in some way. Whether it’s bagels and a greeting card on their first hiring anniversary or a gold watch on their 30th, employees are used to having their loyalty appraised in terms of years. What this process often overlooks, however, is that it doesn’t necessarily take a decade with a company to make a substantial contribution. And as we sometimes see a resistance to culture change from those with 5, 10, or more years at a restaurant, solely using duration with the company may not be the best method for recognizing those employees who are really giving you their all.
White Castle, for instance, has moved away from annual recognition of longevity to a method using on-the-spot rewards given for actions that reflect the company’s written mission. It’s a value-based program, and has resulted in two changes for the company across the board: employees more often exhibit the positive behaviors that upper management is looking to foster, and sales have increased in the restaurants that focus on and promote the program.
But these changes should be no surprise. Five years of service can seem daunting to a server or member of your kitchen staff. But if there were something positive you could do to stand out today (and see a reward for), wouldn’t you be inclined to do it?
2. Offer the incentive employees actually want.
Conventional wisdom says that an employee is more willing to give their all to something if it involves getting something they really want in return. And, believe it or not, what they want isn’t always more money. The goal of rewarding positive behavior and values in the workplace is not to bribe employees into doing what you already pay them to do. It’s about encouraging your staff to go above and beyond the norm, maybe even in ways you can’t predict.
Kudos or points that can be accumulated and cashed in for extra days off, dinners, or gift certificates have been very productive for the brand Cosi, which saw both lower turnover and increased productivity at restaurants that embraced the program. And these types of programs can also be beneficial when offering team rewards. Working toward a mutual target — like an early close or incentive pay — can help teams coalesce, but it also creates a self-policing system. It can be difficult to incentivize everyone in your roster, but that added bit of peer pressure from colleagues can go further in some cases than demands from the top of the management structure.
3. Starting planning tomorrow today.
The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago.
The second best time is today.
No matter how busy we become, we can’t always just focus on today. The future of your restaurant is coming faster than you think, and if you have high-functioning, motivated individuals on your team, you’re more likely to keep them if you invest in their future as well.
Developing your staff can take time and patience, but it ultimately reaps great rewards. Mentoring each one of your employees and developing action plans for their move up the ladder isn’t just about making sure you keep them happy with your organization, though. It’s also about building up your internal resources. How much easier is it to promote an exceptional employee from within than to find someone in the marketplace who already fits your specific needs? If all you’re ever doing is recruiting from the outside, there may be a significant piece missing from your leadership.
Mentorship and succession planning can be scary for managers, too, as the ultimate goal is to create more leaders and more staff worth promoting — essentially putting your best employees on the path to take your spot. Some of those people may end up finding their opportunities elsewhere — although often long after they would have left had they not had the opportunity to grow and develop under your guidance. But others may end up waiting in the wings as opportunities for growth come to you, as well. In the best of circumstances, everyone moves up together.
4. Encourage employees to stay inside their circle of influence.
One of the most frustrating things for an employee (or manager) is coming up with big ideas (or recognizing problems) that are larger than their ability to effect. It can lead to resentment, particularly when it involves other teams or management not in their direct line. The key to keeping your staff on a positive track is helping them recognize the difference between their circle of concern and their circle of influence.
The circle of concern is anything you care about, but can’t necessarily do anything about. This could be things as common as the weather or the economy, or as close to home as your parent company or even some coworkers. The circle of influence, in contrast, is the area you can impact, such as personal behaviors, team morale, customer experience, and project goals. This is where productivity thrives and employees can build up wins and see real change happen — ultimately leading to a more satisfied, recognized workforce. And the reality is, the better an employee is at effecting change in his or her circle of influence, the larger that circle grows. But if you allow your team to get lost in the circle of concern, that opportunity may never happen.
5. Make daily deposits into employees’ emotional bank accounts.
When all is said and done, nothing means more to people than being appreciated and treated well. Listening to your staff, saying “thank you,” keeping promises, and recognizing good work — every day — builds trust that pays dividends in years of hard work and dedicated service. The more deposits you make in the form of affirmation, the better the health of that “emotional bank” account.
It’s important to keep those deposits coming, because inevitably, every manager will need to make a withdrawal. A change in plans, an unexpected shift, or a large scale shake-up could be devastating to the trust of a team if you don’t have the “funds available” to cover it. Too many repeated withdrawals against a failing account, and you’ll lose that employee.
It’s not about keeping a running tab, but establishing a culture of appreciation and trust that works to everyone’s benefit. You’ll have happier employees who want to stay with your restaurant (and you) longer, and they’ll have a manager or owner whose employees are considered the best in the business by everyone they meet. Everybody wins, including the most important person — your customer!
In our final installment of “Staffing for Success,” we look at one of the most difficult aspects of managing employees: the disciplinary process.