Posted: September 24, 2012 in Uncategorized

 In my former position as Training and Development manager for a group of restaurants, I held a variety of roles and responsibilities. Each day presented a new challenge which kept me loving my role. One day would be all ‘development’, where I would find myself coaching managers, creating succession plans and overseeing recruitment. The next day might be all ‘training’, where I would be reviewing training guides, holding a staff meeting or communicating new changes.

When we switched our bread supplier, I was asked to communicate and train our 500 or so employees on the new system. Instead of baking frozen loaves of bread and slicing them for every table, small rolls would be brought in fresh each morning. Servers would ring in the rolls allowing the Chef to calculate how much to order the following day based on projected numbers. I jumped into action to ensure every single employee was trained in the roll out (pun not intended). I hosting tastings with the bakers, prepared colourful posters and outlined the benefits of fresh, organic, local rolls. I hyped this up from my soapbox in the back kitchen, proclaiming – Servers will save time! No slicing! Fresh! Customers will love it! You will love it! Oh, and since we only order enough for customers, you can now only eat the leftovers after service!!!!

It didn’t go over well. No matter how hard I tried to show the benefits, the staff only cared about one thing. Their bread and butter was being taken away from them. They complained. The managers complained. The customers complained. The lauch of the new bread and all my training efforts were, well, stale.

Shortly after, I was offered another opportunity and left the restaurant industry after 12 amazing years. It was a difficult transition, but I knew I could always return as a customer to visit my old friends and colleagues. So, you can imagine my surprise when I went back to one of the restaurants a year later and barely recognized anyone working on the floor. A couple of nights later, I went to a new restaurant opening and was greeted by an old hostess I worked with. Then sat at the bar with one of the star bartenders I knew from before. My food was run by a young eager guy who I once promoted to a supervisor. All in all, over a dozen people from my old restaurant were working at this new establishment.

The hostess, Tracy, was a superstar employee who once assisted me with special projects. She took on several roles within the restaurant including handling cash. She was only 17, but the brightest addition to the hostess team with a lot to offer. When I asked her why she quit (why everyone seemed to have quit!), she told me that things had changed. When I asked for a specific example, she said “Well, they took away the bread”.

The bread? Great employees were working for the competition because they no longer were allowed to eat a three cent piece of bread? Her new restaurant didnt even serve bread to guests!!  I imagine there were other factors impacting Tracy’s decision to leave, but in taking away the free-bread-benefit, the culture had changed for the worst. As a manager, how would something like this impact your organization?

The three lessons I kneaded to learn:

1.) Keep employee engagement on your mind at all times. Conduct stay interviews, asking employees why they choose to work for you. Consider the perks of your work environment, and how you can leverage those benefits to keep employees happy. Employees in the restaurant industry aren’t loafing around (see what I did there?). If free bread means they have the energy to make it through an 8 hour shift without stopping for a break, you ought to give them the whole bakery.

2.) Your employees know more than you do at times. If you are going to make a change, ask for their views. If something isn’t working, ask for their solutions. Had I encouraged input from the beginning, the employees would have told me that it might take less time for the servers, but put pressure on the kitchen and caused back-logs.

3.) Be transparent. When employees understand how their contributions can align with organizational objectives, they are more likely to embrace change. Switching bread suppliers saved the company tens of thousands of dollars a year. I didn’t explain this to our people, thinking they didn’t need to know the financial details. Thinking they wouldn’t care. Matt Wyre in his blog on Transparency outlines how showing visual metrics on performance and goals to better prepare employers for change management. Your employees should be given the opportunity to understand how the business is performing. If they know how they will be affected vis a vis how the business will be affected they are more likely to support initiatives. This especially applies when facing difficult times. While there are limits to how open and honest an employer should be in these situations, a transparent work environment builds trust. When faced with difficult decisions, your people will back you if they trust you.

If you can follow these three tips, they will think working for you is the best thing since sliced bread.

  1. Hi Joanna,

    I really enjoyed your blog! At first, I wasn’t sure how you were going to connect the issue of transparency to the loss of free bread, but the finish made it really clear. It emphasized the importance of companies being transparent about their goals and processes, especially as they relate to planned changes, when communicating with employees.

    I know someone who worked for Cisco Systems from it’s early days when a sense of adventure and innovation was fostered internally and employees felt valued. The “unwritten understanding” was that Cisco employees tended to work late. In turn, they were given great perks, from stock options to free soft drinks in every Cisco office.

    During the recession in 2008, Cisco began making cuts (while still expecting employees to deliver over and above a 40 hour week), and these included the slow erosion of company perks. It was the day they started charging internally for soft drinks, however, that created a tangible downshift in employee morale and attitude towards management.

    Social was media was awash with angry and sarcastic comments from disgruntled managers and individual contributors. One of the most popular was a mock official memo that detailed how employees should only use one hand while going to the bathroom so that they could save the company water and energy costs.

    Cisco’s ongoing lack of internal transparency has destroyed the innovative, “whatever it takes”, emloyee culture. In the technology industry, word gets around, and Cisco’s once glorious repuation for being a great place to work is now badly tarnished.

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