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The Human Equation

by Bill Marvin, The Restaurant Doctor

"The inescapable truth is that we are getting better and better at doing things that don't really work!"

Whether the opening quote is accurate or not, the thought behind it deserves consideration. Are we becoming incredibly adept at ineffective procedures? Have you ever thought that there had to be a better way to run a restaurant? Does the idea that you have to work 60-80 hours a week to succeed in foodservice strike you as a suspicious notion?

Most operators put in long hours and apply themselves with good intention, but are seldom as effective over the long term as they would like to be. Even when everything is done "right" and there is some immediate improvement, they rarely create a solution that will stay in place without continual attention.

The Age of Service
You know that your guests will not be satisfied with the same level of service they would accept even two years ago. I believe the reason this is happening is that we are moving from the age of systems into the age of service.

In the age of systems, we were taught to attack issues with professional expertise and techniques. This deals with the symptoms well enough but does nothing to address the human factors that create the problems in the first place. In the age of systems, success was determined by your ability to put out 200 lunches.

But the age of systems in slipping away and it is a whole new game out there. The nature of our workforce is changing. The idea of competing for guests is not new but many operators are finding that now they have to compete for staff as well. Workers today have more options than ever and they are much less tolerant of disrespectful or heavy-handed management techniques. For the most part, they work where they want to work and are not afraid to leave employers who do not earn their loyalty. In the age of service, the measure of success is how people feel about the way you served the 200 lunches. Volume alone will no longer sustain long-term success.

What all this means, of course, is that your level of human understanding and not your technical expertise is what will assure your success into the next century. As difficult as the idea may be to accept, most operators need to take a hard look at their operating style (and their results) and be willing to accept that everything they know may be wrong!

The Human Factor
No matter what the specific symptoms, the common denominator of all foodservice problems is people. People cause all the problems and people ultimately have to be part of any lasting solution. Everyone says that foodservice is a "people business," but who ever really taught us about people? I suspect that most people become supervisors by decree. "You've been here the longest (you have a degree, your family owns the place, and so forth) so you're the new supervisor. Go supervise."

In truth, probably very few managers have ever had any real training in what makes people tick. Even in my own case, the closest I ever came to gaining such knowledge in my formative years was in a high school psychology course where I learned about paranoid schizophrenics and manic-depressives, but not much about normal people. Even my college management courses were closer to advanced manipulation than anything else! Without any formal training to fall back on, we learn to manage by following the model set by our previous managers.

The Cop Mentality
Most of us were likely mentored by managers who grew up with a cop mentality. That's what they taught us because that was all they knew. "Find things that are wrong and fix them" usually was (and typically still is) the order of the day for management. This model of supervision is a lot closer to law enforcement than it is to enlightened leadership.

Cops go out looking for problems to solve. Cops see most people as crooks who will rob them blind if they don't watch them every minute. Cops believe that they can push employees to perform and that they can motivate with fear. The idea that "the floggings will continue until morale improves" makes sense to a cop. Following the cop model, many people try to force their staff to perform and expect this approach to work.

I don't know if the cop model ever really worked although I will grant you that there was a time when we could more easily get away with it. In fact, being a cop is seldom effective in the long run because it is an external and not an internal force and does not properly address the human factor. Its continued use only creates organizations that don't work - an unfortunate circumstance that many ascribe to the poor quality of today's workers rather than to the inherent unworkability of the "cop" mode of management. However, if you thrive on stress and want to spend the rest of your life looking for the dark side of things, the cop style will certainly give you that result!

The Coaching Mentality
In the age of service, a more appropriate management style is coaching. Coaches look for strengths. Coaches see what talent they have to work with and devise a game plan to win with the skills they have available. Coaches realize that the talent resides in the players and if the players do not develop to their full potential the team will never reach its full potential.

Coaches understand that motivation is found internally not externally. The best coaches do not try to force people to do anything they do not want to do. Coaches, like farmers, realize that while contented cows may not necessarily give more milk, they do not kick the bucket over as often and they are a lot easier to live with!

Donald I. Smith, former football coach, longtime industry leader and Professor at Washington State University has always taught that the coach makes the difference. Here are some of Don's thoughts on coaches and coaching that are worth considering:

"Great coaches are first noticed by their uncanny ability to produce championship teams. However, to be called 'coach,' a leader must be measured by more than balance sheets, battles won or lifetime win-loss records. Great coaches have one more gift. They change the lives of those they touch. I suggest that great coaches can be measured by the number of success stories they leave in their wake. For once they give their players a taste of sweet success, they will have more. They leave behind a legacy of winning which becomes a lifetime habit. The players ultimately become champions of the coach's values, beliefs and passions for the rest of their lives."

When you start to see yourself as a coach, the job changes. The way you measure your personal success shifts away from the number of problems you have identified and solved and moves in the direction of tracking the number of wins your staff is enjoying.

Perhaps the coaches' job could be defined as "achieving success through the activities of others." I believe that our job as managers is not to run the joint but to teach our crew how to run the joint. In fact, if you are doing anything that someone on your staff is capable of doing it is disrespectful of you not to delegate it to them. If you have someone on your staff who is capable of learning something and you are not teaching it to them, that is also disrespect. Disrespect will erode the effectiveness of your organization.

Making the Shift
While you may have heard this cop/coach notion before, grasping the concept intellectually will not change much. Your organization is not likely to change until your thinking actually shifts. So, for example, even though you may know that trust is an important element in the new workplace, you cannot trust people as a technique. You will only trust people when you truly see people as trustworthy. The shift of perspective is everything.

To follow the analogy from the last article, I hope to at least point you in the direction of a tree in the middle of your world of weeds. I might even be able to show you how to climb up that tree to get a different view of your world. But you have to climb it yourself. Once you honestly see a bigger picture for yourself and are touched by the simplicity and common sense of what you see, you can effortlessly and painlessly make the leap to this new understanding. You will instantly be out of the weeds and onto the beach . . . forever!

Like most things that are simple, this new paradigm is not always an easy picture to see at first. I promise you it will be worth whatever it takes for you to move into this new reality. I urge you to be curious, keep an open mind, relax and be patient. The upcoming articles in this series will present some ideas that can help you in this process.

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