The Inner Game of Employee Retention

I have often focused on and shared specific strategies and tactics for recruiting, hiring and retaining employees. This time, I want to focus on the “inner game” of employee recruiting and retention, sharing some philosophy and ideas that may serve to positively shift your perspective and result in more employee and management longevity…..

With a work force that seemingly takes off quicker than Ted Kennedy at an O’Doul’s kegger, it’s no coincidence that employee turnover is reaching critical mass in our industry. I have often focused on and shared specific strategies and tactics for recruiting, hiring and retaining employees. This time, I want to focus on the “inner game” of employee recruiting and retention, sharing some philosophy and ideas that may serve to positively shift your perspective and result in more employee and management longevity.

The Schedule may be your Secret Weapon

In the battle for Employee Retention an often overlooked resource is how well you manage your employee’s schedule. “Don’t forget, your ability to be flexible and accommodating with the schedule has a direct impact on your employee’s loyalty,” says Chet Enten, Director of Field training for 291-unit Ryans Family Steakhouses based in Greer, S.C. “Do what you reasonably need to make them happy schedule-wise, even if it means that you have to pick up a shift for them. Aggressively managing your schedule is an investment in employee retention.”

Actions speak louder than words

Manhattan Morton’s General Manager Jeff Goodman believes that principles are more important than rules when it comes to managing (and retaining) your team. “Promote a strong Culture, but have a thin Rulebook”, he says. Principles define a caring culture. Rules tell people what they can’t do, principles tell them what they can. Work with your people to identify the kinds of things they’re empowered to do, and why. ¬Let people know what you stand for, and what you don’t. Keep your word; don’t compromise your integrity. Be a moral leader. And remember, one lie does not cost you one truth, but the truth.

Stop having “fun”

During the president’s panel session at the recent MUFSO confab in Atlanta, several chain restaurant CEOs championed the importance of “employees having fun” as a solution to the high turnover our industry experiences. All well and good, but as Doug Gammon, VP of Human Resources for Taco Cabana, observed: “It’s important to remember that what the president of a multimillionaire restaurant chain defines as ‘fun’ may not be the same as what a dishwasher or server in that organization defines as ‘fun’.” True. Maybe, as Paul Bolles-Beaven, partner in New York City’s Union Square Hospitality Group says, “it’s more important to focus on making the employee’s experience rewarding” (which involves fun), instead of aiming strictly for “fun” (which is not always rewarding).

Better customer service requires fully staffed operations

In 1997 if you asked a restaurant GM “What are you working on this shift?” they might reply, “service” or “selling” or “catching people doing something right.” But ask that same GM that same question today and he’s likely to get hotter than former Indiana coach Bobby Knight after a last-name-only salutation. “What am I working on? I’m short two servers and a line cook. I’m working on trying to get by this shift, man.” It’s sad but true. You don’t have time to direct your team to work harder at “managing” service if you have to close two sections and you’re busy seating guests or waiting tables yourself. Put a full court company press on the staffing issue if you expect an emphasis on better guest service.

Investing in the performer contributes to the performance

The restaurant business is performance art, from the grill, to service to staffing to scheduling. Providing better training, small, unexpected rewards for jobs well done, and nurturing and developing career opportunities for your hourlies creates a formidable barrier to turnover. “Excellent service companies invest in their employees’ success,” says Texas A&M professor Len Berry, “they compete for talented people with compatible values and then continually invest in their service skills and knowledge and their sense of inclusion in the organization. Top service companies create their own success by first creating successful employees.”

Standard Bearers are Critical

As a restaurant company grows, one of its greatest challenges is how to sustain the character and culture of the original concept as the concept expands. It’s the responsibility of the VPs of Operations and Area Supervisors/Directors to be the standard bearers of the company culture, to “pass on” through example, training and behavior what the company culture is–and what it isn’t. “The Area Supervisor keeps the culture’s flame burning,” says Joann Wilks, Area Director for Cheesecake Factory in San Francisco, “and it’s their responsibility to pass it on to the new GMs and managers who may have the mechanics of operation down, but can potentially misinterpret what the culture is and what it means to the guest and staff.” Prescription for success? Teach everyone something new everyday.

Clean your employee bathrooms

What matters to guests matters to employees. Don’t have different standards of sanitation and cleanliness for guests and employees. While it may seem incidental to employee retention, cleaning your restrooms is one of the best things you can do to keep your team happy. In fact, dirty staff bathrooms beat out bad managers for the position of top complaints from employees in a recent survey.

None of us is as important as all of us. Employee recruiting and retention is a philosophy, not a “department”. To summarize, the words of Olympic swimming champion Felipe Munoz: “Winning a medal involves the support of many people. It’s not just the athlete and the coach. It’s also the guy who cleans the pool and the lady who cleans the showers. Everyone does their best so that we can win a medal. I consider myself at the tip of a gigantic pyramid of supporters who pushed be to win that medal.”